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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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In Dining Commentary

Do you trust the chef at a given restaurant to serve you delicious food? Then why are you requesting substitutions?

Don't be rude: Trust the chef


Last week, I read an article about how rude it is to request food substitutions in a restaurant if you don't have a food allergy.

If you haven't read it, you should, if only because it offers up a perspective seldom heard in the debate about customer behavior in restaurants – that of the chef.

It focuses on the thoughts of a young chef in London, who has observed an increasing number of people who insist upon requesting changes to the food that's served at his restaurant.

And it doesn't make him happy.

"The dishes are carefully thought through," he says. "What I can offer at both good value to the customer and make money for the business. It's a constant balancing act."

Before any of you jump up and say: "But, food allergies!" I want to point out that he very clearly commiserates with diners whose allergies require them to eat in a certain way, particularly those with Celiac disease. And he says he's happy to accommodate them.

But, he's not fond of the demands others seem to insist upon making.

"How hard is it to just pick something," he says, "if you are choosing to eat a certain way, that you can eat, rather than choose something because you want one part of it and then end up basically designing your own dish?"

And he's not alone in his sentiments.

I'd make bets that most chefs working in the industry – particularly those who own their own restaurants – feel similarly. And it's not a matter of having a bad attitude, or not wanting to provide excellent customer service. Not even close.

Chefs want people to enjoy their food. They really do. But, they want you to enjoy the food they actually make – the way that they make it.

They're orchestrating an experience for you. So, they want you to appreciate the finer details – from how they arranged the plate to the reasons why they put certain flavors together in a dish (and yes, every element is part of that whole picture).

Most of all – and I've heard this from numerous chefs around town – they want you to TRUST them.

Imagine you're a chef. You've gone to school for a number of years to learn the nuts and bolts of cooking. And you've probably spent at least twice that many years (or even more) working in restaurants, learning new techniques and developing your own unique cooking style.

Owning your own restaurant – and serving food that you've painstakingly prepared – is a way of sharing what you know. It's a way to showcase all that you've learned.

It's also – unromantically – a way of creatively making the most of increasingly expensive ingredients, while balancing the work required to put out dish after dish of delicious food, even on the busiest of nights.

When we choose to eat at a specific restaurant, we do so because we like the food they serve, right? So, why would we ask someone to change their food? Do we think we know how to make their food better than they do?

Years ago, chefs were seldom seen in a restaurant. Their work was done behind closed doors in dark kitchens. And somehow – despite that – we trusted them to do their jobs.

We ate their food and we chose whether or not to return to the restaurant based on what we experienced. We enjoyed it fully. Or we didn't. But, we trusted the chef to do his job.

And, in doing so, we respected our roles as diners.

A diner's job at a restaurant is not to dictate, to orchestrate or to control anything. In fact his or her job is – quite simply – to sit back and enjoy. Try something new. Let the chef take you on a journey to a place where, maybe, you've never been.

After all, trusting chefs – and letting them do the work they do best – is one of the highest compliments that you can offer.

Talkbacks

mygreendoor | Aug. 29, 2014 at 10:13 a.m. (report)

I agree. The chef in the article you linked to seems to think that making special requests stems from people reading misleading health information. But I eat out a lot in Milwaukee so I see a lot. There are also an awful lot of people that are simply afraid to try something new. If a dish contains an element that they've never tried before, or that sounds weird or looks weird, or that they tried once when they were 5 and hated - they immediately want it removed. It' sad because we have so many talented chefs in the Milwaukee area and tons of restaurants that really try to be creative and offer something new. Plus the opportunities to try dishes of ethnicities other than one's own. To just request that a dish be changed for not other reason that the fear of trying something new is really, really sad. And, if I were a chef, I'd also find it insulting.

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