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xxchef

The customer is NOT always right

146 posts in this topic

I guess in my experience, both the "nazi chef" and the "fundamentalist whacko vegetarian" only exist in urban mythology. I can really only think of one local chef who would happily tell you to stick it, and even then it would only be if someone were trying to reconstruct a well thought-out dish and he felt the sudden need to show his ass. Even HE provides vegetarian options....and that is generally the case in 99.9% of the restaurants I've visited. For the most part, chefs want you to enjoy yourself and they want you to come back. I'm a lucky lucky man in that I don't have to entertain clients, I skip all co-worker lunches, and I don't have divalicious friends or relatives with whom I am forced to dine. I rarely have to eat someplace I don't want to and if somebody sneaks a finicky whiner into the group they know they stand a pretty good chance of an involuntary trip to the bathroom where they lose a finger. So nothing of value to add here, I just wanted to talk about what a spoiled shit I am. It's good to read both sides of a debate and realize it's something I'm never, ever going to have to worry about. King Baby, over and out!

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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.

. . .

To make a similar point from another angle. . .

If you (general "you") want to eat something the way you want to eat it, make it yourself. Why go to the trouble of going to a restaurant and asking the chef (who is not your employee, despite that you are paying for the meal) to alter what he does just to suit you? He has other customers he needs to cook for, too. Are you really so important that you can take up more of his time (and time away from his other customers) just so he can make you an extra special dish because you need what you want when you want it?

Or if you don't want to cook, but you still want someone to make your food exactly the way you want it, hire a cook or a maid who also cooks, or marry someone who will let you order him/her around in the kitchen. Then you can order that person around as much as you want (until s/he quits or divorces you), and you can eat whatever you want, anytime you want.

And in defense of bad-tempered chefs who refuse to do special requests, I have an anecdote.

I have a friend who owns a Thai restaurant. A customer ordered take-out, and requested that every dish be made gluten-free. The customer was told that it would be difficult, but the person insisted. Customer should always be accommodated, doncha know. So the staff said they would try to accommodate the request, but they couldn't make any promises. Customer says OK.

The next day, customer's husband comes in and bitches the staff out because his wife had a bad reaction to the food. Despite the best efforts of the staff to make a gluten-free meal, and despite the staff spending a lot of time during a very busy night to accommodate this absolutely inane (in my opinion) request, and despite being told no promises could be made, these people demanded their money back. And they were given it back.

IME, customers are far more likely to be rude about making (as well as not receiving) special requests, than chefs/staff are about not granting them. Very few chefs will just say, "No, we won't do that because we don't want to. If you don't like our food, go eat somewhere else," but far more customers will say, "If you don't make it exactly the way I want, I'll go somewhere else and tell everyone I know that you were rude about it."

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This is fairly typical of the lack of respect customers have for many establishments.

Playing the devil's advocate, I would have to say the Restaurant WAS guilty, as they "made no promises" and supplied food that they could not guarantee gluten free. The cutomer, on the other hand, could not extract a definite YES, nor could he extract a definite NO, so he just pushed and pushed. Is the cutomer right? Is he wrong? A jerk?

Meh, On certain blogs and websites, my business is known as rude becasue I could not accommodate during my annual holidys which also coincides with some major renovations to the building.

I'm a jerk and worse becasue I tell my customers that my milk chocolate products may contain traces of gluten (via barley malt extract) and therefore I can not sell it to them if they claim to have reactions to gluten.

Look, people have little or no respect to things that are, 1)in abundance, 2) below market value or free, or 3)easily abused. Things like fresh water, air, public libraries, good manners, and cheap locks are all abused.

And there is an over abundance of restaurants, each with narrow profit margins and a genuine eagerness to please, and very fragile.

Customers... Can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em....

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There is an interesting blog article from Raymond Blanc on this topic: Is it time to say no?.

Without copying the whole article here, the key points that he makes are that the current policy at Le Manoir (Michelin 2*) is that they always try to say yes, but that he is beginning to wonder if some of his guests with special requirements are perhaps doing this to get extra attention. He concludes by saying:

Maybe we ought to ring-fence part of our menu, and say "these are the dishes we can change so as to ensure absolutely that they meet special dietary requirements". We're discussing this now with Gary, Benoît. Mourad and the rest of the team.

It's not the empathetic attitude Le Manoir stands for today - but maybe it's the stance we'll be forced to adopt. What do you think? Should we always say YES?

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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.”

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

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.


I'm so awesome I don't even need a sig...Oh wait...SON OF A...

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I really like Le Manoir's logic, "Yes, these are the dishes we are able to "customize", and these are the dishes that aren't".

This is, in my opinion, the best way of dealing with the situation.

On a completely different level, but still on "the customer is always right", I have a situation that happened to me last month:

On a busy Sat. afternoon a cutomer walks in with a dog (I'm a small artisan chocolate and pastry place with about 20 seats and non-alc. beverages.

The customer was clearly NOT visually impaired, the dog was a very cute 8-10 mth lab very well behaved wearing a doggie-coat with some kind of a anacronym and website enblazened on it.

When asked to leash her dog outside, great anger ensued. The dog was being trained as a companion for the chronically ill, part of a non-profit group, anmd specifically brought into small crowded places like mine to train the animal in thsese situtions, and how dare I question this.

I patiently explained that, to the best of my knowledge only seeing-eye dogs are allowed, and that I was subject to a $120.00 fine from the Health Dept. if it was determined that a dog was present in my establishment. Customer then explains that she does have a license that puts her animal in the same class as seeing eye dogs. When I asked her to produce this, she didn't have it, but promised that she would bring it by.

She did, later that afternoon, and you can guess how she described my actions.

The fact that I am held responsible for her actions did not impress her one bit. The fact that I am responsible for the comfort and safety of my other customers and employees did not impress her one bit.

I, am "rude"....

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. . . .

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.


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

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The customer has the right to ask for substitutions, the restaurant has the right to decline. life goes on. If you dont like peaches, dont order peche melba.


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I really like Le Manoir's logic, "Yes, these are the dishes we are able to "customize", and these are the dishes that aren't".

This is, in my opinion, the best way of dealing with the situation.

On a completely different level, but still on "the customer is always right", I have a situation that happened to me last month:

On a busy Sat. afternoon a cutomer walks in with a dog (I'm a small artisan chocolate and pastry place with about 20 seats and non-alc. beverages.

The customer was clearly NOT visually impaired, the dog was a very cute 8-10 mth lab very well behaved wearing a doggie-coat with some kind of a anacronym and website enblazened on it.

When asked to leash her dog outside, great anger ensued. The dog was being trained as a companion for the chronically ill, part of a non-profit group, anmd specifically brought into small crowded places like mine to train the animal in thsese situtions, and how dare I question this.

I patiently explained that, to the best of my knowledge only seeing-eye dogs are allowed, and that I was subject to a $120.00 fine from the Health Dept. if it was determined that a dog was present in my establishment. Customer then explains that she does have a license that puts her animal in the same class as seeing eye dogs. When I asked her to produce this, she didn't have it, but promised that she would bring it by.

She did, later that afternoon, and you can guess how she described my actions.

The fact that I am held responsible for her actions did not impress her one bit. The fact that I am responsible for the comfort and safety of my other customers and employees did not impress her one bit.

I, am "rude"....

Actually in that instance you were plain wrong. Didn't the vest and the 'well-behaved' young animal give you a clue? Seeing eye dogs are far from the only service animals in existence, they were just the first in common use, and disabilities can be far from obvious. If somebody walked in with a guide dog puppy, would you throw them out because they weren't blind? If you see an animal with a service vest on, and the person says it's a service animal, it's a service animal unless proven otherwise. AFAIK it's illegal to demand proof unless the animal creates an actual problem.

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'I'm planning on having a fairly substantial dessert, is one of the main dishes particularly light?'

I like the way you think :laugh:

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Just had a situation where a customer wanted the octopus that came with a red pepper and chorizo saute without pork (it's pre-batched so the pork can't be left out) made without the chorizo and with the piquillo peppers that were listed with another dish. Expected everything in the restaurant to grind to a screeching halt while someone came off the line at 8:30pm on a Saturday to go run down to the walk-in, get the raw piquillo peppers that we have for a different dish, seed and shred them and make her a personal portion of something that simply didn't exist on the menu. To hell with the other 120 customers in the restaurant. Because her wants are just that important. Sorry. That's just WRONG. Her husband was mortified when she insisted on speaking to the manager and tipped the poor server that had to deal with this lunatic very well. And the server earned it. I'm all for being accommodating within reason, but this beyotch was just delusional. And sadly, that's often the case.

"I'd like the Seven Grain bread with no oats, please..."

"I'll have the seasonal field green salad with no Autumn. I'm allergic to Autumn..." :rolleyes:


Katie M. Loeb
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Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

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[Actually in that instance you were plain wrong. Didn't the vest and the 'well-behaved' young animal give you a clue? Seeing eye dogs are far from the only service animals in existence, they were just the first in common use, and disabilities can be far from obvious. If somebody walked in with a guide dog puppy, would you throw them out because they weren't blind? If you see an animal with a service vest on, and the person says it's a service animal, it's a service animal unless proven otherwise. AFAIK it's illegal to demand proof unless the animal creates an actual problem.

Thank you.

I took the precaution of e-mailing my health inspector about this issue. The inspector, with over 18 years on the job in the greater Vancouver area, had never heard of this, and using the information I provided her of the association in question, proceeded to call up and educate herself as well as the entire Health Dept.

Why is it illegal to demand proof? Please answer, in your post you wrote, "If you see an animal with a service vest on, and the person says it's a service animal, it's a service animal until proven otherwise" And here I may remind you that I asked the owner to furnish such documents. Perhaps I should take it at face value when a customer hands me a phoney $20.00 bill and insists it's genuine because they say it is?

You write, "It's illegal to demand proof unless the animal creates an actual problem". And if the animal does? Then what? I assume all damage costs, comping customers out of my own pocket? When the damage is done, it's done.

Why is it legal to fine me, the restaurant owner $120.00 for allowing non-licensed dogs, and the dog owner walks away and laughs? Please answer, and please acknowledge the fine is charged to me, the restaurant owner, not the dog owner.

Who said anything about throwing out the customer? The dog can be leashed outside like many of my other customer's dogs, as I suggested. I even provide water dishes and a supply of plastic bags for this purpose.

Why is it fair to allow dogs in a fine chocolate shop on a rainy day full of people, when every customer does not expect dogs to be in restaurants? Don't figure me the wrong way, I own and bi-daily walk a lab-chow X.

Is every doggie vest a grand proclamation that the said dog is free to enter foodservice establishments just because it's a doggie vest? Perhaps the doggie vests have a license # on them?

Looking forward to your reply

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The customer has the right to ask for substitutions, the restaurant has the right to decline. life goes on. If you dont like peaches, dont order peche melba.

Excactly.

Add 'And let's all be polite and non-confrontational about this', and that should cover it.

But things seem to have reached a point where both customers and chefs expect the worst from the other side, which makes it hard to come to this subject without feeling a bit hostile/defensive.


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

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Chef's/owners of private restaurants are entitled to treat their customers any way they wish within legal parameters and are forced to accept the consequences accordingly. This is true for all service businesses and probably for most manufactured goods.

No data that I'm aware of, but the vast majority try to please their customers.

The small number rude and arrogant outliers who are successful fascinate me (I think that's why this thread has legs) but I wouldn't give them a penny of my money.

Oh, and EdwardJ was correct in how he handled the matter.


Edited by Mano (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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I LOVE this and am going to post it (with some minor changes) in my kitchen. Thanks!

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Why is it illegal to demand proof?

Because that's what the law says? You're in Vancouver, not the US, though, and Canada is still in the process of codifying treatment of service animals, and it seems to be happening on a Province level. In the US, most service dogs don't have "documents" - they're not required, and those who do have some certification intentionally don't carry them because you're not allowed to require them. See http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm for a good overview. For BC, this seems to be the extent of the law http://www.bclaws.ca/EPLibraries/bclaws_new/document/ID/freeside/00_96177_01

Why is it fair to allow dogs in a fine chocolate shop on a rainy day full of people, when every customer does not expect dogs to be in restaurants? Don't figure me the wrong way, I own and bi-daily walk a lab-chow X.

Because some customers require service dogs in order to enjoy your fine chocolate shop. It's certainly less fun for them than it is for you. Just like it's less fun to need a cane or a wheelchair, especially in in a small and busy shop on a rainy day.

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I didn't think there was an objection to a service dog; I thought the objection was that clarification was asked for, and not provided until later. It wasn't immediately obvious that it was a service dog.

If it had been a readily identified service dog, I don't think it would have been an issue for the Health Dept and there would have been no chance of a fine being levied. Because that's what the shop owner is trying to avoid: being fined for something he has no control over and if the Health Dept tried to assess a fine, he would have been able to show proof of the service dog's legitimacy.

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And it may be that in BC, documentation is required. In the US, the conversation would pretty much have to go "I'm sorry, we don't allow dogs inside." "It's a service animal" "Oh, ok, then!" There's just no identification or certification/documentation process. It does work on the word of the owner and the word of the owner is sufficient to prevent a fine. Even the vests/harnesses are optional.

In the case of a customer who didn't appear to be disabled, and an animal who didn't appear to be trained, I think you can legally ask what service the animal provides, or the general nature of the service, but I'm not particularly clear on those regulations, to be honest.

I think that allowing access for service dogs in training without an individual with a disability present may vary in the US on a state by state basis. I'm surprised that in Canada, where there generally seem to be fewer allowances for service animals that a still-in-training dog has equal access.

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Thank you for your reply.

In my last post I asked you to acknowledge that in the event of a non-licensed dog being reported in my, or any other establishment, the restaurant owner gets the fine. I will now ask you again to please acknowledge this.

Is it illegal for a waiter/ess or liquor store clerk to ask you for identification when purchasing alcohol?

No, of course not. If it is determined that such an establishment was serving liquor to minors, hefty fines would ensue--to the owner of the establishment.

Is it illegal for a store clerk or bank clerk to ask you for I.D. when paying with credit cards or depositing /cashing cheques?

No, of course not.

So when I am fully aware of the law, and know that if the Health Dept. determines that I allowed a non-licensed dog into my establishment, I will get a fine. Do I not have the right to protect my business? Why then, does this seem wrong? I am only asking for I.D. or documentation, same as a bar or liquor store.

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In a response to a different thread on dogs in restaurants, I asked a friend fairly high up in the Philadelphia Health Dept. their policy. Dogs are not allowed but they can take no action unless a heath inspector is present and sees the violation. Extremely small odds. Such may be the case elsewhere, too.

Beyond that, as long as the dog was behaving as a service dog, I would avoid challenging a customer who declares a dog is a service dog.


Holly Moore

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So when I am fully aware of the law, and know that if the Health Dept. determines that I allowed a non-licensed dog into my establishment, I will get a fine. Do I not have the right to protect my business? Why then, does this seem wrong? I am only asking for I.D. or documentation, same as a bar or liquor store.

Unfortunately, your good intentions are likely not good enough to navigate this mess. I was curious what the WA state guidance was, and I found a couple of interesting tidbits on http://www.hum.wa.gov/FAQ/FAQServiceAnimal.html From my read, you're screwed if you do and screwed if you don't. :wacko:

First is this one:

Q. The county health department has told me that only a guide dog has to be admitted. If I follow those rules, am I violating the Law Against Discrimination?

Yes, if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws. There is no evidence that healthy, vaccinated, well-trained service animals are any greater threat to public health and safety than members of the general public. Health Department rules that apply to certain animals in food processing areas will, however, be considered on a case by case basis.

If you listen to the Health Dept, you'll get fined by the Human Rights Commission, and if you listen to the Human Rights Commission, the Health Dept will be coming for you. Somehow the case-by-case basis tells me that they'll let you know you've failed to follow the non-documented rules as you get fined...

But wait, it gets even better:

Q. How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

There are no legal requirements for service animals to be specially identified. Some, but not all, service animals, wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or “certified” and/or have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. A public entity cannot require any proof of a person’s disability, or identification or certification of the service animal’s status.

So the Health Dept will fine you. Your defense could be that the animal was represented to you as a service animal, but there is no way to obtain proof. Ack.

Finally, there is specific guidance in WA state for animals-in-training:

Q. Must I let in a service animal in training, or a person who does not have a disability who says the animals is trained as a service animal?

No. The Washington State Law Against Discrimination does not address service animals that are not trained. While you might choose to allow these animals entry, you do not have legal obligations to do so. Additionally, the State Law Against Discrimination protects the rights of individuals who have disabilities and are assisted by service animals, and does not pertain to non-disabled individuals who have service animals.

So, in your specific case, if this occurred in WA state, my read is that you must have the service animal-in-training removed. You have no safe harbor (such as it is) shielding you from the Health Dept.

I've watched a few local food businesses, including a couple owned by friends, go under due to conflicting rules established by different government agencies. Nobody cared in the least that their rules would put you in jeopardy from another agency.


Edited by daves (log)

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Thank you for your investigation on this, daves, the Vancouver Health dept. could not offer me this much information at all.

I think it should be make clear that if a merchant or restaurant owner does ask for identification, all they are looking for is that the dog is indeed permitted to be in such businesses. It is of no concern at all whythe customer has such a dog, only that the dog meet such criteria.

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"We reserve the right to refuse service to any customer, at any time, for any reason."

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At one of our favorite restaurants on Saturday night, I noticed something at the bottom of the menu for the first time...along the lines of "To insure the integrity of each dish, substitutions are not allowed". Short and sweet, the guess work is done for you, he will not budge one millimeter....and the restaurant is consistently booked solid. I keep wanting to see someone like the piquillo pepper lunatic take issue with his policy....epic fail.

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From the article: "David Chang, whose small empire of Momofuku restaurants is known for refusing to make substitutions or provide vegetarian options. “Instead of trying to make a menu that’s for everyone, let’s make a menu that works best for what we want to do.” He added, “The customer is not always right.”"

What drives me nuts is that Chang has been quoted recently raving about Shojin Ryori, the traditionally vegetarian Japanese temple food (true, some modern shojin places will use katsuo dashi, and few Japanese Buddhists are vegetarian in modern times, but historically, Shojin Ryori is pure vegetarian temple cuisine).

I hear that vegetables are poised to become the new bacon, so seems funny that after being so anti-vegetarian for so long, he's jumping on the newest bandwagon. That said, I totally defend his right not to offer vegetarian options. As someone who frequently eats vegetarian and vegan meals at high-end restaurants, I'd rather have a place say "we can't accommodate you" than get served a bad meal. But honestly, I think his attitude on vegetarianism specifically (vs. accomodating every single special request, like removing olives or whatever) kind of feeds into that Anthony Bourdain macho "meat meat meat" attitude, and while I agree that a restaurant can't be all things to all people, sometimes, working within limitations can be very rewarding. I would rather support a chef who says "this isn't my thing, but I'm excited to give it a shot". Anyway, hopefully for him, Chang will continue to be lucky enough to turn away vegetarians and still run a successful business.


Edited by Will (log)

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