Can Restaurants Say “No” to Special Requests?

The Lempert Report
January 09, 2020

We have all seen it – some menus politely state “please no substitutions” while others may be more forceful and say that the kitchen will not vary their recipes for any reason.

Their loss.

When did we allow chefs to be so powerful? Are we afraid to offend them? Do we want to earn their smiles and nods so badly that we forget that we are paying them?

In this terribly over blown foodie culture, have we forgotten that it is just a meal? And you know what happens to that food, whether it is delicately and beautifully prepared from a fancy restaurant or a meal from Denny’s a day or so later.

Alinea—a Chicago restaurant that ranks among the world’s best places to eat— has updated their policy. Chef and proprietor Grant Achatz says that common dietary restrictions, such as pescatarian and vegetarian, are accepted as long as the guest informs the restaurant three days in advance, but aversions, or any allergy that can be triggered by cross-contamination, are no longer accommodated.

Town & Country magazine writes that according to several prominent chefs, it seems that restaurants are having to field more and more dietary requests from diners. Many, like Alinea, have devoted significant manpower to eliciting, and satisfying, customers’ requirements, from their life-threatening allergies to their most finicky dislikes. The process often starts the moment the reservation is made.

And they should.

Manhattan’s most celebrated Italian restaurant, Del Posto, has offered gluten-free versions of every single pasta on the menu for close to a decade. The restaurant’s chef, Melissa Rodriguez, remains committed to pleasing, she has noticed an increase in the number of customers who can’t, or simply won’t, eat certain foods. Her staff continually updates a color-coded spreadsheet called the “Allergy Matrix,” which lists all of Del Posto’s dishes and whether they can be adjusted to suit certain restrictions.

In this era of increased competition, higher prices and declining foodservice sales – perhaps its time we remember that the customer comes first.