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When Does Truffle Pushing, Other Upselling Cross the Line?

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2010_11_truffle1.jpgNow that we're deep into truffle season, most diners who frequent upscale New York restaurants have probably had a taste of the classic winter upsell. It's an offer to shave truffles over a pasta dish, the suggestion to order a truffle special. It's a GM foisting a large specimen up to diners' noses for a tantalizing whiff. Or, in a reader's case it's a supplement to a tasting menu:

During an otherwise delightful visit to a three-star, highly-regarded New York restaurant last evening, one that features an $85 three-course, prix-fixe menu, my server asked my wife and I if we wanted to have a plate of squash gnocchi with grated white truffles with our meal. Not certain whether I was being offered a complementary intermezzo or an extra course, I looked puzzled and then looked down at my menu where, on the tasting menu, I noted the same dish with a supplement of $80. I asked my server if that supplement applied to her offer to us. She indicated that it did. We enjoyed a fabulous meal, good wine and, of course, brilliant conversation. But, when we left at 9:10 PM, the place was still only one-third full.
So, here's my inquiry: do restaurants experiencing a slow night attempt to have guests order expensive additions to the menu to meet their expenses? During their afternoon meeting with the chef, were servers encouraged to push this $80 supplement on to unsuspecting diners?
The answer: of course. But the query for the commenters today is: how forthright do servers need to be when offering expensive supplements? Is the onus on the consumer to know that white truffles on a dish could add upwards of $50 to the bill or should waiters mention the price when offering, on the chance that they aren't dealing with an experienced restaurant-goer?
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[photo: W&D]

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