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Restaurant Special Requests


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Last night on a Fine Living channel show, a patron asked for a papaya. The menu said something to the effect that special orders were welcome. The manager told a trial employee to go down the street to the Farmer's Market to buy a papaya. The employee bought a mango instead and the customer ate about half then refused it. I have seen this at a restaurant in Pioneer Square in Seattle, where a customer asked for a particular flavor of ice cream and the waitress ran down the block, bought it, and brought it back. Puzzling, to old fashioned me who finds this rather selfish of the customer to expect this, unless it is done with a sense of humor by a very frequent and loved customer. Is this normal restaurant "service" at a certain price level behaving like a five-star concierge or just an unusual effort by the restaurant management to please the customer? Would it be OK for a customer at a vegetarian restaurant to demand a steak tartare. or insist on a non-kosher dish at a kosher place?

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I think it depends on the request and the restaurant, boringly enough. Should a good Italian restaurant be able to produce an off-menu plain dish of pasta and tomato sauce on demand? Absolutely. Should a restaurant offering innovative cuisine - a WD-50, say - be expected to make a grilled steak and mashed potatoes for a fussy eater. Uh uh.

 

I am sure there are grey areas, though.

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Guest Aaron T

At a meal at Cru recently with Daisy & the Johnsons, Yvonne asked for the dessert from the tasting menu and they refused. I find it highly annoying when you cannot substitute items.

 

if the request is reasonable - i.e. please don't put the strawberries on my French toast or put the dressing on the side or can i have the dessert from the tasting menu, then I think they should be accommodated.

 

The idea of a restaurant sending someone out to buy supplies for something not on the menu is silly. Since when did restaurants become like the Four Seasons (hotel, not restaurant)?

 

Relatedly what about no changes/no substitutions - like at Father's Office in Santa Monica where the hamburger is served with blue cheese and bacon, whether you want it to or not. I believe the menu at Ssam Bar in NY said no substitutions as well. This seems to be most common at small chef driven establishments that are popular enough not to lose business over it. As a restaurant-goer and not a chef, I don't get it. What do you all think?

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Yvonne's request seems prefectly reasonable; the restaurant seems to have been engaged in a power play. The dish was right there in the kitchen, ready to be put on a plate and served. Sending out for food that is not in the kitchen is unreasonable and a restaurant has no obligation, nor even a reason to comply with the customer's request.

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I have discussed this issue with Marco Canora in the past. Sometimes they prepare just enough of the tasting menu dessert (or other courses) to make due for people ordering the tasting menu. They worry that if they let people get the items from the tasting menu a la carte, they will not have enough for the people who order the tasting menu.

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Several excellent points I hadn't thought of. Thanks. My fuzzy head was also trying to calculate the house cost of being out of the restaurant (short a person on the floor during a busy evening, clock said 8:20-ish) and shopping at retail prices for a papaya which may even have been out of season or none ripe or just a too-gracious attempt to satisfy a mean test by the customer (who probably snoops for Bruni).

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In my experience it is the incompetent waiter after a bigger tip who encourages special orders in hopes of a bigger tip. This is the waiter who puts the kitchen in the shit, eventually pisses off the chef, doesn't listen and gets fired. A competent waiter knows how to hype something else or clearly explain why something can't be done.

 

Another thing is, that at least in LA, the kitchens are much smaller than kitchens in France for example. Kitchens here also tend to run on smaller staff with a more variety of dishes. Prep and pastry are done in shifts. Once the kitchen is on for service there is often little or no room to do extra prep if something runs out. It's an assembly line in the back and when they are really busy stopping for a special request can mean interupting the flow. The protein component is waiting for the saute guy to plate the veggies, but if the saute guy is making up a vegetarian terrine for a special request, than the steak has to go under the heating lamp and maybe even be re-heated. Breaking the flow doesn't just effect the steak. The entrees have to go out at the same time for say a table of 4, so now you have a piece of fish or chicken and a plate of pasta waiting too. So requests that don't break the flow are more accepted than requests that break the flow.

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It all depends on the guest and what else is happening in the restaurant at that time.I regularly go over to the pub opposite for drinks that we don't stock,we only have a tiny bar.When a guest demands something out of the ordinary in a "Customer is King" kind of way, i tend not to want to do it, if they ask nicely, then we will do our best to get it.Human nature.

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It never hurts to ask. The chef has a right to refuse, but I have found that a reasonable request isn't always ignored. As for the kitchen refusing a single request always, I find that to be unreasonable. Yes, I am a somewhat picky eater. I don't eat seafood or waterfood. I don't eat anything with rosemary, mint, or cardamon pods. I Don't eat eggs other than in preparations, and I don't eat cruciferous vegetables for the most part. That one is being relaxed a bit though through amuse bouches. Innards, I don't eat. Some of my aversions are allergy related, some just make me vomit immediately. Is it fair for me to ask for a substitute for foie gras on a tasting menu? Well, a lot of restaurants I've been to lately have only offered dishes from all parts of the meal with an egg, foie, or rosemary in or on. Of course, I could simply not go to these palces, but sometimes I am dragged there. My only choice is to not eat, or not go. What's the solution?

 

These reataurants are also deep in my heart, and in the end, they come out ahead by repeat visits and recomendations. Regardless, they have made me very happy to be served and cooked for by someone whose last job was not at Staples, and I remember them dearly for it.

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Yvonne's request seems prefectly reasonable; the restaurant seems to have been engaged in a power play. The dish was right there in the kitchen, ready to be put on a plate and served. Sending out for food that is not in the kitchen is unreasonable and a restaurant has no obligation, nor even a reason to comply with the customer's request.

i agree that it should not be a problem at all. the only situation i can think of is when the kitchen only has a very small number of the tasting menu items and is not able to produce extra ones on demand... perhaps not very likely but not impossible... i've been offered desserts from tasting menu when eating a la carte, sometimes without asking. it's nice to have that option

 

outside a few very specific situations, i think that most restaurants are happy to accommodate special requests (within reason) - it is the hospitality industry, after all

 

but if kitchens are small, operations too tight to produce anyhting not on the menu than it's my choice as a diner to accept the policy of no-substitutions on not. any very special requests should be made in advance

 

i forgot who said that but restaurants are all about saying "yes" to the customer, pampering and pleasing - a little fantasy and escape from reality

 

eta: i see others have addressed some of that. took so long to finish the post - have been distracted by work :)

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