Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dueling Bloggers: Customer Customization

Thanks for all the comments on last week's debate. While we aren't positive (our historian is checking), rumor is it was the first meaningful discussion on the internet that did not detour into a mudslinging, nasty name calling affair. You guys and broads brought up insightful, intelligent points that we hadn't even thought about and greatly contributed to the discussion. So congrats, dear readers. We made history. The issue of cash vs. credit cards has no correct, definitive answer, much like which Olsen sister is hottest. Now onto another topic, diners who customize their orders.

Rene: The worst person in the world to eat with is Legend. Doesn't really matter where you go: high-end temple of gastronomy, cozy bistro, or fast food chain, he will customize his order to fit what he wants. For example, "I want the steak, but the potatoes from the fish, the sauce from the chicken, and the dessert from the place across the street." I can't stand this. At most restaurants, a diner should only be able to customize their order when asked. For instance, you may answer "medium rare" when asked, "How would you like your steak cooked?" Or you may tell the waitress how you like your eggs cooked. Eating with a picky, customizing orderer makes me want to crawl under the table. Just order the dish as it is on the menu. And remember, dressing on the side is about as cool as a bag of Robert Peytons. No matter what anyone says, you are going to eat the whole damn mini-tub of ranch anyway.

Peter: Remember when I wrote that story about the Old Broads from Broad Street? You know, that cadre of waitresses who migrated from the original Ruth's to the new restaurant in the Harrah's Hotel? (No? Well, I couldn't the link online, so apparently that article doesn't exist.) Anyway, when I asked those girls what it was like to work for Ruth Fertel, they all echoed the same memory: "Ms. Ruth's philosophy was always: "Give the customer whatever they want.'" Some restaurants pretend as if it takes an act of Congress to get the kitchen to swap rice for potatoes with your fish. If Connie at Ruth's could hand crush peppermint candies to make The Pope's beloved peppermint ice cream (which had been taken off the menu much to the dismay of the 11 year old Ponitff), then I should be able to get bernaise instead of demi glace with my lambchops.

Rene: A restaurant, a good one at least, is a highly tuned machine. Any little change in cooking, plating, or ingredients can throw a kitchen out of sync. Which means your meal could suffer. To increase your odds of pleasurable dining, decrease your special requests. Recently I heard of a story in which a group went into a recently opened New Orleans restaurant and asked for a "tasting of curry." Note: This was not an Indian restaurant. Now, I will concede that if you have dietary restrictions or are a practicing Bloggletarian*, then you may request kindly that the kitchen do something special. But the carte blanche approach smacks of Veruca Salt , "I want this Mexican restaurant to make me German food with candy corn topping and snozzberry ice cream, Daddy." I'll let you customize, but only when absolutely necessary. Also, you have to remember the most important rule, "Dont be an asshole."

Peter: I have to agree, but only to a certain extent. I'll go back to my argument above re: it's not that f*cking hard for a cook to switch out sauces and side dishes, provided that the different ingredient is offered elsewhere on the menu. Funny story about that though. Christmas 2006. My entire family travels across the pond to visit my sister, who was spending her junior year in Paris. Dining out in a foreign country is difficult enough with the requisite language barrier, but my father's healthy eating habits made it even worse. Everywhere we ate, he desperately tried to customize his order by supplementing vegetables. My sister - at the time the only one of us who spoke any French worth a damn - refused to help my Dad, using the classical excuse, "They don't let you substitute like that in France." Pops was always polite and smiled when he said in this most awkward Frenglish accent, "Les vegetables?" The rest of us would cringe at this exercise in futility, and the waiter would just smile and look confused. Looking back, I have to thank my Dad for showing me exactly what NOT to do when dining out abroad, because when I returned that summer I felt like an old pro when it came to European restaurants.

Rene: You want customization? Been brainwashed to have it your way by Madison Avenue hucksters with catchwords, buzzphrases, and you are special dreams? Cook at home. There you can make a tahini and falafel gyro or delight in eggs benedict hold the Canadian bacon, add avocado. When I eat at restaurants, I want to taste the chef's food. I want an idea of how he cooks, how she thinks, or what her training is. This doesn't mean you have to agree with the chef's decision to place foie gras on top of a fried chicken, stuffed biscuit, but you should try it that way before disagreeing with it. When you customize at a restaurant it is like telling a girl, "I think you would be pretty if you lost 10 pounds." Finally, people love to say, "I love this or that restaurant because it feels like dining at someone's house." Well, most dinner parties I go to (read here: once - haven't been invited back), I have never had a say in the menu.

Peter: I agree with you - diners need to be more adventurous and trusting of chefs when it comes to uncommon combination of ingredients, flavors, and textures. But what if someone walks into restaurant, with a wallet full of cash (or credit) and willing to spend it, but they don't like beets? Does Donald Link allow a diner to order the braised pork rib without them? You're right, for the most part, chefs design a dish such that each ingredient serves a specific role in the overall composition. But, again, it's their money. Why shouldn't a restaurant give the customer without they, as long as it's within reason?


* Your friend and ours, Bloggle, has become a vegan or something like that. If you need him, he can be found playing in the drum circle at Panic Nolaween and trying to sell you a vegan burrito.

12 comments:

Becky said...

What about people that, before ordering, ask one thousand questions about every dish on the menu? I hate that worse that a straightforward request for a substitution (within reason). Can that be next week's topic?

Bloggle said...

Zing*

(* keep rebuffing my efforts to dine on the Wank and I'll have to eat some Nem Nuong without you)

Rene said...

Becky,

Pretty much any diner that doesn't come in, sit down, and order as written on menu makes me squeamish.

Celeste said...

A little customization is fine: maybe I'm not in the mood for a starch today, so it's not too much trouble to get two veg sides, is it? I like the Italian style of a mix-and-match menu: a few antipasti, some primi, and a list of contorni so you can damn well have whatever you'd like...and not be subjected to the whims of a burned-out-palate, cheffy-wanna-be who lacks any sublety, finesse, or restraint.

$1.25 said...

I think it comes down to the level and ease of customization. Don't want mushrooms as the side for your steak, switching in some mashed potatoes (assuming they are elsewhere on the menu) should be fine.

Don't want anchovies in the Caesar salad dressing and or mushrooms in your soup and you're out of line.

Bottom line, if the switch is easy and doesn't disrupt the essence of the dish customization should be ok.

Which brings up the rebuttal to this point: "Why shouldn't a restaurant give the customer without they, as long as it's within reason"

From my limited cooking experience, altering just a few things within a dish can have a profound effect on how the final product comes across. Imagine the potentially harmful effect of someone coming in to a restaurant and over customizing the dish, and then hating it.

When that person talks about their experience at that restaurant, they'll talk about how they got the red fish and hated it. They won't talk about how they changed every little aspect of the red fish and turned it into some horrific abortion of the chef's idea.

Sorry for the book, but this is another good discussion.

Andrew said...

I'm a cook at a very busy restaurant downtown, and I can tell you that Peter is right. As long as the substitution involves something we have in house and ready to use, we can generally substitute anything without it causing even a slight problem. At the end of the day, our job is to make people happy, and if that means subbing one thing for the other we'll generally be more than happy to do it.

Rene said...

Andrew, 75 Cents more than Fitty, et al,

Subbing for things already on the menu, ok. But what about if someone walks in and demands a dish entirely made up in their head? "I'll have grilled lake trout, with banana fosters sauce, and a wedge of aged gouda"

Andrew said...

Unless it's too busy to be possible, we'll definitely try to accommodate people's requests, even if they ask for things we don't have on the menu. I've made alfredo and marinara sauces on the fly, even though neither is on the menu, and we will come up with special vegetarian/vegan options for people who don't like what's available. Obviously, there are limits, but if someone wants white chocolate sauce on their fish, we'd put it there if their server couldn't talk them out of it first.

$1.25 said...

Rene,

At that point you just head to a different restaurant. If you're changing the menu/dish entirely just hire a personal chef for the evening.

Anonymous said...

Rene,
what if you have a choice of two sides that normally come on the plate? Is it cool to ask for a double of one and skip the other, if you've been going there for years and know that one is essentially food of the gods and the other is generally dreck?

jeffrey said...

What about people who have special dietary needs due to health issues? Perhaps someone is on a low-Veruca regimen, for example.

*sorry*

Rene said...

Anon,

I see two sides and my choice as fitting into my exclusion that a diner a can customize when the option is given. So if you are asked, fries or corn grits you could say, two corn grits.

Jeffrey, A pun is ALWAYS welcome in this neck of the webs. Well played.