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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.