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Many restaurants offer a menu which doesn't change from day to day, and in addition offer one choice which varies from day to day, perhaps depending on which ingredients are available. This choice can be called dish of the day (perhaps “soup of the day”, etc.) or special (“today's special”) or perhaps other expressions (what else is there?).

How prevalent are the various ways of formulating this concept? Does it vary between dialects? Is there a nuance in meaning?

(I guess really fancy restaurants would use du jour…)

  • Specials or today's specials are probably the most common form in restaurants that have such features in the US. – bib Aug 22 '14 at 19:46
  • "The special today is..." / "Today's specials are..." This is the most common way I've heard this phrased in the US – Preston Sep 22 '14 at 5:23
  • It's ultimately advertising lingo, and they use whatever words they think will catch your attention (in a good way). There are no "rules" -- it's purely a decision by the management/ad department based on their own perceived criteria. – Hot Licks Nov 20 '14 at 23:21
  • This is one of those famous false friends that confuse Anglophone travelling in Europe, where the menu is the menu of the day, the daily special which varies from one day to the next, often scribbled on an erasable board. This is contrast with la carte/carta, which is printed and more lasting, and is what Anglophones mean by menu. – tchrist Jan 20 '15 at 3:11
  • @tchrist This is off-topic, but note that your comment is wrong for France. In France, “menu” can mean either the printed list of dishes (metonymically, either the physical object or the information on it) or a fixed-price sequence of dishes (e.g. an entree and a main dish) from a small selection which usually includes both specials and a few dishes available every day. “La carte” can be the printed menu but usually it's used in the expression “à la carte” which means ordering not from the fixed-price menu. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jan 20 '15 at 8:52
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The most common expressions are dish of the day and soup of the day. Today's special, specialty of the house and flavour of the day are other popular options.

Ngram AmE shows 'soup of the day' as the most common expression while

Ngram BrE shows 'dish of the day' is more popular.

As you said these expressions are usually used to indicate more 'off the menu' choices on account of seasonal availability or restaurant specific policy. As a side note 'off the menu' is the most used expression in Italian restaurants in Italy.

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    Restaurant patron to waitress: "What is the soup du jour?" Waitress: "I don't know -- it seems like it's something different every day." – Hot Licks Dec 21 '14 at 3:14
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"Special" is often (but not necessarily exclusively) used for something that is discounted (a restaurant may realize some efficiency gains by making a whole bunch of the same thing repeatedly and pass the savings on to the customer, vs. lots of different orders). It may also mean or be combined with a discount for ordering several items (e.g. sandwich/chips/drink) together.

"of the day" just indicates that something is not on the menu every day (possibly due to limited/seasonal availability of a key ingredient).

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    Not here in the US: "Today's Specials" are the "Dishes we don't serve on other days"; that is, they're "special" because "they're only available today". – Dan Bron Aug 22 '14 at 20:54
  • I'm referring to the US here. I know there are other possibilities, which is why I said "often" and not "always". – Andrew Medico Aug 22 '14 at 20:56
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    What I'm saying is "today's specials" are not often used for discounted dishes, they're almost exclusively used in the sense of "du jour"; and I rarely (if ever) see "dish of the day", though "soup of the day" is common. – Dan Bron Aug 22 '14 at 20:57
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    In Britain, some restaurants, and more especially pubs will have a 'specials board'. There will often be a blackboard above the bar on which are written the names of dishes which are supplementary to the printed menu. – WS2 Aug 22 '14 at 21:51
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    @WS2 - Same in the US. Often with a title: Today's Specials. – Drew Aug 23 '14 at 7:01

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