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How respectful should we be as diners?

Perhaps the question is really: When did people decide that they should treat the restaurant kitchen like short order cooks? I have never worked in any restaurant. Lately, however, I find myself cringing at what I hear coming from the mouths of my fellow diners. I've begun to feel quite bad for many of the servers I see and have to practically stifle the urge to apologize for other patrons. I feel almost worse for the chefs who diligently create dishes only to have them conceptually disassembled by anyone who can afford to pay $30 for an entree.

I recently had lunch at a place that, at least by the critics of NJ Monthly, is considered one of the 25 best restaurants in the State. Now, admittedly, my inner Holden Caulfield was quite stirred up by the general vibe of the place and those who chose to dine there (Quick aside - When someone gets their "eyes done," does the plastic surgeon actually alter their vision so as to prevent them from being able to see how weird they look?). Mostly, though, I was struck by the fact that ours was the only table within the section that did not insist upon some deviation from the menu offerings.

The "on the side" dressing requests were practically a chorus. Look, its not Flo going back in the kitchen to pour half a bottle of Wishbone on some iceberg. Let the line dress the salad - they've created something to pair with the ingredients on the plate, try it. I know, I know, you like to control stuff, . . . you were, after all, the last at your table to arrive.

"Can I have the Onion Tart thingy without the anchovies?" Man, that was fingernails on the blackboard to me. The pissaladiere is prepared with three pieces of sharp goat cheese and three fresh anchovy filets. It's a very tasty dish. If you don't like canned anchovies, perhaps you should try the fresh ones on this offering. If you know from experience that you don't like any anchovies, perhaps you should select something else to eat.

I could go on, there were other examples, but I've probably already belabored my point. Isn't a big part of what's exciting about dining in better restaurants seeing what the kitchen's labors have resulted in? When you've learned that the chef grew up in New Orleans and trained for years in Boston and Madrid, don't you want to find out how she thinks a heritage pork chop should be prepared?

So, I ask you, isn't it time we moved past the "have it your way" mentality and treated chefs as professionals? Isn't it time we became respectful diners???

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  1. There have been a few heated threads on this topic over the years.

    As a counter-example, when I am in a restaurant the judgment of whose chefs I have reason to trust, I love nothing better than to respond to the question "How would you like that cooked?" with "As the chef thinks best."

    1 Reply
    1. re: Karl S

      There is no greater compliment a chef can receive than a patron requesting a dish being prepared as the kitchen deem best and receiving an clean plate in return.

    2. I find the type of diner you describe to be the exception rather than the rule. There will always be that type person and not just in restaurants. I don't see it going on much at all --- and I'm pretty tuned into those around me.
      PS: I read once that plastic surgery doesn't make you look younger; it makes you look like you've had plastic surgery.

      1 Reply
      1. re: c oliver

        Yes, c oliver, that person is everywhere. I'm in retail, and fortunately I have limited contact with customers, but it does happen. The vast majority are understanding and polite. There are the occasional jerks. One of my favorites, and I'm sure they get this in restaurants all the time is, "I'm in a hurry!" I mutter under my breath, "Next time wake up earlier." These misguided souls actually think this will get them better service.

      2. jfood is not sure it is a control thing as you describe, but the addition of lots of information allows customization. If there are six ingredients on a menu item and you love 5 of them what is the harm in asking if the pickled kumquats can be eliminated. Jfood is allergic to nuts and if the duck breast looks fantastic but the words..."candied walnuts" appear, it's a non-starter if not eliminated. The OTS for dressing is a result of way too many salads arriving at the table swimming in dressing and this is not just at the local diner but high enders as well. As long as it is done in a respectful manner, jfood does not have a problem with it. if told no, then move on.

        One of jfood's favorite restaurants in the world, Brigtsen's in NOLA has a world class chef. And he wants to please the guest. He has complete control of the kitchen and if he can make a different sauce for the catch of the day it is his pleasure. If he can't he let's you know.

        As long as both the restaurant and the customer know limits and treat each other respectfully in the process, this does not bother jfood at all.

        7 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          It seems that the more a diner demands of the wait staff and redesigns the menu the gresater the inadequacies of said diner. It may be their only way to act out their fantasies and temporarily forget their own miserable lives.

          1. re: ospreycove

            My goodness, that seems a rather harsh indictment of the diner.

            1. re: c oliver

              C.o. I agree, I guess it really gets to me when people go out for dinner and then think they are browbeating their private staff.

              1. re: ospreycove

                not sure where you moved jfood's respectful to browbeating?

          2. re: jfood

            A chef, like a musician, certainly has the prerogative to take requests. But, at times it seems that menus are being treated like starting points for negotiations.

            As for dressing greens, I've found the trend at fine establishments moving toward "mist" like applications. As the quality and freshness of the produce has improved, letting their flavors be merely accented is important. A good olive oil and some sea salt is hard to put on the side.

            Reciprocal respect, however, is an excellent notion.

            1. re: jfood

              I'm with you on the rampant over-dressing of salads. I've found that at most high-end places I can ask for "light dressing" and I get a perfect light layer of dressing barely coating the greens, and no puddle at the bottom - works even better than DIY OTS.

              1. re: jfood

                The salad dressing issue does seem to be pretty ubiquitous. For a while it seemed like I was going to restaurant after restaurant that doused salads in dressings that had a really strong vinegary taste, making them completely inedible. I don't typically ask for dressings on the side, but if I know a restaurant is an offender or if I think the salad might be ruined by a dressing with a particularly strong flavor, I have no problem asking politely if it is possible.

                I will sometimes ask for other minor changes as well. If the restaurant says it isn't possible, I don't get annoyed. For instance, if a place offers a specific side with a dish I want but allows the diner to pick her own sides for other dishes, I don't think it's ruining the chef's creativity to trade out a starch for a veggie if that's what you prefer.

              2. << So, I ask you, isn't it time we moved past the "have it your way" mentality and treated chefs as professionals? >>

                I really don't see why the two are mutually exclusive. The chef wants me, as a customer, to enjoy my dinner and come back and I want the chef to prepare a meal that I will enjoy. If I see a salad that I would like except for the fact that it is sprinkled with blue cheese, how could it possibly be disrepectful to the chef to ask for the salad without blue cheese.

                Is a chefs vision so rigid that a simple request like this would cause him agita? If so, then I think he is in the wrong business.

                1 Reply
                1. re: NE_Elaine

                  a chef(good ones anyways) want you to enjoy the dinner, yes. More to the point though is that they want you to enjoy THEIR food.....if you think that entree will be more suited to your tastes if the walnuts are left off, by all means give it a shot at home sometime!

                  I guess what I am saying is restaurants are NOT owned by the customers. They are the real and intellectual property of the chef/owner. To go in and request the chef to change his dish to your whims, is tantamount to requesting a sculptor to work in clay instead of stone.

                2. I think the fetishization of food, celebrity chefs and culinary shows plays a large role in the diners' attitudes. And let's not even get into the proliferaton of food bloggers. Seriously, do you need any credentials to become one? Doesn't seem like it to me.

                  I definitely feel a rising sense of entitlement among diners these days--even among some of my own friends. And by entitlement, I mean getting peeved if the chef or restaurant does not cater to your every whim.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: gloriousfood

                    Blogging is a way for the masses to have a voice. Personally I blog as a way to document what recipes I have tried etc. Why not just open a word document? I One, I like to share and like when people share with me (always great for new ideas) and two, the internet makes it constantly accessible.

                  2. I'm not high maintenance, and if I go to a place known for fine cuisine, I don't want to tell the chef how to prepare a dish. But if the protein I order comes with a starch, I ask for it to be left off the plate and I accept an offer of extra veggies if it's offered, but I don't ask for a sub. I'm diabetic, the starch is very bad for my health. I only ask for dressings on the side if it's a place I'm familiar with that dresses to heavily. I always ask politely, offer thanks, and tip well. I think that covers it.

                    A diner is a consumer (pun unintended) buying a product and a service and is entitled to be served in a way that suits him/her, within reason.

                    I, too, cringe at those with long lists of requests that amount to menu revisions; maybe it's just not the right restaurant for them?

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: mcf

                      I think it's totally different if you're diabetic. All you're asking is to not have the starch/sugar and if they wish to give you more vegetables, thank you very much.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        I think it's okay to ask for something to be left out if it is a separate component eg. I recently wanted to try the Kobe beef burger at a local resto but it came with foie gras. I am not a fan (for reasons of taste and texture, not politics) and asked that it be left off. No problem for the kitchen, and I knew what I was getting (or not getting). The DIY-er should not expect a reduction in the cost of the dish, however, and needs to recognize that the dish may not be as cohesive as it would have been with the missing ingredient. So no complaining afterward ;-).

                        1. re: grayelf

                          Good reply as usual. Especially the point about don't expect, much less ask for, a cost reduction because you didn't want the foie gras. This is a business those people are operating and they build their menu around making a profit. (I hope.)

                        2. re: c oliver

                          I don't tell them I'm diabetic, though. I just think reasonable requests should be met with agreeable responses. BTW, I KNOW I typed "to" and not "too." Homophones thwart me lately! :-)

                          It's never even occurred to me to expect a cost differential, I'm just glad when my requests receive a gracious response.

                      2. At the risk of angering some CHers I think Americans are the fussiest eaters I have come across. So many ask for items to be left off or substituted because of dislikes or the dreaded allergies.

                        I agree with those who say order what you like without asking for ingredients to be left out. There must be SOMETHING on virtually every menu you would eat without changing it because you don't like capers, anchovies, onions, mushrooms, blue cheese, otherwise push the ingredient to one side. Gosh it's a chance to try something you haven't before or a combination of flavours you might not have thought of.

                        18 Replies
                        1. re: smartie

                          That's what I mean. No one would presume to submit a setlist when they went to a concert, or, dare to compose the solos. There is great potential for pleasure in simply sitting back and letting the experience wash over oneself.

                          1. re: MGZ

                            On the contrary, you would be astounded at the number of people I have been confronted with who confuse me for either a jukebox or a karaoke machine. Upon being informed that I dont know their favourite Stevie Ray Vaughn or Jimmy Buffett or Beyonce song reply either, "Aw C'mon! You GOTTA know it!" or "OK, I"LL sing it!"

                            And dont get me going on requests for "Mustang Sally".

                            There is no harm in requesting either "Texas Flood" or to have the anchovies left off the plate, as long as it's done politely. But dont be surprised or offended if your request is politely declined.

                              1. re: linguafood

                                No problem! With a nice muniere sauce, some locally-grown green beans, and roasted fingerling potatos.

                          2. re: smartie

                            I go to more than one restaurant that has a veggie of the day that it puts with almost every main course. In some cases, the veggie of the day does not pair well with the main at all. I don't think it's an issue to switch it out with another veggie on the menu that might actually work with the dish, since it's not like I can look at the menu and pick something without it. I've been to other restaurants that are fond of one ingredient so much they put it in every food- like I once went to a sandwich place that had onions on every sandwich.

                            1. re: smartie

                              Hey S

                              "So many ask for items to be left off or substituted because of dislikes or the dreaded allergies."

                              Hopefully this is somewhat of a mis-type or jfood is mis-reading, but "dreaded allergies"? If a dish has candied almonds as an adder and jfood is allergic to nuts, is it not OK to ask for the dish sans nuts? Seems unfair and a pretty harsh standard. But if you are speaking of the low-lifes scumbuckets who use allergies as an excuse because they do not LIKE nuts, then jfood is right there with you since it desensitizes people with real allergies.

                              1. re: jfood

                                jfood you know I am talking about the dreaded 's-buckets'. But that's another old post! I dislike overhearing or sitting with people who are not allergic but tell the server they are just to get a dish tweaked.

                                1. re: smartie

                                  ditto.

                                  hope the move went well and the med student is back saving lives. :-))

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    I guess this line of thought is similiar to asking Raffaello to create a nice floral landscape for you.

                                    1. re: ospreycove

                                      wouldn't it be great if jfood did have one of his landscapes in his house..oh but for that to be true.

                                      but to compare a landscape by raffaello to a chef leaving candied walnuts off a dish is not exactly in the same zip code. jfood always appreciates hyperbolic examples to prove a point but not sure this one has any legs for discussion. jfood would also bet that there were a tremendous number of examples in which great artists were asked to modify reality onto the canvas, usually in the portraits world.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        To the third person writing for JFOOD, ,I would rather cut off my ear.

                                        1. re: ospreycove

                                          nice...

                                          but you have to come up with an original idea for a great artist, that one only has the shock value once. :-))

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            Oh, well this is a family friendly site, so no other appendages mentioned.

                                            1. re: ospreycove

                                              bobbitt was not degas nor keller. :-))

                                              1. re: jfood

                                                Maybe Lorena was a "Lady in waiting" of a sort?!

                                                1. re: ospreycove

                                                  careful on the name...velazquez "maids of honor" is one of jfood's favorites

                                      2. re: ospreycove

                                        most of the great artists did indeed work on commissions and paint what their patrons told them to.

                                2. re: smartie

                                  Except many items aren't easily pushed to the side. I've got a pretty intense aversion to cooked eggs to the point that gag reflex can be involved. And there is no way of successfully picking crumbled hard boiled egg out of a salad and getting it all out.

                                  So because I've got a huge issue with it, I ask for salads without egg. If they can't exclude the egg (happens sometimes when the included with entree house salad is pre-mixed) then don't even bring one to me.

                                3. As a Chef I applaud my fellow chefs and their restaurants where "NO substitutions or special orders" is writ large in the menu.

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: KiltedCook

                                    As a diner, I appreciate the notice so I can leave.

                                    1. re: mcf

                                      And you have every right to, just as much right as the chef has in placing that heading on his menu.If he wishes to narrow down his customer base for better or worse and you as a customer wish to discount his establishment and possibly a great meal... or not, that's what it's all about. Choices, No?

                                      1. re: Duppie

                                        Absolutely. That's why I genuinely appreciate the heads up, as I said.

                                      2. re: mcf

                                        As a regular diner at a few places; I appreciate knowing the cook's style, and am in his/her capable hands.

                                      3. re: KiltedCook

                                        as an eater, I applaud it too.

                                        I always say "i'll eat anything the chef wants to serve me." when asked about allergies or food sensitivities. When asked about cooking my meat (or almost anything else that requires a decision) I say "I'll have it however the chef thinks works best in the dish." I tell bartenders "make me your best cocktail." I want to be dazzled by these professionals, so I like to give them as blank a canvas as possible.

                                        I hate listening to people whine about 'allergies' that aren't allergic in restaurants. It's like buying a painting and telling the painter not to use green. It's so nice and refreshing as a person who worked to develop an open mind about eating to eat in a restaurant where people who nitpick at their menu are invited out the door.

                                        1. re: TheFoodEater

                                          People commission paintings with specific needs/requests all the time. It might be nice to be able to do whatever you want all the time, but you have to pay the bills. My cousin did a series of paintings for (what was then) a small chain of restaurants and you can bet they gave him a theme that matched the restaurant's decor and atmosphere. In any field, it's only the lucky few that get complete freedom to pursue their craft without input from outsiders.

                                          1. re: queencru

                                            Quite true, but precious few are the art patrons that have the experience or insight to accurately interpret what the artist wanted to convey and improve upon that vision, and inevitably they are the patrons that even after convincing the artist to improve that piece are unhappy with the result.
                                            Then further add insult to injury by blogging about that piece of art and the lack of talent and insight on the part of the artist.

                                            1. re: Duppie

                                              I think you misunderstood; artists do commissioned work that has nothing to do with their individual vision and is all about what the patron orders, to meet decorative goals.

                                              1. re: Duppie

                                                What does that matter? If an artist is commissioned to do a painting for a 3-year-old girl's room and paints a post-apocalyptic dystopia, no amount of experience and insight is going to make it work in that space. I've worked with artistic people and have heard that complaint so many times in the past. However, it's not about the artist. It is about the client and fulfilling his or her needs.

                                                1. re: queencru

                                                  I agree with you to a point (after laughing to myself about the image of that poor little girl in her room alone at night). But, patrons hire artists directly to do work for them. Chefs are hired by owners to bring their vision and expertise to the business; they are not hired by clients. Thus, there is no obligation, unless directed by the owner, to fulfill the whims of the clients. They might drive the business into the ground by doing so, but that's the prerogative of the owner.

                                        2. After a truly excellent meal, we summon the chef, place a napkin on the floor, and express our awe by genuflecting.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. Whether asking the kitchen (or chef) for special accommodations is "respectful" has less to do with what the diner is asking for, and more in the manner how it is asked.

                                            Inquire (don't demand) in a courteous manner, and just about any request will not come off as rude or pretentious.

                                            Inquire in a self-righteous tone, and even the most basic request (e.g. "can I have extra sauce") will sound downright obnoxious.

                                            Sometimes it is the messenger, and not the message.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. Sometimes I beg for the kitchen to make it as (insert flavour here) as they do in their traditional cooking. It might take a bit of convincing that I would like it, but it's usually worth the while.

                                              1. Why would anyone go to a restaurant, order a dish then ask to have it modified? I don't understand. Why wouldn't one order just what one wants to eat? Allergies aside.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Gio

                                                  Health issues other than allergies, and personal preferences. Maybe all constituents of a dish are palatable but one, which the diner hates or can't eat for health reasons. I think the important point is to ask politely, and to accept whatever answer comes with some grace, too.

                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                    Indeed. I'll eat ANYTHING except for goat cheese and bell peppers. Occasionally I will see something on a restaurant menu that combines many of my favorite things--and one of those dreaded items. So I'll ask if it's possible to get it without the disliked ingredient. If so, great. If not, I always have a Plan B. But why should I just pre-emptively order my second choice if they can easily make my first choice without that one thing? It never hurts to ask.

                                                  2. re: Gio

                                                    I love eating out but I do not want to become unhealthy as a result. Restaurants are notorious for using copious amounts of oil/butter, so I almost always ask for very little fat in my dish when possible. Be respectful, but ask. It makes no sense to not ask and not enjoy your meal. You may have been better off not going out, but should you be expected to avoid most restaurants for the rest of your life? I doubt this would be an issue at all if more people would use simple common sense. Do not be disrespectful when asking. Never demand. Be okay with a no, but by the same token, the restaurant should be ok with you leaving when they tell you "no".

                                                  3. OTOH, it's worth mentioning that Cantonese restaurants, negotiations with the waitstaff while ordering isn't unusual, although the more common areas covered might involve the choice among the large repertoire of classical preparations or the weight/size of the live fish. In more elaborate banquets, those negotiations could be more involved, with a few rounds of revisions to ensure that the multi-course menu fits together.

                                                    1. I'll give you an answer far different from everyone else apparently. If I were you, I'd mind my own business and enjoy my own meal. You can't change the world, except by example.

                                                      "Mostly, though, I was struck by the fact that ours was the only table within the section that did not insist upon some deviation from the menu offerings. "
                                                      Why are you eavesdropping on what's going on at other tables? It's really none of your business how or what other people order.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: 512window

                                                        The other table was playing the restaurant variation of "Mine is bigger than yours". Yes folks there are many who think the universe revolves arounf them....."it is all about me!!!!"

                                                        1. re: ospreycove

                                                          <Yes folks there are many who think the universe revolves arounf them....."it is all about me!!!!">

                                                          You could easily expand that to include chefs who won't accommodate diners. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that you won't.

                                                          1. re: ospreycove

                                                            Perhaps, but the OPs table was playing the restaurant variation of "I'm clearly better than everyone else." He/she didn't know *why* the other patrons were asking for dressing on the side, or no onions, or whatever.

                                                            And I think it's stalkerish and creepy to listen to what people at other tables are ordering. Enjoy what you ordered and the company that you are keeping. Otherwise stay home.

                                                            1. re: 512window

                                                              At many restaurants you'd have to be wearing a set of blinders and earplugs to NOT overhear the people around you placing their orders. I've been many (good) restos where it was just as unavoidable to overhear the next table as it would be a screeching baby.

                                                              And sometimes the nearby table conversations after the order make us wish we had earplugs and blinders.

                                                              But that's another thread.

                                                        2. I almost always ask for the dressing on the side of a salad. I've had totally drenched salad before, almost like a soup.

                                                          Removing an ingredient from a dish is just too weird - order something else. Asking for no onions on your burger or on the side is one thing, but that is probably as far as I've gone.

                                                          I do have to say that I've asked for eggs to be scrambled dry or hard fried (I seriously can't deal with the runny, wet stuff - I'll gag on sight) and when it comes back badly done, I have to ask for a side plate to simply get it off my plate. I don't want it put back on the burner, I just want it off the plate, out of my sight.

                                                          1. thoughts after reading the entire thread, in no particular order.

                                                            there was never a golden age when everyone was polite, children always listened to parents, no one went hungry, and businesses opted for something other than profit. these appeals to a past that never existed have always bewildered me. so when did we start acting so? i would hazard a guess - exactly the moment the restaurant was invented.

                                                            there is nothing wrong with a customer asking if something can be left out of a dish, or a side can be substituted. hell, there is nothing wrong with asking ANYTHING as long as one is prepared to accept that the answer might be NO.

                                                            A restaurant is a business that exchanges food for money. It is not a holy tabernacle. A chef is not a pope. they need flexibility, as much as the customer does.

                                                            Having ben a working artist for years - sometimes one does need to shape the work to the needs of who it is being created for. Nature of the beast.

                                                            At least as annoying as disrespectful people are self appointed arbiters of how others should act. eat your own damned meal, and let ol' mr smith ask for a baked potato instead of french fries, or no anchovies in the salad. what business is it of yours?

                                                            for myself, i will rarely ask to alter a dish, though i may indeed ask for mashed or baked instead of fries, eg, or some other substitution of that level on occasion. If it cannot be done i will either order something else or take it as is. no big deal. and certainly not the business of someone 3 tables away.

                                                            respect needs to go in both directions. I don't wish to disrespect the chef, or the staff. but then i don't expect to be condescended to by them either.

                                                            in a world with real problems, how other people order is pretty far down the list of what i could give a rotten rat's ass about

                                                            14 Replies
                                                            1. re: thew

                                                              Well said - couldn't agree more!

                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                Great post. Should be the period at the end of the thread.

                                                                1. re: mcf

                                                                  So, then, through limited extrapolation, we have the answer to our underlying inquiry. We should all always feel entitled to ask whatever we want of whomever we want and thus place the onus of decision upon the provider. That way, they can determine for us the price of any integrity we seek them to compromise and we are insulated from culpability. Well done.

                                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                                    Chef or Whore? truly a interesting conundrum.

                                                                    1. re: MGZ

                                                                      "That way, they can determine for us the price of any integrity we seek them to compromise and we are insulated from culpability."

                                                                      All this because someone doesn't like, say, bleu cheese in their pasta? Really?

                                                                      1. re: MGZ

                                                                        No one said that, but at least you got a second chance to demonstrate your disdain for those around you.

                                                                          1. re: Fydeaux

                                                                            I apologize, as I meant neither to confuse nor exhibit contempt. Ultimately, I thought that it might be interesting to attempt to extend a light-hearted and thinly-veiled invitation to rethink the way we, as ‘hounds and food geeks, approach eating in restaurants. Oh well, I suppose interpretation is based upon the key.

                                                                            As the man said, "Embrace diverse tastes."

                                                                            1. re: MGZ

                                                                              First of all, it's nice of you to apologize.

                                                                              Second, I think that attempts at harmless humor often fall flat or worse online, where body language, tone and expression are absent, along with knowledge of one another on a personal level.

                                                                              Third, I don't think we must learn to be obsequious toward chefs in order to be good restaurant citizens. We should all be respectful and considerate of one another, generally, dontcha think?

                                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                                I think you're taking this topic way too seriously .

                                                                      2. re: thew

                                                                        "there was never a golden age when everyone was polite, children always listened to parents, no one went hungry, and businesses opted for something other than profit. these appeals to a past that never existed have always bewildered me. so when did we start acting so? i would hazard a guess - exactly the moment the restaurant was invented."

                                                                        Perfect.

                                                                        1. re: Cachetes

                                                                          I agree there was never a "Golden Age." I disagree that there are never shifts in what a society deems acceptable behavioral norms. Over the last 25 years or so, I have certainly perceived a shift in the importance we place upon notions of "honor" and "responsibility." Perhaps I'm the only one who has so misread the zeitgeist?

                                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                                            Nope. Not at all. It's the function of having aged 25 years in the meantime, and our perception of the past.

                                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                                              A democratic society enacts laws that memorialize changes in the beliefs of its members in a way we can actually look back on. Thereby, we have examples of changes in "group think," not romanticized notions. By way of simple example, we can look at issues like drug and alcohol prohibitions/restrictions to see such changes.

                                                                      3. I see nothing wrong with asking that a salad be lightly dressed, or a menu item be lightly salted. I don't like to shell out big bucks for food I find inedible, no matter what the chef deems appropriate. (I think that many professional cooks have deadened salt receptors, BTW.)

                                                                        1. I don't think that asking for items to be left off is a major issue. Asking for substitutions or additions is another matter. For health reasons, I often ask if I could have extra vegetables instead of starch, but I do say "and if there's an additional fee, that's fine."

                                                                          As for asking for things to be left off, my philosophy is that the things I won't eat cost the restaurant money. They may as well save them off my order and put them on the plate of a diner that will enjoy them. I don't do this often, but I rarely like raw tomatoes (which can be very expensive). If by chance they do come with my dish, I just politely push them to the side. If the waiter happens to notice and says "oh no! they didn't leave off the tomatoes!" I'll tell them not to worry...

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: Antithesisofpop

                                                                            I do that when my SO and I go out for breakfast. If I order something that comes with hash browns or potatoes in some other form, I ask that they either be put on his plate, or a separate one so that he can eat them. That way they don't get mixed into whatever I've ordered and I don't have to try to pick them out.

                                                                          2. Interesting notions reflected in comments here. The likes of "Burger King", a lowly fast food place, can adjust to accommodate the customer's preferred tastes, but higher level places cannot lower themselves to requests for things like dressing on the side, or not including some trivial ingredient?

                                                                            This isn't about pickiness, and it's not about disrespecting the chef. It's about how the experience of dining out is perceived. It is a special event which costs more than eating at home. The point isn't merely to sample cuisine as prepared by another person, but to have a certain experience. Part of that experience is getting the maximum enjoyment out of the food and that may mean being able to apply your own dressing to the salad (surely, not an inconvenience for anyone) or to ask that some ingredient which one normally does not enjoy in a particular preparation to be excluded.

                                                                            I think that there is a bit of contradiction going on in the very notion that "better" restaurants should offer their food "as is" and the diner should shut up and accept it. Is it a fast food assembly line in the kitchen where tweaks cannot be made? Is it no different than the burgers wrapped in paper and put under a heat lamp, one identical to the other based on what someone has determined is the best way to offer that food? Or, is it an experience where the chef is capable of balancing his knowledge of food preparation and taste with that of the diner by making small modifications?

                                                                            Honestly, this is yet another thread where it seems that people feel the diner by being present and having a desire for a certain experience is inconveniencing the staff. It's no wonder many restaurants aren't getting enough business to stay in business. If complying with small requests on the part of customers is an affront to the chef, then I'll stay home. If I'm going to pay someone else to prepare my food and serve me, I'd like to think that part of what I'm paying for is trivial accommodation of my needs as a customer.

                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Orchid64

                                                                              Orchid I see what you're saying but liken it to shopping for clothes - you like a coat but not the buttons - sorry but that's how the manufacturer made it, you cannot have it with different buttons (unless you change them yourself at home). The shirt you like fits well but does not come in the color you went out looking for and so on. That couch is the wrong size but the right color, the right size but the wrong shade etc etc.
                                                                              We can't always get what we want. The chicken dish on the menu with artichoke hearts and black olives might well be more to your tasting without black olives, and maybe the chef can take it out or maybe it's a stewed dish and the offending item is cooked into it. Dishes that are assembled on order can be tweaked a bit, no onions, no mayo on the bread - these are not hard to not add on the line, but really when some diners want every little thing tweaked and substituted maybe they should cook at home or pay a personal chef. I do not think all requests are such small requests and not all are so trivial.

                                                                              1. re: smartie

                                                                                I don't think going to a restaurant is similar to shopping for clothes at all. We have no way to contact the manufacturer at all when we buy clothing. Many higher end department stores will make up for that by having in-house alterations departments that can help you if something doesn't fit right. I don't think designers take such pride in their fit models that they think that all clothing is going to come off the rack looking amazing on everyone who tries it on. Even at low-end furniture stores, you usually have some choice of upholstery and finish, and those choices increase dramatically when you go to higher end places where you have hundreds of upholstery fabrics from which to choose.

                                                                                I do not think a person needs to stay home just because he doesn't want mayo on the sandwich. Some places default to putting certain condiments on every sandwich, so it's silly to think that you have to be respectful and accept it as is. It's also silly to say that you need a personal chef if you ask the kitchen not to sprinkle parmesan (or any other) cheese on the dish before bringing it out.

                                                                                1. re: queencru

                                                                                  QC I did say that I thought that dishes assembled on the line can be tweaked like no mayo, onion. It's the constant tweaking that some people demand that is over bearing. An already assembled stewed dish or a pre-prepared sauce cannot be tweaked.

                                                                                  1. re: smartie

                                                                                    I think I misunderstood it to mean that if you wanted the small tweaks, you shouldn't go out. My mistake!

                                                                                    1. re: queencru

                                                                                      And most diners don't realize that a relatively simple-seeming request such as "no mushrooms" can quickly degenerate into a frenzied thinking game for the cooks and chefs alike. A dish at a fine dining restaurant will typically have five or more elements to it, some of which are comprised of many different base ingredients. Now let's say the dish has mushroom fritters and the veg is mixed with a few morels... ok, that seems easy enough let's take them out. But what about the sauce? It's made with a bit of mushroom stock to add a background flavour! Is the client allergic? Is it a preference? Will they even notice? A couple minutes later the meat cook remembers that the protein is marinaded in a solution that includes a tablespoon of mushroom soy! Well, once the cooks have figured out that all that will remain on the plate is a spoonful of spinach and a herb salad they basically have to rebuild a dish from the ground up that will resemble the original and taste the way the chef wants it... and remember they're doing this while 30 other people in the dining room want their apps, mains, desserts, cheese courses, etc. at the same time. That is why the kitchen prefers to provide an alternate dish without the ingredient rather than mangle a pre existing dish.

                                                                                      Perhaps you would say that one tablespoon of mushroom soy in a marinade is inconsequential, or "Mushroom stock? They won't notice"... but how do we as cooks know that, and can we conscientiously send it out hoping they won't notice or don't react to it?

                                                                              2. re: Orchid64

                                                                                What do y'all think about ordering items that are not on the menu? I don't mean anything complicated, but something that maybe you've seen on the menu before, or that you know the chef should be able to prepare. Like a caesar salad if it isn't on the menu. It's not like I'm making a weird request, even though it is a special request.

                                                                                1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                  The subject of ordering off menu has been the subject of threads in the past, the most recent being:

                                                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/699708

                                                                                  1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                    I walked into one of my favorite restaurants recently and saw a huge basket of chanterelles on the counter. They were not on the menu, but I asked if the chef could make me an omelet with them. He graciously complied, and it was heavenly. I would not have been offended had he said, "We need them for dinner service," though.

                                                                                2. We have a wonderful chef in town, soon to finally open his own place. He uses as many senses as he can in his dishes, visual, taste, texture. I absolutely wouldn't screw around with special orders if he's cooking. What he's presenting is one of a piece, well thought out in advance. That's what I'm paying for when I go to his restaurant.

                                                                                  Unless something in the dish is going to send you to the emergency room, I don 't understand why, if you have a great chef at the helm, anyone would do otherwise.

                                                                                  Especially CHers.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                                    Perhaps it has to do with some sort of control issue or lack thereof on the part of some diners,a small and allowable way to feel somehow in charge.

                                                                                    1. re: nocharge

                                                                                      Interesting article.

                                                                                      "Patterson's biggest challenge to date at Coi? Serving raw foodists. For that, he researched new methods of preparation, and some elements of raw cooking - such as soaking organic almonds in water, peeling off their skins and pureeing them with wheatgrass - have shown up in recent dishes."

                                                                                      I say screw you, raw foodists. Why are you even going out to a restaurant when you don't need anyone to actually cook for you? Here's an idea: have some nuts at home and don't bother.

                                                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                                                        Wow, linguafood, you're channeling Bourdain this morning. Excellent.

                                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                                          Hee hee. But seriously -- if you're a "raw foodist" (sounds appetizing), stick to your raw food "restaurants."

                                                                                      2. re: nocharge

                                                                                        With regard to special requests and gluten-free items, I was once told to always order a special meal on the airline, either kosher, vegetarian, or gluten-free if it is offered, because it may be fresher. Also, usually you will be served first. I've found that on short flights they will usually give you the same dish as everyone else with a bonus such as a bag of carrots.

                                                                                        1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                          on Alitalia recently in business class my vegetarian option was boiled vegetables, nothing more nothing less. It was boring, tasteless, unimaginative and for the price of the flight a disgrace! I usually do order vegetarian on flights because I don't eat pork/ham but don't want kosher but this was icky. For breakfast (this was Miami to Rome) I got some bread and a salad. I would say ordering vegetarian is not always a good choice. It was no better out of Rome on the return flight.

                                                                                          1. re: smartie

                                                                                            The one time I did this (omnivore hoping for something edible, asked for veg) on a transcontinental flight on a US airline back when, I was served the nastiest slop I have ever seen on an airline tray (and that covers a whole lot of territory). Hideous "main course" of spinach with chickpeas, other items equally nasty. I never tried it again. Maybe the airline did it intentionally to weed out the poseurs who had read the same suggestion!

                                                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                                                              Actually spinach with chickpeas sounds better than boiled vegetables. But it's an urban legend. I never look upon airline food as a meal, just sustenance. It doesn't bother me at all.

                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                Trust me, this spinach and chickpeas was not spinach and chickpeas as you or I would make it. Boiled veg would have been a step up. But you're right about airline food in general, more a break in ther tedium than anything else.

                                                                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                  well, we needent much worry about it anymore, since the airplanes aren't giving out much food anymore and instead are charging you to bring on a bag since you "don't need a bag for vacation." I'd rather go back to at leat getting a GD sandwich and piece of fruit.

                                                                                                  1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                                    We're damn lucky there's even an airline left in business. The food I bring on is better anyway.