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Oct 7, 2011 06:14 AM

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 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.