Tuesday, June 14, 2011

re: substitutions

First of all, a note to panicked chefs everywhere, not every situation in which a guest wants to change things around a little should cause disaster in the kitchen!  People, after all, are individuals and as such may be adverse to certain things and where possible these things can be omitted/altered.

So to answer your question 'Anonymous' if you really want that certain item but want it without the red peppers, pause for a moment and evaluate the state of the restaurant. 

1. Is it a leisurely Wednesday night, a few tables relax around the dining room, the service staff seem to be moving at a reasonable pace, a look of calm resting on their countenance?


2. Is it Saturday night at 6:30pm every single seat in the restaurant is full and the servers look frantic, running back and forth from the kitchen to the tables begging for it all to be over?

You must learn as a guest to decipher where in between these two extremes the restaurant you are in is at, at that moment, if it's not packed, request the substitution, but if it's crazy busy, perhaps choosing something else would be a good idea.  Too many substitutions can grind an entire service to a halt - have you ever wondered why your food is taking so long?  Every guest in a busy restaurant affects the service of the other guests dining at the same time.

Take any action that you do over and over on a daily basis that is second nature to you and have someone tell you that every 6th time you do that thing, you must change it just slightly - but in different ways each time - calling it out to you just moments before you have to make the change.

Also, be prepared to wait/pay for the changes you make to a menu item.  Trading cheddar for goat's cheese should cost you money.  Altering a dish takes extra time, often because it can't be made in a larger quantity with other plates of the same item.

I for one am surprisingly persnickety for my line of work, I ask for things to be omitted from dishes on many occasions - sometimes I even ask for extras or 'god forbid' the starch from a plate that is not my own.  But I am not upset when there is a surcharge on my bill for these things - and neither should any guest be.

Just make sure that in restaurants where the chef lovingly creates each plate to balance harmoniously together you don't attempt to re-invent the menu, you'll be remembered, but not fondly!


  1. I'm a no starch, extra veg gal myself. Fortunately someone usually has a fry or two leftover for me!

  2. I don't want to eat where you work. BITCH, BITCH, BITCH.

  3. To last "Anonymous" - take a shift or two sometime and then make your comment. This lovely blog is to inform people of the other side. Maybe you're being defensive for a reason...

  4. As a strict vegetarian and a foodie, my restaurant life is a series of substitutions. I don't mind paying extra when warranted but it bothers me to pay "steak prices" for my substituted mushrooms. This is one of the reasons that I started the Veggie Lunch Club. If restaurants are conscientious of dietary restrictions and add a suitable entree to their menu then they don't have to add extra time to their day by making something special for me. But until more people demand this I will let the restaurant know ahead of time that I would like a vegetarian option and most are happy to comply.

  5. To Anonymous 10:48 - you probably do eat where I work, and you probably get great service no matter what kind of idiosyncrasies you have. Re-read the post, it's not bitching, in fact it's a response to a question from a reader (check the comments on the last post).

    To Anonymous 10:53 - THANK YOU, it's nice to know that people get the blog, and understand the perils of serving!

    To Goodness Baker - I agree completely, and thank you for mentioning that you call ahead. A small courtesy to the restaurant and its staff to allow them to serve you better!

  6. Thanks for the additional info! Will help for future reference :)
    Like Goodness Baker, I'm a vegetarian too so substitutions happen a LOT with me - it's too bad more restaurants don't offer a meat-free entree (and no I don't mean fish!). I'd love to know more about her veggie lunch club!