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Menu substitutions...

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
I am curious about how other chefs consider menu substitutions, I am executive chef of a small, privately owned fine dining restaurant that prides itself on local sustainable and consciously sourced farm to table cuisine, as well as providing an accommodating experience for each of our guests. I conceive and design dishes with consideration for many dietary restrictions and food allergies, however I often have ideas and inspiration for dishes that I don't want to compromise, simply because it would change the intended composition or integrity of the dish. I am not trying to be arrogant, and I am not trying to be unaccommodating, especially when it comes to actual food allergies or religious beliefs, but when I get a lot of red ink on my tickets because someone just doesn't like onions or they are trying out some fad diet, and the server wants me to create an amuse bouche or design a special entree in the middle of the rush for a guest who cannot order from the menu, I sometimes want to say "are you kidding me, why can't you or the guest order from the menu and accommodations provided?", and when servers come to me with a crazy list of allergies, I tell them to inform their guest of the ingredients and allow them to make their own decisions, because the guest knows their allergies better than I do. I don't know if I am being callous, or just annoyed, or what, because I am in the business of serving food, and I do it because I want to nurture people through my talents and passion, but when is it too much? Talk to me chefs, how do you feel...
post #2 of 22

You need a bag of tricks. :)  In the old days we would just feed vegetarians a plate of pasta with veggies.  That was the entire bag of tricks we needed.  These days there's lots more, same idea, just different and more accommodations required.

post #3 of 22

Stop being so accommodating and nurturing and take control of your menu.

 

Educate your FOH on the same points and issues you stated in your post (it is their job to educate the guests).

Hate to say this because I used to work for tips but they are abusing you and your line with all of those crazy red line creations.

 

It may take a few weeks (and there will always be a few subs here and there) but by standing your ground things should normalize.

 

mimi

post #4 of 22

I agree with flipflopgirl. Much can be prevented by how the FOH interacts with the table. Make sure they are very knowledgeable about ingredients and prep for the dishes and working to sell the customers on the dish as is. 

    When I encountered a customer with an "allergy" whenever possible, I would go directly to the table and show tremendous concern for the well being of the customer, saying something along the lines of  "I understand you have an allergy. First I'd like to make sure you have an Epi-pen. I really don't want you do have to use it" This initial question often separated those with a severe allergy from those who simply did not like something. This was most often the case. I established in a nice way right away the seriousness of the claim and that I was not willing to risk their life or have some one die in the middle of the dining room. 

     If the allergy was not life threatening, I would continue my inquiry in a quiet, intimate way to show I was not intending to embarrass them but simply wanted to better myself as a chef by furthering my understanding of food allergies generally. Could they describe how the allergy manifested itself? One man quietly explained that onions gave him incredible gas. Good to know. 

     For those who just didn't like something, I would offer them a taste of dish, if possible, most often this was with sauces. They would typically find they enjoyed it the way it was. I would tell them with a smile that a lot of time and effort had gone into putting the dish together,the combination of ingredients was not an accident,  it was popular and they should relax and trust me when I tell them that if they decide to order it, they will like it. This was the most common result. 

      Occasionally some one would simply be wanting to re invent a dish in their own way. I would tell them with a laugh that I would be happy to do that but that then removed their ability to complain. You create it, you pay for it. Several customers ended up as regulars, doing this on every visit and enjoyed experiencing the result of their own creativity. 

     Sometimes customers simply asked for the sauce on the side. We would explain that the sauce on the dish was integral to making the dish what it was and without it, the rest was simply a collection of simple ingredients they could order otherwise. 

     Staff also knew to input special requests under a specials button I put on the POS. So an order for a "Mary Jane" with multiple substitutions did not arrive in the kitchen as a Mary Jane but as a special order. This prevented the kitchen from reacting automatically and making a Mary Jane before seeing the substitutions. The customer was also informed nicely and politely that this would happen as a gentle way of reminding them that their request was problematic.

 Once a woman who claimed to have a genuine peanut allergy insisted on ordering a special dish with peanut sauce with the sauce on the side. I absolutely refused and told her nicely but in no uncertain terms I would not risk her life or my restaurant for such a request. She could (and did) order something else. 

Sometimes, after the allergy issue was settled, I would ask why they came to the restaurant and/or ordered the dish. The reply was typically "My friend was here and had it last week and insisted I try it" or "I've heard so much about it". With a friendly smile I would ask why they would do that and then change the very thing they were here to try. 

     So after all that, my advice would be that how you approach the customer can make a huge difference. Always with a smile and trying to be accommodating when ever possible but gently letting it be known you have standards and a genuine concern for their well being. 

post #5 of 22

This is one of the thorniest issues to deal with.  Personally I try to accommodate any request I can, if I have the stuff to do it and have the time.  My "vision" isn't paying the bills, the customer is.  I'll admit that it gets abused sometimes, but I think making customers feel special is a key to building loyalty.  Same goes for hobnobbing with the customers.  I always groan when the owner or GM comes back and tells me a customer would like to meet the chef.  I don't dislike people by any means but I'm more comfortable in front of the broiler than out in the dining room.  But people kind of expect it, so you just have to put on a smile and chat with them a bit.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #6 of 22

With menu items that are prepared a la minute, I will accommodate any request the guest has, even the ones that don't make any sense whatsoever. I just make sure to first explain why their idea may not be a good one and that the results may not turn out to their liking.

 

I remember one time I had a dish on the menu with a beurre rouge. A guest wanted the sauce...but wanted me to leave out either the butter or the red wine (i can't remember which one). I had to explain that with an emulsification sauce with only three ingredients, leaving one of those items out would make it impossible to achieve an emulsification. Which in turn would yield a "sauce?" that was thin with a single ingredient flavor profile and probably prove to be less than satisfactory.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #7 of 22
I generally make whatever the customer is paying for. NO ... I don't like doing that, but as Phaedrus has just said, "... My "vision" isn't paying the bills, the customer is." Now that being the case, I don't have any difficulty explaining that some substitutions are gonna get an up-charge. Sometimes too, there is no way I can do what is asked. NO, I can't serve un-sauced meatballs ... they are cooked in the sauce. However ... I can wipe off the sauce if you wish.




LOL.
We work in kitchens ... It ain'te rocket surgery.
post #8 of 22

True!  I won't do it for free.  If you want double portions or to substitute shrimp for the chicken in a pasta there will be an upcharge.  And of course it's impractical to do sauce on the side for something simmered or braised in sauce.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #9 of 22

If the request is not impossible I say do it.  Making your guest feel special will pay in the long.  One of my go to dishes is a result of a guest substitution. 

post #10 of 22

I agree with "the customer is paying the rent" logic".

It is the waitstaff driving the bus for tips that I take issue with.

A slow Sunday afternoon?

Yeah lets go crazy we might actually get a good special out of the deal.

But Friday nite middle of service?

Nope.

 

mimi

post #11 of 22

In my place the server always comes back and asks me, they don't just ring it in. I suppose my opinion might be different if they did!;)

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #12 of 22

There's definitely a line. If the subs will bring my service to grinding halt, then no, unless it's an allergy. And frankly, if at all possible you should be calling ahead if you have a severe allergy.

post #13 of 22

Thankfully, here in Europe, FOH staff do not work for tips, but an OK hourly wage plus whatever change the customer leaves on the table. Therefore, we get very few sub requests. In my restaurant, the only regular request is chips, sorry, fries, instead of potato gratin, rostis, homemade pasta or such like, which is annoying, because my presentation usually goes down the drain with fries, especially when it's a sauced item. I will oblige, thinking it's not my effing problem. I do think it's ignorant, however.

 

As far as allergies, the EU administration has made it our problem to ensure that customers aren't served anything containing an allergen. In fact, there's a list of 14 allergens which restaurateurs are required to point out if any one of them is contained in a food item we serve. And it has to be in printed form. This is absolutely ridiculous! Who should be better informed about an allergy than the person who suffers from it??? As long as we (or our staff) can answer their questions pertaining to allergenic substances in the food, things should be good, but that's not enough for the EU. My menu changes almost daily, and I can't provide a printed menu pointing out the 14 allergens. I haven't had an inspection yet since this law was introduced, but I will get shit for it. My restaurant is so small and I have an open kitchen, I can look every customer in the eye while I'm cooking. I know every single ingredient used in my food. If they make me print a 'menu for allergy sufferers', I will have a big problem on my hands...

 

Cheers,

Recky

post #14 of 22

Dont forget the part of writing it in the cocktail menu as well, if you have one. I love these new rules.

More than a year into the new rules nobody knows how they really are, even the inspectors who are supposed to control this dont understand them. At least here in Norway.

post #15 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokjel View Post
 

Dont forget the part of writing it in the cocktail menu as well, if you have one. I love these new rules.

More than a year into the new rules nobody knows how they really are, even the inspectors who are supposed to control this dont understand them. At least here in Norway.


Yes, I know what you mean. Over here, no two restaurants have implemented the new law in the same way. It just seems that in our particular county the inspectors interpret it like IS interprets the Quran...

post #16 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Recky View Post
 

As far as allergies, the EU administration has made it our problem to ensure that customers aren't served anything containing an allergen. In fact, there's a list of 14 allergens which restaurateurs are required to point out if any one of them is contained in a food item we serve. And it has to be in printed form. This is absolutely ridiculous! Who should be better informed about an allergy than the person who suffers from it??? As long as we (or our staff) can answer their questions pertaining to allergenic substances in the food, things should be good, but that's not enough for the EU. My menu changes almost daily, and I can't provide a printed menu pointing out the 14 allergens. I haven't had an inspection yet since this law was introduced, but I will get shit for it. My restaurant is so small and I have an open kitchen, I can look every customer in the eye while I'm cooking. I know every single ingredient used in my food. If they make me print a 'menu for allergy sufferers', I will have a big problem on my hands...

 

Cheers,

Recky

 

Sounds like a pain. Sorry that you have to deal with this junk. I would suggest maybe making a menu card that lists all the 14 allergies and having a unique icon for each type. Then, in your regular daily menu, you can list the icons after each menu item. That is kind of how the menu trend is going here in the USA with Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-free, etc... it is not required, but many restaurants are adopting an icon system to denote these preferences and allergies and it is kind of being expected by the customer.

 

Maybe you can find a pre-existing image file on the internet that are in German that already list these 14 allergies so you don't have to do any graphics work. 

post #17 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Vic Cardenas View Post
 

 

Sounds like a pain. Sorry that you have to deal with this junk. I would suggest maybe making a menu card that lists all the 14 allergies and having a unique icon for each type. Then, in your regular daily menu, you can list the icons after each menu item. That is kind of how the menu trend is going here in the USA with Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-free, etc... it is not required, but many restaurants are adopting an icon system to denote these preferences and allergies and it is kind of being expected by the customer.

 

Maybe you can find a pre-existing image file on the internet that are in German that already list these 14 allergies so you don't have to do any graphics work. 

 

It is a pain indeed! I'm trying to avoid making my menu look like a fast food joint menu with asterikses and numbers and icons all over the place. At the moment, I have a separate page on my (clipboard) menu that lists all 14 allergens and examples where these might be used in dishes that I run regularly, such as wheat (flour on the trout), mustard (vinaigrette) etc. I just don't want my menu slaughtered by such nonsense.

post #18 of 22
Thread Starter 
I am very much encouraged by the responses to this post, and appreciative of all the insights shared by chefs. We are without a doubt in the service industry, and that means providing goods and services to supply a demand, however when I have to change a dish because someone just doesn't like onions or Brussels sprouts or garlic and it not only compromises the integrity of the dish but also throws my line cooks out of rhythm, I often feel like the hard work that my staff and I put in to create a menu and an
post #19 of 22
Thread Starter 
Identity for our restaurant is minimized, even though I don't think the guest is intentionally disrespectful, they are probably just self absorbed and not considering the pride we take in our work.
post #20 of 22

Anything for a price.

Brandon O'Dell

 

Friend That Cooks Home Chef Service

www.friendthatcooks.com

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting

www.bodellconsulting.com

 

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Brandon O'Dell

 

Friend That Cooks Home Chef Service

www.friendthatcooks.com

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting

www.bodellconsulting.com

 

Reply
post #21 of 22

chefwriter and Phaedrus pretty much nailed it.  Servers need to be informed of the process needed to handle allergies.  This will probably be more difficult in a few more years, as other allergies are discovered.  But you cannot escape it.  Sure, the line misses a few beats on a busy night, but that has to be factored into the service.  You know some nights you'll get six requests, and other nights zero.  Chef, if you were on the receiving end, wouldn't you expect the kitchen's best effort?  I would.  Keep doin' it right!  Good luck.

post #22 of 22

I heard on the Eater Upsell podcast that this is the norm nowadays. Customers are saying they are allergic to something when they really just don't like something.

I'm definitely gonna use the Epipen trick when I open my place. That was brilliant!

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