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Restaurant substitutions-similar experiences?

Recently went to a new restaurant in town that has taken over a location previously occupied, but vacant for awhile, of another pizza/pasta place. Different owners, different name. Saw a special pizza listed, something like a white pizza with zucchini, fresh tomato, mushrooms and onions. Asked the server if we could have the pizza, hold the onions. She pointed to a notice on the menu which said "No substitutions". We're not talking about a high-end degustation place. She said we could order the white pizza and add zucchini, fresh tomato and mushrooms. ??? When I asked her what the difference was, she shrugged her shoulders and repeated "No substitutions". I don't know if there was a price difference either way (shouldn't be and really didn't matter), but I was bewildered. Kind of reminded me of the famous diner scene with Jack Nicholson in "Five Easy Pieces", if anyone remembers that. Anyone ever have a similar experience? Seems like 99% of the time, most places will be accommodating for any omissions, inclusions, especially if something is made a la minute like a pizza. Keep in mind, this place is just starting their business; I realize they want to set their own rules, but it didn't seem like a good way to make a new (and hopefully returning) customer welcome.

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  1. I've had the situation more often with sandwiches. I understand that there are certain types of sandwiches that are made in bulk in advance, but I'm talking at restaurants where the sandwich is likely made after you order it. Is it really that hard to remove raw onions from a sandwich? At one restaurant in a large resort hotel, I just ended up leaving because of the rule.

    1. There is a pub in LA that is well known for its burger. It is also well known for its no substitutions policy. The burger comes with arugala, blue cheese and grilled onions on top. I took a friend who keeps "light kosher"- by which I mean, she simply tries not to mix meat and cheese.
      We asked them kindly leave the blue cheese off the burger. "Nope."
      The cheese is on top of the arugala, not grilled onto the burger! Hard to believe it would be that hard to simply not place it on the sandwich...
      Oh well, lesson learned, pub avoided in the future. There are better burgers in town anyway.

      1. There's one restaurant we go to occasionally that serves salads, fish, pasta and sandwiches. It's a casual cafe and pretty well priced. We went for dinner once, and I ordered the pasta special which was a veggie sauce over spaghetti. The waitress refused to switch the spaghetti for a short cut of pasta, even though the pasta was being cooked to order. With any other pasta dish they'll do it... just not with the special.

        Another place I go to for lunch has a salad bar that's the "toss your own type." The price includes greens and 3 toppings. I picked up a tricolor lettuce blend, and asked for broccoli and double portion of carrots. They looked at me like I was a psycho.

        1. She was just a dimbulb. that is not a substitution it was a deletion. She should have asked the owner if in doubt - but that would have required walking and talking and then more walking and talking. Sigh. Poor her. They just do not want people saying "Can I have the white pizza but not with zucchini. Instead I want sausage and instead of onions I want anchovies..."

          3 Replies
          1. re: Sal Vanilla

            That was my point that was confounding-not a substitution, but simply a deletion, or rather-don't add the last ingredient. Thinking, as such, seems to throw many people into a state of paralysis.

            1. re: markabauman

              Yeah, I stand by my dimbulb assessment. Or maybe it is more appropriate to say she was not the sharpest pizza cutter in the drawer. Her dough was only half risen. The Bertoli exceeded the expiration date.

              Gosh I need to get a life.

            2. re: Sal Vanilla

              I'm with SV on this......the waitress is poorly trained.

              I used to have a similar type experience at a very popular Pizzeria here in Bergen County, NJ. ....the problem with item ingredients and the final price charged. The place has a specialty pizza on the menu consisting of Fresh Mozzarella, Ricotta, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Fried Eggplant. The price listed for this was $13.00 on the printed menu.....however, when they rung up the pizza on their computer/documentor, instead of having a price look-up(PLU) dedicated for this menu item, they rang in pizza, with the four items separately and the total of the pizza before tax came to a total of $14.00, a dollar extra........when I questioned the discrepancy, the reply was...it's only a dollar difference......no, I'm sorry or anything similar to that effect. This happened three times.....so I had to write the place off out of principle.

            3. My ultimate and only 5 Easy Pieces moment came some time ago at a city hospital cafeteria breakfast. Due to allergies and sensitivities, I do not drink orange juice, milk, or tea or coffee, so my usual breakfast beverage there was water. One morning they changed from fill your own glass/cup to serving from behind the counter. We were drinking too much milk or oj, I guess. I asked for an empty glass or cup so I could get water from the fountain. They refused. I explained. Refused again. I had been up all night and was in no mood for such foolishness. I asked for a cup of tea. Received it. Poured the tea out on the serving case and walked to the water tap with my cup. Victory.

              4 Replies
              1. re: therealdoctorlew

                Just because a service person can't think independently shouldn't be an excuse for poor behavior on another's part.

                "Poured the tea out on the serving case...." hmm congratulations on your victory?

                  1. re: therealdoctorlew

                    Your 5 easy pieces mention made me think of dirty Harry "nobody eats ketchup on a hot dog"

                  2. Has happened to me several times, but two stand out. We went to a large chain, Le Pain Quotien and their egg salad is supposed to be great, but they served it on a bread we didn't want. Asked for a french bread and said no, it is corporate policy, and that we could order a side of egg salad and a side of bread. We left.

                    Then we heard about this pizza chain from Canada, no substitutions. We went and it was lousy, should have stayed away.

                    1. It might be a policy to minimize mix-ups when it's busy - the no onions one might go to someone who ordered the regular so when they want to serve yours it's not there, only one with onions. Then they have to make you a new one, so you have to wait while the rest of your table has their food, so they'll end up comping it and you'll be mad anyway.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: hsk

                        We recently had dinner at a newish place that is part of the Mario Batali empire (Tarry Lodge in Port Chester, NY). The place is big and is always packed. It was a Friday night and this night was no exception, it was full. We wanted to try 2 pizzas as appetizers and when my husband asked if we could omit one of the toppings (I think it was black olives), the waitress said "sorry but we cannot omit the olives, the kitchen is too busy to take special requests" or something to that effect. She was nice about it.

                        I thought it was a bit weird because we were just asking to leave something off, but in a way, I could see their point, as you state -- to minimize mix-ups when it's busy. In the end, we ordered the pizza as is, and the olives ended up being right on top (and whole) so they were easy for my husband to remove. I happen to love black olives, so there were more for me....

                      2. While I do respect and sometimes admire the no substitution rule, I think omissions should be allowed. Of course, being a former waiter, I've often wondered why the customer couldn't just pick the unwanted item off himself.

                        15 Replies
                        1. re: stricken

                          Why should the paying customer HAVE to pick off an unwanted item?

                          Restaurants are a service industry! They should provide service................

                          I also am a former waiter, and line cook, baker, bartender and pizza maker. Why wouldn't I encourage a larger tip, and a happy likely return customer by delivering what the customer wants?

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            When I've got 5 fout tops and someone wants to break my flow by sending a sandwich back because they didn't want onions or tomatoes, then the tip doesn't matter anymore. The kitchen is just gonna pick the unwanted off and send it back out anyway.
                            Yeah, it's a service industry, but personal responsibility is always refreshing to see.

                            1. re: stricken

                              A customer wouldn't be sending anything back if it was made as requested.

                              This problem of food going back is when SURPRISE ingredients/condiments arrive on the food that are not disclosed on the menu.

                              I am allergic to mustard, there have been times when I have received sandwiches that have had mustard added in the kitchen. The menu description did NOT say 'meat on a roll with mustard.' The sandwich goes back with an explanation. Blame the proprietor and/or chef for not disclosing this added item on the menu.

                              This might disturb your flow, but not more than my having a breathing attack, falling to the floor and the paramedics clearing the area when they arrive with equipment and a gurney. That would really kill your tips and turnover.

                              This happened about 15 years ago when a lazy waiter pretended to go into the kitchen and ask if there was any mustard in the pecan crusted rack of lamb. The waiter merely walked away for 2 minutes and came back with a lie. Three bites of the food and my throat swelled shut on the inside. I was in the hospital for two nights.
                              I know to ask about my allergy, and enough food science to avoid vinegariettes made with dijon. That waiter had a personal responsibility to do his job properly.

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                Personally I think that people with food allergies eat out at their own risk. I can't begin to count the number of times someone was allergic to something and that was completely ignored by the server or kitchen. I never saw anyone get really sick, but it would serve them right if they did.

                                1. re: bagelman01

                                  "but it would serve them right if they did"

                                  Maybe I just read it differently, but I thought stricken was talking about the server or kitchen. That it would serve them right for ignoring the customers warning about an allergy. Not that he/she wishes harm on a customer.

                                  1. re: stricken

                                    Why is it the server/kitchen's right to ignore someone's allergy? People with allergies shouldn't have to change their lives so that they never eat a meal anywhere but at home. That's just not feasible. In many cases, it's as simple as asking whether a certain dish has X ingredient. If the server doesn't know, s/he can ask the kitchen and if that ingredient is in the dish, in many cases people just choose another option.

                                    1. re: stricken

                                      " it would serve them right if they did" - Are you kidding?

                                      Maybe we should also do away with the Disabilities Acts, hey you can't walk the stairs, you can't go to the movies, or the gains that have been made in advancing equality for the sexes, keep them pregnant and in the litchen, or maybe just go back to those really neat Jim Crow laws, sorry sir your water fountain is over there.

                                      1. re: stricken

                                        No, the risk shifts to the restaurant/server when a specific question is asked and NOT answered truthfully.
                                        If the server does not know and can't find out all that has to be said, is I'm sorry I don't know. Then the diner is at risk.

                                        In the above case where I was stricken, it was at my neice's wedding. I had travelled a distance and was at her celebratory feast. Huige amounts of money had been spent on the catering. The server was not a pickup person ordered from a union hall, but a 12 year employee of the caterer. He was just lazy.

                                        The court found that the caterer and the server assumed the risk and had a duty of care after I made the inquiry.

                                        1. re: stricken

                                          If you ever decide to open a restaurant, you really should inform your insurance company of that attitude so that they can adjust your liability premiums accordingly. In fact, perhaps your current employer should know about your complete disregard for customers' health and safety. Better yet, please tell us where you work so I can make sure to never eat there.

                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            You are so right! I posted about this.(see below) This issue is near and dear to my heart because of my sister's allergies. If one of the foods she is allergic to comes in contact with what she is eating, it could trigger an episode. She chooses her restaurants very carefully and limits her time eating out. We were at a restaurant a couple of months ago and her food came in contact with one of her allergens (in the kitchen.) The manager came out to explain a delay in our service because of this. They had to start over. We so appreciated that they didn't put her at risk and say, "what the heck."

                                          2. re: Sal Vanilla

                                            i would like to see stricken's clarification of his comment of july 6.
                                            that was his last post, however. maybe he doesn't post so often. but....it seems odd since it was bound to be a "hot" issue.

                                          3. re: bagelman01

                                            My sister has severe food allergies and handles it like this:
                                            If possible, she calls in advance to speak with the chef to find out whether or not she can be accomodated.
                                            If she goes out spur of the moment, she has an index card with her allergies listed and before being seated, gives it to the person in front of the house to check with the chef to make sure the kitchen can help her.
                                            We have found that the "better" restaurants are most gracious and truly aim to please.
                                            I would hate to worry that my next bite is going to do me in! So many people are lovely and sympathetic.

                                      2. re: stricken

                                        I like cooked onions but detest them raw (e.g. i n salads). Whether cooked or raw, the flavor permeates the dish once they are placed in/on it. If you don't like them, picking them off doesn't rid the dish of the onion taste.

                                        If you're allergic of course, picking something off is futile and can be deadly from residual residue.

                                        1. re: rockandroller1

                                          Ugh- I totally agree with you there, not to mention, the smell gets all over your hands if you have to pick them off a sandwich.

                                      3. This baffles me, I mean com'on we're not talking about a high end ingredient and it's not like the ingredient medley is pre-made. Once I ordered a $30. steak, not a special, and asked if they had a green veg instead of the veg that was being offered, they said they could not sub a veg. That place is not longer on my list.

                                        1. I totally agree about raw onion - ugh the whole office stinks if it's on just one persons salad! ugh!

                                          Anyhow here is my story -
                                          My mom had taken us to a famous ice cream parlour in Brooklyn.Jahns - it's been closed for years) Anyhow, she ordered a banana split.
                                          She got a sundae - NO banana
                                          When she called this to the waitresses attention, the girl said "we're out of bananas"

                                          Okay...fine what can ya do?
                                          The trouble was - when we got the bill - mom was charged for - a BANANA split!

                                          She called this to the waitresses attention - who told her "But you ordered a banana split"
                                          My mother was really nice - "Yes, but you are out of bananas - so I didn't GET a banana split"
                                          "Yeah - but that's what you ordered"
                                          This went on for some time, and my mother asked to see the manager.
                                          It ended up being the same dialog!
                                          We all could not believe our ears!
                                          "But you ORDERED an banana split"
                                          "But I didn't GET a banana split"!!!

                                          I can't remember how it ended - but knowing my mother she probably paid it AND left a tip to boot!!

                                          18 Replies
                                          1. re: NellyNel

                                            That's just bizarre. A normal restaurant would say we're out of bananas but we can do a sundae, is that OK?
                                            - Yes that's fine
                                            - No I'd rather have x instead
                                            - No I'm going to leave and go to ice cream parlour y to have my banana split
                                            would be the likely responses.
                                            Not telling you, and charging for the original item, is just wrong. Maybe that's why they've been closed for years?

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Jfood used to go to Jahns in Union NJ every weekend in HS. Then one day it suddenly burned down. Seem coincidental. :-))

                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  Growing up in the South in the 50s and 60s changed me a lot --- for the better.

                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    Bagelman grew up with the Jahn's on KIngsbridge Rd near Fordham in the Bronx, but was more likely to have the chinese roast pork on a garlic roll than the ice cream.............

                                                    1. re: bagelman01


                                                      jfood struggles with trying to remember eating any food at Jahns in the 100s time he visited while growing up. Maybe he had a burger and fries but he bows to anyone who ate chinese pork on a garlic roll at Johns (survived) and is promoted to obtaining the "regulars" number at Sally. Jfood bows.

                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                        JFOOD> no need to bow. None of us CHers are the subservient type (except to our spouses).
                                                        But since we are of some similr interest and live in the same county, perhaps sometime lunch would be in order?

                                                      2. re: bagelman01

                                                        Bagelman -
                                                        I am having some weird flashbacks!

                                                        After reading your post...

                                                        I am recalling a very garlicky roast pork sandwich that definitely was not from a Chinese restaurant. I must have had it more than once ...a very strong garlicky taste...a roll...hmmm could I have had that at Jahns?????
                                                        I'm thinking a diner...or something like that...but maybe it was Jahn's!!
                                                        I never would have remembered that sandwich but for reading your post!

                                                    2. re: c oliver

                                                      Yup- it was incredible!
                                                      I asked mom about it after I posted this and she DID end up paying for a Banana Split!
                                                      She says she was waiting for Alan Funt to pop out from somewhere!
                                                      She added that on our way out there was a massive live of people waiting to get in - and mom claims she was shouting "Don't order a banana split!" as we exited!

                                                    3. re: NellyNel

                                                      That just seems so bizarre! How can a place like Jahn's run out of bananas, first off? There was one in Bergen County, NJ - Fair Lawn, I think - when I was growing up - used to love watching a large group get "The Kitchen Sink". Cannot imagine that conversation at any place...as hsk said, shouldn't it have been "we don't have any bananas, but can make you a sundae instead?"

                                                      ETA: Just found this story/pics about Jahn's. http://www.forgotten-ny.com/SLICES/ja... But I'm sorry - there is NO WAY that 6 people could finish a Kitchen Sink! It was 22 to 30 scoops of ice cream! Well, maybe if it was half the local high school football team, they could finish it. :-)

                                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                                        That article has several mistakes and appears that the writer used other people's information versus first hand experience.

                                                        There was also a Jahn's in Union NJ which burned to the ground in the early 70s. They rebuilt around the corner and never really got traction at the new location.

                                                        Likewise an Awful Awful (short for awful big, awful thick) was not a Jahn's creation, but created by another chain called Bond's, which had a location in Elizabeth NJ. Jfood remembers if you drank 3 AAs your name went on the wall.

                                                        And jfood will also agree that a Kitchen Sink for 6 would be a monumental task. Jfood and 12-13 friends finished one in 1978 but by the time they scoop the ice cream, add the toppings and bring it to the table and then serve it, a fair amount is melted.

                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                          Definitely a pool of melted ice cream in the bottom of that enormous silver bowl. We got one Kitchen Sink for a cast party after one of my high school plays...I think 20 people participating in eating it, but it was more ice cream soup than anything.

                                                          Still...good memories of that place. :-)

                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                            NE based chain Newport Creamery had an "Awful Awful" too (theirs was, I believe, "awful big, awful good"). Surprised that wasn't a trademarked name...

                                                            1. re: GSM

                                                              Actually, Awful, Awful (awful big, awful good) belonged to Friendly's in New England but they changed it to FRIBBLE.............

                                                              1. re: bagelman01

                                                                Ah, light sheds...

                                                                From the Newport Creamery website: "The legend of the Awful Awful® started with Bond's Ice Cream in New Jersey, when they filed for the Awful Awful® trademark on June 10, 1948. Original partner Rector worked out an agreement with Bonds, so Newport Creamery could use the name. When Bonds went bankrupt in the early 1970's, Newport Creamery officially bought the name for $1,000!"

                                                          2. re: LindaWhit


                                                            I cannot recall the name of the item specifically....but do you remember the similar version of the Kitchen Sink @ Holly's on Route 4 in Hackensack? I seem to recall it was served in a large vase.......how about that neon sign too......where the chicken ran in stages into a basket.

                                                            1. re: fourunder

                                                              OK, don't remember Holly's version, but I DEFINITELY remember the neon chicken-in-a-basket sign!

                                                            2. re: LindaWhit

                                                              I know - it was a Twilight Zone moment!

                                                              Thanks Linda for the great article - actually a the whole web-site is cool - I'm going to really enjoy browsing it
                                                              I can remember being absolutely fascinated by the "Kitchen Sink" - though I was never in a large enough group to order one...so it was always an enigma to me!

                                                          3. This is the scene I though of right away when I saw this post, it took a little time to google and find it:
                                                            Sally: I'd like the chef salad, please, with the oil and vinegar on the side. And the apple pie a la mode....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 a can, then nothing.
                                                            Waitress: Not even the pie?
                                                            Sally: No, just the pie. But then not heated.

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: hsk

                                                              then we have the antithesis of this last week at Panera Bread - my coworker asks for a grilled ham and cheese and the conversation goes like this.
                                                              Coworker: grilled ham and cheese please.
                                                              Cashier: with or without ham?
                                                              Would you like grilled ham and cheese with or without ham?
                                                              I want a grilled ham and cheese.
                                                              ok, do you want cheese with that?
                                                              Huh? I WANT A GRILLED HAM AND CHEESE
                                                              So that's a grilled ham and cheese with ham and cheese? What bread?

                                                              I stepped in that point and said, what part of grilled ham and cheese do you NOT understand??

                                                              1. re: smartie

                                                                i was having breakfast with my sister down in fla years ago at a casual tourist trap type place ( not a chain though ). my sister wanted eggs benny, with no hollandaise. NOPE.

                                                                1. re: smartie

                                                                  This is almost funny when it happens, but still boggles the mind!
                                                                  My experience:

                                                                  Me: I want the Italian sub no onions
                                                                  Server: So, what do you want on it?
                                                                  Me: everything but onions.
                                                                  Server: You have to tell me what you want on it because I have to enter it in the computer.
                                                                  Me: You don't know what comes on your sandwiches?
                                                                  Server: If you don't want something, you have to tell me what you do want.
                                                                  Me - reading from the menu: I want capicola
                                                                  Server: It comes with that
                                                                  Me - reading from the menu: I want cheese
                                                                  Server: It comes with that

                                                                  I think you're getting the gist of the conversation.....

                                                                  Then it came time to pay. I had cash, my dining partner had a card. We put the cash and the card in the folio. When the server came she asked.. how much goes on the card? I said, the part not covered by the cash.

                                                              2. my earlier post "went nixelated". i said that the situation described is not a "substitution". and that the waitress was stupid. (was i out of bounds with the stupid thing?). to me, it seems like the word "stupid" is apt in many of the stories on the thread.

                                                                and yes, the scene in five easy pieces depicts the stupidity quite perfectly.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                  I remember years back being in a Howard Johnsons in Poughkeepsie NY where someone could not get poached eggs because the server could not spell poached.

                                                                2. There ought to be only 2 rules for restaurants that want to have customers for life:
                                                                  1. If a customer wants something and it is possible to do it, we will.
                                                                  2. Please don't abuse our employees.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: iamafoodie

                                                                    Number one is the the customer service concept in restaurants, just give the customer a pickle!

                                                                    1. re: Jacey

                                                                      Unlike the folks who went to the Batali place and were nicely told by the server that if the kitchen was very busy, special orders would be difficult, we were in early and there was hardly a soul in the place-no excuse. Again, as mentioned, when anything is being made a la minute in a restaurant, it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to make a pizza adding A,B,C; leave off D. Especially if you ask nicely and especially if it's a new place trying to cultivate repeat business.

                                                                  2. What I immediately thought of was the "Patty Melt" scene from Dead Like Me.