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xxchef

The customer is NOT always right

146 posts in this topic

Bourdain comes to my mind now. He said that cooking is an act of domination, and dining is an act of ultimate submission. He's proven his commitment to the submissive angle by eating warthog anus and African dirt-cooked egg.

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I'm speaking of a place where the chef/cook isn't familiar with these things), any regulars present would probably strongly resent the rude interloper. And they'd be right.

I am not saying that a restaurant should step outside of their ability to produce a particular cultural dish or preparation (i.e. dont ask for sushi at a BBQ joint). If someone makes a "reasonable" request and asks for a plate of veggies or a dish that is gluten free and a kitchen has the goods, the means & the capability, then give the guest what they want. If the restaurant opts not to, that is the choice of the "establishment" and their responsibility if they lose that customer. If a cook/chef/restaurateur cant make a requested gourgere, pasta puttenesca, or buckwheat risotto because they have neither the expertise, ingredients, nor the time, then that's not the fault of the brick and mortar. The responsibility falls upon the customer that made the "unreasonable" request. If the patron has a problem with that scenario, they need to search for sustenance at a place that either has the items they desire to eat or cook for themselves at home if they are too picky to find a restaurant menu that suits them.


Edited by Jeffery C (log)

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My first reaction after reading the article was:

"This is CRAZY! It's a service business and not supposed to be a platform where culinary demi-god-chefs dictate to the pions far below what they should eat and how. Of course chefs and restaurants should met all reasonable special requests and they should do it with a flourish and a smile!"

Then I remembered the singular best restaurant meal I've ever eaten.

I had the rare occasion to be able to personally deliver some of our cheese to a regular customer at her restaurant. It was early evening, I was 5 hours from home, and I inquired if they had room to squeeze me in for a diner reservation before the rush. The owner/chef immediately seated me in the already-crowded dining room and proceeded to bring out course, after course, after course of many of the house specialties and a few things she whipped up just for fun. Wines (wonderful wines) flowed and as she had the chance, the chef would come to the table, sit for a few minutes, sip a glass of wine and talk about her food. It was amazing. She brought me things I probably never would have ordered if left to my own devices and in combinations I would not have dreamed could be so successful. I was completely at her mercy and she helped me dine SO much better than I would have on my own.

That night she knew better than I exactly what I should be eating. It was perfect and I would, without reservation, put myself in her hands again anytime. I would not dream of asking her for a substitution.

Perhaps this is the kind of experience that David Chang and others may be trying to give their customers. Perhaps if they acted more like tour guides revealing the wonders of their art rather than dictators forcing their subjects into submission they would be better received.


The Big Cheese

BlackMesaRanch.com

My Blog: "The Kitchen Chronicles"

BMR on FaceBook

"The Flavor of the White Mountains"

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Yes, David Chang does come across as arrogant, but I admit I find myself repeating a quotation from him quite often: "It's food. Just eat it." Or don't.

But restuarant food isn't just food. If I wanted just food I would eat at home. If I'm eating out and paying for that eating-out-experience, I want more than just food!

(And I do make requests on occasion--runny yolks in my eggs, salad dressings on the side. . .but if I end up not getting what I request, I move on with my life because in the whole scheme of the world, it's just food and a hard yolk or overdressed salad or picking bacon out of a "vegetarian" dish is just not that big a deal.

Personally I couldn't do the bacon-picking out bit, but I know what you mean.

Here are some organised thoughts on the subject:

It's the responsibility of the customer to do a little groundwork before entering a restaurant to ensure that they are happy to eat the restaurant's kind of food. This could be as simple as reading the menu outside the restaurant before going in, or perhaps doing something more in advance by checking the website. It's your money - spend it eating out somewhere where you like the food!

Where it is not possible to avoid going to a restaurant that does not have appropriate menu items, because perhaps it is a work event organised by someone else or something of that kind, it is the customer's responsibility to contact the restaurant in advance and see if they can be accomodated. Where it is not possible, perhaps it would be best not to go or just to pop in for a drink at the end of the meal.

It's the restaurant's right to refuse to make subsitutions/alterations that they feel are unreasonable. However, they should know that accomodating reasonable requests will certainly be seen in a very positive light by customers. And on the whole, small, reasonable requests often don't take much effort to do.


Edited by Jenni (log)
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I am getting married soon in Japan and when it came to finding a place to have our wedding dinner, we ended up deciding for a small fusion Asian restaurant where I was asked if I had any food restriction the first time I went there.

I get asked every single day if I can eat sashimi, but it was a nice touch. The waitress explained that the chef can modify any tasting menu if it's possible and they have the ingredients.

We chose this restaurant because I knew I could get something my picky parents would like. This flexibility was crucial for this particular dinner.

I've noticed some flexibility in some ryokan and traditional restaurants too. I am not a picky eater, I simply hate shishamo fishes and natto.

At the same time, I was very angry at a vegetarian friend who made a poor Japanese home cook very uncomfortable when she refused to eat the miso soup because the dashi was fish based.

I think it's all about doing you homework. If you are in a ramen shop in Fukuoka, don't expect the guy behind the counter to accomodate you too much.


My blog about food in Japan

Foodie Topography

www.foodietopography.com

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An owner of a business should be able to do whatever he wants that is legal. If his decisions are bad, he won't survive. The diner also has rights. He can refuse to go somewhere that won't meet his wants.

The number of people with true medical dietary restrictions is pretty low. Unfortunately they are largely treated poorly because so many people lie about having restrictions just because it's the easiest way to force someone to change to a more preferred menu.

I had a friend that claimed to be allergic to red wine but often drank Cold Duck. I explained to her that her claim of being allergic to one and not the other was absurd but to no avail. If she didn't feel like seafood, she would tell the server that she was allergic to shellfish and would they please make the risotto with chicken. The next day, I'd see her eating a shrimp po-boy. It got to where I wouldn't go anywhere with her because her order would be so convoluted and full of falsehoods.

From my experience, the number of people who fall into the "fake" restrictions category FAR outweigh the ones with real problems.

As for the vegetarian thing, I'd suggest you stick to cuisines and restaurants that cater to that sort of thing. If you are not picking the place, either don't go or go and be prepared to be less than thrilled with your choices but don't show up to Bobby Van's and expect that they'll trot out a vegan cornucopia just because they have the ingredients and you feel you have the right to tell them how to run their restaurant.


Edited by BadRabbit (log)

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But restuarant food isn't just food. If I wanted just food I would eat at home. If I'm eating out and paying for that eating-out-experience, I want more than just food!

This is another good point that bears exploring.

It seems like that the most likely practitioners of this "customer not always right" philosophy are also some of the more high-end chefs and restaurants. Aren't theses top-dollar places exactly the ones you would expect to bend over backwards to make the customer happy and satisfied? I would think that spending a lot of money on a meal should come with some expectation of being treated well. The refusal to honor simple special requests would erode this expectation rather quickly.


The Big Cheese

BlackMesaRanch.com

My Blog: "The Kitchen Chronicles"

BMR on FaceBook

"The Flavor of the White Mountains"

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An owner of a business should be able to do whatever he wants that is legal. If his decisions are bad, he won't survive. The diner also has rights. He can refuse to go somewhere that won't meet his wants.

I agree completely.

Of course they can do what they want, but is it good business practice to be unaccommodating as a standard operating procedure? The success of many of the chefs and restaurants mentioned in the article seem to suggest it is. Of course, the ones for whom it didn't work for aren't there to write about any more.


The Big Cheese

BlackMesaRanch.com

My Blog: "The Kitchen Chronicles"

BMR on FaceBook

"The Flavor of the White Mountains"

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I can understand not listening to every customers request, but simple things like condiments or whipping up a salad for a vegetarian are absolutely deal-breakers. I work hard for my money and there are enough restaraunts out there I don't need to listen to some chef make excuses for why he won't give me what I want. The whole concept just reeks of arrogance IMO.

Also on the list are chefs that won't make something for my 4 year old daughter, if you can't whip up some grilled cheese then I'll go somewhere else thank you.

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I think the right attitude really helps negotiate this sort of situation. Both the customer and the chef have rights, but the question of whose rights should prevail can get ugly, fast. If everyone keeps in mind that every 'right' is implicitly and inescapably tied to a responsibility of some sort, and people manage to at least act like they respect one another, the level of accommodation is often higher than might be expected.

I'm not comfortable requesting significant changes, but do sometimes ask questions about basic ingredients (in which case I order last, so the others don't have to wait, and I keep my questions few and simple), and the waiter has more often than not come back from the kitchen with not only an answer, but an offer from the chef to make an adjustment, if some ingredient is a problem. I'm profuse as hell in my thanks, regardless of whether or not I go with the offer; most people, including chefs, like to feel that what they're doing is appreciated, and others are trusting them to be in control of the situation.


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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The rules at my favorite neighborhood sushi place:

#1 Mashiko is a non discriminatory establishment

#2 Music is chef’s choice

#3 We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone

#4 Prices are subject to change based on customers attitude

#5 Please respect others when using your cell phones

#6 10% box fee added to all to go orders

#7 18% gratuity included for parties of 6 or more.

#8 We take reservations

#9 Cork fee $10 (it has to be good bottle of wine or sake)

#10 Everything you know is wrong

#11 Tip well… live long

#12 After you eat, eat more!

#13 Enjoy life

#14 Talk to the people around you (as long as you do not have food in your mouth)

#15 Do not be afraid to try something new

#16 Tako is not chewy

#17 Chopsticks are not drum sticks

#18 Soy sauce is not a beverage

#19 Trust us, we are professionals

#20 Visa and master card and washing dishes are all acceptable methods of payment

#21 Because Hajime said so

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So, if I eat out somewhere, I look at the menu first; if it doesn't work for me, I go elsewhere; if I'm in doubt, I ask (phone, ask waitstaff if it's looking quiet).

True, restaurants are service industry, and I expect restaurants to be sanitary, deliver what they promise, and have courteous (which includes being polite about saying 'No, we aren't able to accommodate that request', as long as the customer is being polite, too) and hard-working staff. I don't expect them to jump through hoops as though they exist in my (or anyone else's) private Sims universe.

Am I pleased if they offer me options? Certainly. But every business does try to perform within certain parameters, and if they end up trying to accomodate requests that stretch their time and other resources, it's going to affect what they're actually trying to do.

Agreed. Depends on the restaurant but I want the restaurant to prepare the meal the way they indeed it to be. If they are not loosing people then they are doing it right. If they are then they should rethink the menu or look for what else is turning people away. We have enough people that feel the world revolves around them and their every whim. I for one don't want to encourage that behavior. The customer is not always right

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Sometimes you don't have to ask.

A few years ago I dined at Marc Veyrat's former restaurant La Ferme de Mon Père in Megeve France. Three Michelin Stars at the time. I didn't realize it, but my intestine was becoming more and more blocked. Every few months it would act up as happened midway through their tasting menu. My dishes started to return to the kitchen partially finished - more and more left on the plate. It had to be obvious to the server that as the meal progressed I was having digestive problems. Finally, the dessert course. My dining partner was served the dessert listed on the tasting menu. For me, a wonderful bowl of porridge the kitchen whipped up to ease my distress. Though there was surgery in my future, the porridge saved the evening. Extraordinary commitment to a customer.

I have a problem when a restaurateur, chef or anyone else says a restaurant should not and need not go above and beyond for its customers. Sometimes a request simply isn't possible. But when an accommodation is possible it is inexcusable for a restaurant not to make the effort.

Every day, as a student, when I walked into Statler Hall, the home of Cornell's Hotel and Restaurant School, I was greeted with a plaque presenting hotelier Statler's philosophy of hospitality, "Life is service; the one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow man a little more, a little better service." Statler's words are as relevant today as they were in his time. I think the truly great restaurateurs and chefs instinctively understand that hospitality is every bit as important as the food.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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It seems like that the most likely practitioners of this "customer not always right" philosophy are also some of the more high-end chefs and restaurants. Aren't theses top-dollar places exactly the ones you would expect to bend over backwards to make the customer happy and satisfied? I would think that spending a lot of money on a meal should come with some expectation of being treated well. The refusal to honor simple special requests would erode this expectation rather quickly.

Well taken to the logically absurd conclusion, you could go to the fat duck and insist on an egg white omelette, macrobiotic dynamically grown mung beans and fennel twig tea - but what's the point!

That said, while the fat duck was one of my most memorable meals I will never eat their salmon covered in liquorice ever again, (my dining companion loved it). I guess with notice they would accommodate but rather than eat the spawn of Lovecroft I'd ne happy with a plate minus the eldrich black and pink horror so I could savour the grapefruit, manni oil etc.

Where you have genuine needs and let the restaurant know well in advance then provided they are normal and proven medical conditions (Vegitarian, Celiac etc) then I think a restaurant should try to accommodate. If dumped on at short notice then forget it (unless a walk in - and then do what you can)


Edited by ermintrude (log)

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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I have been reading each and every post on this thread with great interest.

My views on this are a bit different, as I am a cook, have been one for almost 30 years now, and currently own my place. I deal with customers on a daily basis.

I think it all boils down to respect. Can I respect the statement "I'm allergic to onions"? Or can I respect the statement, "I don't like onions, can you refer me to a dish that doesn't have onions, or is it possible that the kitchen can make it without onions"?

One place I worked at we had this lunchtime regular, a mining engineer, I think. Some days he would insist on no garlic in any dish, and these were the days he would entertain Japanese businessmen, and other days garlic was fine but no alcohol, and these were the days he would entertain Muslim clients. But he always gave the owners a heads up.

Now the arguement about paying alot for fine dining places and expecting every wish to be granted is worth considering. I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that read: "Give me enough time and money, and I will rule the world!...eventually...." See, If I'm going to blow a good $100 on wine for two and another $100 for food, I'm going to do a little investigating, check out the wine list and menu on line. I know what my wife likes, and if the menu doesn't have it, I can ask in advance. It might not be possible, but give the kitchen a few days heads up, and the odds increase dramatically.

This I feel is a mutual respect, and it usually works for both parties.

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Now the arguement about paying alot for fine dining places and expecting every wish to be granted is worth considering.

I would just like to point out that I was not by any means saying this, I was just disagreeing with David Chang's "just food" quote.

Having said that, I do feel that spending my money in a restaurant entitles me to a certain amount of respect, even if any requests I may have cannot be accomodated. The danger of some of these restaurants that have certain policies about what condiments are allowed, whether adjustments can be made, etc. is that they can sometimes come across as very rude and anti-customer. Fair enough if you won't let me add spinach to my pizza, because you don't make alterations, but please don't be rude to me about it.

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No worries, I wasn't quoting anyone word for word.

I would however like to bring up what exactly goes into my, or a Chef's head when a request comes in for spinach on a pizza:

1) Do we have spinach?

2) Does the customer want it raw, or pre-cooked, on the pizza? If so, do I have enough time to cook off a portion for the pizza?

3)How much to charge?

4) How much to put on? If it is raw, it will shrink, and I will look stupid to charge $X for spinach when all you get is a few wilted leaves.

5)If it is raw, will it shed water as it cooks on the pizza? Now, I'm not a pizza maker, so I don't know the answer to this one.

6)If I do make the pizza with spinach, and the customer isn't happy with it because it isn't what they expected, do I have to comp?

All this should take about 1/250 of a second.

Now, for me, the word "rude" is very similiar to the word "Fruitcake". Let me 'splain...

Anyone under the age of oh, say 30 years does not like fruitcake. I've met very few exceptions to this observation, and tasting many of the commercial fruitcakes, I can't say as I blame them. People over this age will either like it or not, but it is not a given.

Anyone under the age of, oh, say 30 uses the word "rude" in a way that I am still getting used to. From the way I've heard, "rude" used in conversations, tweets, blogs, etc., means not getting what you want. It is always preceeded by explaining what you didn't get, but never followed by why you felt the other party was acting rude, i.e. a reason for this behavior, nor is the behavior that you found rude ever explained.

People over the age of 40-ish use the word "rude" to describe someone who verbally insults or uses brash, sometimes harmful movements.

I've had web savvy people describe me as "rude" because I can't accomodate their wishes for a booking in August. I can only explain patiently so many times that we are closed for the first week in August, and besides, the Strata has reserved that week to replace the awning on the enitre building. I am "rude" because I can't give them what they want, and this is communicated very clearly in blogs, etc., but the part about the place being closed for holidays or that the sidewalk and entrance of the building will be full of ladders and workers is never mentioned.

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My first reaction after reading the article was:

"This is CRAZY! It's a service business and not supposed to be a platform where culinary demi-god-chefs dictate to the pions far below what they should eat and how. Of course chefs and restaurants should met all reasonable special requests and they should do it with a flourish and a smile!"

Then I remembered the singular best restaurant meal I've ever eaten.

...

That night she knew better than I exactly what I should be eating. It was perfect and I would, without reservation, put myself in her hands again anytime. I would not dream of asking her for a substitution.

This is what exactly what Bourdain was talking about - dining being an act of submission - that I alluded to earlier.

But I think that unless we limit the conversation to a particular type of resto, we're not going to get anywhere. Probably 8 out of 10 chefs would really love to put their best efforts into satisfying, say, a vegan client - well, maybe, once. But it would only make financial sense for maybe one of those 10 chefs.

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. . . .

This is what exactly what Bourdain was talking about - dining being an act of submission . . . .

???

Ooookay...

I admit my first thought was 'WHAT?! Don't they have special clubs for that? I don't mean dinner, clubs, either...'

I'm not seeing this statement in its original context, and have no way of knowing precisely how the word 'submission' was intended, but although I'm perfectly willing to do my homework on the restaurant beforehand, repect the efforts of the kitchen and dining-room staff, and be politepolitepolite if it kills me, submission seems out of place. If you aren't actively engaged in the dining experience, but instead submit to it, I think you lose out on part of what the chef has done, you miss the elements of dialogue, of exploration. Even if you go to a restaurant that offers a single, set menu on any given night, the decision to eat there is an active one.

My mind boggles a bit at the idea that I might have to consider and consent to a tacit power dynamic between diner and food/chef, which, to be honest, goes a bit beyond my idea of 'dining experience', but I imagine everyone feels differently about this, and I suppose that's entering a whole philosophical area related to how one approaches food, which might be considered a bit off-topic.


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Anyone under the age of, oh, say 30 uses the word "rude" in a way that I am still getting used to. From the way I've heard, "rude" used in conversations, tweets, blogs, etc., means not getting what you want. It is always preceeded by explaining what you didn't get, but never followed by why you felt the other party was acting rude, i.e. a reason for this behavior, nor is the behavior that you found rude ever explained.

People over the age of 40-ish use the word "rude" to describe someone who verbally insults or uses brash, sometimes harmful movements.

Well, not sure how I fit in with your observations, but I am 21 years old and here is my view:

"Sorry, we don't make alterations to any of our dishes." - Not rude.

"No, no alterations, this isn't your kitchen. If you don't like it, get out." - Rude. Though obviously things could get a lot ruder.

I don't think it's unreasonable for me to want to avoid this kind of rudeness! :biggrin:

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Ahh, yes, I agree with you 100% that statement #2 is rude.

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Don't forget it's also a sales pitch, just aimed at a different crowd. Not cooking steaks to well done or whatever might well bring in more people than it turns away, by signaling passion and staying true to ingredients. There are also cultural differences at play, but it seems to work in parts of Europe at least.

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. . . .

This is what exactly what Bourdain was talking about - dining being an act of submission . . . .

???

Ooookay...

I admit my first thought was 'WHAT?! Don't they have special clubs for that? I don't mean dinner, clubs, either...'

I'm not seeing this statement in its original context, and have no way of knowing precisely how the word 'submission' was intended, but although I'm perfectly willing to do my homework on the restaurant beforehand, repect the efforts of the kitchen and dining-room staff, and be politepolitepolite if it kills me, submission seems out of place. If you aren't actively engaged in the dining experience, but instead submit to it, I think you lose out on part of what the chef has done, you miss the elements of dialogue, of exploration. Even if you go to a restaurant that offers a single, set menu on any given night, the decision to eat there is an active one.

My mind boggles a bit at the idea that I might have to consider and consent to a tacit power dynamic between diner and food/chef, which, to be honest, goes a bit beyond my idea of 'dining experience', but I imagine everyone feels differently about this, and I suppose that's entering a whole philosophical area related to how one approaches food, which might be considered a bit off-topic.

I get the submission thing. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re not engaged and it doesn’t mean there’s no room for dialogue.

But I love the act of totally relinquishing control; there’s something exciting and sensual about having someone not only cook for you, but decide what you want, what you’d enjoy. Which is why I always go for the chef’s tasting if offered. Or even if it’s not on the menu, I sometimes ask if it’s possible to just have the chef “take care of me”. But the act of submission involves trust. Aside from specific allergies and severe dislikes, the people who go overboard with special requests just don’t trust others preparing their food for them. And I say “their loss.”

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As a chef it's my job to make decisions for you. Not in a snotty entitled way, but decisions none-the-less. Do I make this pasta sauce with basil? Thyme? Both? I'm trying to make you the best food I can according to my vision of food. That's why you came to my restaurant. To try my version of food. So when you start taking apart a dish it can be insulting. A simple, "Can you do that without the onion?" request is no big deal if it's within reason to accommodate the request. "Chef, why don't you offer a vegetarian option on your menu? Don't you want my money?" Not really. Cooking vegetarian is not something I do. I can make a vegetable dish, but will it be as good as the things I'm truly interested in cooking? No. Not every place has to cater to every possible dietary option. That's how we end up with mediocre food. Trying to appeal to too broad of a swathe of the people results in lack of focus. "Thanks for calling xxxx restaurant - how can I help you?" "Do you offer a gluten free menu?" "No, maam, I'm sorry - the chef chooses to focus on bringing you the best food he can and stays focused on certain things. Thank you for your interest in xxxx restaurant though."

It's as simple as that.


Edited by AaronM (log)

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