Problem: You’re at a steak house. You want the chicken.
Solution: Purists say that if you’re in a steak house, it’s always best to go with steak. The same holds for a fish restaurant. If you order something else, “don’t expect to get the best meal the restaurant has to offer,” says Mitchell Davis of the James Beard Foundation, a national nonprofit that grants scholarships and food awards to American chefs and authors. Still, there should be at least one stellar dish that doesn’t fit into the restaurant’s theme. (Insiders say lobster is often the runner-up dish in a steak house.)
Another option: Go for a few hors d’oeuvres and forget a main dish altogether. Or, better yet, compile a meal by ordering a few side dishes. On a related note, if you are a vegetarian or have health-related dietary restrictions, it is best to inform the restaurant ahead of time, preferably when you place the reservation. A restaurant can often make special arrangements for diners who have given the kitchen plenty of advance notice, says Kay Chun, owner and chef of the French restaurant Share, in New York City.
Problem: The waiter tells you all about the special but doesn’t mention the price.
Solution: A good way to get at the question without seeming rude is to ask, “What price point are the specials?” This phrasing is a little less specific and better than saying, “How much is that?” If you are with people you don’t know well or are treating someone and don’t want to seem stingy, keep in mind that specials are generally the same price as the more expensive menu items.