What's the difference between a main course and a main course special at a restaurant?

I'd appreciate your help.

  • What, specifically, is your confusion? Do you understand the meaning of main course and do you understand the meaning of special? If appetizer special and dessert special make sense, then what is it about main course special that doesn't? Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 4:16
  • Can a main course special refer to a set meal with a specified main course?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 4:21
  • 1
    Not normally. A main course special should just be a main course that isn't part of a regular menu, but is offered for a limited time. You might have a special that includes multiple courses. And, typically, a "set" menu would be referred to as prix fixe. I'm still not sure of your question . . . Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 4:27

2 Answers 2


The "main course" is the primary part of the meal. Everything else is "side dishes". So, for example, if you have a steak dinner, the steak is the main course, and you might have vegetables or potatoes, etc, as side dishes.

In a restaurant, a "special" is a meal that is not on the menu, but is just being offered for a short time. The restaurant may have gotten some type of food they don't normally get, or the chef wants to try out a new recipe, or they want to add some variety, etc.

I've never heard something called a "main course special", but I'd guess that makes sense if the restaurant uses a la carte pricing.

Most restaurants that I go to charge "table d'hote", that is, there is a price for the entire meal that includes the main course and a couple of side dishes, usually including a salad and sometimes dessert. Other restaurants charge "a la carte", where you pay separately for each item.

If the restaurant charges a la carte, than it makes sense to have a "main course special", a special for the main course. Side dishes would still be priced separately.

  • Is a "special" a meal or a dish?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 7:20
  • @Apollyon It could be either one.
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 16:07

You ask "Is a 'special' a meal or a dish?"

It is neither of them and both of them. A "special" is any item not normally found on the menu of the establishment. There can be a "dinner special" which is an array of several dishes, a meal. There can be "dessert specials". There can be "appetizer specials". There can be "soup specials". And there is always "Today's special(s)" which is|are usually but not necessarily an array of dishes, a meal. It depends on the restaurant. A "main course special" suggests to me that the restaurant is one where the side dishes can be ordered separately, and perhaps even paid for separately, as Jay suggests in his apt answer. The "main course special" would probably be a protein, rainbow trout, say, or rack of lamb, or tuna, any protein not normally found on the menu. You might be able to specify how a main course special should be prepared (baked, fried, broiled, whatever) or you might not. Again, it would depend on the restaurant.

P.S. I'd hazard a guess from its "register" that the phrase "main course special" would be used by a restaurant chain where the individual restaurants are held by franchisees, not by a restaurant that strives to have some unique or exotic appeal. Either that, or a "diner" style restaurant.

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