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Do You Trust Your Restaurant to Honor Your Special Request?

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My father has a cheese phobia, That's right! Not an allergy, not a dislike but a true phobia. Whenever we go out to eat Italian, the first thing he will tell the waiter is that he positively cannot under any circumstances have cheese. A few weeks ago [I wasn't there so I unfortunately only heard this secondhand], the waiter brought out his dish alongside my mom's. A second waiter came by immediately with a small dish of parmesan and proceeded to sprinkle it on my father's pasta without asking. My father began to scream in sheer feer "CHEESE! CHEESE! IT'S CHEESE!" My mom and the waiters had to calm him down!

The funny thing is that my parents are regulars at this restaurant. Their service is overall good and believe me; by now they know that my dad has a cheese phobia. You would think that despite this previous experience and my father's continual request to leave off all things cheese that we would have nothing to fear. UH UH. We had takeout the other day and after a lengthy discussion with the waiter about how my dad has found "hidden" cheese in things like pasta sauce....you guess it. The marinara was chock full of cheese. [My mom confirmed it]

While these 2 incidents were funny, at the same time it can be very frustrating. Quite frankly, I've stopped trusting most restauarnts to honor special requests because mistakes happen too many times. Thankfully no one in my family has a deadly allergy (though I'm sure most restaurants take allergies more seriously or I would hope so!) though my fiance is gluten sensitive and could end up in pain for hours if a waiter or chef made a mistake about wheat. Do you trust restaurants to honor special requests?

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  1. I trust restaurants to honor special requests if their response to my request seems like they took it seriously. But, I also think that there are things that aren't reasonable to expect from restaurants. If your life literally hangs in the balance, I don't know why you'd want to trust it to a restaurant staff. Regardless of how diligent they try to be, they're not going to be as educated as you about the various things they need to look out for and they're not going to think about things the same way you will.

    Similarly with this cheese phobia; no matter how nicely you ask or how simple it seems on its face there are going to be glitches/lapses/mistakes. A new staff member trained to sprinkle cheese on a dish (or an old staff member who didn't recognize your father) and poof, problem. Restaurants aren't set up to try to avoid all things on such a level.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ccbweb

      I agree with you on the allergy issue. I've been in the service industry for a while, and even though I always take allergies very seriously, I've seen a couple co-workers get fired for not bothering to double check on ingredients. One girl (who wasn't there for very long) got fired for telling a guest with a basil allergy that we could make the bruschetta without basil. She didn't bother to tell the kitchen about the allergy and apparently didn't know that in addition to the basil sprinkled on top, it's also already in the tomato mixture we use. Needless to say, the guest had a very bad reaction, and the girl was immediately fired. Plus, some of our dishes contain ingredients that you would just NEVER expect, and if I were a guest, it would never even occur to me to ask. They train us very well in respect to common allergies like nuts, but it's tougher when the allergy is unusual.

      Also, I work in an Italian restaurant, and I just don't understand the people who come in with allergies to stuff like garlic or basil or cheese. Those are in practically EVERYTHING, and I just don't understand wanting to eat somewhere we're you're allergic to 95% of the menu.

    2. If I had a deadly allergy, I would not trust the restaurant (or - more likely - the waitperson). Sometimes wait people are unaware, don't think or care as much as they should about whether, say, a crust on key lime pie has nuts. Restaurants certainly do. They could be sued and it is rather uncool to have someone go into shock in your restaurant because you slipped a nut into their food. I would trust that a request would be honored - no onions on my salad, fish grilled dry... but sometimes, like in the italian place, people do stuff out of habit (as in the cheese sprinkling). The best you can do is double check with them when the food is delivered and if you catch them lying, talk to the owner who will make it right.

      1. Jfood has a nut allergy (fortunately not life-threatening) and always tells the server. They have a good memory when taking the order for that particular course but a less than perfect score on future courses. This is understandable with the number of tables they have so jfood repeats, especially at dessert.

        He does trust the restauranty on that single course, but at dessert time all bets are off since nuts are not in vogue with everything. He can not tell you the number of desserts he has sent back that had "just a few nuts on top" or "in the crust".

        Now jfood orders sorbet, if at all.

        2 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          I do not believe that anyone should have to live their life in fear. Unfortunately that means understanding that you can not put your faith in restaurant 100%, especially when it comes to allergies. My fiance has a gluten sensitivity; he won't die if he consumes wheat, barley or oats but he will be in agony for hours on end. We are always careful to emphasize the "agony" part and usually the waitstaff is very accomodating! But with the cheese thing....it's funny because I hate cheese as well as my dad! (Though I don't have a phobia nor get nightmares!) I remember once at an Olive Garden in college I asked for no cheese on my pasta and out comes pasta with parmesan on top. I ask the waitress why she put cheese on it when I asked her not to and she replied "But it's just a garnish!" I try to look at the bright side; I can always send it back and I have one more story to tell! But it's hard to think like that when you're starving, everyone else is eating and you HAD the gut feeling that somehow your order was going to be messed up because it's happened so many times before.

          1. re: Nicole Glassman

            Nicky,

            jfood has sent many dishes back, but unless you make it and serve yourself, nothing is 100%. When spending good money on food, jfood would rather have it done correctly and safely then stew through a simultaneous eating and be bothered all night.

            You have to be your own advocate, judge and jury. That is correct.

        2. I don't mean to be the "bad guy" again, but I need to make what seems like an obvious observation: If Dad has such a severe phobia to cheese, what is he doing in an Italian restaurant ordering pasta? Sure, there are some dishes that won't have cheese, but it is a ubiquitous ingredient, it is used as a garnish, it is often incorporated into the base of basic sauces and foundations. You have a cheese phobia to the extent that you freak out? Well, then choose a Chinese or Thai restaurant. C'mon, this is like having a virulent allergy or aversion to soy, going to a Chinese restaurant, and then complaining if anything came near any soy sauce -- it's going to be everywhere. If you have a horrible gambling addiction that has cost your family and where you struggle daily, it is probably not a good idea to plan to vacation in Las Vegas.

          1 Reply
          1. re: nosh

            I can understand your logic if my father had a deadly allergy, but thankfully that is not the case. Should my dad have to never eat in an italian restauarnt for the rest of his life? Somehow that does not make any sense, especially when the worst case scenario is perhaps a funny story and/or some frustration. My dad has a very good sense of humor about his phobia- if he didn't that would be a different story. But seriously- I've heard this logic before when it comes to people with allergies. Why go out to a restauarnt when you don't have to have any worries if you stay home? Well- if you stay home all the time you miss out on LIVING. Should my dad let his phobia of cheese control his life to the point where it dictates where he can and cannot eat? (Keeping in mind this would affect my mom who has severe dietary restrictions as it is) And by the way- I've been to Italy as well as Italian restaurants around NY. If you know what to order and how to ask, a cheese hater can have many options, Of course there will be times when your requests are not honored because in life, **** happens, which is why I'm writing on this board:} But I would rather have to vent on CH than to never step foot into an Italian restaurant for the rest of ny life- don't you think so?

          2. I agree with nosh....this would seem like the last place I'd go if i had cheese issues.

            Another possibility is that perhaps this was a passive aggressive move on the part of the wait staff who may be fed up with your father's behaviour.

            I ate at a lovely little Italian place last night, and I can honestly say that if a diner at a nearby table started screaming in terror over cheese, i'd develop a phobia to that restaurant.

            1. Years ago, when I worked in the food industry, I encountered a customer that had a cheese phobia. I took it seriously and he became a regular at my restaurant. Unfortunately for him, I didn't work 7 days a week. He came in on my day off and ordered one of the new dishes Corporate was pushing (chock full o' processed powdered cheese -- add water, stir, heat, 'n serve over chicken) and lost it when the server brought it out. My server didn't understand and neither did my assistant manager the issue at hand because cheese simply wasn't mentioned as an item for this dish. He was way past "reason" and left. We lost him as a customer from that point forward and showed me where my training program was sorely lacking (fixed immediately).

              I trust restaurants to remember my allergies if I mention them when ordering (walnuts, most vine berries like rasp-, black-, boysen-, straw-, olallieberries, crab, and oysters.) Otherwise, it's more important for me to be aware of what's been prepared -- just in case the server or cook were distracted and on autopilot when prepping my dish.

              2 Replies
              1. re: The Ranger

                Exactly! It is MY fault if I order a dish with an item I do not want (such as cheese) if the menu states clearly that cheese is an ingredient in the dish. However, if cheese is indeed in the dish but is not mentioned anywhere in the item's description on the menu, it's the responsibility of the restaurant to fix it. I understand that cheese is a ubiquitous item to many Americans which is why some restaurants don't see the need to list it as an ingredient on a menu....which is why I always ask. I feel bad for you though- if that customer had one bad experience out of many good ones, he should have come back.

                1. re: Nicole Glassman

                  Status quo for customers in any restaurant; enjoy the good, leave and never return on the bad. It's a rare bird indeed that gives a restaurant multiple chances.

              2. I understand that restaurants should get things right. I would hope that anyone with such an extreme amount of anxiety over a very common item would seek help would they not?

                ..I'm just not so sure it's a restaurant's or waitstaff's role to be a part of the treatment plan for a psychological disorder....

                I should hope at the very least, that there is good tipping involved.

                2 Replies
                1. re: im_nomad

                  Who ever said anywhere in these posts that the restaurant is responsible for helping a customer get over a food phobia? All I ever said was that if a customer makes a request and the waiter says the request can be done, well, ideally it shoud be done. I don't see why my dad should have to avoid all italian restaurants for the rest of his life as some posters have said- completely unrealistic and highly unfair, especially as his request is simple!- no cheese. Someone please tell me how asking for no cheese is such a big deal? :} [And I assure you that his "freak out" only happpened once!] I should add that even Mario Batali believes cheese should not be added halfhazardly to any ol' dish- in Italy and his restaurants cheese is never to be seen with seafood- almost a cardinal rule. That's why I find it interesting that so many people even on this board assume that cheese and italian food cannot ever coexist separately!

                  1. re: Nicole Glassman

                    Asking for no cheese is not a big deal...and i'm not necessarily referring to only your father here, as there was another poster who described this kind of reaction....i'm more so referring to the reaction and how the staff had to be involved in calming any such patron down. When an anxiety disorder gets to the point that it clearly affects social functioning, I'm just not so clear on how far a restaurant should have to go to compensate.....

                    Back to the issue of food there are numerous things that are included in dishes that are not listed in their totality on a menu, and lots of people have issues with things that regularly are not included in the food's description.....I'm not getting how cheese would be any different than say sesame oil, in the requirement to include it in the description. You did say your Dad asks or requests it to be left off, which is good, a customer in such a situation should really make the first move in that regard. The restaurant is not necessarily at fault if they do not list cheese as part of a dish, unless it's something that anyone would reason it to be totally out of place there, and therefore unexpected, like a wedge stuck on a glass of coke or something.