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The customer is NOT always right


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#121 pacman1978

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Posted 05 November 2012 - 03:10 PM

Hi,

As a non-professional I go to a restaurant to be wowed and appreciate food that I would never normally consider combining together. So with that in mind I would never dream of saying that I want something changed about a dish. However that said I am open minded to food whereas ultimately you are running a business and so keeping the customer happy is core to your business and reputation. On that basis I would always be mindful of what such a hard line could do to my reputation. I always remember watching a Jamie Oliver programme where Bill Clinton and his entourage all came to his fifteen restaurant in London and they all ordered steak and salad as the aitkens diet was all the rage. He ranted on camera about "Why do I f'ing bother with all this" but you know what.... He served them all steak and salad cause he knew his business reputation was on the line. If you are some superstar chef then you can probably get away with it but ultimately if you mis-time this it could impact your business and livelihood.

Just my tuppence worth - 2 cents to the americans :-)

#122 Baselerd

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Posted 05 November 2012 - 03:54 PM

I think it really depends on the restaurant. If it's a casual diner or similar place, it seems silly to refuse substitutions, requests, etc.

However, at high-end restaurants I can understand chef's frustrations. A lot of high-end cuisine is carefully conceived by the chef as an arguable form of art. People who go to restaurants like these should have this expectation. If you have special dietary preferences, it is your responsibility to do the research.

If I owned my own restaurant and had put so much love and effort into composing a "perfect" dish and someone wanted to sub one of the components for another, it not only breaks the composition - it would likely make the flavor combinations less appealing because they were not designed. It seems likely in this situation that the result would be sub-par and not representative of the quality of the establishment in the first place. This obviously doesn't hold true for every scenario, but I think this should especially for haute restaurants that serve plated dishes.

It's also offensive from a point of view as well. I can see how much effort goes into the creative process in high end kitchens and its disrespectful to all those involved to impose your own demands on them. People have too much of a sense of entitlement these days, some people need to be told no from time to time... even in the service industry.

#123 Edward J

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Posted 06 November 2012 - 08:53 AM

I think it really depends on the restaurant. If it's a casual diner or similar place, it seems silly to refuse substitutions, requests, etc.


Why is this so?

Using Scoop KW's example with the ketchup, how would you handle the situation?

#124 radtek

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Posted 06 November 2012 - 11:36 AM

Oh I was gritting my teeth reading this thread remembering all the similar experiences I've had- one more reason to leave the biz...

My observation is those who walk in and order off the menu or make ridiculous demands for substitutions are people who eat out nearly every meal and have an inflated sense of entitlement. These types have little idea what it actually takes to prepare, cook or serve food. I have witnessed this time and time again with friends and family. I've cringed at the behavior of people who think everyone must accede to their demands and make such a fuss it ruins the entire experience for everybody- except the guilty party. This was their ultimate goal in the first place.

It struck me that my own reasons for eating out are to enjoy what the restaurant provides. If I really wanted something different I would cook it myself. Not above ordering my King Pao chicken extra spicy or with extra peanuts but I don't believe this is a major departure.

If a person has dietary restrictions then eating out is probably a bad Idea in the first place. Going to and eating at a restaurant is not a "right" but a privilege worth paying for. The whole point is to eat their food as it is served not altered as one thinks it should be. I for one would relish the chef or owner telling a demandingly difficult customer "to get out" regardless if it was $5 a plate or $500. And I have seen it happen. These types fortunately do not form the basis of an establishments clientel. They rarely tip well and everyone seems to suffer from the exposure to this type of customer. I am not scared of these people and would eagerly tell them I do not want their business and to please not return. It's just a matter of "don't worry about the bill please leave or I will call the police..."

As far as the service dogs go I have experienced this. Seemed to me that it was the trainers who relished the aspect of "the confrontation" and looked forward to aggressively putting the employee/manager/owner in "their place" when questioned about the animal. I also would try to accommodate the truly disabled but not if it would inconvenience other customers in such a way they their experience was compromised. Rare but it does happen. For example: just because someone is in a wheelchair doesn't mean they aren't an asshole and get to treat those around them aggressively or rudely.

If I were to open an establishment it would be named "Submission" with a big sign by the front door: "Welcome! No ordering off the menu and no substitutions- if you don't like our food go somewhere else! We reserve the right to refuse service."
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#125 Baselerd

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Posted 06 November 2012 - 12:19 PM


I think it really depends on the restaurant. If it's a casual diner or similar place, it seems silly to refuse substitutions, requests, etc.


Why is this so?

Using Scoop KW's example with the ketchup, how would you handle the situation?


Well to that end I was more referring to the restaurant's target audience. I suppose I would extend my statement to any restaurant that takes pride in its food and how its composed, regardless of cost or atmosphere. What I was getting at is if someone goes to an IHOP (or similar restaurant that is not so much about the creativity and masterful cooking) and wants to swap their bacon side for a fruit, then I don't see a problem with that.

In the specific example of the onion-laced ketchup, I would say the customer is still out of line. That person has no right to walk into any establishment and demand onion-free ketchup, and they certainly are unreasonable if they find that offensive. Any given restaurant is offering their food as is, and it's the consumer's choice whether or not to go, eat, and pay for the food. If they don't want it, they can go somewhere else. They are not entitled to walk into a restaurant and tell them how to make their food. That privilege is reserved for especially affluent individuals who can afford personal chefs.

It's almost comical some of the fits I've seen people throw when restaurants don't have a vegetarian option, or vegan options, etc. Do these people seriously expect the world to cater to their personal preferences?

Edited by Baselerd, 06 November 2012 - 12:21 PM.

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#126 ScoopKW

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Posted 06 November 2012 - 01:39 PM

It's almost comical some of the fits I've seen people throw when restaurants don't have a vegetarian option, or vegan options, etc. Do these people seriously expect the world to cater to their personal preferences?


Yes. And a lot of them are awfully damned sanctimonious about it.

And it's not just the vegans. It's the dingbats who have their incontinent little chihauhua annointed as a "service animal" so they can bring it into places where dogs normally aren't allowed. It's the "I'm deathly allergic to shellfish and most kinds of seafood" guy who goes to a sushi bar. It's the superiorly annoying group that comes to the restaurant and spends the entire meal yakking on their cell phone about their latest rectal exam so that all the rest of the guests can enjoy it, too.

There are a lot of spoiled pampered princesses out there. And there seem to be more of them every year.
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#127 Edward J

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Posted 06 November 2012 - 10:35 PM

In the specific example of the onion-laced ketchup, I would say the customer is still out of line. That person has no right to walk into any establishment and demand onion-free ketchup, and they certainly are unreasonable if they find that offensive. Any given restaurant is offering their food as is, and it's the consumer's choice whether or not to go, eat, and pay for the food. If they don't want it, they can go somewhere else. They are not entitled to walk into a restaurant and tell them how to make their food. That privilege is reserved for especially affluent individuals who can afford personal chefs.




Of course the customer is out of line. Thing is, both the waiter/owner and the customer know that this is an unreasonable request, yet it is requested.


It's kind of like your Boss hauling you into his office and telling you that every August he takes a trek to Mt. Everest and does the climb. He reads your face and if he gets the slightest whiff of confrontation, will remind you that your bi-yearly employee review report is due and he will be doing it shortly.

So, here we have "Catch 23": If you respect the customer, you will challenge his request, after all there is a very slim chance that he is indeed allergic and you might save the situation. If you don't respect the customer you will get him his (deleted) ketchup and hope he chokes on it.


But with regards to IHOP and "white tablecloth" restaurants, I beg to differ. Yes we can swap bacon for fruit salad, and if there is a price difference we can adjust it. Yes we can sub the starch and vegetable garnish for the lamb with the one from the salmon, it is do-able and it shouldn't be a challenge for the kitchen.

Demand that IHOP have ethically harvested and sustainable coffee? Fruit juices that don't come from concentrate? Do we have this right?

Demand the high class restaurant have all of it's base sauces prepared without onions? Or tomatoes? Have a minimum of 6 vegetarian entrees and 3 vegan entrees? Do we have this right?

See after 48-ish odd years on this planet I have made one very broad observation about my fellow humans:

Whatever is free, undervalued, or available in bountiful quantities is to be treated with contempt and scorn.

Think about it, this includes restaurants, but it also includes fresh air, clean water, public libraries, and good manners.
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#128 lindag

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Posted 07 November 2012 - 06:20 AM

Whatever is free, undervalued, or available in bountiful quantities is to be treated with contempt and scorn.

Think about it, this includes restaurants, but it also includes fresh air, clean water, public libraries, and good manners.




BRAVO!!!

#129 ElaineK

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 11:17 PM

Either way, they're getting what they want. They don't have to claim medical necessity. And I don't see why they feel they have to -- Perhaps they've been burned one too many times by a short-attention-span cook who didn't hold the mayo?


Oddly, I have medical necessity, but often cast it as a preference. I'm gluten intolerant, which seems to be better understood as allergic to gluten, even though it's auto-immune instead of an immune reaction. Then I have a whole host of things that I shouldn't eat because it upsets a different digestive disorder. They're all dose-dependent, and none of them are cross-contact concerns, so it's much less confusing for everyone if I say I'm gluten intolerant for medical reasons, and let the rest be interpreted as preference. I'd much rather not eat mashed potatoes that were on my plate than end up with YetAnotherCT because someone thought I was following a fad by asking for a gluten free meal.

#130 ScoopKW

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 01:26 AM

That's fine. You shouldn't have to eat anything that would make you sick, or even uncomfortable. But the point I've been trying to make is that there are scads of people out there who are claiming allergy to onions when they aren't actually allergic, they just don't like onions. And there are so many of them ordering meals lately, with (perceived) false claims of medical necessity that it does no favors to the people who really cannot eat certain foods.

I view these sorts of people the same way I view the people who insist on being pushed around airports in wheelchairs just so they can get through the lines quicker. It's the elevated sense of entitlement that drives me loopers. Once they're through the line, wow, it's a miracle! They can sprint through the airport gate like OJ Simpson.
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#131 mrsadm

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 06:44 AM

A few months ago, we were invited to a dinner party at a restaurant. Most of the 10 attendees are vegetarians, a vegetarian selected the restaurant. When it came time to order every single person, except my husband and myself, requested something off menu. It was so bad, the waitress had to get the chef to come out and verify what could and could not be done.
<snip>


If a vegetarian picked the restaurant, couldn't they find one with enough choices for vegetarians? Sounds like they made a bad choice!
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#132 gfweb

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 08:00 AM

Or maybe these people are just entitled pains in the ass.

#133 Edward J

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 09:31 AM

Ahhh.. but when they "educate" you on thier peculiar affliction/diet/choice of life/personal philosophy. That's when you have to exercise great control not to whop them one in the nose.....

#134 Panaderia Canadiense

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 11:49 AM

I think there's also a huge difference between "leave the onion off my hamburger" and "remove all of the mushrooms from my lasagne" - the first is a reasonable and easy to accomodate request, whereas the second is pure asshattery. The difference between being a good restauranteur is knowing where that line is, and never ever letting customers cross it.

As a catering baker, I have no problem doing certain substitutions ("leave the cheese off my quinua bagels", for example, is something I'll do without blinking. Ditto to "please make the cake with stevia instead of sugar.") However, I do draw a line - usually it's somewhere around "I'd like a carrot cake, but without the carrots in it."

ETA - I should mention that every request used in this example is one I've actually had made to me. I think I told the no mushrooms guy that if he really hated them that much, he should either order something else or just pick them out himself and shut the hell up about it.

Edited by Panaderia Canadiense, 23 November 2012 - 11:52 AM.

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#135 ScoopKW

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 02:12 PM

Or maybe these people are just entitled pains in the ass.


I think that many of them LOVE the confrontation. "I'm a vegetarian, and by God I'm going to make sure everyone knows about it. I'm going to go to a steak house, and make them serve me an off-menu vegan entree. And then I'm going to talk about how gross meat is so everyone gets to hear about my philosophy. I sure hope they serve foie so I can make a scene about that, too!"

Based on the way some of these dingbats act, you have to imagine that's what's going through their head.
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#136 gfweb

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 04:57 PM

Yup. I've seen it myself.

Nobody wants a lecture about anything, esp from a crazed vegan.

#137 huiray

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 11:20 PM


. . . .

This is not intended to sound rude, but what I don't get is the use of "actively engaged' in describing the dining experience.


The problem may simply be in the lack of a general agreement on the meaning of terms, but in my opinion (and this aspect of the discussion is highly subjective) when you make a decision, you're actively engaged.

When you consider a a variety of restaurants, look over their menus, talk to others about them, and choose a place to eat, you're actively engaged in selecting where you dine.
When you order, in most places, there are decisions involved (if the place has a set menu, then that decision has been made previously).
The same holds true of the wine(s) you select, whether or not you have coffee, dessert.

You don't just go into a restaurant and say, 'feed me', tell the waiter to just bring you what he or she deems best. You become involved. I don't know about other people, but if there's something interesting going on behind the scenes, I'll read about that beforehand, since I find context interest; basically, when I eat out, I think.

This doesn't mean I believe I have the right to tell the chef what to do, but I do ask questions about items on the the menu (e.g. 'Does this come with a creamy sauce?', or 'I'm planning on having a fairly substantial dessert, is one of the main dishes particularly light?').

When you go the theater, do you go backstage when you enter, demand to see the director and then describe for him the plot line you're in the mood to see that night?

If you golf, would you tell your club pro that while, yes, you do want to lower your score, you think you should still keep that hitch in your back swing, and since you really like hitting off your back foot, he should work around that too?

Do you tell your mechanic how to rebuild your carburetor, your doctor how to perform surgery, or would you approach Mike Ditka in the middle of a game to tell you think it's time to run a draw play?

In my experience, it's not an issue of trust, it's a matter of control. For some people (certainly not all, as those with actual medical restrictions) the dining experience is simply one more extension of their need for control.

For me, I go, I dine on what's offered. If it's good I go back. If it's not I don't.


The scenarios you describe are not parallel: On any given evening, a theatre shows a set selection of performances, they don't offer a menu, and, while I wouldn't argue with an expert, I certainly would ask questions, because I'm an adult, and since I am accountable for my decisions, I prefer to be familiar with the options, tho process, what lies under the surface. I do know what I enjoy eating, and choose restaurants accordingly. Dining room staff not only take my order, but provide helpful information.

I simply do not see the desire to be informed as an expression of the need for control, or in the least likely to offend a chef (Seriously, who becomes disturbed by someone taking the trouble to be aware of how much effort they've put into something?). Submission is for infants, who, eyes and mouths agape, swallow whatever Mum and Dad choose to spoon in.


Interesting posts & responses.

I, too, am one who gets what Bourdain meant when he commented about eating being submission.

Just curious - do you dislike going to restaurants with tasting menus or set menus only? Places where you do not have a choice from a list of selections from a menu? You did mention set menus as an instance when these "active engagement" decisions have been already made beforehand, implying you do go to such places... You also mention choosing restaurants based on what you like to eat (which many people do, one whould think) so presumably you research the set menu or tasting menu (if there is one) and go only to those places with a menu to you liking? What about places where there is no published menu at all and you eat what the chef decides to do that day based on what he finds at the market or what he feels like doing...? (e.g. Masa in NYC)(Not that I've eaten there myself) (Or places like Recess in Indy, especially in the early days, when Greg Hardesty might not even decide on what he was going to do that day until maybe around noon or so let alone publish his daily menu [which had no choices for you - at least in the early days] until then or later. in the early afternoon... I had great experiences "just going" and trusting him to cook delicious meals with combinations that I would not have chosen myself if I were choosing stuff to eat. Later on he started adding a *limited* number of alternate courses, e.g. a choice between two appetizers, say; but not a panoply of 6, 7, xx number of options)

[I know there are folks who refuse to go to such places because they feel they cannot control their meal with being unable to choose what they want to eat...so they don't go to such places unless the place posts their daily or seasonal menu and they study it beforehand and decide they like everything on the menu that day.]

As for "You don't just go into a restaurant and say, 'feed me'" - another poster here commented that he does it all the time. :-) I do this too although only in certain places and/or as occasion arises. If you go to a Japanese place and request "Omakase" you are certainly asking the place to just "feed me" in effect, and I think many people do indeed do this, surrendering themselves to what the chef sees fit to provide - although some (better?) places would honor such requests only from regular diners where their preferences have become known to the chef or sushi itamae. At other places one would indeed be asking the chef to provide you with whatever he felt like feeding you. ;-)

#138 huiray

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 11:37 PM

I tend to agree with the sentiments expressed in the NYT article. Certainly Chang and other chefs have the ability (or even the "right") to say what they will or will not do, and I as the diner can choose whether to dine there or not.

Reading about some of the shenanigans pulled and hissy fits thrown by overly-demanding diners is both annoying and sad at the same time. No, the customer is not always right. Pulling apart a dish carefully conceived by a chef and demanding substitutions not based on medical necessity (but just merely on choice) is not right. Asking for "non-critical" substitutions - where possible - is fine in my books and I do that on occasion. (Rice instead of mashed potatoes, for example, when both sides are clearly available from inspection of the menu; or linguine with my white clam sauce instead of spaghetti, when both pastas are seen to be available; etc)

Some places/chefs are certainly more accommodating than others, even "at the last moment". Some places would ask diners whether there are any food restrictions they may have for their tasting menu only when the diners arrive that night (although they do appreciate it if the diner had told them beforehand, when they made they reservation) [Volt is one place that does it, for their Table 21 for example; and their Table 21 menu is certainly not published for you to research it, with the menus blogged about by past diners being useful only as "guides" for what you might get that particular night you eat there] But most folks here know these things of course.

#139 Mjx

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Posted 19 December 2012 - 01:20 AM



. . . .

This is not intended to sound rude, but what I don't get is the use of "actively engaged' in describing the dining experience.



The problem may simply be in the lack of a general agreement on the meaning of terms, but in my opinion (and this aspect of the discussion is highly subjective) when you make a decision, you're actively engaged.

When you consider a a variety of restaurants, look over their menus, talk to others about them, and choose a place to eat, you're actively engaged in selecting where you dine.
When you order, in most places, there are decisions involved (if the place has a set menu, then that decision has been made previously).
The same holds true of the wine(s) you select, whether or not you have coffee, dessert.

You don't just go into a restaurant and say, 'feed me', tell the waiter to just bring you what he or she deems best. You become involved. I don't know about other people, but if there's something interesting going on behind the scenes, I'll read about that beforehand, since I find context interest; basically, when I eat out, I think.

This doesn't mean I believe I have the right to tell the chef what to do, but I do ask questions about items on the the menu (e.g. 'Does this come with a creamy sauce?', or 'I'm planning on having a fairly substantial dessert, is one of the main dishes particularly light?').


. . . .

As for "You don't just go into a restaurant and say, 'feed me'" - another poster here commented that he does it all the time. :-) I do this too although only in certain places and/or as occasion arises. If you go to a Japanese place and request "Omakase" you are certainly asking the place to just "feed me" in effect, and I think many people do indeed do this, surrendering themselves to what the chef sees fit to provide - although some (better?) places would honor such requests only from regular diners where their preferences have become known to the chef or sushi itamae. At other places one would indeed be asking the chef to provide you with whatever he felt like feeding you. ;-)


When a baby opens its mouth, it says 'feed me'. Its blind trust and absence of thought arise from the baby's more or less complete helplessness in this situation. But even babies quickly become active, expressing appreciation and distate, showing glimmers of thought, and learning the names of the foods they like best.
I've never had a problem with set menus, but it seems impossible to express a suitable interest in the food or appreciation for the chef's efforts if all one does is passively 'feed'. There may be no conversation about the food (although this is rare, in my experience), but if the food has been prepared intelligently and interestingly, that calls for acknowledgement, at the very least.

The bottom line is that the way people eat reflects the rest of the way they exist, which is going to exhibit the same variety as humans themselves. So, in the very same dining room you may have one party chatting with the chef about Pistachios in mortadella, yes or no?, while at an adjacent table, the party is simply sitting, and silently absorbing the exact same dish being analysed at the first table. As long as everyone is being polite and considerate, they're both fine.

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#140 furzzy

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Posted 10 June 2013 - 10:46 AM

Found this old topic while looking for something else.

In Lessons in Excellence From Charlie Trotter, his plan for restricting his clientele to the "upper echelons" ($$$$$) diners, is interesting. He is agruably the most successful restauranteur of his time. We really miss Charlie Trotter's.

That said, whenever a reservation was made there, the patron was asked if there were any food restrictions that they should be aware of. And after the second time one dined there, the restrictions were already in their database. The person taking the reservation would quickly name them and asked if that was complete.

Lessons in Excellence, for sure...for that type of restaurant.

#141 PSmith

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Posted 28 June 2013 - 08:15 AM

Good thread revival that I must have missed first time round.

 

Personally I would never dream of asking for something to be changed.  My OH hates mushrooms, so he rarely orders something with mushrooms, but if he does, then they are left on the side of his plate for me to help myself. 


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#142 Taveren

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 05:33 PM

When I was a cook at a restaurant in downtown Milwaukee, an older couple ordered a porterhouse for 2, and requested that the strip be half MR, half MW, and the filet half rare, half medium. For whatever reason the request was accepted by the powers that be. Thankfully I wasn't working the meat station that night.

#143 cookingdiva

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 06:04 AM

I agree that customers are really not always right. But not allowing customers to customize the menu is a different thing. What if you're allergic to an ingredient and you want it removed?

I always order burger without tomato. :(


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#144 Tri2Cook

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 06:23 AM

I agree that customers are really not always right. But not allowing customers to customize the menu is a different thing. What if you're allergic to an ingredient and you want it removed?

I always order burger without tomato. :(


Ordering a burger without tomato is a little different than ordering the bourguignon without wine or the hollandaise without butter or some of the other ridiculous things people come up with. I don't think anybody actually has a problem with trying to accommodate allergies, the problem is people figured that out and everybody that doesn't want something in their food claims to be allergic to it. So now you get the person who doesn't like tomato on their burger telling their server they're allergic to it even though they ate all of the tomato in the salad they had to start. Makes people lean towards the skeptical. But, for the most part, I agree there's nothing wrong with accommodating sensible special requests.


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

#145 gfweb

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 07:33 AM

Part of the problem is that many don't understand what an allergy actually is. As in "I'm allergic to cigarette smoke"
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#146 cookingdiva

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Posted 29 July 2013 - 06:24 AM

I agree that customers are really not always right. But not allowing customers to customize the menu is a different thing. What if you're allergic to an ingredient and you want it removed?

I always order burger without tomato. :(


Ordering a burger without tomato is a little different than ordering the bourguignon without wine or the hollandaise without butter or some of the other ridiculous things people come up with. I don't think anybody actually has a problem with trying to accommodate allergies, the problem is people figured that out and everybody that doesn't want something in their food claims to be allergic to it. So now you get the person who doesn't like tomato on their burger telling their server they're allergic to it even though they ate all of the tomato in the salad they had to start. Makes people lean towards the skeptical. But, for the most part, I agree there's nothing wrong with accommodating sensible special requests.

I think it also depends on the request of the customer. It's okay if you want to replace your rice with mashed potato or order a burger without tomato. However, ridiculous requests like half of the steak should be well done while half should be medium rare shouldn't be accommodated. :)


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