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Frankenstein's Menu

Hi, here is a "what would you do" scenario from my experiences.

we have a regular lady diner at our upmarket restaurant, she dines roughly every fortnight with us.
So, she arrives, is seated and I hand her the menu, wine list and specials board as normal. Shouldn't really bother.

When it comes time to order, her order always goes like this:

"I'll have the wagyu fillet, but instead of the cafe de paris butter, I'll have the red wine jus from the Angus steak. And instead of the cauliflower puree, I want some of the dukkah beans from the sides menu. Oh, and can the chef please cook me some plain, steamed carrots instead of the broccolini...." and so on.

She does it with every dish she ever orders, regardless of what the menu states. The chefs hate her and tell me to refuse all the substitutions. They say that all the elements described on their dishes are worked out to compliment each other, and she should go to a buffet if she wants to create her own menu.

What say you?

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  1. I agree with the chef. Tell her that the chef will no longer allow ANY substitutions.

    16 Replies
    1. re: PotatoHouse

      I am just playing devils advocate but from a biased point of view. I have some stomach digestion issues. What if she does to and must be very aware of what she eats? Just a thought.

      1. re: suzigirl

        They either want her business or they don't. She's a "regular" and this is her "regular" way of ordering. If the chef and staff don't like it they should have stopped it long ago.

        At this point the owner(s) has to weigh if the risk of losing this one diner is worth it so that chef can stand on principle. In many places it is. If that's the case then lose the diner and institute a strict new policy. Otherwise grin and bare it.

        1. re: suzigirl

          "I am just playing devils advocate but from a biased point of view. I have some stomach digestion issues. What if she does to and must be very aware of what she eats? J"

          Also playing the devils advocate, I would say to your statement: don't eat at that particular restaurant. Your digestion issues are your problem and you must be the one to deal with them; not the restaurant. For health reasons I was on a LOW fiber diet (which is not an easy thing) off and on for almost a year. When eating out, I always went online to look at a restaurant's menu to ensure there would be choices that I could eat. Never once did I expect a restaurant to cook things to order for me.

          1. re: ttoommyy

            but what the diner is requesting isn't off the menu. she is selecting sides that are on the sides menu or are paired with something else. and, unlike you, i expect my meal to be cooked to order for me. if i want a medium rare steak, then that's how it should be.

            1. re: Vidute

              "if i want a medium rare steak, then that's how it should be."

              Of course. But they ASK you that specifically.

              "but what the diner is requesting isn't off the menu. she is selecting sides that are on the sides menu or are paired with something else."

              Do you realize that many better restaurants prep a certain amount of food to go specifically with a certain dish? When you start rearranging this, they could wind up with no side for the fish, say, and then the person who orders the fish and is expecting it to come with a certain side, will be disappointed. Sorry, but I would never tell a business how they should do things unless I am asked a specific question.

              1. re: ttoommyy

                I've ordered meals where the restaurant has run out of the advertised side, so I substitute. If restaurants can substitute sides, then it's only fair that diners can substitute sides. If a substitution is of higher cost, then the restaurant can charge extra. And, yes, some of those restaurants that ran out of sides have been "better" restaurants with "signature" sides.

                1. re: Vidute

                  "I've ordered meals where the restaurant has run out of the advertised side, so I substitute."

                  Yes, and I have done the same as long as the restaurant is agreeable/offers to do it. I would never begin by ordering/demanding a substitution or start rearranging the menu as the woman described in the OP does.

                  1. re: ttoommyy

                    your choice not to ask for substitutions, my choice to ask for substitutions, restaurant's choice whether or not agree to substitutions, my choice whether to stay or go if request is denied. I know what i like or don't like or what agrees with my constitution. i refuse to pay money for something that i don't like and won't eat just because the restaurant will not substitute. not only is this a waste of money, it's a waste of food, too. too many restaurants in the world out there still waiting to be discovered.

                    1. re: Vidute

                      Absolutely agree. As long as you are willing to walk if the restaurant does not agree. Some people demand and that is where I have a problem. A restaurant is a private business and they set the rules.

                2. re: ttoommyy

                  In that case, the chef should tell this to the waiter and then the waiter can relay that to the customer (and why) kindly.

          2. re: PotatoHouse

            Yes, chef is more than happy to make substitutes for dietary or even just personal taste reasons, but not to completely rework the entire dish!

            This particular lady is well known in the restaurants in my small town, and she does the same thing everywhere she goes. Apparently some of my fellow restauranteurs have refused to take her booking nowadays. When she was at one of my friends venues, they refused her substitutions, and she became very annoyed and remarked that the restaurants she used to frequent in London didn't even have menus - she just asked for what she wanted and got it!!

            1. re: cronker

              I see where you are at. I have worked in the industry and know not to piss off the chef from an order and demanding clients can do that. Now, that being said, are you up charging her or is she reworking the menu and insisting on a set price? If she is paying for the meal to suit her palate Ala cart, let her go on and do it. If she is cheap ass and getting away with it by taking advantage, screw her. No substitutions. Unless the menu dictates that she can.

              1. re: cronker

                "she just asked for what she wanted and got it!!"

                Sometimes with a side of something else she didn't want, I imagine. I wouldn't want to routinely annoy anyone who was alone with my food!

                1. re: cronker

                  I just can't stand the "But -Business Similar to Yours- does -This Borderline Unreasonable Thing- for me" statement. The tone always strikes me as more of a threat than a request for accommodation, and I am sorely tempted to tell the person to head on down to the other place. The only thing I can suggest, as others have, is to build in a way to charge appropriately if you wish to oblige her.

                  1. re: monfrancisco

                    monfran - HA! I did witness once (I believe the owner) say "well then I suggest you cart your happy-ass right over there. I'll call ahead for you"

                    1. re: hill food

                      Right on, right on!, as they used to say. Many moons ago, my then-boss intervened in such a beef with pretty much that response, only to be told, "Well, I would but they're out of business." Stayed with me all these years.

              2. While I believe in being gracious even to difficult people, one reason they become so difficult is that few people ever stand up to them. I realize it's not your job to convert her into an easy person, but if she's making your job a misery and isn't really contributing to business, then you need to tell her that the new policy of the restaurant is that there will be no substitutions.

                When she runs out of restaurants that will accommodate her, perhaps she will transform into an accommodating person herself, but I wouldn't bet on it.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Isolda

                  She doesn't bother me at all. I've had far worse people to deal with.
                  One of my waiters tried to explain to her that her meal would be costed differently due to all the substitutes, but she kicked up a fuss, saying that she was only swapping items from other dishes onto hers.
                  Wanting to keep the peace, with other diners around at the time, I let it go.
                  I agree with chef in many ways, not least the fact that her special needs change the flow of the pass (having to cook items out of order etc), but we aim to keep the customer happy even if it is a PITA for us.
                  That's hospitality, after all?

                  1. re: cronker

                    If you really don't want to go through this with her, why not make a policy change to charge more for substitutions, and put it boldly on your menu?

                    She doesn't understand how it affects how the business is run. The only way she'll understand it is when it starts costing her more.

                    Catering to her whims has turned your staff into her personal chefs. That's a service she would have to pay a pretty penny for on the open market. If she wants it from you, start charging her for it. Politely.

                    1. re: 512window

                      "Catering to her whims has turned your staff into her personal chefs. That's a service she would have to pay a pretty penny for on the open market."
                      BINGO. And because few have stood up to her, she continues to do this everywhere she goes. cronker, you said: "her special needs changes the flow of the pass". There's a point where keeping ONE customer happy affects others, does it not?

                2. short of switching to a format of 'every side is a side order' like at a steakhouse, or offering anything on the menu as a side (and at it's own price), I have no answer.

                  1. Aside from being a substitution addict, is she a difficult customer? If you don't want her business any further, then by all means tell her that substitutions are no longer possible. If, instead, you would like her to continue dining with you, accommodate her. If she wants a more expensive item, it is perfectly reasonable to upcharge.

                    I'm not in the restaurant business so forgive me if I call a certain amount of BS on the notion that the chef-chosen flavors are the *only* flavors that could possibly be tasty when served in combination. If the lady want dukkah beans and they're available, who is harmed by substituting them for cauliflower puree?

                    1. It is your restaurant, you can set the policy. Here is what I would do: If it is a simple task, like dipping into one sauce container instead of another, I would accommodate. If it comes off the side-dish part of the menu, charge a la carte. If it involves cooking something different from scratch, such a steamed carrots, I would charge out the wazoo. Naturally, the diner must be informed of this beforehand.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mwhitmore

                        Agreed... there has to be a happy medium in this situation somewhere.

                        If she is otherwise agreeable and not a real PITA where it causes a disruption to the kitchen or others, what's the harm?

                      2. Either apply a no substitutions line on your menu or make a statement on the menu that any substitutions will gladly be made with an upcharge to the customer. That way you are completely covered, and she can have all the substitutions she wants and will have to pay for them.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: boyzoma

                          the last 3 entries (tcmp, mwhit and boyz) are sort of what I meant, just they worded it better.

                        2. To me, it sounds like she wants a personal chef, rather than to dine at that restaurant. I too am curious as to questions other posters have asked. Is she a delightful customer otherwise, graciously conveying thanks to the chef and tipping very well?

                          1. Fascinating dilemma. I think at various times, either my wife or myself have asked for a substitute side, for example, and usually gotten it. If a restaurant won't do it, we would not be offended. Of course, this is not the same as turning the menu upside down. Sometimes there is an extra charge for a different side dish, and if that is politely explained by the staff when we ask, then its great and we enjoy it all the same.
                            You restauranteurs who jumped in to respond to this- can a restaurant serve her with an attitude of "in addition to" rather than "instead of---"? If she wants the red wine jus from the Angus steak, she is obviously ordering the Angus steak. If her meal comes with broccolini and she wants steamed carrots, then she gets both the broccolini and the carrots, and pays for the whole kitten kaboodle. (By the way, I assume her tipping habits are nothing to write home about either.) Just a thought,
                            Florida Hound

                            1. It sounds to me that the chef doesn't have much of a problem with *reasonable* substitution requests - it's the frequency and difficulty of this particular customer that is the problem. So enacting a no-substitutions policy to deal with one difficult customer is kind of overkill, and pretty mean to the reasonable customers, who only ask for substitutions when they really want it.

                              Personally, I'd have no problem losing such a customer, given that she's notorious for this, and has been blacklisted from other restaurants for the same behaviour.

                              Next time, I'd suggest noting down the requests, then saying that you have to consult with the chefs. Then come back with, for the example above, "changing the sauce is okay, but it will be $X to order from the side menu, and $Y for the carrots. Then when she kicks up a fuss, tell her this is the new policy, because people had been abusing the ability to make substitutions. If she still kicks up a fuss, ask her to leave and then no longer take her reservations.

                              1. Remember the movie. As good as it gets. When Jack Nicholson would order his food a certain way.And drive Helen Hunt crazy in character. It's business, cater to the customer.And they should be used to it by now.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: emglow101

                                  Jack DID have problems ordering in restaurants, didn't he? Toast, anyone?

                                  1. re: Vidute

                                    yeah but the big one was in "5 Easy Pieces" but the writers on "As Good As It Gets" must have been thinking of that.

                                    1. re: hill food

                                      naw.............that would be...........stealing!!!!!!!!!

                                2. If she is Frankenstein's monster, then you've created her by enabling her choices.

                                  I have to ask, does she always come by herself? You hand her the wine list. Does she ever order wine? Do the economics makes sense for you and your staff?

                                  To my thinking, there are two types of customers that restaurants make exceptional accommodations for.

                                  There is the PITA customer who has lots of demands, but s/he is a big spender. Lots of food and wine with big tips so the cost of the pain is more than made up for by $$$$. Resto figure out how to deal with these customers.

                                  Then there are the regulars who show up consistently and are very pleasant and staff comes to know them over time. The house wants to keep them happy and are more than willing to do exceptional things for them. I'm reminded of a story I read a long time ago about Lutece when it was at the pinnacle of fine dining in NYC. There was a couple that came for dinner every Monday. Over time, Andre Soltner, the chef, got to know them and began to cook personally for the couple. From that point on, they never had to make reservations or order from the menu. Their table was waiting every Monday and a special meal not on the menu was prepared by the chef. I would love to have that kind of relationship. But then I would probably add a 100 lbs.

                                  1. Suggestion for menu:

                                    SUBSTITUTIONS POLICY: Management requests that patrons not misinterpret this menu as an array of mix-and-match short order options. Management reserves the right to refuse substitution requests and to charge extra for substitutions.

                                    Suggestion for staff implementing this policy: Employ Emily Post's canonical response for hosts facing requests from erstwhile guests: "I regret to say that will not be possible." No explanations or wording that invites negotiation....

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Karl S

                                      "of course. i regret to say that it will not be possible for me to dine here."

                                      1. re: Vidute

                                        Of course. Both perfectly polite.

                                    2. every city has its notorious diners. i know quite a few myself, and know of some who have been "unwelcomed" by certain chefs.

                                      some people are attention whores, others indeed have dietary issues. the two are easy to parse.

                                      but your horse has already left the barn. it's up to management to decide if they want to continue to cater and keep her as a guest or tell her basically to bugger off.

                                      1. Interesting thread. Amirite that the opinions differ depending on whether you're in the industry or a customer?

                                        Are the substitutions really difficult for the staff to manage or is it just annoying that she does it every time?

                                        Is he elderly? Does she always dine alone? Or is she just a b**ch who wants everything her own way?

                                        If she's lonely old lady, you should try to accommodate her.

                                        If she's just an ornery old bat, tell her to shove off.

                                        1. I had a MIL like this once. It's a pathological need for attention, it has nothing to do with the food. People like this need professional help.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: MsDiPesto

                                            Agreed, and I said basically the same thing at some point in this thread (or myabe it was another, similar thread).

                                          2. A regular customer, what a blessing! If you have said ingredients on hand, including sauces, and her order is usually the same, what is the big deal?
                                            p.s. tell the chefs they are in the diner-pleasing business, not the food business. This lady knows what makes her happy, and she asks for it. Unless the actual cooking of it is onerous, then they should be happy she comes in so consistently.

                                            1. As a customer of many establishments all over the world and family investor in several successful restaurants here in the bay area this one has me a bit torn.

                                              As a customer I tend to try to order very specific things, I have attempted to order different sides, only to be told that they were matched to the mains (I.E. we have enough of the Green Beans for the # of Fish mains on the menu for tonight) in that case I don't really have an entitlement issue, I just say okay and move on. I have had fantastic service and attention when I have relayed to the staff my specific dietary requests (I tend to avoid carbs and I relay that), but I don't demand a specific choice, I just say I would like the steak with the sauce, but the sauce on the side and only the green vegetables and please hold the starchy mash (as much as I would love to eat it).

                                              Now as someone who has a long investing relationship with the industry I would look very carefully at the spending trend of the customer and the impact of the requests on my staff and service. If my chef absolutely insisted on it, I would put a disclaimer about substitutions being impossible or subject up-charge but I would also focus the feedback to the client as "more about kitchen planning" rather than "it insults the chef to ask for changes to the menu".

                                              The third option would be for the chef to just go out and listen to what the client wants and then to go back and make something that client would like and charge accordingly. Let the client know up front that off menu pricing is ala carte, and that it will be more but we will do most anything within reason to satisfy you.

                                              But if the economics don't make sense, cut the customer off and put a "substitutions are not possible" disclaimer on the menu and watch to see if there is additional customer fall out.

                                              1. " you have been been coming here for quite awhile so I feel I have garnered the right to be a little frank with you. Our Chef is amazing he pairs things amazingly.After having discussed this with the management and Chef we have decide you may may make one substitution and trust Chef with rest or perhaps your ver precise needs will be be best met at home by hiring a private chef"

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: girloftheworld

                                                  this is absolutely NOT a conversation that is appropriate for a server to initiate. this is why there are dining room managers.

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    Right on. It is not for a waiter to lose a customer- particularly one who orders waygu.

                                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                      well of course not.. but that what my I say in my head :)

                                                      all the waiter can do is take the order deliver the order and smile in between ..but does she at least tip well? and obviously the managment doesnt mind... so maybe you can bribe the hostess not to seat her in your section?

                                                  2. If the kitchen can manage, it should; it should even extend itself a bit.

                                                    You are in the happiness business not the food business.
                                                    Also the gastronomically bizarre comes with the territory and your territory is the U.S. of A. not France.

                                                    Tell your chefs that part of their job is to please the customer and that they are not the ones eating the goofy combos. Also they should not act from hubris. Ask them if they have ever owned/worked in a restaurant that failed because of lack of clientele. A regular who orders Waygu? Do you know how many places would kiss this customer's ass?

                                                    1. My SIL pulls that same crap. Not allergies or a hate for the side dish I have determined it is a psychological defect. She does it every single time.

                                                      The problem in this circumstance is that you have let it happen. That probably means you will have to honor it. There are sometimes the substitutions are too onerous or they must be charged for and the person should be told before the order is placed.

                                                      Ya know what is funny - there are quite a few people out there that do it. Not just squirrelling with the sides or asking for all items to be on separate plates... but the ones like OP or things like - I will have three orders of beans instead of the potato and on one set I would like a mignonette, the other with just a small mincing of raw shallot and have then briefly dunked into au jus and then shook well so there is no pooling of juice and the third helping, I would like them done the way you do the artichoke app.

                                                      1. i say,
                                                        whether she's right or whether she's wrong,
                                                        do tell her in advance if you're going to change the rules.

                                                        explain that a "new policy" is about to be implemented and let her know that the "new policy" will be starting in however many weeks.

                                                        don't be surprised if she then wants to speak to the manager/owner of the restaurant. be sure you have your ducks in a row before executing this maneuver.

                                                        1. If I were in your shoes and changed the substitutions policy, I would fear that the new policy would alienate regular and potential regular customers who make reasonable requests for a substitution.

                                                          If you don't value her as a customer and you don't need her patronage then limit the the substitution policy to her. Pretty soon she won't return and she won't be a problem for you.

                                                          1. haha I just was watching When Harry Met Sally with my mom.. and the scene when she ordered her sandwich came on...and I thought of this thread.