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What's your take on asking restaurant to alter menu items or specials?

Why do restaurants put statements like "specials cannot be altered due to preparation" on their menus? The business is about customer service. If someone doesn't want the sauce, how hard is it not to ladel it on at the end? I get that some items are tough to change, so make that point to a customer who asks for a special/altered preparation.

Seems like restaurants are annoyed by the requests and are trying to eliminate them. It turns me off and I almost never ask for them to change anything so this isn't me complaining about the reaction I get.

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  1. I try my very best to order something that I like as it is, but that isn't always possible. There are some things I just don't enjoy, and if everything else in the item is something I really like, but there's cheese on it (which I don't like), I'll ask for it without. If it is baked in, or something like that, I obviously won't do that-which is why I avoid pizza, etc.

    I just try to use my best judgment. I don't see things like asking for dressing on the side, or asking for a dish without sauce to be out of line. I understand that chefs might be attached to their preparation (understandably), but we are talking about a service industry. If I am paying for something, I would like to enjoy it to the greatest extent possible, while always keeping in mind any burden this might place on the kitchen staff (and acknowledging the differences in preparation possibilities between fine and casual dining). It's always sort of a game time decision.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Brianne920

      My thought is that if you are asking for an alteration to the dish based on religious or health issues, this is entirely appropriate. You should also be accepting if your dish comes 10 minutes after everyone elses or they say it cannot be done. Obviously they will be much more accommadating if they recognise you when you enter as opposed to the once in a lifetime (restaurant lifetime) birthday special.

      Can't stand cheese? I can honor that. I literally gag when a beet comes close to my mouth. Which does not alter the fact that I kept trying them and discovered that I love German pickled beets. So whenever the plate mentions roasted heirloom beets, no matter what else is there, I take a pass. Because I know that a reputable cook, let alone a chef, is composing an entirety, not just a variety of mix and match sides with a meat.

      And for my final thought, restaurants are a service industry, not a slave industry. When it comes to matters of preparation, presentation, and selection of components, I feel they are the experts. Isn't that why we pay them the big bucks rather than making it at home?

      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

        While I respect your willingness to avoid dishes with beets, it is significantly harder to avoid dishes with cheese. When it is a matter of just not sprinkling cheese on a dish, I really don't see this as a huge affront to a chef's artistry. I certainly agree that chefs are the expert, and I have no intention of making anyone feel like a slave, but at the end of the day, as I said-I am paying for the dish, and if my request is a simple one, I expect it to be honored. I would never go into a restaurant and ask for macaroni and cheese without the cheese. I really, genuinely try my very best not to order dishes that require alteration, but I do not always pick the restaurant (client lunch/dinner, work event, the dreaded "girls' night), and some restaurants have a limited variety of dishes offered.

        1. re: Brianne920

          Sorry, had to go shopping for the weekend, entertaining 4 college students in a cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin. No hints on likes/dislikes.

          Thank you for a well thoughtout clarification on my reply. I thoroughly agree with you when cheese is a minor component or garnish. And I did not think of the possibilities of business or "girls night out" occasions. My apologies.

          My only querry is, how can we get you to pass on the ability to post an erudite reply will disengaging the ego or one upsmanship, as is seemingly the norm on Chowhound?

          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

            Yikes-college kids? I was one of those a few years ago. I'm sure they'll just be grateful someone is willing to feed them....well...anything.

            The answer is simple, albeit astronomically expensive---law school and the beginnings of a legal career. My rage tolerance is higher than Willie Nelson at a Phish reunion concert. If you can't politely disagree, you're not going to get very far-in court or in life. The other option, of course, is to remember that it's a food website-at the end of the day, we all go home and (hopefully) do exactly as we please. If that chef tells me he doesn't make alterations, I'll just take my business elsewhere (the next outing, if necessary). No harm, no foul.

          2. re: Brianne920

            <<the end of the day, as I said-I am paying for the dish>>

            and, at the end of the day,
            those restaurants who don't care that you are not always the person who selects the restaurant,
            those restaurants who don't care that YOU see it as not being <<a huge affront>> to the chef,
            and those restaurants who don't care that you may not be pleased with the "limited" variety of dishes that they offer,
            will chose to forego your business.

            nobody is making you order anything, and nobody is forcing you to walk in their door.
            the restaurant owners/investors are the ones with skin in the game, not you.
            they make their choices based on what THEY think will work toward trying to build a profitable business.
            doing what's necessary to please a customer like you may not be what is best for their business.

            1. re: Brianne920

              You are paying for a menu item, you are not paying for a personal chef.

        2. If you don't like something in a preparation, don't order it. Particularly if there is a statement on the menu specifying that alterations are not available. If you cannot find something on a menu that doesn't offend your tastes, leave and go somewhere else. If you can't find another restaurant that offers anything that doesn't contain something you don't like, stay home and cook for yourself. I do not subscribe to the notion that all restaurants are created primarily for customer service. A restaurant, and its chef, have a right to be professionals and approach their business that way.

          3 Replies
          1. re: MGZ

            I agree with MGZ. However, if there is a health or religious reason I think that there is room to move around the issue. I also think if its one very minor thing, o.k. maybe. But a lot of customers don't want just one thing they want several things. If one wants a private chef then they should hire one and the customer is not always right.

            1. re: HoosierFoodie

              I find that most restaurants will accomodate a religious dietary restriction or allergy if you call ahead and let them know. This gives the kitchen an appropriate amount of time to prepare something that fits the needs of the customer.

              When a customer comes in and sits downs and demands that crab cakes be prepared without bell peppers that is a bit different. Often times things like that are prepped ahead of time and cooked to order. Preparing a fresh batch of crab cakes without bell peppers in the middle of the dinner rush would be unreasonable.

              1. re: jpc8015

                I am with you. With but a bit of notice, I have never had one issue. Every chef has bent over backwards (and so have the sommeliers, if we are doing the Sommelier's Pairing), to accommodate, regardless of the level of the restaurant, or the continent, where it is located.

                I want to make it easy on the chef, so that they can make it wonderful for my wife.


          2. I have a severe intolerance to anything in the allium family (garlic, onion, shallots, leeks, etc) and so I first scan the menu and eliminate anything that is likely to have those ingredients in it. But when ordering I still ALWAYS ask the waiter "Is there any onion/garlic/etc in _______? Because I'm allergic" since I never ASSUME that it's impossible (unless it's a dessert, LOL).

            I always ask if the salad is made to order or pre-mixed, and that I am asking because I'm allergic to onion. If it's pre-made I know I can't alter it, although sometimes the server will say "it's premade but we can make one up fresh for you without the onion". And I always order salad with dressing on the side (if it's a fruit balsamic) or with no dressing, just to be safe.

            I don't think either of those queries are out of line, because there's a negative health reaction involved. If I were to see "no alterations" on the menu, I would immediately ask if that is set in stone, because I have an allergy, or not. If they say "absolutely no changes" then I would either leave or - if with others who wanted to stay - create a meal of 2 or 3 courses of desserts. Which doesn't sound like such a terrible alternative, come to think of it! LOL

            1 Reply
            1. re: skyline

              Wow, the alliums must be a really tough one - nothing with stock (99.9% of the time includes onions) and that probably rules out most sauces too. I'd think salad would be a much safer course than most main dishes.

            2. I was at a local Chinese restaurant yesterday and heard this at the next table. Woman orders soup that contains chicken, pork and seafood. "Could I have that with all seafood?" Waiter looks puzzled. "I don't want the chicken or pork." He responds. "But it's a part of the soup." She says "Oh, I see, well then can I have the chicken and pork on the side?"
              We were getting ready to leave and never got to see what the woman was served. Deconstructed soup anyone?

              2 Replies
              1. re: escondido123

                Whatever she was served, I don't think I would have asked for a taste.

              2. At a good restaurant, a dish isn't going to be constructed from random ingredients. It's entirely possible that a substitution or omission will lead to an inferior result (which you'll blame on the restaurant, of course) or delay the kitchen (which everyone will blame on the restaurant).

                One of the most amusing disclaimers of the "substitutions politely declined" variety I've seen is "if you want it your way...you know where to go"

                5 Replies
                1. re: lavaca

                  lmao! dh says that all the time when he is cranky and someone tries to make a strange sub-- "this is not fucking burger king, and no you can't have it your way." the foh obviously translates this back to the guest: "i'm sorry, but the substitution is not possible with this dish."

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    LOL, by chance is your dh the chef Steve Dublanica quoted as saying that in one of his books? :-) I can't recall offhand whether it was 'Waiter Rant' or 'Keep the Change', but whichever one it was, that comment made me LOL reading it.

                    1. re: skyline

                      My sister's version (years ago, when she was working at McD twenty-some years ago) - was "Hold the pickle? Hold the lettuce? F--k you, lady, don't upset us!" (sung to the tune of the Burger King jingle that was running at the time)

                      Different words, but the sentiment has been around for a loooong time.

                      1. re: skyline

                        dh's name isn't steve-- not sure if he picked up the expression from working somewhere, or came up w it on his own. i do think it is a common sentiment esp with folks who put in a lot of time developing recipes, sourcing ingredients, carefully putting together a menu that's almost perfect. . . then someone comes in and wants to order their fave from applebees or something. doh! that said, of course many subs are no prob at all. :)

                    2. re: lavaca

                      You hit the nail on the head and love the disclaimer.

                    3. It depends on the dish and the restaurant. I hate mayonnaise. I have no problem asking for sandwiches and burgers without mayo, but would never ask a restaurant to make a special mayo-free batch of tuna salad. Other than mayo, I only have a few foods I dislike to the point I avoid them all together, no allergies, and only one intolerance. For the most part, I just don't order dishes with the offending foods, or I'll order as is and work around it.

                      1. The only occasions I recall us asking for an ingredient to be left out is when eggs have been involved - my partner detests whole eggs. We have asked to miss out a dish on a tasting menu because it involved foie gras - something we choose not to eat.

                        Other than that, kill it, cook it, serve it up as you intended diners best enjoy the food and we'll do our best to enjoy it.

                        1. I'm with the above poster with No Stinkin' Beets.

                          If it's something I can eat *around* -- pick something out that I don't like, or just leave it untouched -- then it's no big deal.

                          I might ask if it can be altered, but if it's a real dealbreaker, I'll just order something else. I have yet to find a restaurant that didn't have *something* I could/would eat.

                          1. It depends. My husband loves chili dogs/burgers, but they often times come with onions on top, so he asks for no onions. That doesn't mean he wants the chili prepared without onion, just doesn't like the raw onions on top. When we had an anniversary dinner at a nice resort, the steak came with asparagus, which he hates. He asked for the beets instead. No problem. But that's about as far as he goes (I'll eat anything). He wouldn't dream of asking for something to be altered that is incorporated into the dish. He'll order something else. Salads... I pick out the veggies he doesn't like (tomatoes, onion, cucumber), I like the extra stuff from his hamburgers, too.

                            1. If the chef is proud of his recipes, then I understand he doesn't want to tinker with them. But it isn't too much to ask to leave something off, esp. if the diner has an allergy. And frankly, restaurants need to develop decent low fat, low carb, glutin free recipes. Or have the servers know what is permissible so he/she can advise the customer. We aren't going to be seeing fewer people with allergies or narrow eating plans as time goes on, that's for sure.

                              It is easy for people to say, if you can't have an ingredient on the menu, order another dish. I wish it were that simple all the time. There are a couple of restaurants we visit where I can only order one or two options, and stay within my eating plan. That gets old.

                              But I've never asked for a soup ingredient to be served on the side. That's just weird.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: sueatmo

                                "And frankly, restaurants need to develop decent low fat, low carb, glutin free recipes."

                                Why? Because, at this moment in time, people seek them? That mandates it?

                                1. re: sueatmo

                                  <<frankly, restaurants need to develop decent low fat, low carb, glutin free recipes.>>

                                  actually no, they don't.

                                  they need to develop recipes for which their target market will pay enough to provide a profit to the restaurant.

                                2. It depends.

                                  Factors involved include the kind of restaurant, the kind of menu, the item involved, the cuisine involved. It's a case-by-case situation, although I rarely (if ever) do it with 'specials'.

                                  Other than the obvious, no-brainer ones such as those referred to elsewhere in this thread, a few other examples with me:
                                  Asking for substitution of the egg noodles with thin rice noodles in a Cantonese Pan-fried noodle dish, or for bean sprouts to be left off, etc.
                                  Asking for linguine instead of spaghetti in something like "spaghetti alla vongole" etc etc.
                                  Asking for a doubling of the foie gras portion in a seared foie gras appetizer (with suitable charge to me).

                                  I've also asked for additions of some appetizer courses to a tasting menu at high-end places, requesting the chef to work it in as he sees fit. This is often done with feedback from the chef/kitchen. I would also not ask for addition of items that would clearly clash with or clearly detract from the tasting menu as posted. It depends. Sometimes the chef (via the server or whoever) may even offer to adapt the requested appetizers in size or in some way and slide it into the progression of dishes. He may slide in a sorbet or a palate cleanser somewhere in the progression. In all these cases it is in a sense reflective of the superior abilities, facility and flexibility of the chef and kitchen when they execute the adapted menu (especially when superbly done). (Keep in mind too that these meals would not be inexpensive...)

                                  Asking for off-menu items is not really within the topic of this thread, but nevertheless is related. Such requests are much more easily done with East Asian/Chinese cuisine, and I have on occasion asked for various dishes at certain Chinese restaurants; or for something to be done in a slightly different style... ;-)

                                  1. The question posed in the thread title and the question posed in the first sentence of the post are not the same and cause me to have different responses.

                                    I do not ask a restaurant to change a special. A special is made and priced to be presented as is. It may be less expensive than if it was on the regular menu, aybe to introduce an idea or new taste to the patrons. As such, I would not ask to change anything about the specials.

                                    That said, I am not bashful about asking for simple changes in regular menu items. I am allergic to mustard and will not accept a pre dressed salad. I ask for oil and vinegar on the side. I am not ashamed to ask what other vegetable is available if I do not care for the chef's pairing. I don't like green peas, and if broccoli is available I see no hassle in that being plated to my request.
                                    I also am apt to ask for rice if available as opposed to potato. I do not ask for substitutions that have to be cooked from scratch, and I always offer to pay an upcharge if the establishment think's it is called for.

                                    1. It can get fairly complicated. Some things sound easy and they are. Some things sound easy and they aren't. Sometimes the chef does not want to take away from the integrity of the dish as they have conceived it. That's often the case when someone might want the kitchen to split an entree onto two plates, for example.
                                      Let’s say you don’t want cheese on something. That should be easy enough – done! Let’s say you’d like your side of spinach with the garlic butter to not have any garlic – that might be easy too. But let’s say the entrée that has the garlic butter spinach with it is a three pan pick up for the cook. That means the cook has to use three different pans for that particular entrée, in this case one for the fish (for example), one for the sauce that goes on the fish and one for the garlic butter spinach. The cook is busy and is combining different plates in his pans – a very common practice. He has 3 fish filets going in one, sauce for 3 entrees in pan number two and the spinach in pan number 3 but wait a minute, he now needs pan number 4 to cook the spinach without the garlic! He’s busy and has food cooking on all 6 burners that he has at his station and now has to figure out what to do to make the “special spinach”. Hey wait a minute, someone else wants his fish sautéed in olive oil instead of butter - should be easy enough but we have to find another burner. Things are getting backed up. Other customers are not getting their food fast enough and are complaining. The kitchen is on the verge of crashing from a side of spinach and another simple request (maybe throw a few other simple special requests to a couple of other stations during a rush in the kitchen as well). Preposterous scenario? Spend some time in a busy kitchen. Most places will try to honor special requests when they can. Sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they can’t accommodate an apparently simple request because some arrogant chef doesn’t want his baby messed with and sometimes they really can’t do it.
                                      What do I do? First I try not to ask for special changes as I really want to at least try the food as the chef intended thinking that he should have a better idea of what goes together than I do to begin with. 2nd, I'd really try to avoid special changes during a busy period. 3rd, if I really wanted something special or subb'd out, I might ask but would understand if it's not possible.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: bobbert

                                        True, and something I neglected to mention in my post above. If I wanted a change of some sort, or stuff either off-menu or an adaptation of some sort, I would avoid doing it if it was clear the kitchen was being slammed - obvious at busy periods with appreciable numbers of diners present.

                                        Still, in certain restaurants (usually certain Chinese places) stuff like off-menu (or "special = Chinese menu") requests could still be made but I would gladly accept the management's warning that it would take longer for the kitchen to get my stuff out to me.

                                        1. re: bobbert

                                          heh heh. yeah. this actually is getting more common with the trend toward fresh, to order, more complex veg/garnish preps, which is a great restaurant trend imo. sadly i don't think the sub-happy crowd realize that they are working against something that the majority of customers want. maybe they don't care, who knows?

                                          going back to the title of the thread-- there are some places where i will ask for a sub on a menu item and consider switching feta for blue cheese on a salad, for example, to be fair game. we will also sometimes ask for an omission to cover dh's shellfish allergy, generally no problem. but i am an infrequent subber and don't usually prefer to do it. in particular, with menu specials, i would *not* ever ask for a sub on a special.

                                          the function of a special is so often 1) for the chef to be working out a new menu item or prep 2) for the restaurant to take advantage of a very small amount of a precious, unusual, highly perishable, and/or seasonal/local ingredient 3) for the chef to be working with ingredients or recipes for pure fun/pleasure, and the restaurant's profits are negligible/nonexistent 4) a junior member of staff has been assigned the development and prep of the special in order to "cut their teeth," see what works and what is less successful, and develop themselves as a young chef -- the above would be my expectation at better bistro-level and above, chef-driven type places

                                          or, at the lower levels, like at a bar-grill type place that would have a "daily special" type thing probably listed on a table tent, the tuesday special is a loss leader that is popular w the regulars and gets folks into the establishment, hopefully getting some beers to offset the loss on the food.

                                          messing up the specials at my favorite local restaurants either hurts them financially or negates the development of the people and the menus that should be important to me. at worst, it undercuts the development of the next generation of inventive chefs and sends the message that they should not even try to innovate or hone their craft.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            Don't forget the special where, "...if we don't get rid of this tonight, we'll be throwing it out tomorrow." This could technically fall under number 2 above.

                                        2. I work in the kitchen in a higher end restaurant in NY. Dishes in restaurants such as the one I work in are not some random assortment of things laying around. They are composed dishes and everything is there for a reason. I do not go to my mechanic and tell him how to fix my car. I do not go to my accountant and tell him how to do my taxes. Changing something on the dish or leaving something off can completely compromise a dish, and then the person who changed it can have a bad experience. This experience can lead to a review that is negative and deters other people from coming.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: rns805

                                            Not too many people have life-threatening allergies to motor oil or adding-machine tape.

                                            I'm with you *to a point* -- the whole "When Harry Met Sally" scene of well, I want this, but I want you to do THIS and leave THIS off and substitute THAT is over the top and I agree that those folks should just find something else.

                                            But there the only rule that has no exception is that there is an exception to every rule...and I would hope you might be willing to do something *minor* (not garnishing with chopped nuts for a nut-allergic customer, for example) that would enable them to even eat at your restaurant...let alone to reduce or eliminate the liability you place on your employer by insisting that those nuts are part of that meal and the body count be damned.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              Allergies are never an issue and we always accommodate them

                                            2. re: rns805

                                              "I do not go to my mechanic and tell him how to fix my car. I do not go to my accountant and tell him how to do my taxes."

                                              Exactly. As I said above, a chef has the right to be a professional. If I do not like the course of treatment my physician recommends, I will find another. If I want a professional I can manipulate, I will find one ("Gee, doc, my toe is pretty swollen, do you think I can get a script for some weed?"). That's why there are diners with eight page, 24 by 36 inch menus.

                                            3. No one has said much about salt. For those of us on a low sodium diet, restaurants are very difficult. I always ask if something can be prepared without salt, but often it comes with it anyway. Just tell me honestly what you can do.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: liblraryld

                                                There is a restaurant at which my husband and I are semi-regulars. When I call and give our surname to reserve a table, "n/s" automatically comes up in their system, which stands for "no salt". What this means is that the kitchen crew should avoid hitting any dish for us with salt before it comes out of the kitchen. Obviously, any salt already used to prepare various stages of a given dish is fair game. I actually like salt, I just don't like tons of salt, which is frequently the case in this restaurant and most others in my city. If we order soups, salads, pastas or sauced dishes, this generic n/s designation works out fine. Anything else runs the risk of not having any salt used whatsoever. I figure that I can always ask for salt to use in moderation afterward. I've never actually asked for salt to be delivered to the table, but on one or two occasions, I've thought to myself that a dish needed salt. Out of about 20 visits per year to this restaurant, one or two occasions per year that my dinner needs a bit of salt works out to a win, since the other 18 or 19 were adequately salted, without the extra salt hit from the person plating our dishes.

                                                1. re: 1sweetpea

                                                  This is pretty "wow" to me. Kudos to to your restaurant for being able to meet this preference!

                                              2. In my experience the no substitutions thing tends to be less common in higher end restaurants, although certainly not exclusively. Most fine chefs understand that discerning clientele may not only have allergies, but are willing to pay the money to dine there because they have highly developed pallets and therefore stronger likes and dislikes. Though often instead of changing one specific dish they may suggest a different selection altogether.

                                                One thing that has not been mentioned is the number of dishes that many mid range places serve that come to the restaurant pre-packaged, and therefore can not be modified. There is a pretty decent chance that the meat loaf special at Billy's roadside diner didn't begin life in Billy's oven, but was brought back to life in Billy's microwave... and there is not a thing he can do about the grilled onion or gravy.

                                                If you are going to dine someplace that makes a point about not allowing substitutions, there is no harm in asking politely, but be prepared for a (hopefully) equally polite decline from the restaurant.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                  That's interesting- my experience has been the opposite. The higher-end places have tended to state "no substitutions" where the lower to mid-range places will generally check to see whether a substitution or change can be made, without a blanket policy. The reasons I've most often heard are that changes and substitutions may alter the quality of the dish overall and the restaurant/chef does not want to risk its reputation.

                                                  1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                                    my experience mirrors that of hyacinthgirl.
                                                    the higher-end places are less likely to allow food to leave their kitchen that doesn't fairly represent THEIR cooking.

                                                    1. re: westsidegal

                                                      I agree with the women. My experience is a high end place will come up with a substitute dish, but they don't want to alter what they already offer. Of course, this is not about simple sauce on the side requests.

                                                      1. re: Missmoo

                                                        In the cases I've run into, it has been about "simple sauce on the side requests." I've been politely pointed to their "no alterations" policy for any and all requests, including sauce on the side, dressing on the side, no cheese on a salad and extra berries with granola (where I of course offered and expected to pay for the extra berries). All requests were declined.

                                                  2. re: KaimukiMan

                                                    I've mentioned the accommodation factor upthread, and elsewhere.

                                                    The one time where the restaurant would not accommodate my wife's request, was a shock to me.

                                                    Upper-middle level restaurant - not quite "fine dining," but a level below. We were a party of four, and my wife really, really wanted the main course for their tasting menu. However, there were courses that she was either allergic to, or did not want. I asked if we could substitute the main from the tasting menu, for her main. "NO!" I asked if I could order her selected other courses, pay for the full "tasting menu," only getting the main. "NO!" I asked if I could order the "tasting menu" for her, holding the offending courses, or even serving them, but then taking them away, and giving her the earlier courses, that she wanted. "NO!" The reason given was that the chef refused to allow a guest to have anything else, but his "tasting menu," and regardless of what I paid for, he would not relent - it was the full "tasting menu," or nothing.

                                                    OK, we did order other courses, and they closed within the month. Such is life.

                                                    BTW - the food was mediocre, and the service was even below that, though we ordered off the a la carte menu. The wine service was horrible too. Maybe those all went "hand-in-hand?"


                                                  3. I think within reason and something that would not fundamentally change the entire dish is reasonable. I do not like very spicy food, for example. If we are someplace and a dish sounds amazing, except for the spicy factor, I will often ask a server to please ask if the chef can make it not spicy for me. I don't think that's a terrible thing to ask. I don't eat pork, so if it is a multi-ingredient dish ( like 10 ingredient lo mein) I will ask IF the pork can be left out. But I always ask "IF"...and, if NOT, I choose something else and move on.

                                                    10 Replies
                                                    1. re: MRS

                                                      you believe that changing a spicy dish to a non-spicy dish doesn't <<fundamentally change the entire dish>>????

                                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                                        That's pretty common MO in most Indian, Thai and other restaurants who serve a large spectrum of diners, not all of whom wish to eat super-spicy.

                                                        I doubt MRS (if MRS is still active, the post is 1.5 years old, btw) would order a vindaloo and ask for it to not be spicy at all.

                                                        1. re: linguafood

                                                          When I have been to restaurants that serve spicy to order (a spectrum, usually 3 levels), it is clearly stated on the menu that it is indeed an option.

                                                          1. re: wyogal

                                                            Well, that 3 level thing isn't the case in all restaurants, but I think we're saying the same thing.

                                                          2. re: linguafood

                                                            I would only ask within reason..obviously, if a dish's intent is to be very spicy, as I said- I'd move on if a dish couldn't be made to my liking.

                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                              whether it is or isn't common, it still involves FUNDAMENTALLY changing a dish.

                                                              whether it is <<within reason>> depends on whether or not the restaurant can make an adequate profit without bastardizing their food, NOT whether one customer or another likes or doesn't like the food as it was meant to be served.

                                                              i get it that there is a thai restaurant in pasadena that doesn't use any thai spices because they are foreign to american tastes.
                                                              on the other hand, there is a different thai restaurant about a half mile away that sticks to the authentic recipes that actually is a more profitable operation.

                                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                                "whether it is or isn't common, it still involves FUNDAMENTALLY changing a dish."

                                                                Nope, it does not. You add a few less fresh peppers to the dish in question, and make it less spicy. That does not fundamentally change the dish, it merely has less heat to it. The other flavors (salty, sweet, sour and, to a lesser extent, spicy) are still there. No substitutions, no massive hassle to do.

                                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                                  1)the BALANCE between the peppers and the other ingredients is FUNDAMENTALLY changed

                                                                  2) <<, it does not. You add a few less fresh peppers to the dish in question>>
                                                                  how much is ''a few?" is the chef supposed to read your mind? all the dishes i make with peppers have them added well before the end. should the restaurant start anew?
                                                                  there is a tremendous difference between restaurant commercial cooking and home cooking.

                                                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                                                    Good grief. I'm sorry if this concept seems so difficult to grasp. Most Thai restaurants are quite well versed in adjusting heat levels to the wishes of their customers. That doesn't *fundamentally* change the balance between flavors (no need to shout, really. I can read regular letters quite well). A restaurant chef will adjust the other flavors -- salty, sour, sweet -- accordingly.

                                                                    Perhaps this isn't possible where you live, but I've been to plenty of Thai restaurants that have zero problems achieving well-balanced dishes that even heat wimps can handle.

                                                                    YMMV. Or rather, obviously does.

                                                          3. re: MRS

                                                            Are the menus so limited that you can't find something to eat that you would enjoy, as-is?

                                                          4. I have been a professional server for over ten years. I've worked in high end restaurants where it is not rare to find a check average well over $100 per person. I have waited on people that change the entree so much I wonder why they even eat out in the first place. Chefs work very hard to create a menu Item and it often takes months. Guests in the dining room don't realize people in the kitchen work 14 hours a day prepping for these entrees to be perfect. Service is very stressful and often they work for a low wage or nothing at all so they one day can be in charge of a kitchen. Think about every time you ask for a special request I have to go ask my Chef who is often my boss in a chef driven restaurant. You make it so I get behind on my other tables because often it takes at least five minutes to get this all worked out. Next thing you know I have other tables complaining about slow service because someone wants to substitute something from another dish onto another entree. You have to realize too that the kitchen preps enough of each of the items that go into a dish to go with that dish so often their is not extra. On top of the point that it is very busy all ready. I often say or here that everyone should work in a restaurant for a day to see what it is like. You're not buying something that is already made. You don't even know how much goes into making a great dining experience for you and how much people care. If it is not an allergy take a chance and try something you usually wouldn't eat in a nice restaurant. I've been surprised by the things I usually don't eat and how a great chef makes items taste so good. Were adults not children, think about how the people sitting with you when you're altering menu Items and being a pain in the ass. It makes them feel uncomfortable. I'm not saying the restaurant won't do their best to accommodate you but trust me you're thought of has a pain in the ass. If you can't eat an item from a menu without changing more then one ingredient every time you go out maybe you should consider making you're own food or hiring a personal chef, if you can afford to eat out at a fine dining restaurant five nights a week you can afford to hire someone to come prepare a meal at you're house. If you're not willing to try something new or don't have a sophisticated palate maybe you're in the wrong place. It's like wine you don't usually like it at first you start out with something sweeter and generally work you're way up too dryer more sophisticated White or Red wines. I know I've went on for a while and this is a reply to more or less everything I've read on the other comments has well. It's also a lesson in how to act and eat out when you're in a fine dining restaurant. Don't be the ass that runs the server around trying please the fact that you want to design you're own dish when you go out to eat. A lot more goes into it then you think.

                                                            Trust me being a nice easy going guest at a restaurant gets you better service. I also tend to give my guests a free dessert, glass of wine, or what ever else I can do for people who know how to "dine out", and don't cause problems and difficulties in addition to how hard my job actually is. The better you treat the staff at a restaurant the more they respect you like any other business deal or relationship. The old saying treat people has you like to be treated.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: eklels

                                                              Thanks for the detail of that. As I'd said upthread, it must be a pain in the arse - I hadnt realised just how much.

                                                            2. I support it only for medical issues. The customer is not always right.

                                                              8 Replies
                                                              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                I definitely agree. Medical or religious reasons get a pass. And the customer is not always right. It also depends on the restaurant and the person, I suppose.

                                                                I have a friend that asks a ton of questions and almost always makes a special request or three. Its a real pain in the ***.

                                                                1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                                                  So will I be required to present a note from my doctor or priest to prove that my request is medically or spiritually based? Otherwise how would you enforce such a restriction?

                                                                  1. re: kmcarr

                                                                    I hear ya on that! What I don't understand are people that know they have these conditions, either medically, or religious-based, and yet continue to order things on the menu that conflict with their condition and ask for changes.
                                                                    Are menus really that limited where they dine? Or maybe they should dine elsewhere. Or, if forced to eat there, know enough about their condition to order something that does not require (big) changes.
                                                                    I understand the "no tomato" on a burger, or "no onions" topping a chili dish, but as far as the ingredients IN the dish... order something else.

                                                                    1. re: wyogal

                                                                      You pose a good question - why?

                                                                      When I do not like something, I look elsewhere on the menu. I might want part of a "tasting menu," but not like certain courses. If that is the case, then a la carte is my choice, if there are no options to substitute. Often, I do not even ask, and just move elsewhere on the menu.

                                                                      We recently dined at Guy Savoy, LV, and i wanted to do the full Tasting Menu. However, there were several courses, that wife did not like (they offered to accommodate the bi-valves), and then some that I was not fond of. We moved back to the lesser Tasting Menu, and it was lovely. The restaurant and chef even accommodated my wife on one Scallop course, and the Sommelier had a special wine for her substitute. That was nice.

                                                                      I would guess that some folk just cannot pick around an a la carte menu, and just want to complain, but I could be very wrong.


                                                                    2. re: kmcarr

                                                                      A "notarized note!"

                                                                      And, that had better be from one of the Obama-care approved Allergist, and not your GP!!!!

                                                                      Also, if your rabbi is not on the "approved list," then you will need to escalate the issue.


                                                                      PS - Please note: all in jest, as some get too worked up on similar issues. It's all a joke folks. Nothing to see. Move along.

                                                                    3. re: HoosierFoodie

                                                                      <<Medical or religious reasons get a pass>>

                                                                      sort of disagree with this.
                                                                      in my friday night dining group we have one vegetarian and one pescatarian and, on occasion, are joined by a vegan couple.
                                                                      the way we handle it is to select ONLY restaurants that have menu items that work for our group.
                                                                      we DON'T go into a regular barbeque joint and ask them to make a vegan meal because of our members' medical or religious needs.

                                                                      we often go to a Thai restaurant that has a vegan portion of their menu.
                                                                      we often go to a "regular" restaurant that serves those horrible garden burgers on their menu.
                                                                      we often go to a burger joint that has a homemade veggie burger on their menu.

                                                                      we don't limit ourselves to restaurants that primarily cater to our type of group, but, on the other hand, we don't expect to have a restaurant kitchen upend itself to appease a group that should never have set foot in there in the first place.

                                                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                                                        Sounds like a good way to handle it.

                                                                        I see posts from Level 5 Vegans, who complain that a steakhouse has nothing for them. Bad choice of restaurants.


                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                          It kills me- I just read a recent review/complaint on a similar matter. I only wish that the website allowed readers to comment on others reviews.

                                                                  2. I I think a chef/owner has every right to limit or forbid alterations and substitutions. If a person doesn't like it than they can vote with their dollars and dine elsewhere.

                                                                    I even find many of the allergy requests can be down right ridiculous. My husband is allergic to lobster and shellfish and he would never dream to order bouillabaisse without it as it is fundamental part of the dish. While I am not allergic I cannot stomach green pepper. They make my physically ill and even the smallest amount will give me acid reflux and low level nausea. I will ask for my salads without them but I would never think to order the braised pork chops with vinegar peppers without the peppers.

                                                                    However I have heard many people who are allergic to X ask for a dish known for that ingredient or whose primary seasoning/flavor/etc is that ingredient.

                                                                    I also think (unscientifically) that some of the chefs request for no subs these days are based on the overuse of the term "allergic". I work with two woman who will say they are allergic to wheat because they are low carbing and another who is allergic to eggs because she doesn't like them. Their defense is that the restaurant "won't take it seriously" unless they pull the "allergy card" (their words).

                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                    1. re: foodieX2

                                                                      Speaking as someone with a legitimate, life threatening food allergy (resulting in anaphlylaxis) not just an "intolerance" (resulting in bloating and gas or whatever), people like the women you work with who use the "allergy card" are the bane of my existence, and make it increasingly more possible that people such as myself will not be taken seriously. Furthermore, if someone thinks they are truly allergic to something, he or she should get proper evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment, and carry an epi pen on their person.

                                                                      To get back on topic, if something I am allergic to, or just plain dislike, is listed as part of the description, I order something else. It is simply not worth the risk of death, or the risk of being a PITA to the server and the kitchen.

                                                                      If there is absolutely nothing one can order without making unreasonable requests for substitutions or modifications, perhaps one should reconsider whether dining out is appropriate.

                                                                      1. re: foodieX2

                                                                        the two women you mention, are, to me, low-lifes.
                                                                        they really don't care about any effect their actions may have over the long term on anybody but themselves.

                                                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                                                          Couldn't agree more. Which is why I no longer join them at lunch, even when brown bragging. They are so disordered in their eating habits it makes every lunch break miserable. I'd rather eat at my desk.

                                                                        2. re: foodieX2

                                                                          In my wife's case, it is only certain shellfish, i.e. bi-valves. She can do mono-valves (same family), like limpets and abalone - but if it has two shells, then she gets severe GI distress - no "near death" experiences. All other seafood seems perfectly fine. We discuss this, when making reservations, and the staff at all restaurants have been very helpful, in assisting her with dishes. While not "life threatening," there IS major discomfort, and no one has ever had an issue. I try to be very specific, as other seafood is not any issue. Everyone has been great, even with three Michelin stars after the chef's name, or the name of the restaurant.

                                                                          Now, I can eat almost anything, but there ARE some items that I am not fond of. If they are included, I pick them out, or eat around them. No big deal, and I make the best of it. With but the rarest of exceptions, I am just not a fan of asparagus, but if the dish has them as an including side, I will still order that dish, and pick around, only doing a taste (in case that is one of the few exceptions). I do not ask them to be held off, excluded, or handled any differently. They show up, and I work around them. Never a big deal.

                                                                          I feel that some diners just do not want to be bothered, or even see an offending item.


                                                                        3. a busy restaurant that uses an assembly line technique in the kitchen will be well served NOT to disrupt the line.
                                                                          i can think of two such restaurants on my regular rotation that serve terrific food and, as a result, are almost always full.
                                                                          they both have the "no substitutions" policy that you eschew in place and, for years, they both are still slammed at all normal mealtimes.

                                                                          your take on what "the business is about" seems to exclude the investors in the restaurant, what the chef needs in order to run the kitchen properly, and the needs of the other customers whose orders would be delayed because of special orders.

                                                                          1. I think there are many people who believe that restaurants should not even have a menu. A server should show up at the table and ask "...what would you like?" and then have the kitchen staff make whatever it is to order.

                                                                            Being serious, some changes can send the kitchen down in flames pretty fast. Let's say you want the spinach side without the butter, just steamed. Should be easy but... the guy cooking is usually preparing 6 portions at once in the same pan. Now he needs another pan for the special order. He is working on a 6 burner stove and that special just took up a precious burner. The next person wants theirs without the shallots. Another burner. "No salt on mine please". Another burner. Now we're falling behind because the cook has to wait on those special sides before he can cook the 4 orders of the sole (of course, one wants to alter the preparation) because he doesn't have enough burner space. This donimos through the kitchen and customers want to know where their food is. I hope you get the idea. Some things, easy. Others, not so.

                                                                            1. I think it's annoying as hell. It seems to be an affectation among certain populations (no, I didn't say Californians) to always ask for modifications of whatever is ordered. Not for religious or dietary reasons, but because when you're "special," your ego needs "special" treatment. You no like our food? Go somewhere else.

                                                                              1. I have only encountered such silliness once, and that restaurant closed within the month.

                                                                                My wife has an allergy to bi-valves, and I notify every restaurant of this. If we are hoping to do, say the Chef's Tasting Menu, I mention that too. I have never had one restaurant/chef decline to accommodate her. Even with a Sommelier's Wine Pairing, they all have stood ready to pair a special wine for her version of a course. All have been most gracious, special, tasting, or not.


                                                                                1. Though from the past, you posed a good question Spike.

                                                                                  When it comes to commitment to the patron, I think that I have encountered the ultimate. Some years back, we took my M-I-L to one of Chef John Besh's restaurants in NOLA. We were arriving late from some long flights, and that restaurant was in the lobby of our hotel.

                                                                                  We poured over the on-line menu, and realized that M-I-L would not eat anything on it. I called the FOH, and discussed the issue. In about 15 mins., the exec. chef called my wife, and they discussed her mom's dietary desires. M-I-L basically would ONLY eat oysters (her daughter is allergic to them), or chicken - really nothing else. This is not due to medical, or religious reasons, but just her desires. After a few minutes of discussion, the chef had a plan. He sent a busboy to a near-by fried chicken chain restaurant, got what she wanted, re-plated it, just for her, and presented it, along with the orders of the other members of the party.

                                                                                  Similar happened a few years before, when we lived in Denver. We took her to a wine dinner. There were no chicken dishes that night, so the same thing happened. The chef sent a runner across the street to a fried chicken stand, re-plated the meal, and served it to M-I-L.

                                                                                  The various tips were very, very generous, and both restaurants scored major points with me. Those are my "ultimate service" examples, and they DID make an impression on me.


                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: salsailsa

                                                                                      I felt the same way too, and it scored "brownie points" with the two of us. We were both impressed, and especially as how much of that trip went with other establishments.


                                                                                    2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                      I can't top your story in terms of accommodating a patron but it did recall an incident when our son was a toddler, going through a white-food only phase, and he wanted plain pasta for dinner. I cannot recall if they did not have a children's menu or if it just did not have any pasta dish on it, but after reviewing the adult menu, we noted that there was an appetizer dish of angel hair with seafood. We asked if we could just get a small portion of plain angel hair pasta for our son -- emphasizing that by "plain," we meant absolutely plain, as chefs seem to want to jazz it up with at least some chopped parsley. The waitress was happy to oblige.

                                                                                      When the bill came, I asked my husband what they had charged for the pasta (thinking that they might have charged the price for the app that included seafood, which would have been ok). He looked on the bill and at first could not find it at all; finally realized that they'd billed it as "baked potato."

                                                                                      1. re: masha

                                                                                        A great touch in customer-care, by the restaurant.

                                                                                        I have almost never encountered any push-back, at any level of restaurant. They have all wanted to find some way to make things "happen" for the patrons.

                                                                                        Thanks for sharing,


                                                                                    3. Not sure if this is appropriate for this thread, but as someone who has medical issues/allergies "GET A TAG".

                                                                                      I know they are kind of dorky, but I wear mine with pride. And if any server gives you any kind of guff, you can just flash that baby, Most chefs/owners ~hate~ that kind of liability.

                                                                                      Don't be a ****. Hopefully the fact that you are on chowhound means that you understand (on some level) what goes into making great and tasty food,

                                                                                      If you are "just picky", oh how I envy you.....

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: pedalfaster

                                                                                        My wife, the lovely one with allergies, has never needed to get any tag. To date, my info, on what she is allergic to, has yielded amazing responses from kitchens around the world. They have all (and I mean 100%), wanted to accommodate her, with a few day's notice. Each has been wonderful, regardless of however many Michelin stars they have.

                                                                                        I would NEVER think of walking in to any restaurant, and demanding that they serve my wife a full meal, that has no bi-valves in any course. With the notice, they find a way to do it, and no one has ever complained.


                                                                                      2. One quick "do you make substitutions?" to the server is all the asking I need to know if asking is going to me trouble or not.

                                                                                        But spike you know some customers don't like NO for an answer, right?!

                                                                                        1. Regular menu items and 'specials' are two different animals. 'Specials' are often made up of main ingredients the chef must 'get rid'. The line cooks generally like to crank out the specials and as such they will have already plated 'specials' in advance based on the data collected by the chef visa vi how many 'specials' are ordered at specific times during service. If you could peak at the pass at say 6:30PM you may see a dozen pre-plated 'specials' waiting to be picked up and that number may stay the same all night.
                                                                                          The point is once one of those 'specials' is put up it's a royal pain to add/subtract. 'Specials' are a dream for the front of house and it screws everyones pace up with aunt Sally wants fries instead of mashed.
                                                                                          Regular menu dishes are different and many large restaurants have a line cook who's specialty is to do 'custom orders'. The wait staff usually knows just how far that line cook is willing to go to accommodate the tipsy punter before he/she gets ******* off.
                                                                                          "I'll see what I can do" sound familiar?