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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?