No, you cannot have the flounder fried: A chef on saying no

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by live_to_cook, Apr 30, 2003.

  1. live_to_cook

    live_to_cook

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    A discussion spinning off a statement from Washington D.C.'s Gillian Clark, the chef and co-owner of Colorado Kitchen. (Scroll down a bit to get to where people are responding to what she said.)

    http://discuss.washingtonpost.com/wp...sema043003.htm

    Excerpt: There is a community of customer who dines out at places with heralded chefs like Carole or Susan Lindeborg or Ann Cashion or Todd Gray…but want the food to be prepared the way they’ve always had it or eaten it. To these customers I ask, “Why aren’t you at your mother's table?”
     
  2. peachcreek

    peachcreek

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    I used to run my own little restaurant. I cooked and hired people during the busy Summer months and did it all myself the rest of the year.
    It was early in the season, most of the tourist traffic would show up after the 4th of July weekend. I wasn't very busy, it was the beginning of the season, so I was still friendly to my customers when a young couple come in and sat down for lunch. I had the guy pegged as a burger and beer guy easy enough, but the gal studied the menu intently, read the entire menu at least twice and finally put it down. I came over and started taking their order. "You know, there isn't anything on your menu I'm in the mood for" she told me. "I was thinking of something like a Chef Salad*with lots of stuff on it". I said "like tiny organic spring greens and maybe some fresh baby carrots and radishes, possibly with a little 2 year old shaved procuitto, Nicoice olives, some kind of good cheese?" "Yea" she said. I could tell that I was saying all the right things. "I have a woman who grows all these exotic greens and baby veggies for me. She just delivered some beautiful produce this morning. I have a really nice fresh herb viniagrette I use as my house dressing. It is very good" I told her. She nodded in agreement and then I tried to leave before I heard the dreaded words. I was almost to the kitchen door when she called "waiter, can I get THE DRESSING ON THE SIDE". I went back to the table.
    "Ma'am, are you allergic to something in the dressing?" I asked. "No", she said "I just like my dressing on the side, please". That is when I snapped. I told her no. I said "Do you want it on the side because you are afraid that I'm going to go back to the kitchen and dump a big glop of dressing over your salad and serve it to you?" She said yes, that that was the way she expected to get a salad is the Iceberg lettuce with the carrot shreds and a big glob of dressing over the top. I said 'Just because you have eaten at places where the salads are made by teenagers who have no idea what they are doing, you are going to judge me by that same standard after we have have a 10 minute intelligent conversation on exactly how I am going to prepare your salad, well you are wrong. You will eat that salad the way I prepare it which is to toss the greens lightly in the dressing before assembling it or you will have to order something off of the menu". She got the salad. She loved it. She told me that next time she would take my word for how something was to be prepared.
    She must have had a lot of friends because my waitstaff heard about 'the salad incident" from different customers the rest of the season.




    *I have a real aversion to "Chef Salad". To me it conotes a "kitchen sink" salad.
    But then again can a cook actually make a Chef salad? lol.
     
  3. jim berman

    jim berman

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    Just curious, though... how much do we have to sacrifice creativity to have good business savvy?
    After reading the Washington Post column, I thought how many times had I wanted to decline a special request or 'modification', but my business sense kicked in. But then again, if somebody were to make a big stink about an allergy, do you really win that person's dollars if they still think they have been 'poisoned', as mentioned in the article? Or, to make it even more of an issue, where do you draw the line? Are you unwaivering in your menu concept? For instance, you have menued a 'signature' sandwich on a specialty bread, but the customer requests a different bread, do you bend? If so, where do you draw the line? If not, will you encounter financial problems by loosing those unrelenting customers?
     
  4. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm one of those with a health reason to question menus. And I often request dressing on the side. But it's because I have to manage sodium. Dressing is often high sodium. The cheese, while potentially high, would have to be discussed in a bit more detail as to type and amounts.

    Signature breads are often high sodium too.

    I understand if the cook can't profitably meet my needs, but the discussion is important.

    Phil
     
  5. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    If you're profitable, you're doing something right. You don't get lucky in the restaurant biz. If you want to be more profitable then you might entertain some suggestions, such as "I'd order the flounder more often if you offered it fried." If you have enough time to leisurely change a dish during the rush then I'd suggest finding the best price you can for your business.

    Food allergies are difficult. Trace amounts of peanut protein could kill a child and put an adult in hospital for a coupla days. These are some things we cannot control. We don't cook in a "clean" room. You run the risk of killing your allergic customer your hands contain peanut oil or heaven forbid, shellfish jus! But then again, even kids with allergies these days have the savvy to avoid packaged foods which were processed in a facility which also processes peanuts. We hope our customers are as smart as their kids.

    I sometimes wonder if chefs are a little consumed by hubris. Who are we to tell people what's good or not, after all, that's a personal thing isn't it? Lutefisk anyone? I think not, but one wouldn't go to a lutefisk dinner and ask for fried flounder instead would they? Just what do people expect when they go to a "restaurant" then? Do they go to a restaurant to eat the salad with figs and blue cheese or are they rudely surprised when they don't get a "dinner salad" at the French Laundry? After all, the Lone Star steakhouse serves the salad before the steak... and they always have ranch dressing.

    You can somehow tell those who will be trouble and those who come for the food. Stereotyping? No, customer profiling! :) My guess is if you're getting too many special requests then you're not reaching the right market. Do some homework, make some changes, and perhaps these special requests will go away.

    Kuan
     
  6. ruffins

    ruffins

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    I have been an exec chef for 15 years. I have worked all over the country. I have worked in small upscale Inns, country clubs, destination resorts….I have yet to find a group of customers that have the identical taste as me. I like some pretty weird stuff. (I love Thai fish sauce, a.k.a. liquid butt) When I first had control over my menus, I was much like the DC chef. I took major offence at people changing my hard work. I took verbal shots at them (from the kitchen), and would loose sleep over it. Then came the owners and explained how that money thing worked. It would be really nice to be able to have a restaurant where you could be so arrogant, but there are not many of those around. I am very appreciative (far more than the average person) of the creativity of my peers. I love to try new things, and pride myself on eating everything. But I do have family members/wife/friends that I eat out with regularly, that don’t like the things I like. Some of these people are very very picky. If I went to eat at her (DC Chef’s) restaurant and my wife didn’t like Brussels sprouts, and I was paying $30++ per plate, and she gave my wife a hard time….That’s crap! You get your respect from the people who appreciate your best. You try to make happy the rest, or you end up with a giant yard sale that once looked like your restaurant!
     
  7. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    BTW, soup **** on Seinfeld seems to do fine. Which reminds me of a time when I bought a new suit. I was having the pants chalked up to be hemmed when my wife asks me if I want cuffs. The tailor (his card reads Salvatore Guillermo, Master Tailor.) immediately stands up in the air and pushes out his chest and declares in no uncertain terms... NO! No cuffs! No cuffs on these pants!

    I admit, I've never seen 5' 3" look so tall. He then gave us the explanation that unpleated pants looked better with no cuffs. It made sense, cuffs broke up the clean lines.

    OK, no cuffs... :)

    Kuan
     
  8. greg

    greg

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    There's a restaurant here in Saint Paul ( Zander's) that, last I heard, allowed no substitutions. They are wildly successful. Go figure.
     
  9. eurochef

    eurochef

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    Ferran Adria at El Bulli does so apparently. Just read an article in the UK 'restaurant magazine' where it states that "food is delivered to the table with instructions like 'drink it all at once, do not stop' and 'eat it all at once, do not bite into it'.

    I had a customer myself today who wanted her fish cooked without any dairy products. Then she had a lemon tart (made with butter in it) for dessert. We told her so and she still had it. People like that make me angry!
     
  10. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    My favorite is the person who is ''allergic'' to anchovies, but when you explain that the caesar dressing is also made with anchovies they state that that is all right!!
     
  11. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    As a personal chef making dishes to my client's specs are what I do.....there are some that say make what you're in the mood to make and others that have children that don't like green flecks on their food. So I make the fish of the week with teriyaki, don't buck the system and do the other dishes to my whim......boring, easy but you know if that's what they want, I'll take the money.
    I have walked away from inital meetings and not taken on the clients. I do cook specialized diet stuff (Pritiken currently, and some low carb/high protein.....easy enough)
    THOUGH I did draw the line with green bean casserole.
    I do make crab rangoon for one family I've cooked for 8 years....the kid thing....
    Once a client described a meeting she was having and instead of selling her on fancy stuff, I told her to get a wheel of brie and pour fig jam on top and get water crackers. She has had me cater alot of other parties since then.
    It seems there is always ONE waiter that has 90% of the special orders......Go figure.
     
  12. pastramionrye

    pastramionrye

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    if you are successful in your inflexibility, all the more power to you. but the reality is in our society (probably more an american thing than a dining out thing), us as chefs will have to be flexible...i guarantee thomas keller and patrick o'connell dont say "NO" to their customers.

    take pride in the few customers out there (foodies and people in the biz) that like your food the way you iontend it to be....and then look at the other people as ones you want to satisfy in order to not alienate and not create a negative buzz about your restaurant.
     
  13. peachcreek

    peachcreek

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    We do hundred(s) of people per day and RARELY get substitutions. And, yes, in my older age I relent to these but we do not guarantee any results of peoples' own "food editing". You change it, you bought it. We get maybe a couple of people subbing food per week. And a house salad with dressing on the side? No problem. People come to my restaurant because they like the way I make MY food and the customers seem to know that. Call me lucky. Or maybe I'm known in our little town as being so arrogant that they just leave my food the way I make it because the THINK I'm the "Soup ****". Either way works for me. You can't buy that kind of rep....
    And I AM culinarily divergent......A rebel without a sauce.....
     
  14. chiffonade

    chiffonade

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    One of my favorite movie quotes...from Big Night... When a patron orders "spaghetti and my husband can have the meatballs," Secondo replies: "The spaghetti does not come with meatballs." Patron: "No meatballs??" Secondo replies:

    "Sometimes spaghetti likes to be alone."

    Remember the days when a quarter head of hacked lettuce (still in its shape!) with a slice of tomato on top was presented as a salad?

    Remember Lucy ordering ketchup for her snails? (Thank God that was actually scripted for a laugh...)

    Some people are simply destined to be culinarily challenged. :rolleyes:
     
  15. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    shroom, you noticed that too, about waitstaff!! It seems, in every restaurant I work in there is one or two servers that have a little special that they like to sell. You know, that one server that always seems to get the guests who prefer ''the fish with hollandaise instead of the regular sauce, or the steak topped with mushrooms'', etc. Now, I am not against making these substitutions, but I find it funny that only guests of that one server seem to ask for those items.;)
     
  16. daveb

    daveb

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    The mention of hubris on the part of some chefs reminded me of an incident a few years back. I was having lunch in a small bar in lower Manhattan. When I asked if I could have French fries instead of mashed with my N.Y. Strip I was told, quite haughtily, that the chef did not permit substitutions. If I wanted fries, I'd have to have the rib eye.

    Go figure.:confused:
     
  17. gilbo

    gilbo

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    Long, long ago, in a land far away, a young hotshot was working in a small restaurant. He felt important and powerful. His food was very good, and he was very happy.
    One day(Monday), a certain regular at the bar asked for "just a baked potato". The young chef refused,noting that his resources were limited, and selling a potato would, eventually, prevent him from selling an entree. The customer and waitress begged and cajoled but the young chef was steadfast.
    Eventually, the waitress involved the owner."it's a slow night, give her the potato."said the owner. "If we do, she will expect it, again!" the customer, waitress and owner assured the chef that such a thing would never happen.
    Four days later, on the busiest night of the week,when the young chef is jumping like a one-legged man in an arse kickin' contest, an order appears for 4 baked potatoes at table 3. Our customer , and three of her barfly buddies, are sitting AT A TABLE, telling the new waitress that the young chef does it for her "all the time"
    That is why the NOW old chef has a philosophy that no good deed goes unpunished. The End.
     
  18. suzanne

    suzanne

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    Gilbo: did the young chef already have baked potato on the menu? In that case, why the fuss? If not, what does it take to bake a potato?
    1. leave station, go to storage area and get potato (variable time, depending on how far it is to storage)
    2. return to station (less time than going and finding)
    3. wash potato (15 seconds?)
    4. rub potato with oil, salt, and stab a couple of time (15 seconds?)
    5. stick potato into oven (or, god forbid, into microwave) (5 seconds)
    6. wait while potato bakes (cook is now doing other tables normally; customer is spending more money at the bar, at a much higher markup) (no additional time)
    7. take potato out of oven (5 seconds)
    8. put potato on plate, garnish with whatever is already on station (15 seconds)
    9. signal waiter to pick up and deliver potato to customer (1 second).[/list=1]

      Total extra time: 1 minute plus travel back and forth to storage.

      Was the young chef working all alone in the kitchen, with absolutely no one else around who could go get the potato and wash it? Not on the busy night, I'll bet.

      My point is that your example is, to me, a no-brainer. The customer came back with three NEW customers, and all because of a marginally tiny extra amount of work. Next time, if you want to show why it's a bad thing to give in to customer requests, find a stronger example. Like having to rinse the dressings off 7 different antipasto salads (individually) and replate the whole dish, which I had to do once. A royal pain, but I did it. And she NEVER asked for that to be done again; she ordered something else on future visits. :D
     
  19. chefkell

    chefkell

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    4 guests ordering a baked potato for dinner, taking up space on a busy night where you may have 4 DINERS that are spending on entrees??? Let me think about that for a minute....:D

    I'd do the baked potato, quote a time of 55 minutes and charge them 12 dollars.
    It would be a baked potato of great proportion, integrity and gastronomic significance. Quenelles of sour cream, freshly snipped chives, crisp bacon lardons and copious amounts of Plugra butter. Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper, perfectly fluffy and delicious in every way.

    Now it's MINE! You come back again for it, no problem...I just acquirred a new menu item and it's on all the time now. That's exactly how I'd word it too..." Just a baked Potato". Now it's controversial too! Just a baked potato for $12!?! What the heck is THAT?!?!...you get my drift.
     
  20. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    I like that :)

    There's a Jazz club in Los Angeles called the Baked Potato. Very cool, used to hang out there quite a bit. Terrible potatoes, good jazz.

    Kuan