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When the ingredients aren't there

Am I just unlucky with the cook/chef, or is this a new trend? If the menu says the salad has almonds, shouldn't the salad have almonds? If you order coleslaw, shouldn't there be some kind of dressing on it? (Otherwise, it's just bland shredded cabbage, right?) If a place is famous for their breakfast potatoes with red bell peppers and onions, shouldn't there be more than one piece of each among the potatoes? There used to be lots!

Is it just my dumb luck, or are my suspicions right - some places are cutting back on or conveniently "just forgetting" the more expensive ingredients; or cutting back or eliminating dressing, etc. to keep the calorie count down? Or am I being just too picky expecting what the menu says?

I'm not grumpy when I go in, but this is really starting to bug me . . .

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    1. those sorts of experiences have caused the reshuffling of my regular rotation on more than one occasion. if asparagus are listed as a salad ingredient on the menu, using green beans instead doesn't cut it.

      also, i'm not a fan of ever-shrinking portion sizes.
      Chinois' decision to use smaller and smaller catfish changes the nature of the dish too much. i'd rather pay more and have the dish stay the same as when i fell for it. . . .

      2 Replies
      1. re: westsidegal

        That's distressing I like the catfish too been a little while

        1. re: westsidegal

          I'd rather have a smaller portion of whatever it is than a large dish minus the pignolis or whatever the expensive ingredient is.

        2. Not a "menu" item, but I had a problem with bagged salad greens from supermarket. Bought a bag of "romaine & arugula"... don't usually go for bagged, but it was on sale. I'm one of those people who washes bagged greens, even if ackaging claims it's pre-washed. As I was spinniing it dry, started wondering WHERE'S the arugula?? Went a bit ocd and actually separated the stuff. There was barely 1/4 cup in the whole bag?? I took it back for a refund.

          3 Replies
          1. re: kseiverd

            And did you actually get a refund - on something you agree was correctly described and, presumably, could have roughly observed the relative contents before you bought it. Please don't come to my business with a similar request as you're likely to leave not only empty handed but probably offended by my attitude.

            1. re: Harters

              Was offered a replacement, but opted for refund. I KNOW that ingredients are listed on packaging from most to least, but wasn't able to get a signal in the store to use my X-ray vision to see inside.

            2. re: kseiverd

              AND in my local market, the arugula is the less costly of the two ingredients, which means that the OP would have gotten better value for the buck . . .

            3. I can't recall ever ordering a dish that didn't include the noted ingredients.

              On very rare occasions I can recall servers saying they are out of X so are substituting Y, but always before ordering.

              Regarding portion sizes in restaurants I have not found them shrinking however I do find that trend continues in grocery items. In order to keep prices low the packages get smaller.

              1. Yes,
                I find that I am running into this more and more frequently.

                I chalk it up to lazy kitchen employees, not the owner cutting costs....................

                And I send the plate back.

                I ordered a dish because of the ingredients/composition on the menu. The restaurant does not have the right to substitute or leave out ingredients without asking my permission first.

                6 Replies
                1. re: bagelman01

                  It's a private business. They have the "right" to do what they want. As a customer you have the "right" to accept it or not.

                  1. re: foodieX2

                    Not sure what you mean by this. If the menu describes the dish as having a particular ingredient and it does not, that's a false representation; businesses do not have the "right" to falsely describe their goods. If it happens occasionally, it may be an honest mistake. If it happens regularly, especially involving the omission of expensive ingredients, that's pretty good evidence of bait and switch tactics -- otherwise called fraud. Sure, the customer could send back the dish but the restauranteur is counting on the fact that most won't complain.

                    1. re: masha

                      and sometimes, sending one dish back that is not as listed then prompts the cancellation of other items ordered to accompany that dish...causing chaos/havoc in the kitchen.

                      All can be avoided by a chef telling a server to inform the customer we are out of X and substituting Y is that to your satisfaction?

                  2. re: bagelman01

                    When you send the plate back, do the missing ingredients miraculously appear?

                    Do you also send the plate back if it contains an ingredient not listed on the menu?

                    1. re: Harters

                      #1 Sometimes the missing ingredient will appear.
                      This works fine when, for example, the croutons are missing from a salad, or onions, lettuce, pickle missing from a sandwich
                      It doesn't work when the missing ingredient was supposed to be cooked in the food imparting flavor and texture

                      #2 I do not send a plate back that has 'extra ingredients' unless I specifically inquired before placing my order as to whether there are any ingredients in the dish NOT listed on the menu.
                      I am allergic to mustard. I always ask if it is used in a salad dressing or potato salad (common uses in the US and not something that would be listed in a menu. BUT if I ordered a sandwich and it came dressed with mustard (or mayo-which I don't care for, but am not allergic to) I would refuse the dish, that should be disclosed in the menu, it is not an ingredient used in cooking the dish.

                      1. re: Harters

                        I try to avoid sending the plate back. Having married a former food preparer, I know too many stories about what happens to plates of diners who "complain." The server brought me a small bowl of toasted slivered almonds, which I added to the salad. With the coleslaw (different time), the server remarked that the dressing was thin. I guess that means it doesn't stick, but if they know it doesn't stick, shouldn't they toss it gently before scooping it out of the tray? Seriously, there was no trace of moisture or flavor on the slaw. She did bring me out a fresh bowl and there was a slight difference in taste, but not much better. Usually with slaw you end up with some remnant or even a puddle of dressing in the bowl. Not a trace!

                        I don't recall having extra ingredients not listed unless it was something "standard" like a pickle or ketchup on a burger. But I am annoyed when I ask in advance, "what's the fruit this morning?" when the option is potatoes or fruit, etc. (I can't eat cantaloupe or pineapple), and the server says they will make up a cup without them, or bring me a slice of watermelon instead, but I end up with a pre-prepared fruit bowl with cantaloupe and pineapple anyway. That's why I started just ordering the "house special" potatoes - with peppers and onion - to avoid the fruit issue, but ended up with one piece of onion and one of pepper. Seriously, the food preparer couldn't see how few there were? My husband had the regular version and they looked almost identical! And the reason to add them isn't just flavor - they add vitamins and minerals, as well as eye appeal.

                    2. Restaurants are not worried about calorie count. They may be cutting back on the good stuff to save a bit on food cost, but in the case of the breakfast potatoes, onions are not expensive, so that doesn't make sense.

                      Is this all at the same place? If so, there may be a new cook who doesn't have the same standards. If not, I have to say you're just unlucky.

                      18 Replies
                      1. re: babette feasts

                        I strongly suspect that the chain restaurants are cutting back both quantity and ingredients that are more costly or caloric. In California, chains have had to list the calorie count on the menu. All of a sudden, we've noticed changes in the menu listings - favorites gone (or taste different), less or different sauce on crepes, etc., salads with dressing calories listed separately, and so on. Personally, I prefer independent places (they aren't under the same restrictions), but we do eat at chains about half of the time for variety's sake or convenience.

                        1. re: Joani Macaroni

                          Nyc hashad calorie counts on menus for a long time now, and what i have noticed is very common is listing calorie count per serving....but they "serve" a 3 serving portion!

                          1. re: Ttrockwood

                            Interesting! I don't frequent chains, so it didn't occur to me that calories would actually be a concern. I've only worked in independent restaurants, glad I've never had to consider calories when making up my dessert menus :)

                            1. re: Ttrockwood

                              Calorie counts have been required on menus in New York City's restaurants and coffee chains since July 2008.

                              1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                All menus? Per Se and Le Bernardin and Payard and everyone? Most of the time I'd honestly rather not know. Way to ruin a nice evening.

                                1. re: babette feasts

                                  not all. there is a minimum number of units before you fall under the category.

                                  i worked for a steakhouse chain that has a few nyc locations. after posting cals on the menus? sales of potato side dishes declined but dessert sales increased.

                                  it's a stoopid law, honestly.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    That's funny, as a pastry chef, I would be scared that dessert sales would fall. Maybe people want to 'save' their calories for something decadent instead of 'wasting' them on potato?

                                    1. re: babette feasts

                                      i suppose. both the carrot cake and chocolate layer cakes were about 2000 cals, so hardly a tradeoff, lol.

                                    2. re: hotoynoodle

                                      I remember reading somewhere (and I found a link) that providing calorie counts at fast food restaurants have almost no impact on purchases.


                                      There was a statement that those surveyed ate fast food an average of five times per week. My take on that is that anyone who is eating fast food five times a week does not care about calories and thus the results are not surprising.

                                      1. re: John E.

                                        Yes i read that as well- but if you have no concept of a calorie or what your caloric needs are in the first place the numbers are irrelevant. I suspect fast food clients are among the least likely to be concerned about their caloric intake...

                              2. re: Joani Macaroni

                                i'd guess that it might be difficult to sell a side salad if you have to divulge that it has a calorie count of 1,500kcal.. .

                                1. re: westsidegal

                                  Many studies have shown the posting of calorie information hasn't changed ordering behavior much.

                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                    I haven't seen any of these studies, but I do know that if we pull up to the drivet hru at McDs and I want a coffee, my wife and daughter take one look at the calories on the menu and decide no smoothie of McCafe fancy drink and get a black coffee or diet coke. That list of empty calories staring at them next to the prices scares them off. Youngest daughter hasn't ordered 20 pc McNuggets since the calories went on the sign

                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                      The calorie jump from burger-only to combo makes me cry.

                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                        You are not the general public as a whole. People often forget chowhoubd participants are a select and likely different on average from the general populace audience

                                        1. re: fldhkybnva


                                          Not only are we "not the general public" but we probably aren't even the "general discerning dining audience".

                                          As an aside, I wonder how eating habits would change or differ if food was priced based on calories.

                                          I suppose ice cream would be more expensive, foie gras would probably be about the same, sashimi depending on the cut of fish might be cheaper (e.g. hirame) or more expensive (e.g. toro).

                                          But, man, that Happy Meal? It would be like a meal at Eleven Madison Park with wine pairing!

                                          And that Starbucks cappuccino? Be like drinking a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            If fruit and vegetables were cheap and processed junk food was expensive i suspect as a whole we would be a healthier country

                                          2. re: fldhkybnva

                                            No, I'm not...BUT my 17 YO daughter, whose favorite foods are Domino's Pizza and Taco Bell is.

                                2. Sun dried tomatoes may have had their 15 minutes of fame already, but I dearly love them. A local place made a terrific sun dried tomato and basil sandwich. Last time I ordered it, I got sliced, bland, stryofoam regular 'maters. Haven't been back since. (And BTW, not to highjack the thread, but can you freeze jarred s.d. tomatoes in oil?)

                                  1. It makes me grumpy too... DH ordered a burger the other night and they asked what cheese he wanted - then it showed up without any because they forgot to put it on. And I had a 'spinach and mushroom quiche' that I thought they'd brought me the wrong one until I discovered one solitary sliver of mushroom in it. But where it most happens is in pre-prepared stuff - I bought a bag of diced potatoes 'with onion' and it didn't have a single skerrick of onion in it. I hadn't tried them before (I usually prep my own but I'd hurt my hand and had to try to eliminate cutting for a few days) but I sure won't be buying them again!

                                    1. Joani, are there specific restaurants that you are noticing have a pattern of this practice? Good to know which ones to keep an eye on...

                                      I'm with you on the skimpy dressings. I don't see salads as "diet" foods; I'm all about the flavor and satiety of rich dressings in generous supply. More blue cheese, please!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: spoonlicker

                                        Food scientists now say that the oil in the dressing actually helps you absorb more vitamins from the salad! And some fat with the carbs helps to slow down the starch to sugar process, which is a good thing. Pass that blue cheese, please!

                                        1. re: Joani Macaroni

                                          I'll see your blue cheese, and raise you some thick-cut fatty bacon!

                                          At the risk of sounding like one of those insufferable proselytizers who go on and on and ON about their boring diets: I took up a high fat, low carb eating style (with relaxed forays into sweet treats here and there) a few years back, and it has been a life-changer for me. Never been healthier, leaner, or more mentally at ease (I used to have horrible anxiety/depression/mental fog issues). Salud!

                                      2. I've posted this before, but, yes I've noticed. Twice I've gotten canned tomato sauce with herbs instead of tomato soup! In two different places, in two different cities. And a dish that was supposed to have "tomatoes" as part of its garnish, was encircled with that same tomato sauce.

                                        I have started to ask for a taste of any soup I am considering.

                                        In one local place that we generally like a lot, we've had our orders messed up. That was probably a new person in the kitchen. That sort of thing is irritating, but understandable if you eat out enough. A local burger chain totally messed the last burger I had there. I regard this as a mistake. If it were to happen again at the same place, I'd complain. Otherwise--mistakes do happen.

                                        But it is wrong for a menu to state that a dish is something, when it is not.

                                        1. This morning I got a bowl of 'seasonal' fruit in a restaurant. The photograph showed honeydew, cantelope, red grapes, and strawberries. I did not get any strawberries, in June. 'Seasonal' my ass.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: John E.

                                            Maybe they didn't mean *this* season.

                                            I was once plated what was described as "housemade" ketchup, only to find it was made in another restaurant, er, house.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              Yesterday we were out for 4PM dinner for Father's Day and our Anniversary.
                                              MIL looked at the Specials Menu printed for the day and ordered the Prime Ribs. The menu said it came with mixed fresh vegetables, roasted red potatoes and horseradish sauce. It came out with: green beans, baked potato and no horseradish sauce. MIL questioned the waitress. The reply: "we don'y have mixed veg roasted potatoes or horseradish sauce on holidays, only weekdays."

                                              Really???? This was order from the Father's Day Specials menu. MIL asked for the owner and said it was unacceptable to be served this changed plate. Owner apologized and brought out a correct dinner. The question is how many just accepted what was placed in front of them?

                                              For $28.95 for the entree and potato/veg they should serve what the menu lists. A salad was $6 additional.

                                            2. re: John E.

                                              buyer beware. those fruits are not "in-season" at the same time anyway.

                                              but... our local fruit season is 3-4 weeks behind because of our hella winter.

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                These days, those fruits are never 'out of season' but my point was, that of the fruits in the photo, the only one that could truly be 'in season' and local would be the strawberries, of which there were none.

                                                1. re: John E.

                                                  well, they didn't brand it as "local", but what the hell kind of place has pictures on a menu that isn't for kids?

                                                  maybe they need a little *disclaimer* on the bottom? pictures may or may not be representative of your meal?

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    Ooh, burn?
                                                    Our Canadian national donut chain, Tim Horton's, runs various "seasonal" promotions. For example,right now it's strawberry season - tarts, donuts with jam, etc. Thing is, there's just about no way they are using Canadian fruit. The logistics don't add up. Fall apple season might be local fruit, but the current year's? I think not.

                                            3. No, you're experiencing what I also see. A restaurant in my regular rotation just went through a mild re-model, that being new chairs, flooring and paint. Upon re-opening the first thing to go was a choice of a salad with the entrée, also the salad is now down to one paper thin slice of tomato, next the bacon on the bacon cheese burger became 'see through' and lastly the protein portion on all the entree's have shrunk. IMO, raise the entrée prices and serve some quality. Needless to say, it's no longer in my rotation, so who's the winner.

                                              1. There is only one half-way palatable Chinese restaurant up here (North Idaho) and I would gladly go out of my way to get up there and pick up dinner to bring home. I noticed a couple of years ago that there was getting to be less and less meat in our orders and than less and less vegetables. (Beef and Broccoli, "Special" Fried Rice, Special Chow Mein, Egg Rolls). I finally gave up altogether.
                                                About once a year I do cave and run in to a hole in the wall down the street from my office and grab a to go order. I always end up taking a couple of bites and dumping the rest in the trash. Every. Single. Time. And swear I will never do it again.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: AngelaID

                                                  There is only one half-way palatable Chinese restaurant up here (North Idaho)

                                                  That many?

                                                    1. re: AngelaID

                                                      Obviously an overcrowding problem.

                                                2. We eat out a lot and I have noticed this over the last couple of years in many different areas. The worse case was an order of three fish tacos missing a taco. They first argued that the order was for three tacos, but I asked for the menu and showed them. They insisted that they take the plate back and I am sure they made the two into three. Never returned to that place. I have noticed things missing quite a bit but I think it is carelessness or they are out of some of the components. Bacon does seem to be a greatly reduced ingredient recently. We ordered a salad with bacon which looked to be absent. My husband called the server over and asked "Where is the bacon?". She turned the plate around looking and then pointed at a grain of bacon, "There it is!" We had a good laugh but never went back. Some trendy menus also list dishes - chicken breast, Brussels sprouts, heirloom carrots, fingerling potatoes. The vegetables are often one or two slices as a garnish or come as dots of sauce on a plate. I will never again let them take the plate back. They have to bring what is missing. I recently ordered pecan pancakes missing the pecans. The server brought the entire bowl from the kitchen and left it on our table. I then heard another server telling another table "We're out of pecans".