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Working the Line: Picky Diners and Special Requests

In restaurants, we believe the customer is always right. Unless, of course, they’re not.

Sauce. Protein. Starch. Vegetable. All of these elements are seasoned and cooked in a way to make a delicious, harmonious dish. During menu development, chefs mix flavors and textures that (hopefully) rock a diner’s world. They consider the season, the area, and what food trends are sweeping the fine dining world. Blood, sweat, and tears are part of this exhaustive process, which is why it makes the kitchen sad when diners ask for modifications before even tasting a dish. Case in point: Sally Albright in When Harry Meets Sally. Try not to be like her.

Here are a few things that make our hearts sink when we read your table’s ticket:

  • SOS (Sauce on the side)
    • Why? You haven’t even tried it!
  • Chicken cooked extra well-done.
    • 165 degrees is the recommended temperature. Your chicken will be juicy and salmonella free, we promise! But apparently you enjoy jerky.
  •  Seafood cooked extra well-done.
    • If it’s shellfish, then you’ll be spending a long time chewing what is now nearly rubberized.
    • If it’s a piece of fin fish, you’re destroying the texture of it and again venturing into jerky territory.
  • Any piece of beef that is asked to be cooked to more than medium-rare.
    • You’re paying top dollar for this carnivorous delight. Why ruin it?
  • No salt
    • Seriously? I guess you don’t like flavor, either.

There are plenty more modifications that get sent through every day, but if you’re going to dine at a restaurant with excellent ratings and high prices, you really owe it to yourself to eat each dish the way our Chef recommends it. Heck, maybe even tell your server to go with the Chef’s choice. We love people who are up for trying anything!

(On a side note: If you’re on a diet, then you have my condolences. It’s probably depressing when everyone else in your party is sopping up sauces. Hopefully you will allow us some creative freedom to make your steamed items still tasty. And if you have a legitimate food allergy… that’s different. It then becomes the kitchen’s job to prepare a specialized meal that still takes you to flavor town.)

That being said, we do appreciate our customers and want them to have the best experience possible. I leave you with one of the best food-related movie clips from A Big Night. Stream it on Netflix.

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  • Greg Brown

    The customer is not always right. The customer is often wrong. But the customer is always respected.

  • Greg Brown

    Al least until the check is paid and they have left and then you can really go off on ’em.

  • long term chef

    Very short term way to approach your profession and business. The guest is paying the bill for you to have a job. Is it that tramatic to give the guest what they want whether it be nutrional, medical or preference reasons? Those of us who have been in the business long term understand the value of a regular guest, which we will do anything for. With your outlook, enjoy your restaurant which will be one of the 50% failed in less than two years. Lighten up, give the guest what they want and smile while you’re doig it!

  • long term chef

    Ooops! Nutritional

  • rndfw

    Complaining about “no salt” customers bothers me. Most people aren’t asking for no salt for fun or because they have bad taste; it’s because they have serious cardiac or blood pressure issues. Wouldn’t you want the chef to look out for your grandparent/parent?

  • Ryan Standifer

    Oh look another few paragraphs of whining. Can you guys wrap this up and make more space for another best burger list?

  • Greg Brown

    Just as you can’t go to a movie and ask them to change the ending to something you like, it is unrealistic to expect significant changes to a complicated entree. The vast majority of restaurants have their menus online, so one can choose flavors that are preferred before arrival. Health issues are another matter entirely, but again, menus are available prior to a visit to assist in judging what may have a higher sodium content. If you have medical issues with sodium then you should already have some basic education through your doctor or nutritionist to discern this prior to your visit. Just like the movie you went to expecting mediocre and were really surprised at how good it was, leaving preconceptions at the door and taking a food journey with your chef can be very rewarding.

  • Avid Reader

    Sauce on the side and how long they cook the meat are not significant changes to any entree whether simple or complicated. No salt, maybe.

  • Tinkerbell

    Not really thrilled with the tone of this new contributor. I was excited when you first announced you would have someone writing an ongoing perspective on working the line. But, this person is so negative and snarky, it’s a bit depressing to read. If you believe the old adage that your emotions come through in the food you prepare, I sure as heck wouldn’t want to eat something this contributor prepared. It would probably be bitter and/or tasteless with an acrid finish.

  • JSSS

    I often ask for sauce on the side because — even at some very expensive restaurants — so much sauce is slathered on that you cannot taste the underlying flavor of the item you ordered. I don’t particularly want your newest whiz bang sauce made from unicorn tears to completely mask the taste of my entree as I ordered the entree because I like the taste of it. I am happy to taste the unicorn tears sauce and apply it in reasonable doses, which I am able to determine because I AM THE ONE PAYING THE *^@# BILL.

  • Dalaimama

    I order sauce on the side because of the practice of drowning the entree in sauce. A drizzle of sauce is one thing but the trend is to apply sauce with a ladle, Also, sauces often tend to be overly sweet or overly complicated and every dish on the menu features lots of sugary sauce. Hence the request for no sauce or sauce on the side. Because my steak doesn’t particularly need balsamic drizzle with tomato-maple compote.

    This line cook seems very, very young. Work often involve doing things that are annoying, dealing with people who are picky, and generally having to be flexible. This applies to ANY career, whether in service, corporate, or creative. There is a customer in every job and the customer tends to want things a certain way. Is it a giant pain at times? Sure. But the whole concept of a job is that you are being paid to make the customer happy.

  • Carol Shih

    I think you’re missing the humor in her post. She’s not being negative. Merely relaying her experiences in the kitchen.

  • kYle

    I respect that chefs know how to prepare their dishes and how they want them served. But they do not know my palette. When I eat a dish with sauce, I prefer to taste the item both with and without sauce so I always order “SOS.” Now that you know it’s not personal, I hope that decreases the level of your heart sink.

  • rvponders

    Could not have said it better myself – kept trying to, and was not getting my point across. But basically, THIS!

  • rvponders

    Carol and Nancy, if nothing else, your new contributor definitely gets the discussion going – that’s gotta be a plus!