Remember that Burger King promise, “Have it your way”?
Well, turns out restaurants and diners around the country are opting for exactly the opposite, taking control of their menus and dining experiences and telling the customer to just shut up and take it, according to a recent article in the New York Times.
They’re not offering substitutions. They’re not creating special-order dishes. They’re not even serving ketchup.
You can’t get a toasted bagel at one bagel shop in Greenwich Village. There’s only one kind of cheese at a gastropub in the West Village. And forget trying to get decaf coffee at one Chicago restaurant.
This isn’t anything new at Japanese restaurants, where you can’t even swap out the entrees in a combination teishoku. (Don’t believe me? Try it one day!)
While I can see the allure in having the power to order whatever I want from any restaurant — just how I like it — I can empathize with owners and chefs who are constantly manipulating their dishes to each customer’s tastes, as unrefined as they may be.
It goes back to this idea of customization, ownership and entitlement — to me, anyway. We have this notion that we can — and should — have whatever we want, as long as we’re willing to pay for it. And I don’t know if that’s always the best decision. We diagnosis our own illness, thanks to WebMD. We shape our world opinions based on blogs and Twitter. And now we think we know more than the chefs who spent years honing their skills. No, no, the steak tartar should be seared, trust me, I know. Oh, and served with ketchup, please.
So what do you think about this latest trend? You think customers are always right — or do you think we’ve become too demanding?
Reminds me of a button I had when I used to work in customer service: The customer is always right–as long as they’re within earshot!
Reminds me of a button I had in my desk when I used to work in customer service: The customer is always right–as long as they’re within earshot!
I think part of this standardization is customers getting out of hand or thinking they know more. Let’s be honest, the customer isn’t always right. When in doubt, I ask the staff what they would recommend. Most of the time it’s a good pick they make.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if cost and training factor into this as well. Standard menu means set items to purchase, and it keeps cost down. No deviation from the menu means items can be cranked out faster vs. a time consuming special order. It also means you can cut corners on training by hiring less experienced people to make the items vs. a fully qualified chef.
But one can’t help but wonder if we’re losing something in the process. Oh well, there’s always mom’s home cooked meals! The best thing in the world!
Refusing to toast bagels may seem a little extreme, but as long as people know the limitation before they stand in line, it’s no big deal. I bet the owner realized that serving the 10% of customers who want their bagel toasted means they serve 20% less customers due to the time lost. And you also have the customers who want their bagel double-toasted. This makes the line even slower and messes up the order in which customers get their food. I personally prefer double-toasted bagels, but only ask when it’s not crowded–why inconvenience everyone else just b/c I’m being prissy!
I was at a sundry store and someone was disappointed that they didn’t have agave sweetener for their $1.00 cup of self-serve coffee. I am NOT making that stupidity up. Later that day, during peak lunch time at a fast food place, this guy asks for no onions and no ketchup. Dude, scrape that stuff off your 99 cent McDouble when you get back to your office, and let the rest of us get our fast food quickly.
People need to consider the venue and order appropriately. Save your special culinary needs for a sit-down restaurant and tip accordingly!
Some of the blame rests on the Nanny state we live in now. It’s against the law for a restaurant to serve a burger cooked less than well done in Virginia and North Carolina. Some places like New York are banning the use of salt. I can understand a place with a menu like an oriental restaurant not allowing substitutions, It would be a mad house in the kitchen where items are ordered by number. Here in OC MD boardwalk fries are NEVER served with ketchup but either mustard or vinegar.
it reminds me of an episode of ‘Dead Like Me’ a great little US/Canadian production. Mandy Patinkin’s character, subbing as a short order cook, gives a complaining customer a poetic description of what a ‘paddy melt’ is. the customer won’t listen. he gets the plate dumped in his lap.
you pay for the expertise of the chef, haute or short order. don’t tell him or her how to do their job.
As a chef in a Sushi restaurant, I come across this everyday. I believe it happens so often because although this cuisine has been around in the states awhile now, it is still a mystery to many.
One good example of the special request is the customer always eats a roll called “Las Vegas Roll” back home at their favorite sushi place and while vacationing in Hawaii, asks the server for a Las Vegas Roll. Because they always eat this certain roll back at home, people doesn’t realize that alot of rolls are usually originally created by that chef.
Requests like “can you add this? Can you substitute this instead? Can you not put that?” is all no problem at all but requests such as creating a totally new menu item like “so you have salmon, can you grill it and can I have it with a mushroom sauce?” is pushing it a bit far especially if the restaurant is very busy.
If the place is empty, there is really no reason to say “no,” unless the diner is trying to get two meals for the price of one or a bottle of wine for the price of a glass. Still under normal circumstances in a popular place that is full or expected to be full at any minute, having rules about alterations and substitutions and saying “no” keeps everything moving along nicely.
You know, I probably see this thing a whole lot different than most people here. I grew up with hardly any possibilities of substitutions and changes to a menu. It is not very common to do this back in my old country.
A burger without the pickle? Take it off yourself is the main thought (and why not, is my thought automatically). This reminds me of once taking an American rap artist (amongst many other things, I was also part of an event organization back then) to a burger joint where he wanted to get a burger (guess he didn’t like the Dutch food haha), but he was very surprised it was not possible to make any changes. There was no problem after they recognized him, of course, but for any regular person, they didn’t have to try.
Same thing when I first came here. I guess you can imagine how big my surprise was when I noticed almost everyone around me substituted things with other things on the menu? After being here for several years, I still don’t substitute (take Chinese parsley, for example, I hate that stuff with a passion but I still rather just fish it out of my Thai curry instead of requesting them to take it out to start with). It even goes as far that I hate to order for my wife whenever she wants some change to her menu. I rather just let her order everything instead.
I guess it is mostly due to the fact that I am not used to make any changes to the menu before my food is even prepared. I was brought up in a way of ‘eating whatever they serve’ (with limits, of course haha, but thankfully I like a lot lol). For me to ask to make a change to the menu still gives me a feeling of being an nuisance, even though I know it is common practice here.
This post made me think of Rick Hamada’s column in Midweek from about a year ago about a bad experience he had in a local restaurant. Part of it dealt with him asking the recipe to be changed. Found it online:
I’m curious to hear other’s opinions on what he wrote. I’m guessing some of you out there actually might know the unnamed restaurant and/or owner. To me if you ask to change the recipe and it didn’t turn out the way you wanted it, it’s on you. Maybe the owner shouldn’t have thrown a big fit like he described but I dunno, like @turkfontaine said when you come to a restaurant the usual expectation is that you are there to experience what the chef has to offer and not tell him what to do. But maybe this happens in Italian restaurants all the time..remember No Reservations in Rome where Bourdain witnessed this major argument over how a pasta dish was prepared? Yikes.
Personally I never thought of making special requests much, except putting noodles separately from soup for take out or something like that! OK maybe I did ask for an off the menu mix plate here and there. 😉
I see the restaurant’s point of view. Allowing the customers to substitute this and slows down production and increases the chances of the restaurant getting your order (or someone else’s order) wrong. On the other hand, sometimes I get irritated when I’m denied a simple substitution. If I had to choose, I think I would prefer to have it my way, at the expense of slower service and an occasional hiccup.
No fair, there should be some exception for substitution.
Eat it the chef’s way, or as the menu has it, because you have the option to leave if it isn’t to your liking. But they don’t “have” to serve it anyway but theirs. I support this decision. Kind of reminds me of clients wanting to make stupid design changes that screw up a design that I’ve labored over to work both aesthetically and functionally… it can all unravel in seconds if you give in.
depends on the restaurant. if it’s a quick bite/diner type of place where I’m getting a meal to fill my belly, then I’ll be more liberal about requesting changes (small changes like “dressing on the side, please” of waffle extra crispy, please”. if it’s a nice place where the meal is an experience, I’ll eat whatever the chef puts in front of me because that’s the way the dish is supposed to be eaten.
Yep, does keep costs down! But you’re right, can’t beat Mom. Plus, she’s makes to order!
Maybe it’s our culture now, that we expect this level of customization. It’s a sad comment on society.
Thanks for sharing the article. I didn’t see it when it was printed. 🙂