Special Needs. Not quite a rant. But quite long.

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by prairiechef, Jan 27, 2012.

  1. prairiechef

    prairiechef

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    We care. Honestly, we do. We care that you can’t eat shellfish, or gluten. We care that you are allergic to onions in all their variants, and we care that you can’t eat pepper.

    We care.

    But we also run a business. We could make our business all about taking care of special needs, but the fact is, you aren’t the only one with a special need. For every coeliac, there’s a diabetic, or  someone with crohn’s. We simply can’t keep you all happy.  We need to move food… we can’t have ingredients sitting in the cooler past their use-by date, and we can’t dedicate 10% of our menu space to an item that only gives us 2% of our sales.

    Where do we draw the line? Do I need special tables for the very tall? Special seats for the very heavy? Tiny tables for Little People? Perhaps large print menus for those with failing eyesight and braille menus for the blind?

    There is a limit to what we are capable of as a business. We need to remain profitable. Unfortunately, it seems that every individual that has a “special need” thinks that if only my restaurant would cater to them, it would be the secret to untold riches. That every coeliac would beat a path to my door, if only I would have more gluten free items. That I would be mecca for diabetics if only I would change my offerings.

    It simply doesn’t happen. I have seen the stat that 1 in 133 people has some form of coeliac’s disease. So let’s explore this stat, as it sounds quite high. ( I am going to use coeliacs disease as my example since it’s simply the most common comment I hear)

    In a city of 800,000 people, that means 6015 people are coeliacs. Spread over (in my case) 9418 squared km.  I’m going to speculate that the average diner doesn’t want to drive more than 20km to eat (I know I don't), so that means I can draw my customers from 400 square km. Using the average of .64 coeliac’s per square km, I’ve got about 256 possible Coeliacs within “regular” range. How often are they going to come into my restaurant? Once a week? Let’s say I get ALL of them in once a week. That would be 1/6 of my customer base. So a decent share of menu space should reflect this. If I have 24 items on my menu, 4 should be gluten-free. My actual menu is 43% gluten free (12/28 items). So, judging by what the average Coeliac says in online forums, I SHOULD be packed with coeliacs. I see about 2 a week. 2/1500. I other words… 0.001% of my customer base. Here’s the kicker. I STILL get coeliacs that complain that I don’t offer enough choice. Why? Because I don’t have the exact item on the menu that they wish I had.

    It’s not worth it. I need to cater to the other 99.999% of my customers. Now, that said, that other 99.999% don’t seem to mind the GF items, and many quite like them. Great. But, if I replace my GF penne with wheat penne, they aren’t going to bat an eye, and I can make more money by doing so.

    We do care. But please, don’t berate my staff, or try and “educate” them about your specific requirements. It’s boorish and pointless.  If you come to our restaurants and can’t find anything to eat, please remember, we are a business, not a public service. We have no legal requirement to ensure that we can cater to everyone’s individual needs, and we make our choices based on sound financial evidence.  Make your voice heard to the manager.. tell them, politely, that you live or work nearby and can’t find any decent GF (or diabetic, or vegan etc) items and that you’d become a regular if only there was a bit more. It’s the manager’s job to crunch the numbers and see if it will work. If not? Well… we’re sorry.

    In the meantime,  I’ll keep working on my business plan for my “GF,vegan, diabetic, big and tall, short and small, wheelchair accessible, scent/peanut /shellfish/flower-free, low-calorie” restaurant . I’ll be raking in the dough when I open it, right?

    (sorry for the late edit... the deaf don't need braille menus... the blind do. :D  oops)
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2012
  2. chefboyarg

    chefboyarg

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    I agree with you in that it is not up to you to cater to every need out there and people should never berate service staff because a request could be accomodated.

    That being said, I do not think it is that unreasonable to have menu items that accomodate the more common allergies/needs. It is not that difficult to come up with a starter/entree for people with celiacs or with something like a shellfish allergy.  An allergy to something like onions or pepper is much more obscure and would be a bit of a stretch. Desserts for people who cannot consume gluten or dairycould be a bit more of a challenge as well.

    It would also be more challenging if you operate an establishment that uses a lot of processed foods, as it seems that they tend to contain gluten in one of its many incarnations.

    Just my two cents.
     
  3. foodnfoto

    foodnfoto

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    Prairie-that's beautiful.

    I love that you did all that number crunching-priceless.

    Our shop sells lots of organic, no-sugar, low sugar, alt sugar, juices, smoothies, nutri-boosters and such which seems to draw every dietary and nutri-wacky person in NY.

    I wish I coulde please all of them but it's hard to keep up with every diet trend of the moment.

    It might be karma, I used to be that way kinda
     
  4. guts

    guts

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    Crohn’s represent.
     
  5. chefedb

    chefedb

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    I had a salesman come and try and sell me low fat, healthy pasta at about $1.25 a pound (about 3 times as much  what I pay for normal pasta wholesale.) He explained all the good points to me and how it would keep everyone healthy and in top shape .( I'm thinking,If you are sick stay home and eat.)

     My reply to him was""very nice however I am running a food service facility not a health club  or a hospital " He looked at me  thanked me said 'I understand " and left.  Prairie chef, I agree wih you!
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2012
  6. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    I always thought of it as a challenge to make a buffet or event that would cover...GF, Vegans & omnivores.  One of my best friends has severe gluten allergies and so if she is having an event, I make sure the buffet is all GF.   Rice crackers, corn chips, dolmas, panko in crab cakes, dips/dunks, salads, veg platters.....nothing that would cross contaminate a communal dish....easy enough and most people don't realize that it is in fact GF.   

    Probably the biggest challenge was a GF vegan wedding @ a synagog.  Was the middle of summer, so lots of fresh produce was available.....I discovered Earth Balance, decent alternative.  EVO covers a whole lot of ground.

    Many times a gluten free person chooses the restaurant for the whole group....and shares with their gf friends, doctors etc....it's another marketing tool too.

    But, I'm with you on rudeness....so not cool to tie up waitstaff or a kitchen being extra whiny.  
     
  7. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    oh yeah, sorbet or poached fruit crosses a whole lotta needs.....dieters, GF, diabetics, etc.....Sounds lame, but I've sold a ton of poached pears with caramel sauce and amaretti for high end events...works well.
     
  8. foodpump

    foodpump

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    S
    OOohboy do I hear you. Everyone has a suggestion, and if I don't adopt their wunnerful ideas immediately, I'm a lousy business operator.  So I smile and nod, but inside my opinions are screaming to get out.

    Q: Y'know, you should have organic/fairtrade chocolate"

    (me, thinking).... Y'know, I don't think you know what orifice you are talking out of.  If I go f.t/organic, my bulk chocolate cost will go up by almost 90%, and the taste isn't really all that great   But then, what's the sense of using organic couverture if the rest of my ingredients aren't? So, let's say I go all-out organic, now my costs are well over 130% from my original sales price.  My packaging will not accomodate that kind of a price jump, I have to go high end to reflect that kind of price increase, so new packaging too.  And don't you think I can survive with just walk-in customers, the bulk of my sales are with the indie stores, they'll drop me like a festering dog turd if I increase 130% overnight... 

    But no, what I say is " Yes, that's something to consider"....

    Q: Why don't you sell brand x packaged chocolates?  I get this one alot from sales reps

    ...Because, you moron, everyone else is:   All the chain drugstores and supermarkets, heck, even most of the convienience stores--you should know, you sold 'em that stuff.  Those boys buy by the pallett, and pay far cheaper than what I can get it for.  So if I did sell that stuff, I'd have to compete on price and I'd loose, big time....

    "Ah, that's an idea, but not at this time"

    Q: How come you don't sell vegan milk chocolates?

    ...Doh!! you (deleted) (deleted)!  What's the first (deleted) word in Milk chocolate?  Are you just looking for an excuse to back out of buying something, or are you really that stupid? 

    "No vegan milk chocoaltes yet, but try the 70% dark, no dairy in those."

    Q: So, how's business?

    ...Gee golly whizz! Pull up a chair and I'll tell you all I know!  But first, tell me a little about yourself:  What's your visa #? How much do you have stashed away in the ol' savings account?  Do you own your own home??????

    "Business?  Never a dull moment"

    Q: What kind of chocolates are those with the little pistachio on them?

    ...Y'know, I have to quote Bill Watterson on that one:  "Boy, Suzie, your hairstyle does a good job on covering up that frontal lobotamy scar"....

    "Those would be pistachio, M'am".

    There!  That felt better....
     
  9. iceman

    iceman

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    OK. This is NOT a wise-crack reply. I think most of you know that I do a lot of vegetarian/vegan stuff. That's how come I know about this stuff. I'm noy sayin', I'm just sayin'. 

    Go Dairy Free | Vegan "Milk" Chocolate Bars Met with Enthusiasm ...

    [​IMG]  Milk chocolate without the dairy, this organic bar blends the richness of Terra Nostra chocolate with creamy rice milk. Absolutely delicious in vegan s'mores! Fair Trade Certified, Kosher & Gluten-Free. Available in 3 flavors- Ricemilk, Ricemilk Truffle and Ricemilk Almond. 

    Ingredients: Organic cane sugar, organic cocoa powder, organic partially hydrolyzed rice powder, organic cocoa mass, organic hazelnuts, natural algae, organic vanilla extract, salt

    Vegan Milk Chocolate - Moo Free
     
  10. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Yeah, I've seen the stuff, and some it it's not that bad.  But it's not milk chocolate if it doesn't have milk in it, hence the name.
     
  11. iceman

    iceman

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    OK, semantics. It is milk chocolate. The milk product is a grain milk processed from rice. It can easily be used in many recipes as an alternative to traditional cow's milk. It's still milk. 
     
  12. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    if you say so, IceMan, however, the wrapper clearly states "Ricemilk", not milk.
     
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2012
  13. chefedb

    chefedb

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    Pete I agree  Milk to me is a dairy product.  The only other product over the years that I have known is coconut milk, which is actually a juice. We now have rice, almond, cashew, and you name it milk . I believe they use the term milk so as to convince consumers that this stuff takes the place of mikl. Which they really do not. Pretty soon we will have carrot , peas and brussel sprout milk. Not to mention cola and beer milk.
     
  14. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    Got semantics. Milk it for all it's worth.
     
  15. iceman

    iceman

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    Exactly. The word is "riceMILK". It's not ricewine, or ricevinegar, or Rice-A-Roni. RiceMILK, as I have said before, is a grain milk product, processed from rice. It's still milk. LOL. 

    By the way ... go look up "Rice-A-Roni". It's got a heck of a story. A really cool product. 
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2012
  16. chefedb

    chefedb

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    I will classify rice liquid as rice extract since it is extracted from cooking rice.  Again they want you and all other consumers to believe it takes the place of milk., because that is how it is being marketed.(The alternative ?)
     
  17. guts

    guts

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    Didn't take long for this thread to go entirely off topic.
     
  18. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    IceMan,

    I respectfully disagree, milk is an animal product. There are numerous liquids that are used to replace or substitute for milk, but they are not milk, they ALL are imitation milk at best. If you do not want to consume milk, then do not consume milk. But do not attempt to claim that imitation milk is the same as milk.

    If you research carefully, you will determine that there is no such thing as a "grain milk product", except in the minds of advertising executives. Of course, you have every right to believe advertising executives if you so choose.

    BTW, semantics: the study of meanings   milk: 1:a fluid secreted by the mammary glands of females for nourishment of their young, 2: a liquid like milk in appearance
     
     
  19. iceman

    iceman

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    Pete ... disagree with whatever you want. I'm just making fun of a situation. This entire thread belongs here: Food/Food Culture Pet Peeves. We work in a "service industry". It's just my own silly opinion, but almost everything said here so far needs to be accepted and dealt with. If with nothing more then those really good answers "Yes, that's something to consider ...." and "Ah, that's an idea, but not at this time.". Maybe just get over it. So many claimed "problems" can actually be handled for the happiness of customers without any pain to the bottom line. And please note that I just said "many", not all. 
     
  20. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    IceMan, point taken.

    There is one, rather important IMHO, concern I have when discussing any particular subject, there must be a clear and concise understanding of the meaning of the words used in an objective sense, otherwise the subjective variation will lead to differing perceptions which negate the ability to communicate clearly.