Picky eaters

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Chefs Bite Back: In Some Cases, the Customer Isn’t Always Right

This Washington Post article discusses how some chefs won’t change their dishes at the request of a patron, whether it’s for dietary reasons or simple preference. Though the article doesn’t mention vegetarians, this is something that we deal with anytime we’re eating out at a non-veggie restaurant.

I’m of the mindset that if you’re extremely picky (close-minded) about your food and how it’s served, you shouldn’t be eating at a restaurant. Especially nice ones. If you have well-trained chefs, trust their taste and try what they has to offer. At the same time, I also believe that chefs should have a little bit of flexibility, when it’s reasonable.

For instance, if a dish comes with a meat side, then it’s not unreasonable for a vegetarian patron to request a vegetable side in its place. It won’t ruin a dish’s artistic integrity, it’ll please the patron, and it has the added benefit of saving the restaurant money (a bowl of lightly seasoned steamed broccoli will be cheaper than almost any meat-centric side).

As vegetarians, though, I think we need to be conscious of how we come off when we visit a restaurant. It’s one thing to ask whether a particular dish is cooked with chicken broth, it’s quite another to ask a chef to replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth, leave out the Worcestershire sauce, and add tofu in place of chicken chunks. I also don’t think it’s reasonable to ask that your meal be cooked on a surface separate from where meat is cooked… again, if you’re worried so much about personal purity or unavoidable traces, you probably shouldn’t be eating at a restaurant that serves meat. Of course, that’s also a compelling argument for supporting vegetarian restaurants… these things aren’t nearly as much of an issue.

Yes, restaurants and businesses in general strive to be customer-centric. However, visits to restaurants are more enjoyable when the customers themselves aren’t too customer-centric. As vegetarians, we’re automatically labeled by many as a hassle not worth dealing with (remember this article where chef Anthony Bourdain referred to vegans as “a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn”?). It’s in our best interest to be friendly—not confrontational—and flexible without compromising our beliefs.

4 Responses to “Picky eaters”

  1. aharris

    As a “picky eater” I try to take special care when ordering at a restaurant. I make an effort to pick something that will require (hopefully) no or…very simple modifications.

    I’m definitely not one of those UBER-obnoxious ppl who has a million requirements. But really…is it so hard to put a sauce on the side or serve a “lowly” burger plain? ;)

  2. Ryan

    The chefs of the world thank you, I’m sure. :)

    With regards to burgers and such (you mean Veggie Burgers, right? this *is* the Veg Blog, after all!), fast food’s another story. There ain’t exactly a chef behind a frozen burger being reheated…

  3. bellis

    I’m relatively flexible when it comes to eating out (and creative, to boot: several sides dishes can always make a meal), but of course, I do still run into this a lot. I DO wish more places would label vegetarian dishes, but it’s improving.

    I don’t mind asking for a seperate cooking surface, though; I’m honestly, diagnosed- ly allergic to beef. I find that the trick is all in how and what you ask for: if I very politely ask to have my mushroom burger cooked in a pan (instead of asking for a seperate grill to be used, which is a pain in the ass for the kitchen staff), and accept everything else as is, I’m always successful.

    As with everything, it’s all in being considerate, no?

  4. Ryan

    Bellis — I think in your case, asking for a separate cooking surface is more acceptible…

    And, yes, you’re right. It’s all in how you ask. :)

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