Operations – How to Run Successful Specials

by Scot Cosentino, owner and operator of Good Fella’s Restaurant in Staten Island, NY

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with many great chefs and cooks.  Each of them has made a unique contributions to our menu and the specials they’ve created have become the lifeblood of our business.

Our approach to specials is to give diners something unique, whether they are a new guest or a regular.  Many people who come in are not sure what they’d like to have.  By providing a variety of simple specials, we keep our guests happy and interested, increase our bottom line (with higher guest check averages), and add flair to the whole dining experience.

Here are the basic principles we use for specials:

  • Use existing menu items that you keep in stock.  This eliminates the need to expand your inventory, prevents food from being wasted if the special doesn’t sell well, and ensures that your specials compliment your regular menu.
  • Offer several selections, such as pasta, chicken and fish, since not everyone will be in the mood for one or the other.
  • Cost out the dish.  Don’t feel that you have to sell it for less.  In fact, keep your price point slightly higher than your average dish (we like to be at 24% higher).  Today, specials are not considered discount plates, but rather a new experience for your guests.
  • Come up with a creative name, perhaps incorporating your restaurant or chef’s name.  Make your special sound so good that it makes your customers’ mouths water.
  • Prepare each special pre-shift and have your staff sample and comment on them.  This way they will know what they are selling and build up enthusiasm for them.  Remember: you can’t sell what you don’t know.
  • In addition, write down the specials and how they are made, along with lots of adjectives and exciting phrases: for example, fresh, delicious, creamy, pan sautéed to perfection, with an incredible roasted garlic sauce, a staff favorite, pasta lover’s dish.  Get creative and have fun with descriptions.
  • Have the waitstaff practice describing each special to one another, then have them sell the dish until they are perfect at it.  We never let staff on the floor until they can sell our specials with ease and enthusiasm.
  • You might also print a flyer of your specials for the wait person to leave at the table after they have given a verbal description.  Be sure to use an attractive font and creative background that matches your theme.  Nowadays computers enable anyone to produce beautiful documents.
  • Hold a contest for the staff to see who can sell the most specials per table and offer them a small bonus – perhaps a free meal or movie tickets.

We have has some specials that sold very well – for example, our Grilled Jumbo Shrimp seasoned with lemon, butter and garlic served over a beautiful bed of penne pasta, tossed with fresh broccoli rabe, sundried tomatoes, white wine and an incredible roasted garlic sauce.  Because it was so popular, we put it on our regular menu, and it dropped down from out number-one dish to last place.  People always sell better than paper.  So keep your “specials” special.

See our Recipes section for a simple pasta dish offered by Good Fellas.

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Adding something special to specialty foods for more than 50 years.