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Vegan expectations?

pikawicca Mar 16, 2012 07:36 AM

As a newly minted vegan, I was delighted on a recent trip to Atlanta by the attitude of the servers and chefs I encountered. All were happy to put together a tasty meal for me, some of them getting extremely creative in the process. Upon returning home to Bloomington, IN, DH and I decided we were too tired to cook, so headed out to Upland Brewing Co., a favorite brew pub, for dinner. Not wanting the deep-fried fake meat sandwich on offer, I asked to be served several sides that were offered with various mains (farro, asparagus, onions, and mushrooms). The server bluntly informed me that the kitchen would only serve meals as described on the menu. I was (and remain) furious. Am I off base here?

  1. ipsedixit Mar 16, 2012 07:43 AM

    This is actually a well-worn topic on Chowhound, and has less to do with vegans' expectations, but expectations of diners in general vis-a-vis a restaurant's kitchen staff and policy.

    Some restaurants are very accommodating, some are not.

    Neither is better or worse than the other and there are valid arguments to be made for either policy.

    Many kitchens will not do alterations or substitutions because (1) their chefs are egomaniacs who believe their dishes must be consumed as conceived; and/or (2) it's too cost prohibitive or time prohibitive to make changes.

    Restaurants that will accommodate simply factor in the cost of making the substitution by charging you more, or just generally raising the prices across the board on the menu.

    Again, no right or wrong answer on this one.

    26 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit
      ericthered Mar 16, 2012 07:52 AM

      re ipsedixit; Couldn't have said it better.

      1. re: ipsedixit
        f
        ferret Mar 16, 2012 09:36 AM

        Less the ego, more the lack of possible flexibility. Unless the restaurant has a go-to vegetarian/vegan dish they can serve upon request you're communicating to a waiter who has to communicate to someone who then has to communicate with a line cook or some other person to ascertain what's available for the customer's needs.

        I was once out with a group of friends to a restaurant where none of us had previously visited. There was not a single non-meat dish on the menu and the vegetarian among us explained their needs to the waiter. He said they'd figure something out. When the entrees came, the "vegetarian" dish was mixed vegetables from a can. That was it.

        Frankly, if you have special needs then find the restaurant to accommodate those needs because it's unlikely that you can rely on the restaurant to revise its menu for you.

        As far as the "ego" thing, in my personal experience, any restaurant with a chef who has an outsize ego is a restaurant that will accept a challenge rather than dismissing it.

        I was invited to a special event by a restaurant where they had a much younger Emeril preparing a meal for the invitees. It was a fixed menu and one of the people in our group asked for special accommodations which the chef gladly met and he came out several times just to see if his improvised items were successful.

        1. re: ipsedixit
          Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 08:30 PM

          Well, I am not 100% convinced that you hit all of the possibilities, on why changes cannot/will not be made, but then there are many restaurants, where changes are just not made - vegan, or otherwise.

          Hunt

          1. re: Bill Hunt
            j
            josephnl Mar 20, 2012 12:41 PM

            And these restaurants...if unreasonable...are not going to see my business. I recently had dinner at a very upscale restaurant where they had a vegetarian (we inquired) butternut squash soup which was garnished with bacon crumbles. When the chef refused to serve the soup without the bacon garnish to a vegetarian friend of mine, this was sufficient to convince me not to return. BTW, the restaurant had a few vegetarian salads, and entrees on the menu so they clearly were open to having vegetarian guests. Someone else at our table had the soup, and the few bacon crumbles on top, although perhaps enjoyed by some, were imho not an integral part of the soup. This was clearly a chef who was too proud to have his creation altered in any way. We won't be back.

            1. re: josephnl
              Bill Hunt Mar 20, 2012 09:36 PM

              In that case, I would definitely suggest that you should vote with your AMEX card. I know that I do, though Vegan is not one of my personal considerations.

              In general, I have always found most chefs/restaurants to be very accommodating, but when I encounter one, that is not, I never return.

              Hunt

              1. re: Bill Hunt
                j
                josephnl Mar 21, 2012 11:13 AM

                Totally agree. Any chef who will not accept a reasonable request will not see return business from me.

                1. re: josephnl
                  Bill Hunt Mar 21, 2012 07:29 PM

                  The only thing that I might add would be "with a bit of notice."

                  Now, I have had wonderful fortune, with my requests (most often for my lovely wife), but have had a few instances, where simple requests were flatly denied. We just took our business elsewhere. Two of those, no longer exist, though I doubt that my patronage had anything to do with it. Still, my reviews were not flattering, so who knows?

                  I try to always notify the staff, that we will have a little deviation to the menu, and 99% welcome that. That is one of the things that I love about Open Table - I get to add requests, and, again, most restaurants seem to read those.

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                    pikawicca Mar 21, 2012 08:14 PM

                    I don't think I can convey my feelings on the subject better than to quote local chef Daniel Orr (formerly executive chef at La Grenouille). We were discussing my just-published column on gluten-free baking this morning. He told me that he stocks G-F pasta, breads, and other ingredients for his celiac customers. In his own words, "It's all about customer service."

                    1. re: pikawicca
                      Bill Hunt Mar 21, 2012 10:08 PM

                      That sounds like a chef, that you should follow.

                      Good luck,

                      Hunt

                      1. re: pikawicca
                        j
                        josephnl Mar 21, 2012 11:20 PM

                        Of course, it's all about making customers leave happy. That's probably the most important rule for success in any business (obviously, you must also make a profit doing so).

                        Perhaps the most successful restaurant group in what is likely the toughest market in the US (New York City) is Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group (Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, The Modern, etc.). What makes these restaurants so special is not only the food but every patron of Mr. Meyer's restaurants is treated as a "guest"...welcomed as such, treated with utmost respect and kindness, and thanked for coming. Every restauranteur should be required to read Danny Meyer's brilliant book "Setting the Table". It is the Bible for taking care of guests (and employees)!

                        1. re: pikawicca
                          s
                          soupkitten Mar 22, 2012 12:35 PM

                          okay... but again, i bet the chef-driven restaurant or bistro you refer to is a very different animal than the pub you went to, right? did daniel orr discuss the price point on an a-la-minute preparation of a gluten-free pasta special order in his award winning restaurants? how fair is this comparison?

                          is it price, or fast-food-type access, which you are most after? presumably you'd like your dining companions to be unrestricted with regards to omni menu choices... otherwise you'd go to an all-vegan restaurant where you would have access to the whole menu. to compromise w your companions on a veg-friendly, but basically omni restaurant and then turn around and complain you can't eat the whole menu, or otherwise demand special access to menu substitutions which are not offered to any other customers is kind of a weird move. imo.

                          the pub you went to offers 8+ menu items which are vegan (according to Caviar and Chitlin's post, below), all of which you apparently rejected, and they may have prepared other things off-menu as well. how is that being veg*n "unfriendly" or offering poor customer service? is expecting a vegan version of every single menu item a reasonable expectation? are there recipes that would be "lost in translation?"

                          for example if a place made a great red beans and rice, containing the traditional pork products, and they sold 50 portions a day to loyal customers-- well wait, there is *one* person a week who wishes s/he could also try this dish, but can't due to dietary concerns. so the restaurant decides to change the rb&rice recipe to make it vegan. despite the fact that more people can now order the dish, does the restaurant sell more red beans and rice? highly doubtful-- in fact they may have succeeded in ticking off a great many of their best repeat customers.

                          if i were still vegetarian, or pork-free, as i was for 7/15 years, respectively, i appreciated it when waitstaff would inform me that a dessert contained gelatin or a pastry crust contained lard, and was an unsuitable choice for my diet. it was more like "oh wow, good to know that i can't eat that, but i can eat this other option-- okay, great!"

                          in prep yesterday i made approx #65 of food that was vegan and #70 of food that was not. today though it's probably #11 vegan and #50 non, so far. if a person came in and said they were veg and wanted to order a soup that contains chicken stock, there is no way to magically make the soup veg, and it would be unethical to tell the customer that it doesn't contain animal products... but there is other stuff the person could choose. the cooks are not "wrong" or anti-customer assholes if they roast chickens or make beef burgers for their omni customers, or if they prepare the sides for these meaty dishes using traditional methods and recipes-- especially if there are several veg options on the menu. if the pub doesn't allow *any* customers to mix and match bits and pieces of garnish from various menu items, i don't understand why someone who claims to be a vegan would be a special case/rules don't apply.

                          here is a link to the veg*n friendly restaurant guide from the university of indiana bloomington. it includes lots of chain restaurants, but if you glance over the entries you can see that many of these restaurants don't offer extensive vegan offerings. maybe it will give you some more ideas for dining out in your area. note that this guide is written/researched by actual vegetarians and vegans, not flexitarian-types http://www.indiana.edu/~vegiu/eating-...

                          and here is the entry for uplands from the same guide:
                          <<
                          Upland Brewing Company - Has a few vegetarian options including seitan Philly cheese, black bean burger, seitan schnitzel, Meatlessloaf sandwich, Wit Macaroni & Cheese, Mushroom Pasta, Stuffed Shells, Veggie Gyros.
                          Vegan Options- portobello mushroom pizza or seitan tenderloin, Coconut Tofu salad, Spicy Tofu Tacos, Southwest Tofu Salad, Portobello Sandwich & Vegetarian Chili. They have a segregated vegetarian fryer to prevent contamination with meat products for items like thier brewery fries.
                          Also, depending on who's working sometimes there will be a vegan soup or dessert.
                          )>>

                          imo, these folks ^ appear to be trying to accommodate folks with a variety of dietary restrictions, while also catering to their (majority omni) customer group. your op asks if you are off base or not. i think you probably are, sorry. you've embarked on a dietary path that puts you in the minority, but it might be easier for you to find great vegan food if you were more open to the folks who are trying to accommodate your needs, rather than thinking that they are picking on you personally, when they are not.

                          1. re: soupkitten
                            pikawicca Mar 22, 2012 02:08 PM

                            Orr does not charge extra for G-F dishes. The dishes you mention from Upland (some of them very good) are mostly no longer on the menu. I've eaten many great vegan dishes at the extraordinary variety of independent restaurants we have here in Bloomington. Unfortunately, my dining companions frequently want to go more "mainstream." I've not encountered many vegan desserts. (Unless you count the infamous Wah Pudding at D.C.'s Golden Temple of Conscious Cookery. Even though it's been many years, my husband I still laugh at the utter awfulness of the dish. No idea what was in it.)

                            1. re: pikawicca
                              TeRReT Mar 23, 2012 04:58 AM

                              again, its unreasonable to expect he can cater to every single person's restriction. He may be able to cater to most, he may be able to cater to more then many other people, but you can't can't can't can't can't can't can't can't can't can't can't must not must not must not must not expect he will cater to EVERY restricions WITHOUT advanced notice. Whether you think its good customer service or not, or whether you think all restaurants should magically be able to predict and cater to EVERY customer EVERY time, you are wrong.

                              Back in the day a hot dog stand had one hotdog. Then people liked sausage so he had hot dog and sausage. Then vegetariens wanted something so he had a sausage, a hot dog and a veggie dog, but it wasn't kosher, so then he added a kosher dog, then he needed a celiac friendly gluten free bun, then he needed a organic hotdog as well, where the hell does it end?

                              CALL BEFORE CALL BEFORE CALL BEFORE CALL BEFORE!

                              DON'T EXPECT!!!!!

                              and DON'T call it poor customer service when every restaurant won't cater to you. Don't cry and complain and write columns about restaurants that don't have the same service as some high class place that charges a lot of money that does cater to you. Customer service is when they suggest items on the menu that you can have, when they already provide an option, just because you didnt like the option does NOT NOT NOT make it poor customer service that they did not accommodate your wish. Maybe they could have handled it better, but the fact they didn't fulfill your request is NOT a lack of customer service, its simply a different type of restaurant, a different type of menu, and a different restaurant period. You have found some restaurants happy to go off menu or feed you what you want, but not all can or will, and they don't have to.

                              1. re: TeRReT
                                s
                                smartie Mar 23, 2012 05:28 AM

                                I so agree with your post and I'm a fussy -ish eater because I don't eat shellfish pork and ham/bacon, so there are some restaurants where the choices are limited for me. I remember going to a Maryland crab place with friends when the menu was crab in it's various forms and nothing else for me except a grilled cheese. Let me tell you it was Wonderbread with square processed American cheese. But I was with 20 friends and they were all hammering their crabs and having fun so I wouldn't dare be the party pooper.

                                The doctor I work for is a specialist. We don't write meds for cholesterol, birth control, urology problems, blood pressure,diabetes, nor do we change dressings or remove stitches. Yet we get patients yelling and screaming that they are in a doctor's office and they should be able to get any prescription they want. I guess a restaurant that can't acommodate every need is a bit like that, yes they may well have the food and tools to be able to make a gluten free or vegan dish but not want to. I have a script pad but that doesn't mean you'll get your anti biotic from my office.

                                1. re: TeRReT
                                  j
                                  josephnl Mar 23, 2012 04:01 PM

                                  You are absolutely right. It's totally unreasonable to expect a chef/restaurant to accommodate all requests...regardless of how service-oriented the establishment may be. But when a chef refuses to leave a bacon garnish off a soup, or comply with some similarly reasonable request, that's not the kind of place I want to patronize.

                                  1. re: TeRReT
                                    Bill Hunt Mar 25, 2012 09:07 PM

                                    Well, perhaps all "good chefs" could do a special menu, every night, for every possible issue, allergy, choice, just in case that one client, who requires everything, shows up that night.

                                    Well-stated, and I feel that it is highly incumbent on the patron, to call ahead, and just ask.

                                    In my family's case, we are not talking about "life-threatening" dietary issues (just allergies), or recent "conversions," so it is likely different. Still, we just notify the restaurant/chef/FOH, and all is magically taken care of. I have never had anything, but accommodation, regardless of the number of Michelin "stars," or whether the restaurant was a "mom-n-pop." All have been happy to accommodate, with but a notice, and a bit of time. [This is one thing that I like about Open Table - I can make specific requests.]

                                    Hunt

                              2. re: pikawicca
                                a
                                akq Mar 22, 2012 05:29 PM

                                But does he also keep a set of GF-only pots/pans and utensils? If he doesn't it's probably because it's cost prohibitive, and that's not going to be good enough for some celiac customers. What about kosher diners? Does he accomodate them, too?

                                I think most restaurants want people to be happy, but there are limits to what they can and probably should do in order to please a particular diner while not negatively impacting their ability to please the majority of other diners. If the entire kitchen has to stop to accomodate one diner with special requests and can't get the rest of their food out in an efficient and cost effective way, that's not good customer service. Good customer service doesn't necessarily mean there can't be limits to what the resto will do for its customers...

                                1. re: akq
                                  t
                                  tastesgoodwhatisit Mar 22, 2012 08:55 PM

                                  Yeah. Ideallly, from the customer's point of view, a restaurant will say "Customer service is most important. We'll be happy to provide spur of the moment meals to satisfy your dietary requirements, whatever they are!"

                                  From the restaurants point of view, though, doing so costs money and time. They may need to add significantly to their menu to provide multiple versions of popular items, because switching over to vegan, or gluten free, can scare off other customers, or change the taste enough to turn people away.

                                  For medical or religious restrictions, it may require preparing a completely separate kitchen area that can be guaranteed free of X, or doing a serious scrub down and sterilization in the middle of a busy dinner hour before preparing the special dish.

                                  And there's a huge difference, medically, between stocking gluten free pasta, and being able to guarantee that a dish has no cross contamination from utensils or cooking surfaces, or a chef that didn't wash their hands before shifting to the gluten free prep.

                                  I would expect places like brew pubs or chain restaurants to be on the less flexible end, because they're likely to receive a lot of their product partly prepared - they're not making that sauce from scratch every night.

                                  And restaurants tend to cater to what is trendy and popular. Seven or so years ago, you could find Atkins and low carb versions of everything under the sun, even in mainstream chain restaurants. Now it's gluten-free (but probably not good enough for someone who has full out celiac disease). Vegetarian dishes are much more available and better than a couple of decades ago, because there is more demand, but vegan food is harder to find because veganism is a lot less common.

                                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                                    Bill Hunt Mar 25, 2012 09:22 PM

                                    Good points.

                                    From a realistic point-of-view, few restaurants can afford to do a full prep, on the off-chance, that a certain patron, with dietary restrictions might show up that night. If not, then all was likely wasted.

                                    OTOH, if that client calls ahead, then the prep can begin - just for them.

                                    Very few restaurants can afford to do everything for everyone, every night, regardless of the bookings. If they tried, could you, or I, afford to dine there? I hardly think so.

                                    In my long life, I have never encountered anything, that includes everything, for everyone. That includes restaurants, automobiles, or even a religion. None can do everything for everyone.

                                    OTOH, most good restaurants CAN help patrons, given a heads-up, and time to make it happen.

                                    Hunt

                                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                                      j
                                      josephnl Mar 26, 2012 12:32 PM

                                      Hunt...although what you say is true for most restaurants, but not all chefs are always reasonable about this. Recently at one of southern CA's finest restaurants, we hosted a vegetarian guest for a celebratory birthday dinner. We selected this restaurant because on their website they had a full vegetarian menu. I called ahead to confirm this.

                                      When we were seated, we were presented with both regular and vegetarian menus to peruse while we were having cocktails. A server then brought over two amuse bouches for each of us...neither of which was vegetarian. I immediately pointed out to the server that our guest was vegetarian, and asked if something else could be brought to our guest. His response was that the chef will not substitute amuse bouches. I asked to speak with our waiter, and asked him if he could ask the chef...his reply was "this is a gift from the chef, and no substitution is possible". This, to me was especially shocking...because this is a restaurant with a full vegetarian menu.

                                      1. re: josephnl
                                        l
                                        LeoLioness Mar 26, 2012 12:44 PM

                                        I've never known a restaurant to offer more than one amuse bouche, or to inquire beforehand if anyone was a vegetarian before serving it.

                                        1. re: LeoLioness
                                          s
                                          small h Mar 26, 2012 01:44 PM

                                          I have, although I don't think it's common. I was given an amuse bouche of rabbit on a cracker, and while I didn't refuse it, I also didn't eat it. The server stopped by a few minutes later, said "Perhaps you don't care for rabbit," and gave me a new amuse bouche of hummus on a cracker. So that was very nice.

                                          1. re: small h
                                            Bill Hunt Mar 27, 2012 09:28 PM

                                            That was a very good move, by the server.

                                            I would have upped the tip (see many other, recent threads) for that.

                                            Hunt

                                          2. re: LeoLioness
                                            j
                                            josephnl Mar 26, 2012 04:00 PM

                                            We annually exchange birthday dinners with a vegetarian friend, and I carefully select a restaurant that has a nice selection of vegetarian dishes on the menu. I also call ahead to insure there will be no problem and to say that we're celebrating a birthday. As host, I will usually point out immediately to the server that my guest is vegetarian, and with only one exception (posted above) has the restaurant failed to bring out a vegetarian amuse. Really, how big a deal is it to put together a vegetarian bite? A good restaurant will handle this with grace and aplomb.

                                            1. re: LeoLioness
                                              Bill Hunt Mar 27, 2012 09:26 PM

                                              As my wife has an aversion to bi-valves, and I make that known, we have often had totally different amuse bouches. The staff will often make note of their accommodation, and I greatly appreciate that.

                                              Huunt

                                            2. re: josephnl
                                              Bill Hunt Mar 27, 2012 09:25 PM

                                              That is too bad. It seems that you have done all that could be expected of you, as patrons.

                                              We have had a few issues, but only at events, where we had previously requested special menus for our vegetarian guests. Those have always been honored, though there have been some "pregnant pauses," where none of the gentlemen would touch their dishes, until all of the ladies had been served.

                                              IMHO,you did everything correctly, and should have been accommodated. However, it seems that the restaurant dropped the ball.

                                              Hunt

                        2. viperlush Mar 16, 2012 07:58 AM

                          Yes because you were/are furious that they wouldn't go against policy to please you. With out having a Sides category on the menu how would they determine what to charge you? How much time (many people) would it take to come up with the price (and once they did would you accept it or try to negotiate)? And what about portion size?

                          But if this is a place that you like to go to and would enjoy being able to go to as a vegan, I think it might be worth your while to see if they could accomodate this request at a later visit. Explain why and what you wanted and and suggest a menu change? It could be interesting.

                          1. r
                            rasputina Mar 16, 2012 08:04 AM

                            I'm an ex vegan and my daughter is currently veg and she often orders just sides when we go out to eat and has never encountered a problem. But then the places we eat at usually list side dishes that can be ordered individually. So she just orders a few selections from the list and they bring them on one plate for her.

                            1. babette feasts Mar 16, 2012 07:20 PM

                              It doesn't seem like it should be that hard, and maybe your server just didn't feel like or have the knowledge to negotiate it with the kitchen, but you'd probably have better luck calling ahead and asking what is possible rather than just showing up and expecting to be taken care of. Do you have good reason to believe none of those sides are cooked with chicken stock or butter? I'd be rather surprised if none of them had either animal ingredient.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: babette feasts
                                Vetter Mar 17, 2012 08:04 PM

                                No kidding re: the chicken stock or butter. If you're going to make those kinds of requests, you've got to hit the basics first. Otherwise it just undermines your credibility as a special-needs diner (of which I am one).

                                1. re: babette feasts
                                  Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 08:45 PM

                                  Babette,

                                  Great suggestion - call ahead.

                                  Though not vegan, my wife has issues with bi-valves. We always notify the restaurants of that issue, and to date, none has hesitated to accommodate her, even in multi-course tasting menus - I am talking up to 15-course tasting menus, and where many dishes have scallops, mussels, clams or oysters. They even do special "sommelier's pairings," just for her modified dishes.

                                  To show up and declare that "I am now a vegan, so accommodate me," is not how I would do it, and especially at a brew pub.

                                  Maybe I am just missing something very important here?

                                  Hunt

                                2. g
                                  givemecarbs Mar 16, 2012 08:03 PM

                                  Pikawicca that sucks. Did the server check with the manager or just respond right away to your request? I remember years ago wanting a sub but they all had cutsie names and there were no substitutions. I just wanted a different kind of cheese. I think the girl on duty was a fresh hire and the manager wasn't around but when I tried to convince her she became agitated so I left. Some people don't do well when you throw them a curve ball. Did you end up ordering the deep fried fake meat or leaving?
                                  I don't know anything about Indiana but I've lived in the South and in the NE and in the South they tend to be more accomodating to customers.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: givemecarbs
                                    pikawicca Mar 17, 2012 06:49 AM

                                    Server didn't check with anyone, just flat out said "the kitchen won't do that." Didn't order anything. Stopped at a soup place and got some great black bean chili to take home.

                                    1. re: pikawicca
                                      s
                                      smartie Mar 17, 2012 05:53 PM

                                      maybe the server didn't need to check, the vegan request had come up before and she/he already knew the answer. Maybe they cannot promise that dairy has not come into contact with their veggies.

                                      To my own experiences, I was a vegetarian in the UK from about 1975-83 including traveling in E Africa, the US, Europe etc. It was a PITA then, much harder than today and I had numerous meals in restaurants of omelets and plates of vegetables, ditto for airline food and friends houses (oh just let her pick the bacon out of the quiche or beans). I got fed up with it and eventually went back to eating meat. Now I still don't eat a lot of meat and generally still order vegetarian food at restaurants. It's easier now but sometimes there is still nothing veggie on a menu.

                                      2 of my kids went vegan last year and I have to say by the 3rd week of trying to come up with exciting vegan food I had had enough. Thankfully they returned to vegetarianism as opposed to veganism but it's without doubt more work to come up with a vegetable entree than meat.
                                      I'm not being judgemental but it's very difficult for the vegan and the cooks - good luck Pica

                                  2. TeRReT Mar 16, 2012 09:58 PM

                                    Yes, you are off base. Don't be furious. The kitchen is under no obligation to cater to your dietary restriction. They may or may not have included in the menu "no substitutions/no modifications" and despite what anyone says or feels, this is completely their prerogative and they are entitled to do so. They may lose customers, they may go out of business, but they don't have to do anything they don't want to do.

                                    Sure, the waitress could have handled it better, but there are many reasons why she may not have. And again, they don't need to have a good reason for it, but there are many possible reasons why they didn't/couldn't cater to you. Perhaps the mushrooms were par-cooked in butter, perhaps the onions had diced bacon in them, perhaps the farro was parcooked in meat stock. Maybe its simply restaurant policy and they'd rather stick to it then bend the rules. Maybe the chef was off that night and couldn't authorize such a request, maybe the kitchen staff is not completely trained and not creative enough to offer another solution, maybe the manager was out and they didn't know how to price it, order it, etc.

                                    Bottom line is that with a restricted diet, be it vegan, vegetarian, allergy, intolerance, celiac, picky eater, not every restaurant can cater to every single patron. It is just not possible, not feesible, and it shouldn't be expected of them. ALWAYS call ahead, failing that, ask at the door as soon as you arrive, before you sit down. If you find out before you've settled and gotten comfortable, you will be a lot less aggitated.

                                    Its not always as cut and dry as you think in a restaurant, they are a very complex beast and what you think to be a simple request is often not simple in the slightest.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: TeRReT
                                      choctastic Mar 17, 2012 10:37 AM

                                      I am vegan but I'm afraid I agree with TeRRet. I would not expect a non-vegan restaurant to cater to my needs. I just spend my money at vegan restaurants or eat at home. Sounds like the waiter was having a bad day, but hey that happens too.

                                      When I travel, I just consult those vegan restaurant websites (or chowhound, yelp, etc) to get the lay of the land, before I land. That way I have some idea of what's available.

                                      1. re: choctastic
                                        Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 08:54 PM

                                        Great points.

                                        I would check out the menu, and if I had issues, or questions, then would contact them, before I visited. Even with wife's bi-valve issue, I constantly remind even old favorites, of that.

                                        Now, that does not excuse the server from being a bit more welcoming, or accommodating, if the latter was possible.

                                        A message to others - contact the restaurant, and discuss any dietary issues.

                                        Hunt

                                    2. TeRReT Mar 16, 2012 10:30 PM

                                      And for the record, I am offering this from the prespective of working in a professional kitchen. Having worked in one that was slandered in a local newspaper as being "celiac unfriendly" because the reviewer brought a friend and wanted a specific dish. They were celiac and wanted an item that we made, but unfortunately at the time we were unable to accomodate for that item, as it was something we made half with chickpea flour which is gluten free, but also half flour which had gluten. We did this because just chickpea alone would be too heavy, too overpowering for the overall dish, and more costly. A cook went to the table, explained that we couldn't offer that item, offered every single pasta dish with rice pasta thus being celiac friendly, every side dish, every salad in a gluten free manner, every meat dish and every fish dish plus every dessert but one, and still they weren't happy with that. They had their friend slander us as being celiac unfriendly because we couldn't simply make from scratch the item they wanted with 100% chickpea flour, on a busy night that the chef was off. They didn't understand that the prep was making part of the item, letting it rest 24 hours, and then finishing the prep. It wasn't possible, it wouldn't have represented the quality we offered, it was a busy night. It irks me when people feel entitled to everything, when sometimes it can't be done. I work very hard, and work in very good restaurants where everyone works equally hard, long long hours, and poor pay, and when people can't get everything they want, and we try to accomodate and people still aren't happy, its disheartening.

                                      Had they called ahead, we could have accomodated this. We have made tortellini by hand with fillings off menu when people called ahead and requested, we ordered in proteins we didn't normally have available because people called ahead. We made desserts we didn't normally make because people called ahead.

                                      You can't expect to be able to get everything or to understand why things aren't possible, but sometimes there is a good reason. And definitely, ask in advance. Even if you are just going out on the spur of the moment not wanting to cook, ask at the door, and then go elsewhere if it isn't possible. Don't linger on it.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: TeRReT
                                        n
                                        NicoleFriedman Mar 17, 2012 05:51 PM

                                        I hope that you wrote a letter to the paper that published the review of your restaurant.

                                      2. h
                                        Harters Mar 17, 2012 07:02 AM

                                        I would never expect a restaurant to alter its menu offerings for me. If they are happy to, then that is fine. If they are not, that is also fine - I'll order something else.

                                        26 Replies
                                        1. re: Harters
                                          pikawicca Mar 17, 2012 10:50 AM

                                          I would not expect this anywhere in Europe, but this is the first time in the States that I've met with a "no." I guess I've been extremely lucky to have chosen restaurants that put customer service first.

                                          1. re: pikawicca
                                            linguafood Mar 17, 2012 10:55 AM

                                            I would not expect this in the States, either.

                                            1. re: linguafood
                                              pikawicca Mar 17, 2012 11:14 AM

                                              It's quite common, even in high-end places. The last time we ate at Daniel, the main my husband wanted came with chard, which he loathes. When asked if kale could be substituted (it was on the menu with another dish), the waiter answered, "of course." Unless the menu specifically states "no substitutions," I expect simple requests to be met.

                                              I know someone with celiac disease who routinely orders a grilled chicken sandwich and asks that it be served on a bed of lettuce, rather than on a bun. As far as I know, she's never been turned down.

                                              There are so many people with dietary restrictions that any restaurant that makes no attempt to accommodate simple requests is going to lose a lot of business.

                                              1. re: pikawicca
                                                f
                                                ferret Mar 17, 2012 12:14 PM

                                                The opposite of "no substitutions" isn't "whatever you want." And restaurants are free to operate within their desired parameters. I doubt there's a restaurant on the planet that won't accommodate "hold the bun" but the requests that some people think should be accommodated are somewhat more extreme.

                                                1. re: ferret
                                                  goodhealthgourmet Mar 17, 2012 05:49 PM

                                                  I doubt there's a restaurant on the planet that won't accommodate "hold the bun"
                                                  ~~~~~~~~
                                                  Father's Office in Los Angeles...which is why i've never been able to try their famous burger. and there are other places that are just as rigid, but given my gluten restrictions i just avoid them.

                                                  as for the vegan issue, i was vegetarian for more than 20 years, and NEVER assumed that even the most innocent-sounding menu items were safe unless i confirmed with the waitstaff or kitchen.

                                                2. re: pikawicca
                                                  TeRReT Mar 17, 2012 07:28 PM

                                                  I hope your friend not only asks for no bun, but explains why. People get in the habit of assuming they understand the menu and can order what they want with no problems. My nephew is severe dairy allergy, and my sister used to just assume she knew what to order without mentioning the allergy. This is wrong. ALWAYS explain ANY restriction clearly to ensure the restaurant knows whats going on and can accommodate them. It only took once experience where I was present in Bermuda, they ordered chicken fingers for my nephew thinking they were safe as they can eat them at home. I explained on behalf of them that there was a dairy allergy involved since they said nothing. The waiter checked with the kitchen and came back to us to explain there was milk powder in the flour they breaded the chicken fingers with. If I hadn't said anything this could have been a bad situation.

                                                  Never assume a menu is as simple as it reads, any dish may have unexpected ingredients or preparation. No restaurant will always accommodate every request.

                                                  High end restaurants used to bending to everyone's request is one end of the spectrum, they may substitute for anything else, but that doesn't mean anything when you go to the next restaurant. You are NOT entitled to have whatever you want, you are entitled to what the restaurant says it will provide. If you don't like it, don't go back to that restaurant.

                                                  You are right, there are so many people with so many diet restrictions, that restaurants simply CAN'T accommodate ALL of them. Again, they may seem simple to you, but that doesn't mean they are simple, and even if they are simple, it is their prerogative to refuse. Again, don't go back. You can try to talk to a manager now, but don't expect it will change anything. Call and ask if they can prepare something different for you in advance notice and see if that changes anything. But they don't have to.

                                                  1. re: pikawicca
                                                    r
                                                    rasputina Mar 17, 2012 07:43 PM

                                                    Those kinds of substitutions ( kale instead of chard) should be very easy in a well managed restaurant. I know last year during Lent we went out for lunch and I had no problems substituting the rice dish with pork that came with the entree I wanted for another meat free rice dish they serve.

                                                    1. re: rasputina
                                                      TeRReT Mar 17, 2012 08:19 PM

                                                      Thats very nice that they did that change for you, and it probably was easy, but understand that they did not have to. It likely made sense, and likely they didn't have to think about it at all, they may even do it often, but its their decision whether they agree to your request or not, not yours.

                                                      You're right, that it sounds easy, but that doesn't mean they have to do it. And if its because you don't like something maybe its easy. But if its because of an allergy, or another restriction it might not be as easy. In your case it was, but what if the non-meat dish had cheese or butter in it, then vegans or dairy allergy people couldn't have it.

                                                      Just because it seems simple does not mean it is. Just because it is simple doesn't mean a restaurant has to do it. In most cases, and in most of the restaurants I have worked in, of course we will make the substitution without complain or second thought, but that does not mean it has to be done. Don't expect entitlement. Be grateful when they do and appreciate it.

                                                      The restaurant business is difficult, most try to accommodate as much as they can, but they have to draw the line somewhere. If they accommodate everything, then eventually they will get the most rediculous requests that they shouldn't have to accommodate, so some restaurants choose not to accommodate anything. Ordering the cheapest pasta dish, asking for fresh shaved white truffle on it instead of basil, thats an easy request, but would you expect they will do that and not charge you for it?

                                                      What you have to understand is that every dish in a restaurant is completely costed. There is a very strict formula, and the margin of profit is very slim. When people ask for "extra" or substitutions they need to consider the actual cost difference as well. One sauteed green for another may seem simple, but the cost of the green may be different, maybe one has more labour involved in washing

                                                      Again, of course most restaurants often will cater to many situations, do not expect that they have to, understand there are reasons why they don't, accept that they won't, and either change your order or eat elsewhere. Don't get upset.

                                                      I may sound like a dick, but I'm just trying to be honest. Everywhere I have worked, I have been more then happy to accommodate the most obscene requests, dietary restrictions and allergies. I take allergies very seriously and routinely completely clean my station down, use new frying pans for every order, have different cutting boards, knives, etc. I am not against asking for substitutions or modifications, but sometimes things aren't possible. It upsets me when people get annoyed when they expect us to change the world. I try very hard to accommodate, but as in the situation I described earlier, its not often possible, and makes my head hurt when people feel entitled to things. Yes, I am trying to balance creating my vision of art in the form of food, and I am trying to service people and feed them what they want, but there needs to be a mutual respect. I am not a servant there to feed you anything you want. I am offering a menu of food that I will try to change to suit you, but when not possible, please try to accept it, even if you don't understand the reasons. Even if you think it should be simple to change.

                                                    2. re: pikawicca
                                                      Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 09:09 PM

                                                      Ah, Restaurant Daniel is something else, and something special. They have my wife's dietary issues on file, and know, before we walk in the door, how to accommodate her.

                                                      A brew pub is NOT like Restaurant Daniel, in almost any way, and especially if you were not a vegan on the previous visit, and did not inform them, that you have converted. How were they to know?

                                                      Sorry, I just do not get your issues.

                                                      Hunt

                                                  2. re: pikawicca
                                                    e
                                                    Exy00 Mar 17, 2012 11:46 AM

                                                    I guess your standards for "customer service" are different from mine, because it's a virtual certainty that you've been eating non-vegan food at restaurants. It's almost unimaginable that none of the side dishes contained broth or butter or milk or egg somewhere in the preparation. In my book, leading a customer to believe they were eating vegan food when they weren't seems like much worse service than telling them they can't accommodate their dietary restrictions.

                                                    I also really can't imagine going into any restaurant that's not specifically vegetarian or vegetarian friendly, or from a cuisine with a long tradition of vegan dishes (Ethiopian or middle eastern, maybe Indian), and thinking that there actually would be vegan food available. I'm having trouble imagining anything that I would trust to be free of animal products at most other restaurants.

                                                    1. re: pikawicca
                                                      Vetter Mar 17, 2012 08:11 PM

                                                      Customer service doesn't necessarily equate to menu juggling. That would be like me as a celiac going to my local Italian joint, where they are known for their calzones, and expecting them to have a tidy gluten free version for me. And then expecting no cross-contact with gluten. Some places just aren't set up that way, and it's okay. I know the places that will take care of me, respectfully, and I give them my business.

                                                      I think we also need to be reasonable when we're eating in places full of Sysco food. If they're in the back reheating instead of cooking from scratch, then it's really not a good idea to expect them to cater to a special diet. A kitchen without pride isn't a place to make special requests.

                                                      1. re: Vetter
                                                        pikawicca Mar 17, 2012 08:27 PM

                                                        Straw man. My request was nothing like the crazy celiac/Italian joint scenario you posit. That's truly crazy. I do not eat at restaurants supplied by Sysco, so no one is "in the back reheating."

                                                        1. re: pikawicca
                                                          TeRReT Mar 17, 2012 08:32 PM

                                                          Its not up to you to decide if your request is as crazy as that scenario, again that begs entitlement. Everyone thinks their own request is more simple or more correct or more important then other's requests. The restaurant decides which requests it accommodates and which it does not. Ask before, don't be upset if refused, order something else or go elsewhere.

                                                      2. re: pikawicca
                                                        TeRReT Mar 17, 2012 08:23 PM

                                                        Its not at all about customer service. Maybe she was a bit rude and didn't offer further explanation, maybe that was poor customer service, but you were NOT entitled to have those sides as you wanted. Some restaurants may very well have done what you requested, but that is their prerogative, not a difference in customer service. do NOT expect to get what you want always, I maintain that you must communicate ahead of time and be educated ahead of time to know what to expect where you go.

                                                        Most of the time you probably won't have a problem, but when you do its not because of their lack of customer service, they DON'T have to be servants and cook to order anything you request outside of the menu.

                                                        1. re: TeRReT
                                                          pikawicca Mar 17, 2012 09:03 PM

                                                          I was not asking anyone to "be servants" (whatever that means), or to cook anything to order. I was merely requesting what other restaurants in town are always willing to do. Before the vegan thing, if I wanted a baked potato instead of fries, no problem. Cole slaw instead of salad, ditto. On our visit to Atlanta last week, chefs were willing to bend over backwards to feed us a great meal. (And, man, did we eat well!)

                                                          1. re: pikawicca
                                                            TeRReT Mar 17, 2012 09:09 PM

                                                            And again, be grateful and happy that they accommodated, but understand they chose to and did not have to. You can't expect that it will always be possible. If you want something different from how the menu is written, even if it is piecing together parts of the menu, ask before you sit down. Call ahead. Especially with a restriction you must be informed and educated, don't just expect, assume, feel entitled to, compare to past experiences. Every restaurant is different, and you should not expect anything at one restaurant that you encountered at another restaurant. Ask before, don't expect, they don't have to do anything. If you aren't happy with that decision, eat elsewhere and get over it.

                                                            1. re: TeRReT
                                                              pikawicca Mar 17, 2012 09:14 PM

                                                              But as a restaurant owner, wouldn't you feel badly that, through your decision, you've lost a loyal customer of 30+ years? Or even a brand-new customer who is turned off and will never return? I simply can't imagine this as a viable business model.

                                                              1. re: pikawicca
                                                                TeRReT Mar 17, 2012 09:25 PM

                                                                Its possible that the server was just having a bad night and didn't explain things enough, its possible that its not completely the restaurant policy.

                                                                If it were me, I'd consider returning to see if it was a one time thing, but before I do that, I would phone them, I would talk to the person that answered the phone, not mention the previous experience at all, just explain you enjoy the restaurant, are now vegan and would like something other then the single offered item. See if they are able to offer a solution, I'll be with some notice they can.

                                                                If they can, and if it was a one time miscommunication/misunderstanding, then you can enjoy the place in the future and the business model isn't so terrible, it was just a one time mistake.

                                                                If it is their business practice and don't offer any solution, then I agree thats not how I would run my restaurant. I can't say its a bad business practice, or that it will mean imminent failure of the restaurant, and they may or may not care about losing new customers or old customers, I would.

                                                                If I were working in that restaurant, I would have had the waitress come ask the kitchen first, then I would have said yes, provided the sides were all vegan friendly, you could have them as you requested, or if you'd prefer we could prepare something special for you off the menu that might be more exciting then just combined sides and let you have the choice.

                                                                But thats just me, I can't fault the restaurant if they say any different, and I can't expect that every restaurant would run as I would want mine to run. Regardless, I wouldn't want to lose any business at anytime if I could avoid it.

                                                                1. re: TeRReT
                                                                  pikawicca Mar 17, 2012 09:37 PM

                                                                  Thank you for your rational (and polite) response. I emailed management immediately, but have not heard back.

                                                                  1. re: pikawicca
                                                                    pikawicca Mar 26, 2012 08:05 PM

                                                                    Never have heard back.

                                                                2. re: pikawicca
                                                                  e
                                                                  Exy00 Mar 17, 2012 09:32 PM

                                                                  In many cases accommodating a customer with requests outside what the restaurant can easily handle isn't worth it. Losing customers who cost you money (by taking up too much of your staff's time) is a win for the restaurant.

                                                                  1. re: Exy00
                                                                    TeRReT Mar 17, 2012 09:39 PM

                                                                    Thats also true, the one place where I worked where we accommodated a great deal to a particular set of customers came in weekly and spent thousands on wine, it was worth it in that case to spend the extra money on food and labour, but other customers not so much.

                                                              2. re: pikawicca
                                                                Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 09:16 PM

                                                                Maybe you would have been better served going to those other restaurants, where they know of your conversion? Not all restaurants know the details. Maybe contacting them, beforehand, would suffice?

                                                                Hunt

                                                          2. re: Harters
                                                            Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 08:59 PM

                                                            John,

                                                            I would hope that you have been able to articulate your personal needs, or those of your dining companions, and have had restaurants fully accommodate the needs. I know that I have, with absolutely zero exceptions, so long as I contacted them ahead of my arrival.

                                                            Few restaurants, and fewer chefs (IMHO) wish to offend any patrons.

                                                            Just give them a heads up, and most will bend over backward to see that things are to one's liking.

                                                            Hunt

                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                              h
                                                              Harters Mar 19, 2012 03:11 AM

                                                              On a personal level, it's never happened, Bill. There are few foods I detest which means I can always easily find another menu option. My wife is a bit more picky (I think she may the only person in the western world who detests mashed potato) but this is about then asking a restaurant to leave a particular item off the plate rather than change their whole menu structure to suit her. We've occasionally skipped a tasting menu course and, on occasions (but not always), the restaurant has offered an alternative.

                                                              There was a thread on the UK board of egullet some while back. A customer had emailed the chef of a Michelin 2* place in London asking that he cook "something special" for him. Chef forwarded it onto his front of house telling them in, lets say, very forthright language to reply to the customer that the "special cooking " is the advertised tasting menu. Perhaps unfortunately, he accidentally copied in the customer who was not only aggrieved about what he perceived to be poor customer service but, also, chef's choice of language. Customer posted to egullet asking what other folk thought. Other folk were entirely with the chef - with several of us praising his command of colloquial English, when English is not his first language.

                                                              1. re: Harters
                                                                Bill Hunt Mar 20, 2012 09:40 PM

                                                                I concur. Wife has an allergy to bi-valves, though it is not life-threatening - just very uncomfortable from a GI standpoint.

                                                                We always let the restaurants know, ahead of time, and to date, all have complied graciously.

                                                                Now, my M-I-L had taste issues with most foods, and she would usually only eat chicken. At 91, she got her way very often, and we even had chefs, who offered to send a runner to a fried chicken place, and re-plate it for her.

                                                                A bit of forewarning has gone a very, very long way, at least in my experiences.

                                                                Hunt

                                                          3. linguafood Mar 17, 2012 10:23 AM

                                                            I'll have to agree with the Harters & others here... expecting to have the restaurant "just throw together a bunch of their veggie (sorry, *vegan*) sides in order to create a special meal for you is asking a bit much. Calling ahead would maybe have made this easier to facilitate.

                                                            The fact that the kitchen would only serve meals as described on the menu is...well, a fact that would apply to pretty much any successfully operating restaurant kitchen.

                                                            I think your furor is misguided and off base, frankly.

                                                            1. Karl S Mar 17, 2012 02:31 PM

                                                              In a word, yes you are, but you are within your rights to not patronize a place such as that again, just as they are within their rights not to accommodate your request. You don't owe any place your business, and no place owes it to you to rearrange their menu for you. Ipsedixit called it correctly.

                                                              1. meatn3 Mar 17, 2012 05:35 PM

                                                                If worked at a few restaurants where the answer would vary depending upon the chef and his/her mood. One chef in particular would totally screw your orders for the rest of the night if you bothered him. A special request bothered him. In that situation I would choose to inconvenience one table rather than having all my table for the shift suffer. Plus my tips would be negatively impacted due to kitchen issues - most diners don't differentiate between a kitchen error vs a server error - they just know their experience was subpar and tip accordingly.

                                                                This sort of "chef" may be why the server didn't even bother to check. If you like the place contact the owner/manager during off hours and discuss the possibilities for the future. That's the person who can make it happen.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: meatn3
                                                                  Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 09:20 PM

                                                                  With a proper request, prior to a visit, I have had no chef, even ones with three Michelin stars after his.her name, fail to honor those requests. No one!

                                                                  Show up and demand special requests - well that is another situation.

                                                                  Hunt

                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                                    meatn3 Mar 19, 2012 08:28 AM

                                                                    These were at "no star" establishments. Sometimes the biggest fish in a small puddle allows their chip on the shoulder to sabotage good customer service. My point was sometimes a response is based on the personalities behind the scene not the actual feasibility of the request.

                                                                    I completely agree that it is best to contact and discuss special needs ahead of time! Most people want to be as accommodating as the circumstances allow.

                                                                    1. re: meatn3
                                                                      Bill Hunt Mar 20, 2012 09:41 PM

                                                                      I have, unfortunately, encountered similar, though, fortunately, not THAT often.

                                                                      When I do, I just go elsewhere.

                                                                      In general, most restaurants are very accommodating, with a bit of notice.

                                                                      Hunt

                                                                2. pikawicca Mar 17, 2012 10:05 PM

                                                                  Reading all of these replies has been fascinating; I think there must be cultural factors at play. I believe I was spoiled by childhood dining experiences in the deep south. Our parents took us out to dinner once a week, and I would always order the Fried Shrimp Basket. Sadly, this came with fries and coleslaw.The fries were fine, but coleslaw? Ick! The nice waitresses were happy to sub carrot sticks. This must be where my "entitlement" issues began.

                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                  1. re: pikawicca
                                                                    e
                                                                    Exy00 Mar 17, 2012 10:19 PM

                                                                    This reminds me of how accommodating the restaurants were for you in Atlanta. Carrot sticks are probably about the only actually vegan food you could get at most restaurants in the South.

                                                                    1. re: Exy00
                                                                      pikawicca Mar 17, 2012 10:32 PM

                                                                      Not true at all. The Atlanta restaurants rocked. (I did call ahead.) Best fried green tomatoes I ever ate. Incredible poached strawberry/kimchee starter at Woodfire. Simply incredible food.

                                                                      1. re: pikawicca
                                                                        e
                                                                        Exy00 Mar 17, 2012 11:03 PM

                                                                        Why didn't you call ahead in Bloomington?

                                                                        . . . kimchee is not ordinarily vegan, by the way.

                                                                        1. re: Exy00
                                                                          pikawicca Mar 18, 2012 07:35 AM

                                                                          I didn't call ahead because I've never had any problems in Bloomington. (I used to make kimchee once a week, so I know what usually goes into it. This particular kimchee did not contain dried shrimp or other animal products.)

                                                                        2. re: pikawicca
                                                                          KarenDW Mar 18, 2012 12:29 AM

                                                                          Hmm. I'm thinking the FGT may have involved dairy or eggs...

                                                                          1. re: KarenDW
                                                                            pikawicca Mar 18, 2012 07:33 AM

                                                                            I asked.

                                                                          2. re: pikawicca
                                                                            Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 09:26 PM

                                                                            Ah, you did call ahead then, but not in this instance. Why not?

                                                                            Hunt

                                                                        3. re: pikawicca
                                                                          Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 09:25 PM

                                                                          Back then, were you demanding vegan fare, at restaurants that were "mainstream?" Somehow, I rather doubt it.

                                                                          Call ahead, and state your needs/desires. Let them have a bit of advance notice. You might be greatly surprised at how they can accommodate you.

                                                                          Not THAT long ago, we were dining at a John Besh restaurant in New Orleans, and it was for M-I-L's 90th birthday. The chef, at a Besh restaurant, offered to modify his menu to accommodate her, and even offered to send a runner to a Popeye's Fried Chicken restaurant, a dozen blocks away, and then re-plate that, just for her. We had similar, at a wonderful French restaurant in Denver - just for her, when they found out about her preferences. One might be surprised, how a little notice can be accommodated.

                                                                          Hunt

                                                                        4. s
                                                                          soupkitten Mar 18, 2012 12:42 AM

                                                                          @Ipse ----egomaniac? ridiculous piffle. the word you are looking for is "megalomaniac."
                                                                          heh heh ;-P

                                                                          wrt "simple" substitutions-- it is indeed, not often simple for a kitchen. the op cites a visit to daniel where a veg was subbed for another veg. well, this is what a customer pays for at a very high end restaurant that also has the luxury of plenty of kitchen staff at the highest skill level, supplemented with unpaid culinary externs and folks doing stages to pad their resumes. by contast, a brewpub will have one or two guys who probably didn't graduate top of their CIA class, working up in each others' armpits in a tiny greasepit kitchen, on equipment that may not be exactly state of the art. systems will be streamlined, with the result that less variation from the menu is possible. a high-end restaurant with michelin stars and a burger bar or diner are not the same animal at all, and the food and experience the customer is paying for at a brewpub is not the same as they pay (many clams more for) at daniel...i feel sort of silly even typing this out. so, at the lower price points, restaurants that make too many substitutions will lose money, and doing a la carte scratch assemblage orders when you only have two or three guys will completely foul up your whole system, and the staff and everyone else in the establishment who are ordering the actual menu items (which is what the establishment actually spent time and effort to develop, and wishes to execute well and be known for) will suffer.

                                                                          then, too, there are extremely well run/managed kitchens where the garnish/veg prep is controlled to the ounce. if the restaurant has merely seventeen portions of a halibut special for the evening, someone will do the formula and fifty one ounces of farro will be par cooked. if someone randomly wants a $3-$4, 6 oz bowl of farro, the restaurant should say "no not possible"-- selling the garnish out from under a $32 main dish means, naturally, that two mains ($64) can't be sold that evening. premium fish rots in the walk-in, food cost gets out of whack, customers disappointed when the special is unavailable, etc.

                                                                          customers do not want to overpay for food that is wasted, and they strongly prefer fresh, scratch prepared food that is not reheated leftovers from tuesday--tight kitchen management like this accomplishes these goals. not to get too off topic, but at this point, food waste in poorly run kitchens is actually, more or less, unconscionable... a real societal problem that is in part a result of entitled attitudes on the part of customers-- i want what i want when i want it, so prepare extra portions of everything, make everyone else pay extra for it when they buy their portions of food, and just discard the excess food nobody ordered at the end of the night.

                                                                          as others have noted, foods which are components of a dish on a menu, as opposed to being listed as mix and match a la carte "side dishes" are apt to be designed to complement the flavors of that specific dish. the grain which accompanies a duck breast will be prepared in a game stock; polenta which is served with a chicken breast will be prepared with chx stock and heavy cream, rather than just being boiled plain in water; fish sauce will be used for the braised greens that accompany seafood; vegetables will be slow roasted in clarified butter. folks who are truly serious about vegan lifestyle will reject foods prepared in a deep-fryer that is also used to fry fish, poultry, meat, and milk/egg battered foods, or foods prepared on "well seasoned" flat top grills or open broilers... some veg folks are more "don't ask, don't tell" in attitude, and will go to omni restaurants, but ime vegan oriented restaurants are a "safer" bet as far as most vegan folks are concerned. many restaurants offer veg menu items or can prepare off-menu veg dishes, but it's imo unreasonable to expect restaurants not to use chicken/meat stock or eggs or butter in the preparation of vegetables and starches that are meant to be essential components of non-vegetarian dishes. of course there is the off chance that something is vegan right down to agave or maple rather than white sugar... but this is a conversation with the server, or with someone over the phone before you arrive. as others have stated it's just easier on everyone to call ahead w dietary restrictions, or go somewhere where a dietary restriction is an easier proposition. it's not particularly fair to expect a huge vegan selection of menu items at a bar, or in a town/area of the country that is not particularly veg friendly, and indeed many vegans would applaud the establishment in the op's example for making the attempt at accommodation by offering one item (especially if it was tasty or well conceived).

                                                                          i don't mean to come off harshly, but it's called dietary restriction for a reason-- someone who takes on (for whatever reason) a limited diet doesn't get an all access pass to world cuisine-- which is not to say that people with dietary restrictions can't eat very, very well. but, for a gf person to complain that a pizzeria that makes and tosses its own dough doesn't also make a gf pizza and bake it in a separate gf oven or room, or a kosher or halal person to go into a carolina hog bbq joint and complain they can't be accommodated... this is unreasonable. if a person has dietary restrictions, not every restaurant will be able to accommodate, or have more than one or two selections, if they do. in the op's case it would seem to not be much different for vegans or omnis-- if one does not care for the menu items on offer, choose instead a different restaurant. to go to a restaurant one is familiar with, reject the vegan offerings on the menu, and ask instead for some stuff (probably not vegan) cobbled together off menu... it's a monkey wrench for the restaurant, is apparently stressful and aggravating for the diner, can't be pleasant for the server/management, and it probably hurts other veg diners if the restaurant starts to second-guess the menu's current veg offerings.

                                                                          avoid stress. seek out vegan friendly restaurants in your area. planning ahead, call omni restaurants for accommodation requests. develop a rapport with the staff at neighborhood places where they will look after your needs. this is all part of truly "embracing" a lifestyle, after all.

                                                                          6 Replies
                                                                          1. re: soupkitten
                                                                            e
                                                                            Exy00 Mar 18, 2012 01:20 AM

                                                                            Who the heck makes polenta with heavy cream? And if I got greens braised in fish sauce next to my salmon main at a restaurant that wasn't Southeast Asian I'd be astonished.

                                                                            1. re: Exy00
                                                                              goodhealthgourmet Mar 18, 2012 07:25 AM

                                                                              Who the heck makes polenta with heavy cream?
                                                                              ~~~~~~~~~
                                                                              a lot of restaurants do. makes it a much richer dish.

                                                                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                                                m
                                                                                Missmoo Mar 18, 2012 06:51 PM

                                                                                Often has cheese too!

                                                                            2. re: soupkitten
                                                                              melpy Mar 18, 2012 06:48 AM

                                                                              This point about selling sides out frOm under an entree and prepping exact portions of sides is exactly what I was going to bring up. Unless there is an a la carte side menu I would not expect this request to be accodated.

                                                                              1. re: soupkitten
                                                                                pikawicca Mar 26, 2012 08:27 PM

                                                                                Almost all of the restaurants I frequent are more than happy to grant reasonable customer requests. If you want to sub one side for another, fine. If you want foie on your hot dog instead of relish, not fine. I must live in a bubble; I show up at a restaurant in town and say that I'm vegan, and there are no problems. Perhaps because this is a college town?

                                                                                1. re: pikawicca
                                                                                  Bill Hunt Mar 27, 2012 09:30 PM

                                                                                  I have had similar experiences, when I let them know, in advance.

                                                                                  When we have, but they have declined, then they fall off of our "list."

                                                                                  Two such restaurants failed, within weeks.

                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                              2. c
                                                                                caviar_and_chitlins Mar 18, 2012 09:56 AM

                                                                                2 points-

                                                                                1) as many have said, some dishes are pre/par cooked, so it's too late for subs.

                                                                                2) I went to the site and looked at the menu, finding the following on the menu that are vegan, or can easily become so:
                                                                                Starters: Tofu Tacos Verde
                                                                                Garlic Hummus

                                                                                Salads: Southwest Tofu Salad
                                                                                The Upland Salad
                                                                                Beet and Citrus (hold the chevre)

                                                                                Pub Favorites: Dragged through the Garden
                                                                                Seitan Tenderloin

                                                                                From the Grill: Any sandwich with a Spicy Black Bean Patty, no cheese.

                                                                                Entrees: none.

                                                                                So, I guess I don't get the beef, as it were. No, there was not an official entree that was (or even could be easily made vegan), there are more choices on this menu than I have seen on most when eating out with vegan friends.

                                                                                1. t
                                                                                  tastesgoodwhatisit Mar 18, 2012 06:01 PM

                                                                                  It's up to a restaurant to decide their policy when it comes to substitutions or ordering off menu, and "no substitutions" is a reasonably common policy.

                                                                                  I'm personally not a fan of places that won't accommodate reasonable requests, but I also know that sometimes knowing which requests are reasonable, which are a real pain for the restaurant, and which are impossible, can be hard to know.

                                                                                  However, if you have a major food restriction - either a dangerous food intolerance or allergy, restrictions on ubiquitous ingredients, or restrictions on a wide variety of items - then it's worth checking out the menu on line, or phoning in advance to see what accommodations can be made for you. I suspect that in this restaurant, the server was simply parroting back the restaurant's policy - phoning ahead and explaining why might get you better options.

                                                                                  For a major food restriction, too, it's also important to always ask about everything you order. Don't look at the menu and assume that the vegetable dish is actually vegan (or the bread, for that matter). In some cuisines lard is a standard ingredient even for vegetables, butter is a common topping for veggies, butter, cream, eggs and stock are used in many starch dishes, particularly rich ones, gelatin shows up in odd places, and breads frequently contain dairy. In Chinese or Japanese cuisine, tofu and meat products show up together in many traditional dishes, so even ordering a tofu dish is not necessarily vegetarian.

                                                                                  1. pikawicca Mar 18, 2012 08:02 PM

                                                                                    After reading all responses, I think I need to change my restaurant spiel to " I avoid animal products whenever possible," rather than saying I'm vegan. Since this is a health issue for me, rather than an ethical one, I can tolerate tiny amounts of dairy with no ill effects. I'll try this approach and see if I meet with greater success. thanks to all who replied, even if you were kind of snarky. I learned a lot.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: pikawicca
                                                                                      Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 09:29 PM

                                                                                      And, share your choices, before you show up. You do not need to verify, or share details, only tell them what you want, no so much the "why." Let them plan for your arrival.

                                                                                      Hunt

                                                                                    2. Bill Hunt Mar 18, 2012 08:28 PM

                                                                                      Much can depend, on, how do the realtors put it, "location, location, location?"

                                                                                      I would not expect a brew pub to have much latitude on menus, but some might surprise me.

                                                                                      It might be close to going to a Texas "steakhouse," and looking for vegan fare.

                                                                                      Still, if one wishes to order side-dishes, that meet the bill, then what harm would there be?

                                                                                      Much might depend on where one finds themselves.

                                                                                      Good luck,

                                                                                      Hunt

                                                                                      1. rockandroller1 Mar 19, 2012 06:39 AM

                                                                                        sorry pikawicca, I agree with most of the others here in that while it may not have been handled the best way, your request was not one they needed to honor and I HIGHLY doubt that all those sides were vegan as well, as has been pointed out. Unless you're going to a place that lists a number of sides and the prices of those sides, you can't just make up a sides-only meal for yourself and expect them to accommodate you as well as make up a price for the entree, and especially a vegan request - unless the restaurant specializes in vegan dishes or something, I would think it highly, highly unlikely that most sides were prepared that way. How many years you've been going there is irrelevant, except to point out that another approach might have been to call ahead and say "I have enjoyed your food for years but am now following a vegan diet for health reasons. Can you ask the kitchen if there are any dishes that might be able to be prepared to comply with a vegan diet so that I know what I can order next time I come in?"

                                                                                        1. babette feasts Mar 20, 2012 04:45 PM

                                                                                          Pika, how vegan do you intend to be, and for how long? You've mentioned starting this a few months ago for your health, and you seem to have no moral problem with eating animal products. It might be easier to start out really strict, an all-or-nothing thing, but it sounds like you're starting to find that limited. Do you really want to be 100% vegan forever? Maybe you only need to be 80 or 90% vegan, or some proportion that suits you better. Relaxing and enjoying life is important too.

                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: babette feasts
                                                                                            pikawicca Mar 20, 2012 05:46 PM

                                                                                            Insightful question, Babette. I avoid animal products as much as possible, but I do use 1% organic cow's milk on my morning oatmeal, as I can't stand the flavor of any of the alternative milks. I won't balk at a light dusting of Parm on my pasta. However, if I eat something like mac and cheese or a fillet of fish, my ankle balloons up to alarming proportions. I get the message. I don't know about grains cooked in chicken broth, as mentioned by others above, but will probably experiment at some point. I can't see myself ever eating meat or cheese on a regular basis, but I'm going to London this summer, and can't imagine not having at least a little Dover sole.

                                                                                            1. re: pikawicca
                                                                                              s
                                                                                              smartie Mar 22, 2012 05:31 AM

                                                                                              I'm confused as to why you fussed about not being able to get vegan food when you do in fact eat animals or animal products.
                                                                                              My boss says she is lactose intolerant , yells at the reps for bringing a dairy lunch, then swallows 6 lactaids and eats what she wants.

                                                                                              1. re: smartie
                                                                                                u
                                                                                                ultimatepotato Mar 22, 2012 06:38 AM

                                                                                                Some of the detail of the thread got removed because the tone got a bit strained. It boils down to this - the OP isn't vegan, but is removing as many animal products from her diet as possible to help relieve some health issues. The OP identifies as vegan when eating out, as it is a defined set of rules that does not allow for any animal products, rather then listing restrictions and hoping that the server and chef both agree on what a 'limited' or 'reduced' amount of dairy or animal product is. At home, the OP can control how much of anything she eats, so prepares her food accordingly.

                                                                                                And my 2 cents on the original question - sorry that they don't sell sides off menu. I think the possibilities of why are well hashed out above. Agree with the suggestion of calling ahead for a quick check - I have friends with a magnitude of restrictions and it's worth checking with a venue to avoid disappointment.

                                                                                                1. re: ultimatepotato
                                                                                                  Karl S Mar 22, 2012 06:41 AM

                                                                                                  A perfect summation to conclude this thread.

                                                                                                  1. re: Karl S
                                                                                                    pikawicca Mar 22, 2012 08:29 AM

                                                                                                    Amen.

                                                                                          2. w
                                                                                            Windsor Mar 23, 2012 03:13 PM

                                                                                            One of our friends has the habit of making changes in almost everything she orders. There have been times that it is so over the top it comes across as persnickety and high maintenance. None of her requested changes have anything to do with dietary issues. One year we had reservations at a fine restaurant for New Years Eve. When she started with her "I would like to order X, but..." the waiter pleasantly told her that the Chef had taken great care to create the menu and he would not make substitutions. I had to quietly snicker at her shock. I am quite sure the same chef would have made changes due to dietary restrictions if advised in advance. After five years on a plant based diet, I will either e-mail or call a new restaurant to confirm there is something on the menu as an option. Never disappointed.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: Windsor
                                                                                              Bill Hunt Mar 25, 2012 09:31 PM

                                                                                              Fortunately, I do not have to suffer such folk, all that often, but, every now and then...

                                                                                              There are people, who demand "personal attention," and then change the "playing field," just to see if THEY have been accommodated to their levels of need.

                                                                                              I have led similar people on luxury ski vacations, where they complained, if I did not put their ski boots on for them, each day. Same for not putting their ski boots into the bindings, and clicking them into place, as they could not step down, with those boots placed into the bindings.

                                                                                              Some people feel that they are entitled to everything, and if all do not bow, at their feet, blinding tossing rose petals, in their path, all is lost.

                                                                                              Luckily, most people do not feel so entitled, and most restaurant patrons, with any issues, know to "call ahead."

                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                            2. t
                                                                                              tardigrade Mar 26, 2012 07:36 PM

                                                                                              I've had the best results by, rather than demanding a special preparation, asking the server, "I'm looking for something low in X/with no Y/whatever Z - what would you recommend?". Psychologically, this puts the server on your side and makes him/her feel like they're your partners in finding or suggesting items or combos you might not normally find on a menu. It's not a foolproof solutions, and you have to be willing to meet the chef part way (i.e., don't request a halal meal in Paul's Pork Palace, or turn down something specially made to your specifications).

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: tardigrade
                                                                                                Bill Hunt Mar 27, 2012 09:32 PM

                                                                                                Other than the timing, that is similar to what we do. I always contact the restaurant, before hand, but basically do the same. I state any problems, and ask how they can accommodate us. In 99% of the instances, they have solutions handy.

                                                                                                Hunt

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