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Unusual restaurant requests - and responses

Have any of you ever made a somehat unusual request at a restaurant
and received an amusing - or annoying - response? Here's an example
from my experience.

We had become friendly with the chef/owner of a small, upscale French
restaurant near our home. Because of its prices and sophisticated
menu, it was considered by many to be a "special occasion" spot
meaning it was often packed on weekends and holidays and almost
empty during the week, when we preferred to dine there. The chef often
used the "down" time to experiment with new dishes and would ask us
to sample them.

Arriving on such a slow night, we were greeted by a waiter we did not
know and never thought to mention that the chef liked to be told when
we came in. The place was otherwise empty as we were finishing our
entrees and a group of six entered and was seated near us. While he was distributing menus, the waiter mentioned the chef had just added a
special appetizer - sauteed foie gras and fresh figs with port wine sauce.

My husband must have seen my eyes light up as I contemplated the
possibility of three of my favorite things on a single plate. When the
waiter cleared the plates, he asked if we would be having dessert.
"We'll have the foie gras", my husband replied. The server laughed and
repeated his question. My husband repeated his response - which sent
the waiter scurrying down the steps to the basement kitchen.

I could see the stairs at the back of the restaurant from my seat and
soon a toque began to appear on them. While only the chef's head was
visible to the diners, the waiter began to point at us nervously.

As soon as the chef recognized us, he laughed and waved - and returned to the kitchen to prepare our "dessert".

Anyone else care to share?

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  1. Yes. We had an upper-mid-level restaurant, that fancied themselves a full level above. Dined there with friends, and encountered a rather oddly mixed menu. Still, we managed to put together an order, with one exception. My wife took a fancy to the main, and the app. on the Chef's Tasting Menu, but could not do it completely, due to some scallops.

    When the server came over, we all gave our orders, with my wife just sitting there. At last, the server inquired, and I told him that she wanted the app. and main from the Tasting Menu, but then the soup course, or whatever, from a la carte. He told me that was not possible. I suggested that he charge me for a full Tasting Menu and then her a la carte, and just hold the scallops. He stated that it could not be done, since the entire table had to have the Chef's Tasting Menu. I pointed out that my guests, and I did not want it, hence our orders. I pointed out that since the chef was already doing the dishes for his Tasting Menu, he could make up the price, and charge me whatever. The server insisted that the chef would ONLY cook for the entire table. I looked around the half-full dining room, and asked, has any other table ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu? He pointed to a 4-top, and said, "they just did." "OK, then tell chef that you missed a patron at that table, and that it should be FIVE Tasting Menus. I will eat the scallops, and just charge whatever." His reply was, "chef will only cook for a single table, and not any others." We finally got something, and none of it was that good. This restaurant, though only about 3 mos. old, closed within the next month. Good riddance, IMO.

    Hunt

    15 Replies
    1. re: Bill Hunt

      We were at a newly opened Portuguese, grilled-chicken place. Their menu included chicken and ribs, but no type of combo. I asked for a grilled chicken with a couple of ribs thrown in and "I'll pay the difference"
      "We don't have chicken and ribs"
      "You have chicken?"
      "Yes."
      "You have ribs?"
      "Yes."
      "Can you make chicken and put ribs on the same plate?"
      "No."
      "Can I order the chicken plate AND a rib plate?"
      "Yes."
      "OK, give me a chicken plate, For the rib plate, don't add any sides. In fact, just place the ribs on the fries of the chicken plate."
      "Uhhh, OK."
      They served me two whole plates sides and all.....
      OK, I ultimately got what I wanted, but total inflexibility at a mom & pop place seems grating.
      They lasted 6 whole months.

      1. re: porker

        That sounds like the classic scene from "Five Easy Pieces."

        My poor wife ran afoul of similar, when she was in New England. It was early Autumn, but after Labor Day. She ordered ice-tea. The server told her that she could not order that, since it was "out of season." OK, wife ordered a hot tea, and a glass of ice. No problem. When presented, she poured the hot tea into the ice, and smiled. Easier that the "where do you want me to hold it?" line, in "Five Easy Pieces." If you have never seen it, do so now.

        Sounds familiar.

        Hunt

        1. re: Bill Hunt

          Yep, that sounds like my neck of the woods! A similar thing happened to one of my cousins, who ordered "tea' without specifying that it should be iced (in July!) and got hot tea. The waiter was really affronted when she asked him to replace it. "You should have told me you wanted it iced."

          And the iced tea that finally arrived was instant or bottled or some other nasty concoction....

          1. re: Isolda

            Where I'm from, "tea" means hot tea and "iced tea" means iced tea, no matter what month of the year it is. Where Mr. travelmad478 is from, "tea" means iced tea year-round. And it generally has about 8 tablespoons of sugar in it.

            Several years ago I was in Austin, TX in the summertime and ordered tea at breakfast (it's what I drink every day instead of coffee). The waitress stared at me for a couple of seconds and then said, um, hot tea? Um, yes! I've since learned to be more specific when traveling in the South.

            1. re: travelmad478

              Yes you must be specific. And remember the unsweetened part unless you like tea flavored simple syrup. Southerners like it sweet y'all.

              1. re: suzigirl

                Agree about 'hot tea.' I always specify.

                Forty years ago, in way suburban LA, we went into a Kresge's - predecessor of KMart - in our new home town [moved from suburban Boston, home of unsweetened ice tea and ice coffee. Not iced. Ice.]. Ma asks for ice coffee. She gets a cup of hot coffee, a glass of ice, and a pitcher of cream. Oh well. haha.

              2. re: travelmad478

                When visiting my sister in Texas for the first time I was initially taken aback when the server asked if I wanted tea with my meal as I, a Canadian, thought "hot tea." I took a few moments to realize the true meaning. And I loved the Texan tea, albeit unsweetened.

              3. re: Isolda

                In NYC, I've always assumed that "tea" means hot, regardless of the weather. I actually prefer hot tea or coffee, as long as there is good a/c.

                1. re: NicoleFriedman

                  In the south hot tea means hot. Sweet and unsweet tea is cold. At least where I am. That's FL.

          2. re: Bill Hunt

            This was a low end diner, but a similar exchange. A plain hamburger came with only ketchup and a cheese burger was served relatively loaded.

            "Can I get the hamburger with pickles and mustard and no ketchup"
            "No, we can't add items to the hamburger."
            "Can I get the cheese burger but with only the pickles and mustard and nothing else"
            "No we can't remove items from the cheese burger"
            "Can I order a side of pickles and side of mustard?"
            "You can get mustard but not a side of pickles"

            I ended up ordering the hamburger and deep fried pickles to get close to my original request - but the whole exchange was just infuriating. It's one of these late night diners that get a lot of after bar patrons, so I'm sure the rules have to do with what I imagine are difficult customers. But this was a bit above and beyond.

            1. re: cresyd

              This reminds me of the classic "hold the chicken" scene from Five Easy Pieces, with Jack Nicholson:

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wtfNE...

              1. re: cresyd

                Again, sounds like "Five Easy Pieces," and the holding of certain aspects of a menu item.

                For the "youngsters," see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wtfNE...

                Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    So I just watched 5 easy pieces and thoroughly enjoyed it!
                    I must have seen it years ago, but being a 47 year old youngster, forgot about it. {;-/)
                    I dunno, Jack Nicholson comes into my place, I give him what he wants, hehe.

                    'scuse me while I hit up Youtube again
                    .....BETWEEN your knees...

                    1. re: porker

                      My story is similar. I used to visit a cafeteria style place in our building. At the time I got a hankering for a grilled cheese sandwich every so often for breakfast. On the breakfast menu was a breakfast sandwich (bread, cheese, egg) that was something like $2.75, so I'd essentially order that minus the egg. However, on the lunch menu a grilled cheese sandwich was $6.50.

                      Usually I got the person who was smart enough to charge me for the breakfast sandwich even though I had them hold the egg. One time, though, I got a cashier who kept trying to charge me for the lunchtime grilled cheese sandwich and I had to talk him through why he could just charge me for the breakfast sandwich instead.

              2. I was at a restaurant that I've frequented fairly often with a friend. There were 2 smaller dishes (a raw brussels sprout salad and duck rillettes) that looked interesting- I decided to order both as my meal. However, the salad was garnished with bacon, which I do not eat. I asked the server if he could ask the kitchen whether the bacon could be left out of the dish.

                The kitchen is open, in plain view of the entire dining room. I saw the server walk away, handle some silverware and consult with another table, and then return to me and say that the kitchen would not be able to honor the request.
                Not a word spoken with the kitchen.

                I nicely said, 'Oh, Chef ___ isn't able to leave out the bacon?' and he said, 'No, he says that it can't be done for that plate. May I suggest [big upsell dish]?' I replied that it was fine, I could just have the rilletes as a light meal, not a problem.

                The baffled look that flashed over his face was priceless. He stood there for a moment, then said, 'Wait, let me see if I can talk them into it.' I then saw him walk over, talk with the chef (a very even, calm guy) and point aggressively at us. The chef looked over at the table, smiled and waved. The server returned and said, "Well, I was able to convince him to do it this once!'

                Not only was the salad served without the bacon....the chef went an extra step and made duck cracklings to fill in the crunch, salt and savoriness for the bacon void! I'm quite certain the cracklings was all due to the initiative of the server..... I'm not sure that the 20% tip was enough to reward his valiant efforts. :)

                7 Replies
                1. re: 4Snisl

                  At least your request (sounded perfectly reasonable to me - though I love crisp bacon) was honored, with but a bit of work. Kudos to the chef! Glad that someone understood.

                  Thanks for sharing,

                  Hunt

                  1. re: 4Snisl

                    Cajun was barely heard of in Montreal when dating Mrs. Porker in the '80s. We were at a somewhat pricey resto called Cajun House.
                    The waiter took our food order first and I ordered gumbo or jambalaya which was "garnished with a crawfish". I asked the waiter if the kitchen could maybe throw in extra crawfish. Looking down his nose at a coupla 19 year olds, he replied that no, the kitchen just can't do it.
                    He walked away and the future Mrs. Porker rolled her eyes saying "He thinks we're just kids, huh?" (which we kinda were...)
                    We ordered a coupla cocktails and a pricey bottle of wine before the food came (we were celebrating something, but alas memory fails me).
                    The waiter's attitude did a 180. Lo and behold, when my jambalaya arrived (or was it gumbo?), it was heaped with steaming crawfish.
                    My hot date and I chuckled knowingly.

                    1. re: 4Snisl

                      Wait...the waiter tries to jerk you around by lying to your face (twice) and you still "reward" him with a 20% tip? Am I missing something?

                      1. re: Midknight

                        I probably would have gotten up and walked over to the open kitchen and given the chef a tip directly! JMHO

                        1. re: Midknight

                          I'm pretty sure that the place pools tips, and the other staff there are awesome. This was the first and the last time I saw this fellow. The chef there was also one of the owners, so I spoke with him discreetly afterward.

                          I always have wondered about tipping the kitchen directly.....been seeing a lot more of these 'buy the kitchen a round after work' options straight on the menu....

                          1. re: Midknight

                            Yeah, I sincerely doubt the duck cracklings were due to the initiative of the server. Is there some sarcasm I'm missing? I hope you thanked the chef.

                            1. re: babette feasts

                              Yes, the last line about the "valiant efforts" was definitely sarcastic. Sorry I didn't express that clearly enough- probably confusing because there was a decent tip left at the end (as I explained later, the other staff there are wonderful, and the pooled tips influenced my decision.)

                              The chef/co-owner and I were able to speak at the end of the meal. I thanked his for his graciousness, and explained briefly this was the only blip I'd ever had in the otherwise stellar service from everyone there.

                        2. This from "the other side of the fence". I think I mentioned it on another thread somewhere.

                          I was working the line when a young waiter came into the kitchen with a strange request;
                          "Hey porker, this customer wants 'farmer john' cheese."
                          "He wants WHAT?"
                          "Farmer john cheese."
                          "farmer.....john.....cheese?"
                          "yeah."
                          "What the hell is that"?
                          "I dunno, but that's what he asked for..."
                          "Wait a minute, whats he eatin?"
                          "The jambalaya pasta."
                          groooan
                          "Just possibly, coulda he said PARMESAN cheese?"
                          "I dunno, maybe.".....
                          yeah it was Parmesan.
                          (I see the waiter once in awhile 14 years later, a grown man with a family of his own, waiting tables long past. I always say "HEY FARMER JOHN!" and we laugh)

                          A young waitress walks in. "Hey porker, you see the striploin, med-rare, with veggies and a baked potato that just came up?"
                          "Yeah?"
                          "Well, he asked for a shot of Jack on each side of the steak."
                          "He wants WHAT?"
                          "I dunno, I guess two shots of Jack Daniels on the plate, one on each side of the steak..."
                          "OK, get a couple of shots from the bar, just put it on his bill."
                          I was in the weeds with little time to think, so just went with her suggestion of garnishing the plate with two shot glasses of Jack Daniels.
                          When served, the guy asked what the hell was that and laughed his ass off. He wanted it poured on the steak while cooking....

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: porker

                            The farmer john cheese incident reminds me of the time I was at a fairly upscale restaurant in NYC a few years ago. The food was excellent and the service attentive, but our very young server, in attempting to tell us of the day's special (magret de canard), announced it as Margaret Duck Breast.

                            1. re: BobB

                              Ha, I think I knew her (Margaret, not the server...she grew out of it in later years...)

                              I made a seafood soup which featured Old Bay seasoning. I decided to call it Chesapeake Bay Chowder. The same Jack Daniels waitress above spent half a day describing our soup special as "Cheapskate Bay Chowder"

                              1. re: porker

                                Considering these stories I hope she was stunning.. hahha

                          2. This would probably not be considered unusual these days, but this incident occured many years ago (pre-"foodie" days).

                            My best friend and I were on vacation in Mexico and decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal. We dressed up and went to a lovely restaurant with a menu of many dishes which sounded tempting. After deciding on two entrees to share we still looked longingly at a third dish. We decided to order all three for the two of us. The waiter who took our order never batted an eye but the runner who arrived with our food was another story. He offeredx the first plate and I nodded; likewise the second plate with my friend. He then stood there with the third plate in his hands and a look of utter bewilderment on his face. He kept looking around our table for a third diner and, not finding one, tried to return to the kitchen with our food. Since neither of us spoke enough Spanish to remedy the situation we had to flag down our waiter and, after much conversation in broken English (his) and fractured Spanish (ours) the runner reappeared with our third dish, set it down between us and gave us a "crazy gringas" look I will always remember (fondly).

                            Doesn't sound so funny now, but at the time we totally cracked up.

                            1. Mr. MM is a big of half pints in pubs. Usually because he has already had a pint, wants some more, but another pint is too much. Or because he was drinking wine, with me, and then decides to have a beer to leave more of the wine for me (I can't have beer due to celiac disease).

                              Anyway, one time we were in a pub where he has gotten half pints in the past. In fact, we had been there a week earlier, and he had gotten a half pint. So Mr. MM orders one and the waitress says, "We don't serve half pints." We point out that he got one at that very establishment just a week earlier. She doesn't know how that can be, since they don't serve them. We point to the half pint glasses behind the bar. She says they can't serve them, because there is no way to ring up a half pint on the register. We tell her the waitress a week ago figured out a way. We point out said waitress who is working other tables. No dice. Mr. MM gives up and orders a full pint. A week later, back at the same place, he gets a half pint again, no problem.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: MelMM

                                "because there is no way to ring up...on the register"
                                This excuse always kills me.
                                Once in a while I try to cajole the server: "doesn't your register have an 'add-on' feature?" or "can't you ring up another item with a similar cost?" etc. Sometimes it works.

                                1. re: MelMM

                                  Yeah - I order a lot of half-pints. I don't even care if they have the proper glass - just fill the glass halfway!
                                  The last time someone said no was quite a while ago, and granted not a beer place or pub, but it was a restaurant-with-night-life. I'd already paid cover to see amateur belly dancing friends, had one full beer, and it was Sunday night. I really did not want another whole beer and felt I'd paid for my seat. She was surprised when I said, oh no half pints? Nothing for me thanks.