The Price that Dares Not Speak Its Name

At a medium-scale restaurant recently, our party was asked if we wanted bread. “Yes,” we said, eyebrows raised. Outside Indian restaurants, which charge for naan and papadam, very few places that serve bread don't just bring it automatically.

“It's to avoid waste,” our server explained—a welcome idea, but one I can't say is a trend, yet. As you know, anything brought to the table but uneaten or un-doggied has to be thrown out. Let's keep bread and butter out of the landfills by making them optional.

But a slight cavil: the server shouldn't have made us have to ask whether the bread was gratis. Nobody likes to look cheap, especially on a date, but the customer has a right to know beforehand, not when the bill arrives.

Likewise, a server reciting specials aloud should include their prices—which are often higher than the menu's norm. People don't like to ask, and being kept in the dark about price could lead to fewer specials being ordered, in the end.

If it's delicacy that's keeping restaurant managers from instructing servers to name that price, they should drop it. We all know this is a business transaction we've let ourselves in for, not a family meal with Aunt Bea. The greater the transparency, the less likelihood of misunderstandings when the check arrives. I'm thinking of a friend who ordered lobster pot pie at “MP”—market price—ate it happily, and got socked with a bill for $85.

Restaurant owners, go for full disclosure. And diners, if they don't, speak up. Ask.