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Is it insulting to the chef to special order in fine dining?

There's not really a specific reason I'm asking this question, just something I was thinking about. In a restaurant run by a well-known chef, with carefully put-together menus and dishes, do you think it's rude or insulting to make special requests or substitutions for a dish simply because you don't like certain ingredients, or some other similar reason? I know how carefully chefs work to compose a dish, and something like leaving out an ingredient could really affect the its integrity in the eyes of the chef. Is it better to taste the dish as the chef envisioned it, risking that you won't like it as a result, or to order it the way you would prefer and thereby disregarding the chef's own feelings about it?

For the purpose of this question, moral or dietary restrictions, such as vegetarian or dairy-free, are a separate topic.

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  1. Well, you could always ask.

    When we went to Babbo, I wanted the beef cheek ravioli but it included "crushed squab liver" (I'm pretty sure that's it). I told the server that I don't like many livers. He said he didn't either but that he didn't notice it as livery at all in that dish. He was right and I LOVED every bite. I think if you know you're going to retch and gag, then either speak up or order something else. If, like me, you're not 100% sure, I'd order it. I don't want to keep my world - food or anything else - too narrow.

    1. If I am paying for the meal, chef's 'feelings' don't even rank second in importance.

      EXCEPT-if dining at the chef's table or a tatsting menu-then you are specifically coming to eat the chef's creation as presented. Try it, eat or leave it, it's your choice.

      1. In general, I don't know about insulting per se (though many chefs would probably be insulted). But, yeah, a friend was just the other day telling me about a customer who wanted the daily pasta-and-mussels special prepared with shrimp instead. They rolled their eyes (in the back room) and did it for her -- charging her handsomely for the privilege, thank you very much.

        But if you want a short-order cook, don't go to a fine-dining restaurant. And if you want the skate but not the celery root puree on the side, just choose a different dish altogether. It's not "one from column A, two from column B."

        3 Replies
        1. re: dmd_kc

          "It's not "one from column A, two from column B."
          i like that :)

          i'm on the fence about this one - i think it depends on the nature of the request. if you're asking the chef to omit or substitute an ingredient that's really integral to the soul of the dish, you might as well just order something else. i'll never understand why people *want* to order something that contains several flavors or textures they don't like. why would it even appeal to them? but if it's a simple swap, such as asking for a different vegetable on the side, then as long as you've seen the vegetable you're requesting somewhere else on the menu so you know it's not a real chore for the kitchen to do it, i don't think it's a big deal.

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            I really have such conflicting thoughts about it. Like the same friend tells me he's gotten requests like "Hollandaise, but no butter," or the steak with the chicken's sauce. That's just silly.

            I tend to try to rock the boat as little as possible when it's a chef I respect, or one I'm trying for the first time. And knowing what a major PITA a lot of customers can be, I want to be on my best behavior usually!

            And on the other hand, it's true you're a customer buying a product. One of my frequent dining companions loves good food, but isn't big on "rules," and isn't much of a drinker. Sometimes he wants a danged soda with his $39 entree, and I'm not going to hassle him about it. To be honest, Dr Pepper does taste pretty good with a steak, so more power to him. I bet the restaurant makes a better margin on that $2.75 soda than on my $9 pinot noir.

            1. re: dmd_kc

              "And knowing what a major PITA a lot of customers can be, I want to be on my best behavior usually!"
              yeah, unfortunately for me, i *have* to be a PITA because of my gluten & soy issues...but the last thing i want to do is ask the kitchen to go above and beyond my health/safety requirements to accommodate requests in addition to that!

        2. A restauranteur friend says "if you don't want to try the food the way that the Chef has prepared it, don't go to the restaurant" - but to be honest, I'm not really fully in agreement wtih that. Every chef, while an artist at heart - must be pragmatic. They know that, at the end of the day, it's more important that the customer like the taste of the food than that the chef does.

          1 Reply
          1. re: brooklynkoshereater

            at the end of the day, if the chef can consistently fill his/her restaurant with patrons while steadfastly refusing to make ANY modifications or substitutions,
            the chef is plenty "pragmatic" enough.

            in my town, some of the BEST food is served in restaurants with that policy, and they are not suffering at all from this decision, the decision that to you, doesn't appear to be pragmatic.
            (gjelina, father's office, lukshon, etc)

          2. Are you going to Gordon Ramsey's restaurant? If not, I wouldn't worry about it. It also depends a lot on the degree of substitution. If someone is deadly allergic to a certain ingredient, I don't see why not ask for a substitution.

            1 Reply
            1. re: PeterL

              The OP specifies "fine dining".....
              where the food that is prepared is essentially "edible art"..
              so yes I think it IS insulting to the chef.
              Having said that - if you are paying $500 for a meal - I really believe you are entitled to request something or other if you really must!
              I personally wouldnt only because i am extremely adventurous and am willing to try everything...in the way that it was created to be....
              But if you are forking over a small fortune, I supposed you have every right to enjoy your meal to the fullest - sorry if it does insult the chef!

            2. There's this restaurant/bar that I quite like, but they have the oddest ideas sometimes. I had lemon chicken, that was more or less smothered in what was basically lemon curd. I picked the thing up and cleaned it with a napkin. They also do a great chicken and chorizo salad, but it comes with a foul pomegranite dressing. I ask for the dressing to be served on the side, and then I don't eat it.

              However, I'd generally agree with dmd. Sure, if it's in any way integral to the dish, don't order it. It's a massive pain in the bum for the chef who's prepped for specific dishes, and if he does conceed, you're probably going to back up other peoples orders, which is a bit selfish. I guess there's a difference between substitution and ommission too.

              1. Even in fine dining, there's going to be some portion of the guests who may not be that thrilled by the food. They're still paying customers and sometimes the chef just needs to get over it. If you're going to a fine dining as part of a business lunch, it looks worse not to order anything than to try to ask for some sort of substitution. I think it's less common now than it was a few years back to do the big bucks wining and dining, but it's still an issue.

                3 Replies
                1. re: queencru

                  I'd liken it to going to a gallery and liking a painting, but then telling the artist you like it, but you think it needs more red.

                  1. re: Soop

                    "I'd liken it to going to a gallery and liking a painting, but then telling the artist you like it, but you think it needs more red."

                    That is the best description ever!!! Especially in an establishment that has many choices, if you don't think you will like a dish the way it is prepared, order something else!

                  2. re: queencru

                    queencru: the chef only needs to "get over it" if the restaurant can't fill the tables.

                    in los angeles, gjelina restaurant is still packed every night (for many years now) despite having a "no modification/no substitution" policy.
                    in their case, the potential customers need to "get over it" if the customer has any interest in eating at gjelina

                  3. On another well known board that I use, someone posted a thread dissing a well known London restaurant and, in particular, it's chef/owner.

                    Story is that the punter had emailed the chef, asking for special dishes (not, I hasten to add, for any dietary reason - just wanted something to himself). Chef forwarded the email to an assistant with words to the effect of "tell this **** to **** off. He can either eat the tasting menu or go **** himself." Unfortunately chef included the punter in the message address.

                    Such is life. One lost customer. Idiot punter decided to post this story on the board to gain support of members in dissing the place (actually my fave London restaurant). Didnt work. Many happy board readers - most of us were impressed at the (foreign) chef's command of English.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Harters

                      Great story. Many have been laid low by the "reply all" key. What restaurant may I ask? Planning London next spring.

                      1. re: buttertart

                        Seeing as the remark was put in the public domain by the punter, I've no hesitation in telling you that the chef was Claude Bosi, owner of Hibiscus (currently two Michelin stars). Fab place, please try it.

                        1. re: Harters

                          Thanks! Was actually planning to have my birthday dinner there this year until circumstances changed (nothing bad, new furry addition to the family). Had lunch there last year and absolutely loved it. Dinner it is next trip.

                    2. It doesn't hurt if the request is made politely and ahead of time (sauces etc might take a long time prepare). It's a negotiation of sorts, and it helps if both sides are willing to offer alternatives and reasons -- e.g.:

                      "I was wondering if you could omit the spinach in that dish or substitute it with a different dish that has no spinach."

                      "I think the sauce in that dish might clash with the bottle of wine I'm bringing. Is it possible to get a dish that matches this wine better, since it seems like a good match with the courses right before and after it."

                      You may not get the dish with your specific substitutions, but you might get alternative dishes that would suit your tastes better. Plus if you know the outcome ahead of time, you could decide whether or not to eat at the restaurant.

                      There are some cases where negotiations are normal to optimize the selection and progression of dishes. For example, when organising a Chinese banquet -- these often need to be concluded a few days to a week or so ahead of time as the preparation can be labour-intensive and certain dishes require a few days to cook.

                      Another example is when you're planning to open several bottles of wine and want dishes to be cooked around them (e.g. if you're planning to drink all burgundies, you might want to reduce the number of courses that don't match those wines).

                      1. Not really. Inconvenient at times, but we do generally want to please you as long as you're not a jerk about it. Be polite about it, and give the information in advance. But if you hate mushrooms, then you hate mushrooms, and most places would rather take the extra few minutes to make you feel special and give you something you'll like better and have you come back. If you are really picky and hate mushrooms, beets, celery, onions, spinach, and chocolate, then the kitchen may think ill of you. But it's still not insulting, just inconvenient.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: babette feasts

                          Of course I'm saying this from the diner's perspective, which is different from yours, but what you describe has been my own experience.

                          It's the rare fine dining establishment that doesn't place excellent service right up there with excellent cuisine. I've had only one experience at a serious restaurant, in my whole life, in which the chef refused to prepare the entree to my desired degree of doneness. Other than that, I've always found that earnest restaurants will do whatever they can to accommodate patrons, if possible--e.g., provided they have the ingredients on-hand and provided what the patron asks for doesn't violate food safety standards.

                          As an example, I have serious allergies to most shellfish, but not shrimp. Now and then I've explained as discretely as I can and asked the server if the chef would be amenable to using shrimp or chicken, instead of the crab or scallops, in a certain treatment that looks appealing or I happen to know is one of the chef's signature dishes. The only circumstances under which I've known a chef to turn me down is when he knows that the shrimp or the equipment used to store or prepare the shrimp have any possibility of having been in contact with other varieties of shellfish that could make me ill. Obviously, I've appreciated the chef's caution in those cases, very much.

                          There's always a polite, positive way to ask for a change, and that is the client's responsibility. Better to say to the server, "Gee, that preparation looks wonderful--absolutely delicious! Would the chef agree to serve it with the veal cutlets, instead of the chicken?" rather than, "Oh, ugh, I don't like chicken! Could I get veal instead?" It's common sense, much of it. Treat people the way you'd like to be treated. Show respect and appreciation for the server's effort and time, and take an interest in the chef's skills and artistry, and places worth visiting will return the good will, with pride and genuine pleasure in having pleased the customer.

                          1. re: Normandie

                            And these days OpenTable makes it so easy to make or keep notes, either when you make the reservation or if you are a regular and we make notes for how to better serve you next time. Our nightly printout of the reservation sheet includes if people are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, allergies, water preferences (always drinks tap, always drinks Pellegrino). Sometimes there will be a long list, sometimes a request for something unusual like brains if we have them. Of course it is best to make special requests by calling and talking to someone who will then put the note on your reservation just to make sure it is possible, rather than just adding your own note and hoping it gets noticed. The kitchen is much, much happier to know about your gluten free, vegan, kosher, peanut allergy whatever in advance, and will try to accomodate you.

                          1. In a restaurant where the menu is carefully thought out and with sides and sauces that may take days to make, it can be very difficult to change or substitute. There are exceptions (please leave out 1 item , etc). If someone makes a reservation and lets the restaurant know in ADVANCE that they have an allergy/aversion, it can usually be accomodated.
                            But on a very busy night, it can be VERY difficult to change something.
                            A friend of mine once told me, "It's a *** menu, NOT an ingredient list!"
                            And, this has NOTHING to do with the chef's "feelings." It is simply how an efficient kitchen is run.
                            If everyone wanted the potato that goes with the chicken, then sooner or later the kitchen will run out and even the chicken won't have any potato. Get it?
                            While we try to make everyone happy, there are DEFINITELY certain guests that NOBODY cares if they ever come back! But, our restaurant is full every night:)

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: morla

                              i completely agree that <<"It's a *** menu, NOT an ingredient list!">>
                              you are ordering a MENU ITEM, you are NOT hiring a personal chef.

                              1. re: morla

                                if a place serves composed plates and doesn't offer an a la carte section on the menu for side dishes, i think this is something about which most diners are clueless. the kitchen will prep enough orders of baby carrots to go with the chicken and enough celery root puree to go with the scallops. that's it. b-o-h is not a magic supermarket.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  any chef who doesn't make spare servings is a moron...............

                                  If a server dumps a tray or plate of chicken, there had better be enough baby carrots to replace the dumped meals. As such one side of carrots going out with the scallops wouldn't be a crisis.

                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                    However these days it's not a random request where it is a single sub of carrots in a night. Anecdotally my friends and family in the industry say that the requests for substitutions continue to increase. In addition it is becoming harder and harder to predict. More and more folks want to swap out grains for veggies, veggies for salads, oil for butter, etc. And again, while a sub or two a night won't break the bank with increasing food costs getting stuck with a lot of leftover X and not having enough Y can cause problems, both to the budget and to the menu

                                    1. re: foodieX2

                                      agreed. a few extra servings is one thing, but in a small place, like 20-60 seats, that does not serve a la carte sides, it makes zero sense in terms of cost or time to prep lots of extra food.

                                      anecdote: years ago i had to deal with a couple who ate out 7 nights a week, and only in boston's best and most pricey restaurants, most of which were chef-owned. the wife was a quasi-vegetarian and each time she came would say, "well, when i eat at chef x's place he lets me pick whatever vegetables i want from the menu and i just have that. oh, and i'd like cookies for dessert." my chef at that time was an utter tyrant and we NEVER had a dessert that included cookies. these people never made a reservation so we could not prepare ahead and have a small batch of f***ing cookies ready for her. her demeanor was pleasant enough, but she came in once a week, sometimes more, and never ONCE ordered an actual menu item. we finally began to keep cookie dough in the freezer for her (which made each new pastry chef krazee), but why go there when you don't really want the food? they also were not drinkers, so weren't coming to enjoy the wine list or cocktails. they would sit for HOURS and wind up with a check that was less than 25% of the house average.

                                      sorry, but nice only goes so far.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        Wow, that's really bending over backwards!
                                        I too know and occasional dine with someone who basically winds up composing her own dish by the time she's done ordering.

                                        1. re: monavano

                                          i will bet my condo that anybody who was a fine-dining server in boston in the 00's knows exactly to whom i am referring too, lol.

                                      2. re: foodieX2

                                        or, on the other hand,
                                        if you are a restaurant like gjelina,
                                        which allows NO modifications whatsoever
                                        AND has been WILDLY successful for many YEARS
                                        (they still haven't bothered to put a sign up, no need)

                                        you don't "get stuck" with food
                                        and if you run out of a dish, you just tell the servers it's no longer available that day. either the customer orders something else or they leave and someone else will HAPPILY take their table.
                                        despite the low probability of getting a seat, they always have some walk ins who will give it a shot before settling for a normal nearby restaurant.

                                        they start taking reservations for their tables a month before the seating date.

                                        yes, the food is that good.
                                        really, the food is BETTER than that good.
                                        and, more remarkably, the food has stayed BETTER than that good consistently for years.

                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                          It sounds like the sort of place I would love. I admire chefs who don't compromise and deliver great food. I actually like restaurants that run out of certain dishes because it shows they are making it fresh rather than opening the freezer.

                                          I actually think that those who love food also think this way. In my experience these are the hard to book, difficult to get into restaurants.

                                2. I agree with most other posters that it depends on the degree to which your request would change the dish and that the request should be made nicely and if the resto declines, order something else. One of my favorite things about going to great restos and ordering the tasting menu is that I am often surprised to find that my favorite dishes are things that would never had appealed to me "on paper" and I would never have ordered them ala carte. If you like the resto, I'd err on the side of asking the waiter about the dish and explaining the reason behind your question (like another poster's example of the sqab liver in the dish). A good server will be able to tell you whether the item is a large component of the dish, suggest a modification or a different dish, etc. On the other hand, I have asked for a sub on a side dish - if my entree comes with broccoli and I'd rather have the spinach side from another dish, there's no real harm in asking if they can sub the one you want. Just be pleasant about it and graciously accept a no, even if you think it's stupid. :)

                                  1. I usually will never do substitutions at nice restaurants. I want to eat the food exactly how the chef thinks it should be.

                                    However, when I went to nice restaurant with a tasting menu for my birthday last year we had asked the waiter before ordering if it was possible to have an offal course in the tasting menu (offal was on the list of appetizers for the à la carte, but the tasting menu was completely blind). I do enjoy the surprise of not knowing what is coming next, but since we are adventurous eaters, I really wanted to have some unique courses.

                                    The waiter went back and asked the chef if it would be ok and he said it was. So they ended up giving us 2 out of the 7 courses of offal and the chef even came out to talk to us after the offal courses to see how we liked them. The fried lamb brain was spectacular, so I'm glad we asked for it! If they said no to the request we would have understood though.

                                    1. Hm, I just avoid things that have ingredients that I don't want. The chef has taken the time to create these specific flavor combinations, and I really don't feel good making a request that wrecks that. Obviously it depends upon the restaurant, but the implication here is a restaurant where such care is taken with the food.

                                      If for some reason I was in such a place and every choice was somehow unappealing (can't imagine the chances of that, but for the sake of describing this) and I couldn't just go somewhere else (perhaps I was someone's guest there) I would ask if there was a way I could get xyz main ingredient in a simpler preparation, rather than asking to alter the dish. While the chef may not wish to do something so pedestrian, that seems like it would go over better than an alteration, and the taste might be better anyway.

                                      This makes it similar to a dietary restriction, really. Usually that can be accommodated, although, if you were stuck going somewhere and weren't sure about the menu it would be best to arrange ahead of time. I've seen a couple of really good vegetarian dishes prepared at restaurants that otherwise don't have such an option on the menu.

                                      1. I am also on the fence about this. While it's true that you are the customer, you picked the restaurant, so right there, walking in and being seated (many fine dining rooms post the menu outside) is pretty much your agreement to choose what they offer. The price is kept in control that way. There is no upsetting the flow when you choose from the menu as is. If you hate broccoli, leave it on your plate and graze when you get home. You can re-edit a movie you don't like just because you are a paying customer... Or redecorate a hotel room... Again, a paying customer. What you are paying for is what they offer,

                                        On the other hand, some people are there by the vote if others in their party and may not want to spoil the fun of the others, but really have an embarrassing problem with certain preparations... So, with that, the waiter may be pulled aside and informed as you are being seated, that you humbly request a little special adjustment.

                                        15 Replies
                                        1. re: Kimian111

                                          many restaurants post the menus outside, but the description may not tell everything one wants or needs to know......
                                          I am allergic to mustard. It shows up in many places, even if not in the description.
                                          So, if I request that the chef's special salad be served without the special dressing, but with just a lemon wedge or oil and vinegar, too bad about the chef's feelings, I'm not going to need a shot from an epi pen. The same with asking that a piece of salmon be prepared without the mustard based crust. This is not the same as asking to alter the preparation of a dish that must bake for an hour or more, or has already been roasted and is in a holding oven.

                                          Neither, Mrs. B or MIL eat cooked carrots. If there are carrots as the chef's pairing with the entree and Mrs. B sees a different vegetable offered with another entree, I see nothing wrong with asking for that other vegetable instead of carrots, just because the chef thinks carrots are best with the selected entree.
                                          After all, I'm not asking the chef to prepare something which hasn't been prepped for the evening's meals already.

                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                            I think there is a difference between allergies and not liking. I also tend to think it odd to specify the changes to a dish to accommodate an allergy.

                                            I go to a restaurant to benefit from the chefs talent, I choose dishes I expect to like, and don't order dishes that contain things I don't like - I used to manage that as a kid so it wasn't tricky. If nothing appeals to me on the menu I go somewhere else. If I am in a group I go with the flow and if I get served something I don't generally like I try it, and if I still don't like it I leave it on the side of my plate.

                                            I am allergic to certain nuts, I let the servers know, and in restaurants with degustation menus will do this in advance. As I am paying for the chefs expertise I fully expect them to think about how to accommodate me, and to accommodate my allergy in a way that maintains the integrity of the dish....it's only failed once when they simply left out the nuts which turned out to be the point of the dish.

                                            1. re: PhilD

                                              By co-incidence, the matter of allergies, or perceived allergies, was discussed this week in a TV programme, including a contribution from a Michelin 2* chef (who is the show's presenter). He said that, whilst it was once easy to accommodate the needs of a small number of allergy suffererers, there was now a considerably growing request from customers that they wish to avoid this, or avoid that, and it was making it increasingly difficult to offer the cuisine as it was intended to be enjoyed.

                                              He was certainly making the distinction between the well known serious effects of, say, a nut allergy and the relatively minor effects that someone might experience that they attribute to eating a particular substance. I think the unspoken solution was that he was not prepared to accommodate all requests to meet the latest fad.

                                              1. re: Harters

                                                I realize that I'm about to make a tangential point to a thread that was started around the time Kanye West decided to be an ass and help make Taylor Swift a huge star, but, this is the internet after all . . . .

                                                I'm most amazed, when it comes to allergies with what seems to be a recent spike of people not factoring in such maladies when choosing where to dine.

                                                At a local sushi restaurant, two women seated next to us told they waitress that they were allergic to "all fish".

                                                Worse, one of the kids at my local butcher shop/deli told me he had a guy get angry because they didn't have any vegan sandwiches listed on the menu - and, he's "allergic" to animal products. The place has lines of whole prosciutto hams and various cured sausages hanging from the ceiling - maybe there's a better spot to try, you know?

                                                1. re: MGZ

                                                  how did you manage to bite your tongue and say, "i'm sorry, but i think you are full of s**t?"

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    My wife gave me that look - you know, THAT look.

                                                    1. re: MGZ

                                                      Oh, yes, I know "that" look. Occasionally, it is followed up with the word "Don't". But usually the look is more than enough.

                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                        lol, my b/f and i frequently share eye-rolls. ;)

                                                        the dumbest (?) part is that if those women truly were allergic to ALL fish they would be too realistically and rightfully afraid of cross-contamination to step foot in a sushi place.

                                                        however, i have seen posters on chow and other boards advise feigning allergies when dining out to get one's way. it makes me want to punch them all over.

                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                          I seen to get the "don't" quite frequently these days.....

                                                    2. re: MGZ

                                                      True Darwin award winners, there!

                                                2. re: bagelman01

                                                  Hi Bagelman01 I totally appreciate your comment. Keep in mind, mine is a general comment, how could I post anything else? Right? I was not trying to leave you out. I simply don't feel qualified to write about individual concerns I know nothing about. Of course there will always be exceptions. But I feel for you on the mustard allergy! I can't live without mustard, that's an exaggeration, but I do love me some mustard.

                                                  1. re: Kimian111

                                                    I used to love Mustard until 1990-
                                                    I had a bad reaction and after testing by the allergist it was determined I had a real allergy to mustard.

                                                    In 1991 Mrs B and i attended a wedding if one of her old girlfriends. The bride's mother was (now deceased) a prominent caterer in Connecticut. The dinner choice was herb crusted rack of lamb or herb crusted salmon. I specifically asked if there was mustard in the crust. I had had more than enough food during the cocktail hour to ship the main course. The waiter checked with the kitchen staff and assured me that there was no mustard in the crust. I had three forks full and went into shock. The ambulance and EMTs arrived disturbing the reception and i was off to the hospital for a two night stay.

                                                    Bride and her mother were horrified. knowing of my allergy they had instructed their chef/employee NOT to use mustard in the herb crust. The chef told the waiter no mustard, but a line cook had made the food the way he wanted, ignoring the menu instructions from the owner.

                                                    I don't always have a choice which restaurant I eat in, a client/business associate may make that decision. I am not concerned about offending a chef when asking something be made 'plain' for health reasons.

                                                    Any chef worth his/her salt will not be offended by a legitimate health related request that doesn't involve additions to the dish. It is no additional work, not to dress a salad and simply provide a lemon wedge, or to leave off the mustard crust on a piece of meat or fish. I would never ask that an individual portion of an item cooked whole, prime rib for example, be adjusted for me.

                                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                                      I just order the dishes that don't contain nuts and tell the restaurant I have an allergy if I am unsure.

                                                      It's doesn't really occur to me to ask the kitchen to adjust an individual dish (on the spot) - experience tells me that it's often quite difficult as things like mustards, and nuts are included in marinades, pre-made dressings or are cooked into pre-prepped dishes like desserts.

                                                      I get caught out occasionally - the chef who throws a handful of walnuts into the crumble topping for example. But in most of those cases it was something I wouldn't predict......and yes I do end up at the doctors if I eat nuts.

                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                        Phil, that's why I'm specifically talking about made to order items, not pre-assembled.
                                                        A fine dining establishment with a chef who would be insulted by a requested change doesn't pre-dress salads and leave them in the cooler pending orders.

                                                        1. re: bagelman01

                                                          Agree on the salads - but it's surprising how much is ore-prepped. Leaving the dressing off (as you do) is fine, leaving the mustard out would be tricky as the dressing would be pre-prepped sitting in a plastic bottle ready to go. Mustard (like nuts) can be part of a marinade, a herb crust, a rub on meat etc etc and these are often all prepped pre-service.

                                              2. Nowadays, chefs are probably getting more bombarded than ever with special requests, what with legit health concerns and "fad" diets.
                                                So, I get that chefs might not be too happy to change their composed plate because someone doesn't like x, y or z.
                                                There was a chef in DC that was so high strung that she'd consider it an affront to her works of art to dare deign to ask for a substitution.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: monavano

                                                  so what?
                                                  if she still can fill the house without making substitutions, more power to her.

                                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                                    My, my, you're very assured and flippant in your response when you have no idea of whom I speak.
                                                    You seem to assume she's successful, still, despite her difficult (at best) personality.
                                                    She's not, and it's a shame, because things like what I mentioned above are some of the reasons why.

                                                    1. re: monavano

                                                      may i point out that i qualified my statement:


                                                      i wrote "if" because i MEANT "if"

                                                      why would you make the assumption that i thought that i had some knowledge about whether or not she could fill the house when i WROTE "if?"

                                                      your assumptions about my assumptions puzzle me.

                                                2. My opinion is that if a dish has something I don't want, I order something else or eat around it. I don't really care about the chef's feelings so much, but I think it's silly for me to ask for something, only please make it something else. Mind you, I have no food allergies.

                                                  1. I have no food allergies so if it’s a fine dining restaurant I generally won’t rock the boat and assume the chef knows how to best “cook” his menu. When I worked as a chef I always tried to accommodate reasonable requests for menu deviations because if you say “no” you’ve probably lost a customer forever. I never felt insulted however. Obviously, some requests are impossible to accommodate during service. There definitely are people whose part of the fine dining experience is “showing off” to their friends how worldly they are by being overly critical, abusing the wait staff or making unreasonable requests. If you have dietary restrictions or have an acute aversion to an ingredient it is best to call ahead and discuss these with the chef or maître d. Most will appreciate your thoughtfulness and go out of their way to accommodate you. If you feel the need to make special requests it is better to go mid-week or whenever it’s slower because @ 9:00 on a Saturday evening there usually isn’t the spare manpower available to make special dishes. Most kitchens are well oiled machines operating @ 100% capacity during crunch time. I worked at a restaurant in Greenwich CT that besides being excellent was “the place to see and be seen”. Tables, especially on weekends, were hard to come by. The maître d was very protective of his staff and any customer who was a P.I.A. or a lousy tipper was relegated to a less desirable seating area known as “Siberia”. I think the customers realized this because they frequently modified their behavior in order to get back in his good graces. It worked both ways too because waiters were threatened (good naturedly) during the week with banishment to “Siberia” for their Saturday night shift if they didn’t behave.

                                                    1. I've never asked for a substitution, addition or omission, and I never will.
                                                      No allergies or restrictions here.

                                                      1. I guess I don't understand the entire concept of this discussion. When I go to a restaurant, I want to experience what the CHEF cooks, not what I'D make.

                                                        So yeah, in my opinion, it's rude, it's insulting, it's narcissistic, it's control-oriented, and it's frankly kind of stupid. Go to a different restaurant or cook it yourself.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                          1. re: jmckee

                                                            That's incredibly strong, don't you think? Let's imagine the chef has one pork chop preparation on the menu. A lovely double cut Berkshire chop with several accompaniments that sound absolutely delish and beet compote. I love absolutely everything about the dish as described except the beet compote. I really want that pork chop sans beet compote. I don't care if the chef makes the best beet compote in the world, I'm a grown ass man and I know for damn sure that I don't like beets. I find it in know way way insulting to politely request if I can have the pork chop without the beet compote. I would find it rather narcissistic and rude of the chef to refuse a polite request like that. Some chefs seem to have forgotten that they are not great artistes, they are craftsmen working in a service industry. I'm not saying that that gives me any right to treat them disrespectfully in any way, but by the same token they are not entitled to treat their customers' polite and reasonable requests with such disrespect either.