There’s an interesting bit from the New York Times, regarding chefs who don’t always cower to the demanding customers.
At a pea-size Lower East Side bistro known for its fries, the admonition is spelled out on a chalkboard: No ketchup. At a popular gastropub in the West Village, customers cannot have the burger with any cheese other than Roquefort.
And at Murray’s Bagels in Greenwich Village and Chelsea, the morning crowd can order its bagels topped any number of ways but never — ever! — toasted. “It’s really annoying, because a toasted bagel is kind of fierce, right?” Jamie Divine, a product designer and frequent patron, said with a hint of an eye-roll.
New York has spawned a breed of hard-line restaurants and cafes that are saying no. No to pouring takeout espressos, or grinding more than a pound of coffee at a time. No to taming the intensity of a magma-spicy dish. And most of all, no to the 21st-century conviction that everything can be accessorized to the customer’s taste.
I’m of several minds. Overall, this is a good thing. When it comes to restaurants, some restaurants, really, there has to be such a thing as chef’s choice. There has to be some measure of understanding that the restaurant’s menu is the result of planning and often shaped to the chef’s strengths and whatever theme and or idea that they are trying to convey. It is difficult for me to have any tolerance or understanding for a person who goes to a place and demands items that aren’t on the menu. The simple answer for those who go to a burger place and are annoyed that they can’t have anything but Roquefort cheese on their cheeseburger is to go someplace else, or go home and make their own.
There are exceptions of course. At places like TGIFridays and others of this cloth, there’s a basic philosophy of pleasing the customer, regardless of the suggestion. Additionally, I believe that food allergies should play into the equation. But to ask for something else, or to alter a dish, simply because one doesn’t like what is offered? To me that’s problematic. If everyone who walked into the door had the option to choose something off of the menu, then the kitchen would have to make allowances for that. This isn’t a viable long term strategy for many restaurants.
That being said, a restaurant can go to far. Only prohibiting “dining companions from ordering the same dish” does no one any good. If I see something on the menu and wish to try it, but can’t, simply because my partner ordered it first, it seems at bit, well, fascist.
There is a middle area, I think. At some point in the restaurant world, we need to have faith that those in the kitchen really do know what is going on, and that we should trust their judgement in both taste and experience.