|(Photo by laszlo-photo)|
I’m somewhat amused when I see “Modifications and substitutions politely declined” on a menu. I used to think it was a mark of cheapness at fast food or low-end restaurants – an indication of pre-made meals, making modifications impossible. But now this notice is not uncommon at high-end restaurants as well, such as Zambri’s in Victoria:
“Substitutions politely declined. While modifications & substitutions may seem easy to accommodate, these requests compromise the unique characteristics of our food & the efficiency of our service.”
The above is clear – no changes of any sort allowed. But sometimes it’s not so black and white. Some menus state “no substitutions” – which should mean you can’t have one thing for another. But, they should be able to omit some ingredients without any problem. Whereas restaurants that state no modifications may have a problem with any change whatsoever, as per the above. And any such notice discourages questions or requests, so you might never find out the extent of its enforcement. It’s good that at least restaurants are now stating this right on their menu, rather than waiting for patrons to make the request, only to be declined, resulting in awkwardness and time wasted in having to re-read the menu.
I understand that restaurants have their reasons. It must be a pain in the butt to have to keep track of which dishes have been modified. I’m sure it slows down service all around. The items being subbed in may cost more. There’s the cost of time in noting the change, keeping track of it, and then customizing the individual dish.
Then there’s the ego-related reasons of food being the chef’s artistic expression and being meant to be eaten exactly how it was originally envisioned. I get that the customer might disrupt a flavor balance and that the chef might be worried that if a component is left out or added, the dish will no longer taste as it’s supposed to, which runs the risk of the customer being dissatisfied, with the chef being unfairly blamed.
However, in my opinion, there’s nothing polite about declining substitutions and modifications. The customer is paying for the food and the service. Yes, the customer can choose to not dine at such restaurants. But whatever happened to common courtesy and hospitality? The customer is a guest, and a paying one at that. If the customer has allergies, they’re not welcome in your “home”? If they have a strong food preference, you’re not wiling to try to accommodate it? If they would simply like you to leave an ingredient out, or serve it on the side, it’s considered acceptable to flat out refuse? Where’s the customer service?
If the server would like to explain to me how the modification may adversely affect my culinary experience, any such wisdom will be appreciated and taken into consideration. However, in the end, it should be my choice, within reason. I acknowledge that there may be unreasonable fussy diners out there, and if a dish stops resembling what’s on the menu, well, the line has to be drawn somewhere. But to outright deny any changes to my meal before even knowing what they are? I find that arrogant.
Although Zambri’s policy was not personally an issue for me, as I found dishes that I was happy to eat unaltered, the policy did not sit well with me. Victoria Beckham and Gordon Ramsay were also less than impressed when such a policy was enforced on them at Gjelina. And I remember reading about people from the paleosphere at the Ancestral Health Symposium last year who indulged at LA’s Animal, gluten and all due to its “changes and modifications politely declined” policy.
What’s your take on no modification/substitution policies?