HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Special requests and the quiddity of a restaurant dish

... when do special requests go too far as to essentially strip away what a dish is all about?

For example, at lunch today in a rather tight and crowded setting I could clearly overhear what the table next to us was ordering.

The entree in question was a pecan-crusted salmon, with couscous, sweet corn and ginger shallots.

The gentleman ordering this dish asked that the pecan crust be served on the side, white pilaf be substituted for the couscous and if there werer other veggies available instead of the corn and shallots (he got instead what the server called "a grilled medley").

Ok, now I understand not liking certain items or preferring the dressing on the side, etc., but what this person did was essentially re-make the dish.

The only resemblance to the original was the salmon!

At that point, why not just request the kitchen to grill up a piece of salmon with some veggies.

Anyone out there have a tendency to make extreme requests? If so, I'd like to get your thinking on it.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Personally, I never order something and ask that everything be changed. If I want salmon and don't like the accompanyments, I order something else which has all the ingredients of my liking. The chef has obviously thought through what combinations he /she wants to serve. Why not respect that.
    My husband and another dining companion ordered a lobster special and asked that it be served without the sauce. I said, it won;t be good without the sauce. Sure enoough, they complained that it was not good. Give me a break. It is like the people who murder recipes by substituting half of the ingredients = which is fine so long as you don't then complaint that the recipe didn't work!

    1 Reply
    1. re: emilief

      Yeh, I agree. I remember eating with someone who asked that the anchovies and something else be omitted from the sauce. OK, fine. But then the person spent most of the meal complaining abouut how the sauce really wasn't very good. Duh?!?!?!

      When I eat out, I want to taste what someone thinks is a great meal; it doesn't seem fair to the chef to reconfigure the dish. And certainly if I did suggest changes, I would shut up about the result if it wasn't as savory as I wanted.


    2. When I met my husband's son for the first time, we were in a neighborhood Italian restaurant. He ordered "Veal Parmesan, sauce on the side, no cheese". I asked why he didn't just order a veal cutlet and the answer was that he liked Veal Parmesan better. ??????

      Certainly a case can be made for someone with an allergy or religious prohibition requesting that the shellfish be omitted from a dish but that is completely different from ordering Sole Dieppoise without the traditional garnish.

      For some, it is a control issue that is thinly disguised under the label of Food Likes & Dislikes.

      1. I can not define pornography, but I know when I see it. So said our Supreme Court. Likewise this is hard to define. Sause on side, no prob, swap the veggie, no biggie, rice for potato, still on this side of the line, light on the oil and butter, totally acceptable. Asking for a total change in the prep versus the plating process is where I think it would cross the line.

        Love the chick parm post.

        1. I think one request for alteration should be the limit. Either crust on side OR sub rice OR sub veg, NOT all three.
          Occasionally I'll ask for no onions, like on a pizza, not like pick them out of the stew for me. Also acceptable can be the 'I'd like the halibut with the tuna prep', i.e. just switching the protein for a different set of sides that already go together with something else, not picking and choosing from all over the menu, or asking for things that aren't on the menu.

          1. Gotta agree with those who see this behavior as an ego-drama thing. I once had a budding friendship with someone who loved doing brunch. Each time, she would make special requests and perform other attention-getting scenarios. I couldn't stand the embarrassment and quit going anywhere with her.

            1. We're close friends with a couple that ALWAYS change the dishes and who are very picky. We often go to chain or local chain restaurants with them because in my opinion they like boring food. To wit, last night we were going to a local Tex-Mex joint that I'll admit I have fun at even though the food isn't stellar. However, for some reason there was a 1 hour wait and I suggested lets go to the Indian restaurant a block away and they'd have no part of it. Anyways, he ordered steak tacos with just steak cheese and lettuce, no none of the salsa or sauce that came with it and instead of beans/rice he got fries. She got a chimicanga with no sauce. Their requests never bothered us or felt out of place. Maybe it's because they're just asking that not all of the extras be added in and aren't actually re-making the dish. I never felt it was an ego thing, they're just picky IMHO.

              Regarding the original post, how the heck do you put a pecan crust on the side? At that point it's no longer a crust, just, well I don't know what to call it.

              1. I've had this type of dish you describe - pecan crusted salmon and for some reason the salmon always comes out tasting dry. I've stopped ordering this dish and just order plain salmon but I've also asked for certain dishes to be served with ingredients on the side. For example, when the craze for garlic mashed potatoes was really big, I asked for plain mashed. If something comes smothered in gravy, I'll request that it be served on the side. Ditto with Eggs Benedict - I don't like hollandaise sauce where it's glopped all over the eggs.

                I'm not trying to rewrite the original recipe but I know what
                I like and my chowhound radar can usually tell when a dish is
                so-so. It's my money and my palate so I guess I can't blame anyone who asks for a bit of revision to their dish unless it completely throws off the kitchen. However, with the original pecan-crusted salmon the OP wrote about, if that is premade by the kitchen, then it would be difficult to leave the crust on the side.

                1. Though I don't request changes other than salad dressings "on the side", my wife does occassionally. Sometimes the change cannot be made and the restaurant (server or chef) just says "no". A different choice than can be made based on preferences. Rewriting the menu would just be a strain on the pleasure of dining out and so I'd rather just choose a different entree.

                  1. Not being a well versed fish eater, I wasn't sure what to order at a local seafood place. The menu was extensive, but no meat. When I asked if they offered a sampler platter, the responce was something like "Wellll, not reeeealy." So I asked if they served half portions. They did, in fact, serve half portions for children. So I ordered half portions of the first five fish on the right side of the menu. Each fish was offered with several sauces/preparations and the server went through all of the five with me. When it came out, it was just great and I ate all of it. I'm always glad to go back to this place, after that kind of service.

                    1. you know, when someone is allergic or intolerant of one ingredient, it's also likely that that person has more than one allergy or intolerance.. =( milk, shellfish, nuts, for example.. and those people, rather than saying no when asked to dine with others, may prefer to go to a restaurant knowing that s/he cannot eat most of the food on the menu and hopefully ask for substitutions, not to enjoy the food, but just to make sure that s/he can go to a meal with a friend, as a social experience.

                      yes, it may seem atrocious to go to a pizzeria and ask for a pizza without cheese (!) or ask to take out nuts and oranges from a citrus salad (forgot the exact name of that salad), but that person may be trying to eat at a restaurant where everyone else wants to eat without imposing his/her own preference.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: koreankorean

                        This is certainly a viable point and there are people with terrible food allergies that need to do so in order to go along with friends to a restaurant for the social experience, but I see it way more often happen that there are just a bunch of extremely picky people (and they always seem to be dining together) that don't like onions or tomatoes or sauce anywhere but on the side.

                      2. I agree with the majority of what's been said here, and if you take those diners with food allergies out of the equasion, then you're left with a group of diners who regularly/always want changes to any item on the menu they're ordering. I have many friends in the restaurant biz and they tell me that this kind of diner is on the increase and that although customer satisfaction is (and should be) of prime importance to any restaurant that wants to be successful, it's getting harder to comply with the 'requests' they're getting.
                        All of the above just observations as don't think there is any dfinitive answer to how a restaurant should act and react and will be interested to see how it's handled if more diners do it.

                        1. First and foremost, I love the word "quiddity".

                          1. My rule is: no more than one omission and one substitution. (You can have two omissions but not two substitutions, since they require more work.)

                            Of course, there are certain exceptions - you can't ask for any changes to the inside of casseroles or soup ingredients, but changes in garnishes or sides are ok. (So, you can ask for no cheese ON the chili, but not no beans IN the chili.)

                            I like to think it's a science, but what it comes down to is - how much extra work are you creating for the kitchen? The less, the better.