Substitutions at restaurants? Sometimes the answer is NO.
Anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry can understand the struggle of guests constantly asking to specialize their orders. Allergies are always taken very seriously and most chefs try to accommodate related requests. But some restaurants aren’t willing to wait on you hand and foot and mouth. Chef Jenn Louis, in a blog post on the Huffington Post, released her own public service announcement about why chefs are refusing to succumb to all of your needs. Chef Louis recognizes that dietary needs occur and that as a member of the hospitality industry, customer service is of utmost importance. She and other restaurateurs agree that there are two main reasons why chefs are beginning to refuse our substitutions, omissions, and alterations.
Consistency and timing
When going to your favorite restaurant to order your favorite meal, you expect to receive the same meal time and time again. When people request alterations in meals, it can throw off the flow of the kitchen when preparing dishes.
“On busy nights, alterations break cooks’ rhythms, and sometimes special requests do not get the same level of attention as their order-as-is counterparts,” Chef Louis noted on her blog post.
In an interview with NBC’s Today, New York restaurant consultant Brendan Spiro, also pointed out the issue of production with alterations. Substitutions and alterations can add extra preparation time to a dish, which can seriously disrupt the kitchen’s timeliness with not only the specialized order but also with other meals being prepared simultaneously.
Flavor and integrity
Of course, getting a plate to taste amazing is every chef’s priority. As students in online cooking courses know, chefs go through extensive training to learn how to combine flavors. In her blog on Chow, Helena Echlin further defends the precise art of flavor matching, citing Enrico Bortoluzzi of the L.A. restaurant Terroni. When customers ask him to add Parmesan cheese to the clam pasta, he refuses. “It already has dried fish eggs and is very salty. Adding cheese will make it uneatable,” he noted. Spiro also commented on this issue, claiming that altering a dish can take away from the integrity of it. Asking a chef to change the dish can be like questioning their expertise in the field.
Chef Louis is a little less particular, saying she’ll allow omissions to certain dishes to accommodate dietary restrictions. But substituting one dressing for another on a salad? No way. The next time you get denied when ordering mozzarella cheese instead of Roquefort on your burger at a restaurant like the Spotted Pig, understand that the chef has your palate in mind.