I flew on a EVA Air flight recently that departed shortly after midnight. The flight included meal service, so I wanted to test out a theory that special meals tend to be higher quality; some travelers even noted that the meals got served quicker. When I booked my flight, I had requested a special (vegetarian) meal for my travel companion.
On my flight, I found it to be partially true. On one hand, the attendants brought the special meal requests out first; my partner received her meal a half hour before I was served my (regular) meal. Because it was a midnight flight, she was able to sleep before I even started eating!
As for the quality, I would say it is hit or miss. The quality is on par with my meal, but not worse than the regular meal options. For the EVA flights, the meal requested was vegetarian-oriental meal, which they labeled VOML.
VOML dinner. Entree is tofu and mushrooms.
Regular dinner. Shrimp in oyster sauce.
I tasted both and they were similar quality meals. The only advantage here was it coming out much faster.
VOML breakfast. Congee with some mushroom/tofu mystery.
“Western” breakfast. Eggs and bacon.
They had run out of congee meals by the time the cart got to me. The eggs and bacon was borderline disgusting. The eggs were bland and the bacon was rubbery; in this case, the special meal was much better quality.
On the flight home, my partner and I flew Cathay Pacific and tested this theory out again. While the meals did come out a little quicker, it was only by a few minutes. (This could have been because we flew premium economy back, and not economy like on the flight there).
Overall, it was a worthwhile experiment and a great perk if you have dietary restrictions or food allergies.