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Constantly altering menu items:a diner's right or peeve?

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Have a good friend who constantly requests changes to dishes she finds on menus..."Could you possibly change the shaved parmigiana on my salad to gorgonzola?"..." I don't care for broccoli, could you let me have broccoli rabe in my pasta instead?"...and so on. It's almost an automatic knee-jerk response to anything this person sees described in a dish...Is it a diner's right to make such requests often, or is it a pain, perhaps even some type of 'phobia'...should I as her dining partner say something or just look away and take it in stride? I do care for this person...

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  1. In this day and age where many restaurants post menus online and almost all have menus hanging outside I don't understand why people will choose to go to restaurants where they can't find anything on the menu to eat as is. If the menu doesn't look good, go somewhere else. If you don't like Gorgonzola on your salad take it off. So many menus now say no substitutions or alternations and I think that their wishes should be followed.

    But I think that for medical (not phobic) reasons people should be able to make reasonable requests to alter.

    And there are those restaurants who say on the menu that they welcome substitutions/alterations. Maybe those are the restaurants that you would feel more comfortable taking your friend to.

    1. As a former restaurant owner, this has been a huge peeve.
      Simple substitutions for health or like/dislike were not a problem, however there were a large number of people who wanted to re-engineer the entire dish (ie multiple substitutions).
      There were also quite a few that wanted to take a lower cost dish and turn it into a higher priced dish (that was on the menu), and only pay the lower price.
      If you don't want/like the dish as intended by the chef, order something else.
      Sorry, rant over.

      2 Replies
      1. re: hannaone

        "There were also quite a few that wanted to take a lower cost dish and turn it into a higher priced dish (that was on the menu), and only pay the lower price."

        I think DH encountered this a lot at his family's restaurants. A lot of the customers wanted to replace shrimp for the chicken in a set combo. He would tell the customers that they would gladly do so but need to charge a different price. He told me that not one of those customers wanted to pay the price increase and agreed to the chicken.

        Gutreactions, I probably also would be totally annoyed by your friend. I generally get the food the way it is. If I ask for a modification, it would be more on the lines of getting the burger without the pickle. Bu I would just take your friend's comments in stride. None of us are perfect. And I agree with viperlush about finding a place where they welcome alterations or researching a place in advance.

        1. re: Miss Needle

          It happens a lot.
          I actually cringe when dining out and see a restaurant accede to these demands by over entitled customers. Makes it hard on those places that don't.

      2. My take is that if it's relatively straightforward and simple substitutions like the ones you give as examples and your friend is not looking to have prices lowered and/or is willing to pay a bit extra (ie, should she ask for a more expensive cheese, say) that it's fine for her to ask. Unless you're eating at the same restaurant all the time, it's not often for the restaurant that she's asking. I tend to agree with viperlush that I don't know why someone would go out to eat very often if they so often encounter things that aren't to their liking; but, so long as she's polite about it, willing to accept "no" for an answer and isn't trying to game a system but, rather, get something she likes, I don't see a huge problem.

        1. Depends. Dressing on the side is reasonable, but "Dressing on the side, no cucumbers, substitute shrimp for chicken (grilled please), no green tomatoes--only the freshest red ones........"...is more about the guest needing attention than a problem with the food.

          More than three substitutions (without allergies involved) its about the guest, not the food.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Le Den

            I don't want to eat at a restaurant where it's necessary to ask for ripe, rather than unripe, tomatoes.

            1. re: pikawicca

              You missed my point. The guest is making this part of their ordering ordeal without even knowing the quality of the tomotoes. Its a way of trying to elevate their importance. Its rude.

          2. My family's restaurant never did this.

            If you were allergic to something in a dish, order something else.

            If you had a problem with the sauce and wanted it on the side, order something else.

            If you did not like the vegetables (e.g. broccoli), order something else.

            And, if you've got nothing you can order, leave.

            31 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              In a culture that values eating out, such as ours, it should be possible to find food for one's health and taste, and I think reasonable requests should be honored. Since restaurants don't generally offer healthfully prepared food, it up to customers to make simple requests for adjustments.

              By your rules, heart patients would have no where to go to eat, the diabetic would have to stay home, the dieter would have to prepare his/her own food for every meal.

              1. re: sueatmo

                Not really.

                When a customer comes to MY restaurant there is an implicit, if not explicit, agreement that the customer is coming to eat MY food ... not to have me cook the food the customer wants to eat.

                If the customer wants the latter, she can hire me as a private chef and I'll make whatever and however she desires.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I agree. I go out to a resto to eat what they cook, what their menu offers. Otherwise, I cook at home.

                  1. re: rednyellow

                    I also agree. One of the things Weight Watchers tells you is to go to a resto and order "plain chicken" with plain sides. No way man! If I'm going out, it's to eat the food the resto prepares, the way they prepare it. I do get salad dressings and other condiments on the side, but that's about it. :)

                    1. re: jujuthomas

                      Juju, you're off the mark on the Weight Watchers comment. You can eat whatever you want, but if you can't make modifications, then PORTION control is the key. I work for WW part time, and this is what I tell members--if you *have* to have fettuccine alfredo, then eat only a small portion, not the whole plate. Skip the (unneeded) bread and butter.

                      Yes, I do ask for modifications when I can--i.e, please prepare my veggies without butter--but it also depends on the restaurant. I wouldn't dream of going into a fine dining establishment and asking for those kinds of changes, because I'm there to taste that chef's cuisine. I'd just prepare myself ahead of time.

                      1. re: rednails

                        red, sorry, I have not heard that advice from my WW leader or any people who actually do work for WW - I've seen that advice a lot on the WW boards - when people are asking what to eat at different restos. This is something I would never do, I make as you say, resonable preparations for going out, and resonable mods when out. :)

                        1. re: rednails

                          I agree, my WW leader suggests selecting a healthier choice but if you choose to indulge (or have no choice), keep portion control in mind. I've heard it from other WW staff as well.

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      Yes really. I wouldn't ask for a dish that had to be remade differently, or for ingredient substitutions that didn't fit the feel of the meal. But I do ask for no cheese or mayo, salad dressing on the side, etc. I don't see why I should not be able to do that.

                      I also ask sometimes how a dish is prepared, or what ingredients are in it. I can pass on ordering it. But it is usually very very hard to eat healthfully in most restaurants. A respectful request should be OK in most places.

                      Having said all that, if I am in a really nice restaurant (truthfully, seldom) it is a lot harder to to make requests. In that case, the meal is a splurge, and the food should be enjoyed.

                      But, don't most of us eat regularly at restaurants instead of cooking for ourselves? I simply don't view my meal at most places as being possessed by the chef or owner. I am paying for it. And truthfully, if I cannot get basic requests met in one place, I can probably get similiar fare at a place down the road, which staff would be more cooperative.

                      1. re: sueatmo

                        I actually cook for myself most of the time, so when I go to any restaurant, I am going for the food they prepare their way rather than mine.

                        1. re: hannaone

                          I think a point that sueatmo is perhaps missing is that no one is forcing a diner to eat at a particular restaurant. So, if a restaurant chooses not to accomodate a diner's request (reasonable or not) the diner has every right to just leave and go to a competitor.

                          In other words, the diner has CHOSEN to eat at that particular restaurant, and no doubt it was a conscious decision of their own volition. If one doesn't like what the restaurant is offering, or what it is willing to do to accomodate a specific request, then just leave.

                          Now, if this discussion was about a diner's request at the prison cafeteria, well then ...

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            LOL! I actually provide wedding cakes to inmates at a local "corrections facility". Those inmates are not allowed many choices at all, so mosts of their requests for their cakes are met with a firm NO. They do not have the option to go elsewhere for their cake. :-)

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              With all due respect, I am not missing the point here. There are few restaurants which serve healthy food, and far fewer that serve low fat food, which I eat when I diet. If I could "choose" a restaurant which did not slather butter over everything, or drench salads in dressing or sauce the dishes extravagantly, or fry everything edible, I would be forced to choose to stay home and cook.

                              I don't eat out alone. I eat with my husband who is also constrained by dietary matters (a heart by-pass in 2000) but who is not dieting. I generally go along with him and figure out what I might eat when I get there. I imagine there are many people who eat in friendly groups. They don't get much choice either, probably.

                              I don't think asking for dressing on the side, subsitutions for vegetables, or asking for less sauce is unreasonable. I would draw the line at trying to rewrite the house recipe, though.

                    3. re: ipsedixit

                      Geez, what a grouch! I'm diabetic, and can't eat rice or potatoes. In every restaurant that I've visited in Toronto (or Canada, for that matter), my request to substitute anything for those has never been turned down. Same thing with condiments on the side.

                      I understand that it's difficult to change main courses that may have been prepped hours earlier, and can understand a resto saying no to such requests, but to give one simple example: I like my club sandwiches with bacon, tomato, and chicken salad (not turkey). I look at the menu, and if they offer a club AND a chicken salad sandwich, I'll ask if they can make the substitution. Most places say "No problem"; others say "No". If they say "No", I don't throw a hissy fit; I order something else.

                      I never ask for more than one change to a dish; I don't think that it's unreasonable to ask. The resto can always say no. But if, for example, I ask for a hamburger with no bun, and they say "No", it's not likely I'll be coming back.

                      1. re: KevinB

                        Kevin - that chicken salad club sounds divine! I may order that next time we go to our favorite diner! :)

                        1. re: jujuthomas

                          Get extra napkins if you do - it's sloppy! (But good!!)

                        2. re: KevinB

                          KevinB,

                          It's really not about being a grouch, or rude. With our restaurant it was simply a matter of principle. If you let one person get away with even a simple substitution, then where do you draw the line?

                          Veggies instead of rice may be a simple substitution, but what about cauliflower instead of broccoli? Is that a simple substitution? Is romaine instead of iceburg acceptable and easy to do? It's so hard to say.

                          It's not that our restaurant didn't empathize with diners that had special needs, we just didn't feel the need to accomodate them.

                          Did we lost customers because of it? Sure, absolutely. Did it hurt our bottom line? Absolutely not.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Wow. Two points

                            1 - Jfood is allergic to nuts and many of the best salads offered in restaurants have some form of nuts (i.e. candied walnuts) placed on the dish at it's last stop before service. So if jfood did not want the nuts, your resto would not perform this simple task?
                            2 - The belief that a customer leaving does not effect the bottom line is silly. This may be true in the short term but it is a very difficult long term business model. You are reducing demand and whenthe equilibrium starts working against you, that tidal wave will be hard to stop.

                            1. re: jfood

                              jfood,

                              Like I mentioned above, we definitely empathized with customers that had special dietary needs, but we just felt -- as a matter of business practice -- we wouldn't accomodate all of them. So, to take your example, if a customer had a nut allegery and all the salads on our menu had nuts, our position would be that you probably should choose a different category of appetizer -- e.g. a soup maybe?

                              As far as the bottom line, I'm not saying that is true as a general matter across the restaurant industry, but I can honestly say that our table turnover rate never suffered -- and if it did it didn't matter. We only had on hand so much food for the night and once we ran out, we ran out and we started turning away customers. To this day, I can only recall a handful of times when it was closing time and we had prepared food that was not ordered and sold.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Thanks I. Lucky you with this current business model.

                                Just out of curiosity, what type of a restaurant do you own?

                                1. re: jfood

                                  My parents used to own a Chinese restaurant specializing in dumplings and other Northern (Beijing) specialties, like noodles, baos, buns, etc.

                                  Restaurant was sold many years ago and parents have since retired, and my time as a short order "line-cook" during summer break has (finally!) come to an end.

                                  Cheers.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    I simply don't get your point of view. The chefs I know are in this business because they want to feed people food that they'll love. ALL of them will happily make substitutions, if possible, even the very high-end ones. My husband can't eat garlic, and we've never encountered a chef who can't accommodate his needs. If we did, we wouldn't return.

                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                      Just out of curiosity, what do you and your husband do in an ethnic restaurant where garlic is incorporated into almost every dish and can not be removed or subbed?

                                      1. re: hannaone

                                        I saw a guy in an upscale Mexican restaurant become irate, absolutely livid, when he found out that all the dishes were prepared with onions or peppers or both. He made a great show of ordering two portions of guacamole, one for his appetizer, one for his main dish, because he was so! shocked! and! angry! that the chef (and she's quite well-known) wouldn't make him a special, not-at-all-Mexican meal.

                                        There's a lot of huffing in this thread about customers having the right, nay, the responsibility, to leave a restaurant that won't give them what they want. If only those customers would have the grace to actually do so, rather than stick around and act like infants.

                                        1. re: small h

                                          I think I know your Mexican restaurant guy. He would have been the one sitting near me at kosher restaurant and angrily demanding cheddar cheese on his corned beef sandwich.

                                          WAY back when I was working in retail stereo sales, I quickly learned that there are many people out there who just arent happy unless they arent happy. They are the ones who will go into a restaurant and order something they KNOW thery cannot get just so they can go into indignant mode.

                                          1. re: Fydeaux

                                            "...people who aren't happy unless they aren't happy."

                                            Truer words have never been uttered.

                                        2. re: hannaone

                                          We have a Thai place in town that is very accommodating. Japanese is no problem. Korean, obviously, is difficult, but even there he can find a few things. Soups and salad dressing are the biggest challenges. If we call ahead, almost any place will be able to provide something tasty. In my experience, the more upscale the restaurant, the harder they will try to please.

                                        3. re: pikawicca

                                          pikawicca,

                                          My parents were in the restaurant business to make money.

                                          Feeding people was an unintended byproduct of that endeavor.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            I don't see how feeding people could possibly be an "unintended byproduct" of operating a restaurant. By definition, that's what a restaurant does.

                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                              pikawicca,

                                              A food bank, by definition, feeds people.

                                              A restaurant, by definition, is a business and to be a business you need to first and foremost make money.

                                              I think something that a customer should understand is that no one is forcing that person to eat at any particular restaurant. If a customer finds the menu to be unacceptable, or unaccomodating, why not just find a different restaurant?

                                              I can see the argument that a restaurant MUST accomodate the finicky customer if that restaurant was the ONLY place to eat, but that simply is not the case.

                                              Fortunately for most of us, we reside in areas where the dining choices are generally plentiful. If restaurant A does not do what you want, then go to restaurant B.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                A food bank is a charity. A restaurant is a business. Both feed people, by definition. I've never encountered a "take it or leave it" attitude at a non-chain restaurant. Unless every table is always full,a restaurant with this approach is going to be losing customers whose business would otherwise add to the bottom line.

                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                  pika, there was a restaurant like this person above in my home town... It was the only chinese restaurant in town and got too full of itself.. then a new place opened up a mile away, that was so friendly and accommodating, willing to do anything to make the customer happy, that soon restaurant A went out of business adn restaurant B became the most crowded restaurant in town still to this day.. seems the attitude that they are not in the business to serve people but only to "make a buck" was not a good choice.

                          2. I am an alter-er! I can think of a few examples:
                            1) Red Robin pulled my favourite burger of their menu, but they still had the components to make it. So I ordered an altered burger (changed sauce). It has since returned to their menu.
                            2) My favourite pub burger cites "caramelized onions" as a component, but they have never been more than flash fried. So, I ask for crspy onions or none.
                            3) My favourite food place made a mistake on my order by putting the wrong sauce on, and it was the best ever. So now I sometimes request it.

                            I do have rules, though.
                            1) Saying "no tomato" on a burger or sandwich is ok by me; the only reason they're on there is because most people want the veggies.
                            2) Do not attempt to make alterations to a pre-made dish, like a casserole or pasta sauce (like "can I get no onion in my bolognese?"). I actually overheard someone at a table behind me (I don't remember where) ask for no onions in their potato gratin. They were told it was impossible, ordered it anyway, then complained that there were onions in it. My bf had to talk me down from stepping into the discussion between the manager and the customers.
                            3) No more than 1 alteration per meal (i.e. substituting one ingredient for another), not including those mentioned in rule #1. And if the server doesn't look with it, I'll pick the tomato off myself and/or just order it as is.

                            I know that most local pizza places have either "no alterations" or a specific number of alterations allowed per pie. One of them actually lists "3," which I would never have done had they not written it. If they say "no alterations," whioch lots of local Chinese places do, I don't even try.

                            And generally, I only make these alterations in chains, pizza places or low-end places. If I'm at a high end place, I trust the chef has a reason for using broccoli, not broccoli rabe, and I defer to his/her superior wisdom. That's how I started to like cilantro, mushrooms, blue cheese and olives!

                            1. Take this with a grain of salt but I once asked a serial substituter/fuss bucket about this and the answer was, "they pay attention more and I know I'm getting it fresh and made to order for me." My thoughts were way too much thinking and less enjoying going on if that's what makes you happy and/or the meal okay.

                              Any way, I think a diner can ask but a restaurant can refuse and should if it's unreasonable. Allergies or taking something out is okay but sub for sub is just too picky...you know, learn to order or order something else.

                              Also, I think there's a way to ask for a substitution...be discrete, ask nicely, be ready for a no and to order something else right away and don't hold up the works.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: ML8000

                                About the only changes I ever request are dressing on the side and hold the cheese (I'm dieting and cheese has tons of calories and I don't particularly like it anyway!)... it's easy enough to leave something off a salad, but when it comes to cooked things it might be more awkward so I don't even ask - I just don't order the 'gorgonzola shrimp'.

                                1. re: Kajikit

                                  I agree, if it's something integral to the dish, what's the point...just order something different. I'm not sure but maybe the people who ask for subs or something integral to be pulled can't cook???

                                  1. re: ML8000

                                    Completely re-engineering a dish to suit you is poor form. It is described on the menu so that you know whats in it. If there is something in it that you don't like/cant eat/are allergic to, then do us all a favor and order something else. Get your ego stroked somewhere else.

                                    A simple side substitution is reasonable. If you don't like/cant eat/are allergic to the asparagus, and other vegetables are available, its OK to ask for that (IMHO).

                                    And your only options are, really, rare/medium/well done. Do NOT tell the waitress that you want the fried chicken but you want it broiled.

                                    Those who have been reading my posts for a while know that I have the world's most annoying SIL who orders this way no matter where she goes. In the height of their carbo-phobic days, she and her husband were notorious for asking for an entree without the pasta, potatoes or fries, and expecting (loudly) that the restaurant charge them less for it. (She also orders her drinks without ice, thinking -- again, out loud -- somehow she "gets more").

                                    1. re: Cheflambo

                                      Chef
                                      "(She also orders her drinks without ice, thinking -- again, out loud -- somehow she "gets more")"
                                      Actually, if you're referring to non alcoholic drinks, in most places, she does get more. If you remove the ton of ice in a glass of soda or iced tea/juice, you'll see that the glass is often less than half full. If it's a 'free refill' restaurant, it's not an issue, but if you're paying $3 for per glass of soda, it starts to add up. I'm not cheap, but I also don't like to get ripped off on an item that costs the restaurant pennies.

                                2. re: ML8000

                                  ML -- I don't think you're very far off with this observation. I once read a tip somewhere for ordering at regular fastfood places (like McD, BK, etc). This person insisted that since the normal menu items just had to have been sitting under a heat lamp for x amount of time, that the only way to get "fresh" fast food was to order it "special." So you order your QPounder "plain," or you order "just ketchup." That means someone has to go back to the grill, pull a pattie off and fix the sandwich just for you - and all you have to do is pull up to the "special order" parking spot and wait for it to come out to you, fresh off the grill. Don't know if it's true, but certainly speaks to your anecdote as well.

                                  1. re: k_d

                                    It used to be true. When I used to eat QP w/cheese, I didn't want the big chunks of onion, and didn't really want the other stuff, I just wanted meat and cheese and they would make it "special" and it was hot and juicy and good!
                                    I don't know if they still do that for customers, but I don't see why not if the customer is willing to wait.

                                    1. re: jacquelyncoffey

                                      That reminds me of a comic in Mad magazine when I was a kid...don't know why it has stuck in my head all these years. The guy ordering a burger no pickles and saying to his friend that it meant it would always be a fresh burger. Cut to the guy in the back taking a burger from the heat lamp and complaining about orders where he has to pick the pickles off the burger after it was already made.

                                      My SO was working in a fine dining restaurant and had a woman say she didn't like the way the duck on the menu was prepared. Could she have duck a l'orange instead. It was obvious that it was the only duck dish she knew.

                                3. What about when a restaurant alters the meal? Last weeek, I ordered a meal that consisted of 3 skewers of meat and fish. No where in the description did it mention anything about a sauce. When I inquired, I was told there was a sauce served on the side. When the dish arrived, there was sauce both on the food and also on the side. I tasted it. It was incindiary! It actually made my eyes tear and I could not eat it. I explained it to the Server, who just remarked some of it must have spilled onto the food. I told him there was a lot on the plate for just a 'spill' but regardless of the reason I had tried it and it was far too spicy for me to eat. He took it away and sent over the Mgr who returned with the dish in hand! Once again I had to explain the situation. At that point the Mgr immediately apologized and instructed the Server to order another dinner and to bring a milder sauce on a separate plate. Why the Mgr had to be brought into it is beyond me. I got the sense that the Server thought it was 'no big deal' Just to be sure, I double checked the menu: No mention of any sauce

                                  1. I have a girlfriend that has never once (that I can remember) ordered a meal 'as is'. She always, always has to substitute one thing for another or has them hold the onions, no tomatoes, etc. Whenever I order out with her I make her call the order in just because it's so goshdarn complicated with all her adding and subtracting and substituting of ingredients

                                    It drives me crazy, but we've been friends a long time so I usually just roll my eyes and leave a good tip.

                                    16 Replies
                                    1. re: diablo

                                      I dated someone like that. Briefly. Everything was ordered with excruciatingly detailed qualifiers and naturally it was never right. I'll only go out to eat with someone like that once. I have preferences, everybody does, but in general, if you don't like what's printed, don't order it and then try to modify it to your taste.

                                      1. re: rednyellow

                                        This is a bone of contention with my Gf as well. We order from a pizzeria all the time and I get whatever they offer and she gets the same thing every time. They make Chicken Marsala, and they have breaded cutlets, and they have caramelized onions for a few dishes. She orders breaded chicken cutlets with spinach and caramelized onion in a marsala sauce with no mushrooms. Every once in a while they give her mushrooms, they give her grilled chicken, or they jus give her regular Chicken Marsala. She gores nuts. But here's the part I don't understand. They usually charge her $3 more for the dish than what is charged for the Chicken Marsala. How is breading a cutlet & taking the mushrooms out a $3 increase? It doesn't take any more time, and they probably already have the breaded cutlets ready for chicken parmesan or just plain breaded cutlets on a wedge.

                                        1. re: jhopp217

                                          It might be the P.I.T.A. charge. :)

                                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                                            That's just what I was thinking! A "substitution charge" is just a more polite term. *G*

                                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                                              Okay, I have to know, what does P.I.T.A. charge mean?

                                              1. re: Stillwater Girl

                                                Pain In The A** charge - it's not something on their regular menu (despite having the ingredients for it) so they're going out of their way to make something special.

                                                1. re: Stillwater Girl

                                                  Pain in the... um, you get the drift, right?

                                            2. re: rednyellow

                                              When Harry Met Sally:

                                              Sally Albright: But I'd like the pie heated and I don't want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I'd like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it, if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it's real; if it's out of the can then nothing.
                                              Waitress: Not even the pie?
                                              Sally Albright: No, I want the pie, but then not heated.

                                              1. re: Cheflambo

                                                I would have to strangle a customer like that. Truly. Which is why I would have made a horrible waitress!

                                                1. re: Cheflambo

                                                  And while we're into movie references, who can forget the classic Jack Nicholson interchange from Five Easy Pieces:

                                                  Waitress: I'm sorry, we don't have any side orders of toast...an English muffin or a coffee roll.
                                                  Dupea: What do you mean you don't make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don't you?
                                                  Waitress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
                                                  Dupea: ...You've got bread and a toaster of some kind?
                                                  Waitress: I don't make the rules.
                                                  Dupea: OK, I'll make it as easy for you as I can. I'd like an omelette, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
                                                  Waitress: A number two, chicken sal san, hold the butter, the lettuce and the mayonnaise. And a cup of coffee. Anything else?
                                                  Dupea: Yeah. Now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.
                                                  Waitress (spitefully): You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
                                                  Dupea: I want you to hold it between your knees.

                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                    That's hilarious! I've never seen that one...I love Jack Nicholson.

                                                    In terms of the ordering...I find it to be a huge pet peeve but at the same time, they have a right to get what they want. It's their money paying for the food and so they should be satisfied customers. Remember, the customer is always right...

                                                    1. re: Chew on That

                                                      It's their money paying for the food and so they should be satisfied customers. Remember, the customer is always right...
                                                      ~~~~~~~~
                                                      On that, we will have to disagree. There's a point where the customer is changing the whole intent of the menu item. They aren't "right" at that point; they're just a PITA and the restaurant should not have to jump through hoops just to serve them something completely off-menu.

                                                      1. re: Chew on That

                                                        CoT

                                                        The customer is always the customer, but the broad brush of self-entitled always right is where the issue of bad service versus bad customer is open for discussion.

                                                        - The customer walks up to the MOD and states "I was promised a window table"
                                                        - The customer walks up to the check-in at the hotel and states "I was told an upgrade to a suite would not be a problem"
                                                        - The customer walks up to the gate and states "I was told I could upgrade to first class for no charge
                                                        - The customer orders like Big Jack above

                                                        The customer is an opportunity to sell a product, develop a relationship and hopefully please that person with service. Everyone knows, some just cannot be pleased. Should any business set the business model where the least common denominator is the target so everyone suffers.

                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                          Spot on, jfood. As a customer service manager once put it "Customer service does not always mean customer satisfaction". One should always be polite, and show respect for the customer's desire, but there are also rules and guidelines that need to be followed. I was amazed how many irate people would calm down and accept your offer if you listened and were polite, but firmly explained the policy. But being flexible helps too.

                                                          We order take-out from our local Chinese-Canadian spot frequently. They have a dinner for four special which features chicken chow mein as one of the choices. We always ask if they will substitute Cantonese chow mein for it. The first few times they warned us there would be an extra charge; now they know us, and don't even mention it. (They still charge it, and we still pay it.) As a result, we are now loyal customers. If they had refused to make this change, we would have probably started going elsewhere.

                                                          1. re: KevinB

                                                            as someone put it perfectly in a similar post a while back - 'you are a customer not the customer'.

                                                            1. re: smartie

                                                              Without many 'a' customers, there will be 'no' customers.

                                                              Still hilarious.

                                              2. I'd look away and take it in stride. I don't think I've menu-altered myself... at least not in recent memory, but I have a good friend who's constantly on a diet and pesco-vegetarian to boot. She's always asking for butter-free-this, egg-white-that, and meatless everything else. Luckily she lives on the west coast, so I don't see her for meals that often.

                                                1. I already typed this once, but it didn't show up. I once went to a chain bakery/restaurant well known, and walked out. We heard here that they had great egg salad, so we ordered but with a different bread, but would not give it to us as it would change the taste. Talke to the manager and said that was the policy so we left. We are also the consumer and paying for the meals, I don't think they should redo a meal, but to leave off or substiute something minor shouldn;t be a problem. I look up the menus on line before we go to a new restauarant, but I can't tell you how many times the menus have changed by the time we get there and then my husband as to go to what he refers as his default menu, a steak or something. We go out a lot and most restaurants we have had no problems. Some think we are doing them a favor by patronizing their establishment, not the other way around. How many times have we all gone somewhere and there is no one there and you get the worst service? I think it all plays together, we want to enjoy a meal and they want to make money, it is a service oriented business.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: paprkutr

                                                    I agree, paprkutr, but that doesn't seem to be the consensus with so many for so long.

                                                    I've never had 'redone' a dish, but have never had a problem requesting a change.

                                                    A restaurant is in business because of the customer, we are not beholden to them. If there are enough people who object to a dictatorial unyielding restaurant, happily they go out of business.

                                                  2. The only thing I normally ask for differently is occasionally I'll ask for buffalo wings to be prepared "well dne, sauce on the side>' I've never heard a complaint.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: jhopp217

                                                      What are well done buffalo wings?

                                                      1. re: miss_bennet

                                                        It means they're dry, sad little pieces of chicken meat with the consistency of vulcanized rubber (I've had to cook enough of them)... but to each their own. A place I used to work at used the euphemism crispy... as if we've serve "Soggy" chicken wings.

                                                        1. re: miss_bennet

                                                          Actually it's a little less messy, and if the place's sauce is good, they have a nice crunch and then you dip them in the sauce then in the blue. I kind of like them this way on occasion, because, without sounding sillly, it's like another dish entirely

                                                      2. gutreactions? Do you believe this applies to situations where you're not in a restaurant? I have a friends who BBQ all the time. They also have a habit of overcooking everything. One time they were making london broil and I objected strongly to the overcooking, explaining that technically, once you overcook it, it's not even london broil anymore. If you are having food prepared at a friend's house, how far would you go in order to guarantee you get things cooked the way you like it?

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: jhopp217

                                                          I would accept the food as is, or not go. Then again, I don't know if i could choke back well done beef. There'd have to be a great sauce. I also refuse to make beef for some friends of mine, who refuse to try rare. I once made that most beautiful rare roast, and my guest threw her plate in the microwave. I think I could do individual steaks for them, but not london broil, flank steak or roast beef.

                                                          1. re: jhopp217

                                                            When I am a guest at someone's house, I would never ask them to modify a thing. If they are overcooking the london broil because they like it well done, then I'd eat a small portion of the well done meat and fill myself up on the other offerings or stop for a snack on the way home. If they are overcooking the meat because they are inexperienced BBQers and don't know when to take it off the grill, then I might once, tactfully, offer to help them figure out when the meat is ready. But if they didn't pick up on the hint, I'd shut up. But if your friends BBQ all the time, then they probably know just how they like their meat

                                                            As someone who entertains fairly often, I can say that it's pretty stressful when multiple guests start announcing their eating preferences to me. It's a lot of work, I try to please everyone, but ultimately, one can't. I don't get offended when someone throws a rare piece of meat I cook in the microwave or puts it back on the grill until it's leather. I'd rather that they ruin just their portion. If I'm having guests that I know like their meat well done, I'll usually make individual steaks, or something else altogether so I don't have to deal with the issue.

                                                            1. re: Shawn

                                                              Shawn.
                                                              Bravo!... You are probably what I envision as the perfect guest: Gracious and appreciative. :-}

                                                            2. re: jhopp217

                                                              Kinda hard with something like London Broil, but I've managed to get a properly-cooked burger or chicken from an "overcooker" by hovering by the grill and asking for "That one" that I saw go on later than the rest...

                                                            3. Well, if your friend is like Dee Dee in the sitcom Half & Half, then talk to her. If it is leave something out, I do that often. I like butter and I like toast, but not combined. I learned how to say sin mantequilla at 8am in a bar in Albacete, Spain, from a patron having his morning brandy. [We were in search of real coffee after the pension's continental breakfast watered-down version of java.] My bad if I forget to mention my preference against the norm before it comes out. A boyfriend that had worked in a restaurant kitchen explained to me that it is unreasonable to ask for mashed potatoes without garlic, because the taters are already made in a big batch. So if I ask for fries as a substitute and there are already fries on the menu and the server says no problem, it is a win-win. I happily scarf up the fries and the table has a rosy opinion of the resto's desire to have patrons satisfied.

                                                              My guess is attitude has much to do with it. Yes, you are paying for a meal and why should you get a well-done steak when you asked for medium rare, but you are not King for a Day.

                                                              1. I had this question recently at a restaurant. They had "home made" crabmeat ravioli--home made but I'd guess house made is more accurate. But, it came with a heavy cream sauce which I didn't want. I wanted something lighter like a light garlic olive oil and fresh tomatoes but I really wanted the crabmeat ravioli so I went with the cream sauce. Kind of a waste because I couldn't taste the crabmeat well in the cream sauce, though I tried to scrape it off but I didn't want to be a pain at the restaurant, either.

                                                                1. I don't see a problem with asking whether a special request can be accomodated - as long as you're polite about it. All the restaurant has to say is "Sorry, no". Any waiter or chef that gets bent out of shape by a polite substitution request (that isn't ridiculous) is being silly. If a restaurant cannot or will not accomodate a request, that's fine, but then the diner can decide whether to order the dish as-is, order something else or dine elsewhere.

                                                                  I don't modify all the time, but sometimes I do - in the last month I ordered a steak sandwich on Sourdough rather than ciabatta (no problem, and it was better than the one on the ciabatta that my brother got) and a steak with rice instead of potatoes (I grew up in Hawaii - sometimes I just have a hankering for rice) - again, no problem. In casual to mid-range restaurants I've asked for dressing on the side because often salads are overdressed and then there's nothing you can do to salvage it and I don't want to send a salad back, but in a high-end restaurant I expect that they know how to dress a salad and am usually not disappointed. I will sometimes ask to change a dressing because some of the dressings restaurants come up with don't sound good.

                                                                  As for the OP's question about what the dining companions should do - I can't imagine "doing" anything about how or what another person orders UNLESS they are being rude. If the person was being rude, I might ask the waiter for another minute and then speak to my dining companion about whether this is the right restaurant for us or if we should perhaps go somewhere else. If it's a frequent problem with someone you're close to, I might talk to them about trying the food as-is (sort of like how it's rude to season your food without tasting it first)...but if it really is a frequent problem as described, I'd bet it's a personality flaw that manifests in other areas of this person's interactions with others...

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: akq

                                                                    It depends on the restaurant. If it's cafe dining, like a Panera Bread, custom orders are easy (and almost expected.) I routinely change up the bread, ask for it to be toasted, change the dressing and the jam flavor, etc. But even there, the practices differ from outlet to outlet.

                                                                    A staff member at one Panera Bread alerted me to the pb&j sandwich prepared on the panini grill. Apparently, he made it for himself frequently. It was fabulous. But the next time I went there, they refused to make it for me and said they weren't allowed to use the grill for pb&j.

                                                                    1. re: brendastarlet

                                                                      I would bet that the no pb&j on the grill rule has to do with nut allergies. While it is easy enough to maintain a separate set of utensils, cutting boards etc. for any peanut butter preparation, all the panini go on the same grill(s). Someone with a severe nut allergy wouldn't expect that peanut butter has been on the grill so may not ask about it.

                                                                      1. re: kmcarr

                                                                        Or the mess when the pb&j squishes out onto the press and then cooks!

                                                                  2. At a chain restaurant when I asked for a substitution for a side dish that didn't agree with me, not only wouldn't they substitute (fair enough) but they refused to serve the dish without it on the plate, even after I'd explained that I wouldn't eat it and it would just go to waste. Bizarre.

                                                                    10 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Jasz

                                                                      I would have left or asked for a extra small plate...then place the undesired item on the small plate and call the wait person to bring it back.

                                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                                        It didn't bother me to have it on the plate—I was thinking of the deliberate waste of food and just the sheer stupidity of the policy.

                                                                      2. re: Jasz

                                                                        I used to frequent a place that didn't remove things when asked (no lettuce/tomato/onion on the burger - or no fries). A guy I worked with solved that problem, but it took about a dozen visits. He'd say 'no fries, and just a plain burger' and it would always come with fries/lettuce/tomato/onion. He'd just scrape everything he asked them not to bring onto the table, then dump a large amount of salt on the fries so he wouldn't be tempted to eat them. Disgusting - yes, but effective. The restaurant changed their policy after a dozen or so visits from 'Bucky'....

                                                                        1. re: jeanmarieok

                                                                          Imagine that a diner had to go through that to get what he wanted.

                                                                          Imagine that there are diners who would agree with and defend a restaurant like that.

                                                                          It boggles the mind.

                                                                          1. re: dolores

                                                                            Ummm – imagine a grown man who, rather than simply taking his business elsewhere, would behave so childishly. Scraped the stuff he didn’t want directly onto the table? There are plenty of places where you can “have it your way.” If the restaurant won’t accede to your demands they have their reasons. You certainly don’t have to continue to patronize them. That doesn’t mean they are wrong.

                                                                            1. re: meg944

                                                                              Imagine a restaurant that only acknowledged its diners after its diners mounted a minor protest as Bucky man did. Kudos to Bucky.

                                                                              How stupid of this restaurant.

                                                                              How stupid of any restaurant that thinks it is in business as an island, and doesn't need customers.

                                                                              How comical of diners to keep defending and patronizing stupid restuarants.

                                                                              Go figure.

                                                                              1. re: dolores

                                                                                I didn't say he had to keep going there - anyone is perfectly within their rights to stop patronizing any establishment for any reason. I just think continuing to go there instead of somewhere else and then throwing his food on the table is childish. If he had simply stopped going (and other did the same, assuming others agreed) they would presumably have had the same effect without the drama.

                                                                                I don't see what the big deal is - it can't possibly be that hard to find places that will do what you want. I have a hairdresser, for instance, who will not cut/color someone's hair in a style she thinks will be unflattering. Has it cost her customers? Undoubtedly! (I personally prefer it because I trust her taste.) But it's easy enough for those people to go elsewhere. If she doesn't mind the missed customers - and she doesn't, as she has more than she can handle - what's the problem?

                                                                          2. re: jeanmarieok

                                                                            just to lighten things up -

                                                                            once in florence the waitress in a mom and pop restaurant accidently dropped our pasta all over the table - the owner/chef/husband rushed to our table.. looked it over, turned to his wife and said
                                                                            "put some cheese on it"

                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                              Hahaha! Now that's customer service - make them laugh, show that you're human, and things improve drastically.

                                                                          3. re: Jasz

                                                                            The same thing happened to me at a neighborhood Italian place. They refused to substitute another available vegetable for the broccoli rabe that came with the roast chicken (there were many other vegetables on the menu), and then refused to even serve the dish without the broccoli rabe. So I ended up ordering a completely different dish because I really don't even like broccoli rabe on my plate, when really I had wanted the roast chicken. I found that completely ridiculous, and I don't plan to return to that restaurant, even though the food was otherwise good. And I am not a picky eater.

                                                                          4. just playing devil's advocate here, but we don't go into a clothes store and say I want that outfit, but change the buttons, put a different fabric on the top half and I want that belt not this one. And then expect the store to accede at the same price if they could even do it. That is haute couteuer (sorry if the spelling isn't right).

                                                                            12 Replies
                                                                            1. re: smartie

                                                                              The clothes in the store are already made. Though there are pre-made foods in restaurants, there are also items that could be altered without additional trouble or expense.

                                                                              1. re: Shawn

                                                                                Any time a non-standard order is placed, there is an increased chance of mistakes being made. When a "mistake" is served to the customer, the complaints are usually worse than those from a simple refusal to substitute.

                                                                                Depending on the type restaurant, what seems a simple alteration may indeed be either more work (as in removing onion or brocoli from pre-mixed vegetables) or not possible due to pre-seasoning, marinade, different prep, etc.

                                                                                1. re: hannaone

                                                                                  My comment was meant to address things that were not already premade or premixed. Requests such as "May I have the sauce on the side?" or "Can you substitute another side vegetable for the broccoli?" There are some alterations that really are simple and possible, yet when you request them at some places you are treated the same way as the customer who is trying to rewrite the recipe.

                                                                                  1. re: Shawn

                                                                                    Just pointing out that what seems simple sometimes isn't.
                                                                                    One of the requests I often got in my former restaurant (Korean traditional) was to have the bulgogi "sauce" served on the side so the customer could spoon it over rice. Our bulgogi was a home style stir fry and the sauce was created by the marinated meat and veggies giving up their juices at the end of the cooking process.
                                                                                    Not possible to serve "on the side" without draining the dish and collecting the "sauce".

                                                                                    The customers who requested this thought that we used a separate sauce that would be simple to place in a small dish.

                                                                                    On the funny side-
                                                                                    Also had occasional requests to serve the meat drippings from our grilled meat. (Commercial grill - drippings vaporise)

                                                                                    1. re: hannaone

                                                                                      But in that case, you'd be able to tell the diner why the request can't be accomodated and perhaps help them figure out a more appropriate item to order. For instance, if you figure out that they are concerned about the spiciness or the salt content, perhaps you could suggest something else on the menu that would better fit their specifications. I don't see the harm in the person asking.

                                                                                      1. re: akq

                                                                                        Never said they couldn't ask. I am one those people that has the soap thing going with cilantro, so I often ask if it can be left out, but I understand if they say no and I either pick it out myself or order something else :-)
                                                                                        Just making the point that things aren't always as simple as they may appear to be and that the customer should accept the policy without thinking it's all about the restaurant deliberately slighting them.
                                                                                        Many people don't accept that and actually get very indignant when a request is refused regardless of whether it is "simple" or not. And of those most don't want to hear any type of explanation, all they care about is that the restaurant was snooty enough to refuse them.
                                                                                        As those above have said, there are many different restaurants out there, so rather than causing a scene, find one that does as you (generic you, not personal) wish.

                                                                              2. re: smartie

                                                                                Imagine being told if you want that shirt, you have to buy the entire outfit, as is. There are different levels of changes with restaurants that are possible and not possible, just as there are with clothes.

                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                  chowser, I consistently find it fascinating that these discussions get heated, with some on the side of the restaurant no matter what, giving the restaurant and the lofty chef carte blanche to dictate and if the consumer doesn't like it, they can eat at home.

                                                                                  And there are others who believe the customer is right in asking for what they want, since it is their money, and if they didn't want to get a break from eating at home and enjoy dining out, they would have stayed home, and they therefore want it their way or no way at all.

                                                                                  I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. Altering a dish like Jack did in 3 Easy Pieces isn't fair, but neither is it fair for a restaurant to be dictatorial and think they are the only game in town. They ain't.

                                                                                  Still, it makes for amusing reading, over and over and over, don't it?

                                                                                  1. re: dolores

                                                                                    Actually, to put the Five Easy Pieces quote in context, all Nicholson's character wanted was a side of toast with his omelet. The waitress was the unreasonable one. He was simply making the point that they'd serve him a sandwich on toast, so why not the toast by itself? He was even willing to pay the entire sandwich price just to get the toast.

                                                                                    Of course, the follow-up to that exchange was that she asked him to leave, and he swept all the glasses and place settings off the table before doing so. But then, he IS Jack Nicholson!

                                                                                    1. re: dolores

                                                                                      I enjoy reading the different opinions. It's hard for me to tell who's heated from the tones of the posts but there are definitely divergent views! I do think that some people who feel all the customer should always get what they want might not have worked in the back room and understand how hard it can be sometimes. But a "hold the fries" which I've done isn't that difficult. As I said above, I've had a dish I really wanted to alter but did refrain. It's not my home.

                                                                                      1. re: dolores

                                                                                        How about our boy Jack in "As Good As It Gets", talk about pushing an envelope

                                                                                    2. re: smartie

                                                                                      Expecting the changes at the same price is a different story. When I buy pants at a department store that are too long I ask for alterations. Some places alter for free, some charge (and I can decide whether to pay the additional charge there or somewhere else or skip buying the pants altogether). Sometimes some simple alterations are gratis but more involved ones are charged for - again, no problem so long as they tell me and I get to decide whether to make the purchase or not. Or, if I go to a store that does not do alterations in house, I'd expect that they might be able to point me to a tailor in the area, and if they are a really nice store, maybe even set up an appointment with the tailor for me.

                                                                                    3. I have only ever experienced one TRULY unreasonable person when it came to ordering. we were on a "girl trip" and went to a nice resto - mid range, not high end. She ordered some stew or something (maybe potroast) but didn't want the veggies in it. When the waiter came back and said they were already part of the gravy and did she want to order something else, she told him to STRAIN it.
                                                                                      OMG. it was so embarrasing. they did it, but I lost a LOT of respect for her because she thought it was funny.

                                                                                      1. I used to work with a cantankerous Texan who once insisted that the restaurant we were in make him a pitcher of iced tea. The catch? We were in a French bistro in Amsterdam. They'd never heard of iced tea, but they followed his instructions and sure enough 20 minutes later out comes a whole pitcher full. Now that's service!

                                                                                        1. IMO it's OK to ask for a dish to be served *minus* one of its components, or with the sauce on the side. Neither of those things require much effort on the part of the kitchen, unless you ask for something silly like for your sauce to be made without butter. When you start asking for substitutions, you are being a pest. If your tastes are so specific, cook for yourself at home, or go to another restaurant.

                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: Buckethead

                                                                                            We were in a small cafe in Mississippi and ordered breakfast - I got the #3 (or something) hold the grits, I'm a Yankee, I don't care for grits.

                                                                                            No Problem

                                                                                            Then the check came - 50 cents was deducted for the grits that I didn't have. My introduction to Southerrn Hospitality :)

                                                                                            1. re: rich in stl

                                                                                              rich
                                                                                              They were pretty foolish to annoy you, AKA: A potential future customer, over a 50 cent "Deduction/deletion" charge. Very short sighted and very poor business decision on their part.

                                                                                              1. re: Tay

                                                                                                i think Rich means that they *subtracted* the fifty cents from his bill, not that they added a charge! southern hospitality indeed, if so. :)

                                                                                              2. re: rich in stl

                                                                                                I think that's charming! They wanted to not charge you for something that was normally included with the dish. Very sweet of them!

                                                                                            2. The only time I ever substitute is if I'm at a Mexican restaurant. I love combos, but they usually say that the enchiladas are served with ground beef, and I'm kind of a reluctant omnivore (I have expensive taste in meat, and I won't touch ground beef). So I get a cheese enchilada instead. My future MIL is totally vegetarian and we do simple swaps like that all the time.

                                                                                              Other than that, I don't substitute stuff, I just order something on the menu that I actually want. For one thing, I kind of think it would wreck the dish and for another, I agree with everyone who says that it'll be more likely to get messed up. Besides, usually I go out to eat because I don't even want to THINK about putting in the effort to prepare something. Why add to my stress?

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: Gnome

                                                                                                Mexican is the only place I make a change, too, but its a small, easy one. I do not care for dried out "mexican" rice or beans in any form. These are ALWAYS included on a plate in 98% of the Mexican restaurants I visit. I have learned to say (in both Spanish and English) "no rice, no beans". I make sure the server is listening and comprehending this. I dont ask for a substitution (although in our regular neighborhood place the waitress usually offers me an additional flauta or some extra tortillas). I also dont ask for a reduced price. And I know I can (and often do, when necessary) eat around these things, but I do hate to waste food, or send back a plate full of untouched carbohydrates.

                                                                                              2. Most of my acquaintances that are constantly changing menu items often have control issues in other areas, as well. I have one co-worker who, in the 20 or so times we've eaten together, has NEVER ordered food without asking for at least two changes.

                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                  This has been my experience as well. I have one friend who modifies every single thing she orders. It isn't about getting a dish made a certain way; it's about getting special treatment and extra attention.

                                                                                                  1. re: small h

                                                                                                    Perhaps you've hit the nail squarely on the head for my co-worker moreso than I did...it's not about control, it's about needing the attention.

                                                                                                    1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                      There is someone I work with who always sends her food back with some complaint. Having worked in my parents' restaurants, I know how much trouble this creates for the kitchen. I always cringe when this happens. I no longer eat with this person. And I agree it's about needing attention, special treatment and control, not about the food.

                                                                                                2. I don't see a simple plus or minus substitution as a problem. You can add one thing or take one thing away. No biggie. If it's a composed dish, not a hamburger, I don't think you should do it at all, aside from allergies.

                                                                                                  I would assume that restaurants would rather you say "no tomato" than to waste a tomato that costs them a lot of money.

                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

                                                                                                    There are people who ask for substitutions, and then there are people for whom part of the dining experience is to get employees to jump through hoops. My aunts are in the latter group and a lot of times you can see the server register it after the first few words out of their mouths. Substitutions, sending dishes back, going on and on about how the food is too spicy or something. If my aunts were not elderly relatives I would refuse to go out with them if they didn't knock it off.

                                                                                                    Honestly, some people are unbelievable. I saw a guy at Costco demand that one of the sample ladies pick some vegetables he didn't like out of a dish that she was serving little sample cups of! The way some people treat food workers, one almost thinks they are doing it on a bet or something.

                                                                                                    1. re: bibi rose

                                                                                                      My old man always said,"Don't mess with your dentist, your auto mechanic, and the people who cooks and serves your food" Wise words in my book and I can't help but think what other " substitutions" are being made in the kitchen when a difficult customer request it. Me, When I don't see what I like on a menu. I move on to the next restaurant. Just seems like common sense.

                                                                                                      1. re: currymouth

                                                                                                        So, gutreactions, have you been swayed either way?

                                                                                                        Convinced that the chef is a delicate flower whose precious gustatory creations can't be altered?

                                                                                                        Or that the diner is as a cow at a trough who has no idea what they like and no right to get it even if they did?

                                                                                                        Or, somewhere in the middle???

                                                                                                        1. re: bibi rose

                                                                                                          Nope. I was asking GR what conclusion he/she had reached after reading all these posts.

                                                                                                          As I noted to chowser, there is never any open-mindedness when it comes to dining. I find that fascinating to read, especially when it becomes personal. As if I can be (or should be) dissuaded from the use of ketchup. Hilarious.

                                                                                                          1. re: dolores

                                                                                                            OY........dolores, please. Don't start with the ketchup again, remember what happened to the last thread where ketchup came up. Poor Soxlover is still wondering what happened to his first post.

                                                                                                            1. re: currymouth

                                                                                                              GR: my point exactly.

                                                                                                  2. It seems to me that a lot of the discussion on this topic has lost sight of one of the key elements of the OPs question: is it appropriate to be CONSTANTLY asking for alterations to menu items? I'm sure that most of us (Americans, at least) request minor changes once in a while ("Could I have a side salad instead of fries with that?"), but the OP and a number of others have described individuals who do this every time they go to a restaurant.

                                                                                                    It seems pretty clear to me it's a psychological syndrome we're dealing with here, some sort of need to assert control or receive special treatment. Any psychologists or psychiatrists out there familiar with this? Is it a recognized phenomenon in the mental health community? And if so, to respond to another part of the OP's post, what (if anything) can or should one do about it? Would pointing out that it's inappropriate simply provoke the person, or could it be presented in such a way as to get them to see what they're doing and alter their behavior?

                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: BobB

                                                                                                      Pointing it out that it's inappropriate, I think, is a lost cause. They don't see it as inappropriate. They see it as "getting what I want how I want it." and see it as their right to do so.

                                                                                                      1. re: BobB

                                                                                                        bingo BobB. i knew a girl like that in high school. the way she would order *french fries* with a zillion sauces on the side and extra plate, silverware etc would make your eyes cross. she had a little speech she'd give to whatever poor server at a freaking perkins, and if they didn't get every element she wouldn't tip-- in a self-satisfied gotcha sort of way. i'd never ordered any substitution in any restaurant in my life before i met this person, so the behavior seemed very odd to me at the time. even then i was thinking-- this is how she gets any attention at all. maybe if she had ever known her dad she would be different somehow. and later i would see this compulsive self-centered behavior in the service industry. everything would be fine, but customers would ask for extra this and that, they were not comfortable until they could see that someone was fussing over them or doing something special for them. as a bartender, i called them "the garnish ladies" because they would be fine as long as you took the extra 15 seconds to make them an elegant fruit garnish on a pick for their cocktail. their expression was one of *relief*-- if you just fussed over them a little bit: "ooh i'm special, everyone can see that i'm special." i'm not saying i minded this when the customer was nice-- i was happy to be kind and give them the attention they seemed to need so badly-- it's what they tipped me for, but i felt bad for them, too.

                                                                                                        otoh some of these terribly insecure folks can be "the customer from hell" who exist to run those serving them around-- it's the only power in their lives, so they take it to the hilt. those people suck to deal with btw, and you would be shocked at the frequency you encounter them in the service industry. but since imo it's a very deep-seated insecurity issue, i don't see how a casual comment from a friend will do anything other than agitate the offender, who doesn't want to hear that there is anything wrong with his/her behavior. i don't see the compulsive altering as the problem, i see it as a symptom, and i'm not equipped to deal with the real problem.

                                                                                                        i'm certainly not talking about folks with food allergies or people who prefer a dressing substitution or ask for a bottle of whathaveyou with their omelet or their steak. these are simple preference things which are oftentimes easy to do and be done with and everyone's happy. i'm talking about a completely different power dynamic. i think it's familiar to lots of folks in the service industry.

                                                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                          Hey hey.... we are mixologists! Artists in our own right. and I don't care what they ask for in a drink as long as they are a good tipper :D

                                                                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                            I think soupkitten has hit it on the head. These people are sad, but unfortunately very common. They can ruin the night for servers and other diners on so many levels. A waiter I used to work with called them the "unresolved childhood isses" guests.

                                                                                                        2. As a rule, I don't think that anyone should ask for a dish to be altered unless there is a specific health reason to do so. Asking that the dressing be on the side for a salad is fine, and asking that there be no tomatos or peppers or such in something that is fixed fresh is also ok. I also have no problem with asking, not demanding, whether I can substitue veggies for the potato or rice, and letting the restaurant decide whether that is possible.

                                                                                                          Two examples: My brother, much to his dismay is very alergic to onions. So when he goes out, he tells the server and discusses the dishes with him/her to find something that has no onion in the preparation.

                                                                                                          I do not like green peppers. They just don't agree with my stomach. So when I order breakfast I ask that there be no green peppers in the mix. If my salad comes with green peppers, I simply take them out before eating the salad. But I'd never ask a restaurant to prepare a dish where the peppers were integral to the dish to take them out, I just order something else.

                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: dinwiddie

                                                                                                            I know what you mean about the peppers. Uncooked, they are easy to remove. Cooked, well, they have contaminated the dish. Better not to order that at all.

                                                                                                            A good way to request substitutions is with, "Is it possible to ...?" When one is polite and non-demanding, it frequently IS possible to have the fish without the roasted red pepper sauce.

                                                                                                            "Is it possible to ...?" also works for reservations, but that's another thread.

                                                                                                            1. re: RoxyB

                                                                                                              RoxyB
                                                                                                              Clever girl. Very smart thing to do.:-} Aside from being very polite, it also encourages the person being asked to demonstratethat, indeed they can 'make it possible.' It creates a 'Win-Win" scenario.

                                                                                                          2. When people start getting super picky about food, I am reminded of something my Czech dad once said.

                                                                                                            When I was a kid in the 80s, we ate a lot of different things (like organ meat sausages), and my dad will eat anything- literally. I once asked him if there was anything he didn't like as a kid. His answer: "that wasn't an option." He grew up in Prague during WWII, when people were literally foraging for anything edible to feed their families- grass and tree bark included.

                                                                                                            That's something that will change your perspective on food and eating.

                                                                                                            1. I used to work as a cook in a popular Manhattan resto, on the more upscale side too. There was a woman who would come in once a month or so with friends and bring 3-4 large zucchini in a plastic bag. She'd send them back to the kitchen and ask us to boil them and serve plain on a plate....no seasoning, no nothing -- not even cut. It seemed strange to us but considering she always brought friends who were ordering off the menu and they were spending good money to be there, we were always happy to do what was requested. As long as I'm not asked to pick something out of a premade dish, what's wrong with making a customer happy?

                                                                                                              1. altering menu items bugs me alot. I just try to ignore these picky, annoying dining companions while they are ordering their customized dish. I also make sure to tip the server extra, and if I see the server away from the table, I apologize for the individual causing the issues.

                                                                                                                1. I once had a customer ask for spaghetti. We do not have spaghetti on our menu. Nor do we have spagetti noodles or anything resembling spaghetti sauce anywhere on the menu. I politely explained to her that "I'm sorry, we're not able to do that, it's not on our menu." Her reply? "Well, this is a restaurant isn't it?" Me: "Yes, it is, but we don't have marinara or spaghetti noodles on hand so we really just can't." Her: "Well can't you just make spaghetti sauce?" We will most often bend over backwards for customers, sometimes to the point of it being absurd, but I was not about to go back to the kitchen on a Saturday night dinner rush and ask them to make spaghetti sauce. Her and her (obviously embarrassed) dining companion actually walked out! Probably for the best. I realize this is an extreme example of menu altering but I had to share it!

                                                                                                                  15 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: Stillwater Girl

                                                                                                                    Makes you wonder what planet this person came from!

                                                                                                                    1. re: Stillwater Girl

                                                                                                                      I once had a couple come in for lunch and order shrimp cocktail and ny strip steaks. we had neither. We had no shrimp on the menu, so we had no shrimp in the house. We did have strip on the dinner menu, but we had not yet received our meat order for the day.

                                                                                                                      They were appalled and then angry. They told me they had come to the restaurant for those items. (and yes, we did have a menu online and no, it did not list those items.) They settled on other entrees but were too upset to find other appetizers. They complained the whole time that what they were eating simply was not what they had wanted. They left extrememly unhappy.

                                                                                                                      1. re: nc213

                                                                                                                        Your restaurant must've been in the middle of the Mohave desert, and you guys must've used a staple gun to keep that couple stuck to their seats.

                                                                                                                        It's too bad because otherwise I'm sure any rational diner probably would've just left ... and gone to another restaurant.

                                                                                                                        [ed. note: sarcasm intended]

                                                                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                                          actually, what's pretty hilarious in retrospect is that the restaurant is on a street with no fewer than fifteen or twenty other restaurants, most of which were open for lunch. granted, I don't know if any of the others *had* shrimp cocktail and strip steaks, but surely they could have checked or driven to steakhouse, which surely would have had said things.
                                                                                                                          nope, they just stayed and groused. good times.

                                                                                                                          1. re: nc213

                                                                                                                            That being the case, I think I would have called in a carry-out order for the staek & shrimp from one of thew other restaurants, served it to your customers, and charged them double.

                                                                                                                            Like I said, some people arent happy unless they arent happy. This sounds like a perfect example.

                                                                                                                        2. re: nc213

                                                                                                                          They were probably right about what they wanted and why they went out. Just wrong about about the restaurant. Either too embarrassed to admit their mistake and leave so they took their anger out on you or unaware of their mistake. It's a shame that they couldn't just leave.

                                                                                                                          1. re: viperlush

                                                                                                                            Sort of like the guy I once knew who went into a Sambo's Restaurant (this was about 30 years ago) and ordered a "Denny Burger"...?

                                                                                                                        3. re: Stillwater Girl

                                                                                                                          people ask me for stuff we don't have all the time, they assume that the contents of an entire grocery store is somewhere back in the 400 sq foot kitchen. my favorite is when people want to take the menu items that change seasonally, and add a totally non-seasonal ingredient. then they do not believe me that we do not stock the out of season ingredient *at all." no i don't secretly have asparagus somewhere back in the fridge, it's october, dude. do you know how far the asparagus would have to come, & how expensive a case would be right now? that's why it's a squash risotto on the menu. we got the squash from the same farmer we get it from every year. it's nice that your favorite risotto is asparagus, please come back for it in may, when the farmers will be bringing us fresh local asparagus, *in season*. . .

                                                                                                                          and fries. americans think they can get fries everywhere they go & they do not believe that we don't *have* a deep fryer. or a microwave to heat up their baby bottle.

                                                                                                                          i think it's all in the way you ask. when i make a special request at a restaurant i'm always polite and ask "is it possible to ___?" it's more of a dialogue than a demand, and the person i'm talking to can respond "well no not really, because ____" or "that won't exactly be possible, but how about this: ___" or "yes it will be possible, but the substitution will cost $5 more." and everyone's on the same page. if someone asks for a substitution nicely i want to bend over backward to accommodate them. if they march in with a snotty or clueless demand i want to flatly refuse and post a sign saying "no substitutions."

                                                                                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                            Soupkitten, you are so correct about in the manner one asks. For some Chinese lunch specials (many of them come with free wonton soup or egg drop), I do ask if it's possible to substitute hot and sour soup, and offer to pay more for it. I've never been denied, and never have been charged extra money. It irks me when some people demand something because they've got this sense of entitlement -- I'm the customer and you must do whatever I say because I pay your bills. I've seen civil service employees get that crap from people all the time.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                                                                              sense of entitlement... that is exactly the problem Miss Needle!
                                                                                                                              Not exactly a substitution issue, but I dined with a co-worker once at a busy seafood restaurant and she literally forced the server to crack and clean her lobster for her, because it "grossed her out".

                                                                                                                              She then used the "I'm entitled to have it that way if I want"

                                                                                                                              I had enough at that point (there was other snobbery going on besides this).

                                                                                                                              I told her that by definition, you are only entitled to something if SOMEONE ELSE entitles it to you!

                                                                                                                            2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                              I completly agree with you Soupkitten. It's all in the way you ask. A request phrased politely will almost always get a positive response out of me unless it's absolutely not possible. When someone approaches me with the attitude of "I'm paying for this so you will make whatever I want" it doesn't make me want to make them happy. If you can't be nice to me, don't expect any favors. I had a couple last night, celebrating their 4th anniversary. Oddball question of the night was "is there any way we can get flowers on our table?" It's an outside patio and there aren't any flowers on any table. But they were so nice that I actually dug through storage (I had some time on my hands), found a little bud vase, and picked some flowers out of our pots in front of the restaurant. They loved it. Had they been snotty about it there would have been no way I would have gone through all that.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Stillwater Girl

                                                                                                                                Ditto. I do customer service all day long. I'll go a long way for someone who asks me for something (that will be difficult) who has a good attitude! If you get up on your high horse I'm going to just say "no." Why should I put myself out for someone with a bad attitude? Just be nice and courteous and I'll really try to accomplish the almost impossible for you.

                                                                                                                              2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                You don't have one of those magic wands that all you have to do is wave and say "Presto" ?

                                                                                                                                I don't know how many times I was asked for "burger and fries" at my Korean restaurant.
                                                                                                                                or for a McD style kiddie menu item like chicken nuggets.

                                                                                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                  Exactly. This kind of "is it possible...?" dialogue is what I always use, if I really want a substitution (and I rarely do, except to swap out or eliminate the fries/potato/rice component that accompanies an entree when I don't feel like it). It works well, and by not making a precise demand, there is never a need for a flat-out "no" as a response to ruin the mood for the rest of the meal.

                                                                                                                                  Speaking of asparagus (and availability, and politeness). I have a little story to share. I had a super-busy-jet-setting uncle who joined us for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, freshly off from a flight that day. Mind you, he's a really reasonable person, and for some reason on that day, he really wanted asparagus for his meal.

                                                                                                                                  The server explained they didnt have any, but my uncle, really politely and nicely, explained he really craved them. He probably even threw in the story that he hadn't even had a chance to have a sit-down meal for days, or maybe he slipped in a sizeable tip while no one was looking. That conversation lasted for a a while, and guess what, we had asparagus on the table that evening, probably from some nearby Chinese grocery store!

                                                                                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                    I've always wanted to ask the snotty ones "Why should we bother even having a menu with specific dishes on it, you must know better than the chef how to prepare good food. Maybe we will just have a list of ingredients, you tell us what you want and we will give you a quote."

                                                                                                                                    Problem is, a restaurant like that wouldn't work. If everyone was able to custom order, then these constant alterers wouldn't get their "I'm above the rest of the crowd" fixe and would seek out other places.

                                                                                                                                2. i don't have a problem with small, allergy-related substitutions (corn rather than flour tortilla since i'm allergic to wheat; no nuts in my salad since i'm allergic to nuts) or with the exclusion of an ingredient that isn't hard to exclude (my SO can't stand mushrooms and always asks that everythign he orders be mushroom free if possible; if not possible, he orders something else). but it sounds like your friend is asking for pretty involved substitutions, not just deletions.

                                                                                                                                  is she someone you can joke with? in your shoes, i'd rib her -- more or less gently -- until she got the message she's being a bit of a prima donna.

                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: cimui

                                                                                                                                    Cimui -- prima donnas feel that they are entitled to this treatment. Pointing it out to them, joking about it or critcizing it will NOT adjust their behavior in any way. (Neve try to teach a pig to sing ... it wastes your time and annoys the pig....)

                                                                                                                                    A few years ago we dined with another couple, (friends-of-friends) on a Friday evening at an Italian restaurant. The husband (not mine) wanted something that was not on the menu (spaghetti dressed with just a little olive oil and garlic - it was Lent, he was Catholic and didn't want any meat) but the server just would NOT cooperate. "You have cooked spaghetti, right? Olive oil? Im sure you have some garlic back there don't you?" The rest of us were about ready to crawl under the table when the husband said "could you send your chef out here, please?" Out comes the chef, the order was placed, the guy got his pasta aioli, and everyone was happy (except the server, whose sulky attitude we ignored for the rest of the meal). In this case it was a reasonable request, made in a courteous way, the chef said "certainly!", it was priced in line with the less elaborate pasta dishes already on the menu and the server received a bigger tip than she deserved.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Cheflambo

                                                                                                                                      glad that worked out in the end. i have to wonder why the server was so resistant, though. was he on categorical orders not to allow that kind of thing and the chef changed her mind when she heard the order?

                                                                                                                                      my friend's elderly dad loves arabiatta sauce and likes to instruct italian restaurants that don't serve it on how to make it... though he has never even made eggs for himself in the kitchen. i'm surprised how many restaurants are willing to give him what he wants -- generally by adding hot sauce to regular spaghetti sauce and charging as much for it as the lobster ravioli. everyone ends up more or less satisfied.

                                                                                                                                  2. McD's is running a commercial (over and over again!) for their southwest chicken sandwich. A woman in an obviously ritzy restaurant asks the waiter if she can substitute southwest sauce for the demi-glace on the goose, substitute a seasoned chicken breast for the goose, serve it on a bun with a slice of cheese, and then she draws a McD box on the back of the menu, and asks the waiter if the chef can create the box for her. She then sits back with a prim little smile on her face as if all is right with the world, while her date sits across from her cringing.

                                                                                                                                    The really funny thing to me is if you listen closely, her first request is to "Substitute the demi-glace for the southwest sauce", which is of course the exact opposite of what she wants.

                                                                                                                                    1. Even waiting tables, I still believe that modifying a menu item is the diner's prerogative. As long as the request is a reasonable one, why wouldn't the restaurant want its patron to have a meal s/he LOVES versus one s/he just kinda likes?

                                                                                                                                      I get made fun of a lot by friends for the "difficult" things I order when we go out to eat, but for the most part, all of the changes I make to menu items are in an effort to eat healthier (except yesterday when I asked for no bananas on my salad because I can't stand bananas and WTF kind of salad has bananas on it?!). Even when eating out, people should still have a say in how their food is prepared, and if I want my chicken parmesan grilled, I fail to understand why it can be dipped in egg and then breaded and then fried but just dropping it on the grill as-is and adding a touch of marinara is such a big deal.

                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                      1. re: Al_Pal

                                                                                                                                        You know, Al Pal, I still don't know. While I wouldn't hesitate to ask for dressing on the side or something like a banana (blech) left out of a salad, I would picture the chef storming out of the kitchen wielding a cleaver if I asked for a chicken dish not on the menu.

                                                                                                                                        I don't get the impression from reading all the posts here that I am far from wrong.

                                                                                                                                      2. To modify menu options is not the same as recipe changes,is not the same as allergies(maybe fatal),is not the same as diabetes.These things and the very real liabilities connected are no small issue.Who pays?if something ends up very wrong?Shell fish or nuts come to mind.
                                                                                                                                        Or to quote my Grandfather,"if you need all the comforts of home,you need
                                                                                                                                        to stay home".He was the proprietor of a fishing & hunting lodge,that now in
                                                                                                                                        the 104th year of operation is booked 3 to5 years out.The staff and supply
                                                                                                                                        orders are managed with care.Reasonable requests made well in advance are usually met.
                                                                                                                                        Menu ?,call first,ask,state your problems or concerns.Above all don't expect
                                                                                                                                        the owners or staff to take you on as a project or be liable without advance
                                                                                                                                        notice.(courtesy)
                                                                                                                                        Sort of like wine,ask about corkage,cost and policy(maybe the law)If you order a bottle of wine you don't like-IT'S YOURS,if defective THE HOUSE'S.
                                                                                                                                        Hospitality is a greatest good for the greatest number concept.Pleasing the
                                                                                                                                        largest reasonable variety is the goal.Some diversities can not be met and
                                                                                                                                        some won't be.
                                                                                                                                        Glad to be a consultant to the the trade.Rather than as a trained chef and wine educator dealing daily with the rare person who ruins things for the staff
                                                                                                                                        or chef.