Buenos Aires – It’s a rainy day here and I’m catching up on some reading and some thoughts that have been simmering in the back of my mind…
The New York Times Magazine recently had a piece (well okay, it was back on May 1st, but I just read it) on the issue of Picky Eaters vs. Fed Up Hosts/Hostesses. The author admitted to being a picky eater herself, and had a set of her own rules. I couldn’t quite get the gist of the article – she seemed back and forth between hosts being accommodating and guests just learning to live with it.
“Long ago, I learned to divide and conquer any restaurant menu, but my friends’ and neighbors’ kitchens remain fraught with peril.
Just keep some peanut butter in the fridge for me, Toots.”
Here’s my take…
In a restaurant, picky eaters have the right to make certain requests. Certain requests. After all, they’re paying for their meal. Switching tenses here… if you’re allergic to something, or it makes you nauseous, yes, by all means, let your waiter know (they don’t need graphic details – something as simple as… “could you let the chef know I’m allergic to peanuts, including things cooked in peanut oil”… is quite sufficient). Yes, I know you want to make sure, but I’ll tell you… when you get into all sorts of graphic details and laundry lists, the intent gets lost and mistakes get made. The simpler the request, the easier it is for a chef to accommodate you. And there’s no need to make a production of it or start off with “I know you’re going to screw this up…”; that just pisses off the staff and virtually guarantees that someone will “accidentally” make a mistake.
If it’s just something you’d prefer not to eat, don’t order it. Here’s the scoop about a restaurant kitchen. The cooks aren’t your personal cooks. If you want one of those, hire one. Restaurants have menus, chefs have dishes they’ve created. If the items on the menu aren’t ones you want to eat, go somewhere else. Eat at home. Just leave the restaurant out of it. Yes, I know you want to hang out with your friends who actually will eat meat, dairy, carbs, alchohol, fat, and caffeine. That’s your prerogative. But bluntly, you have no constitutional right to receiving a steamed green bean in the center of a plate. There’s no god-given mandate that a restaurant has to substitute a fish of your choice for a steak. They can. They don’t have to. They don’t even have to serve the sauce on the side.
Believe me, I’ve heard the constitutional right speech more than once in the restaurant business. Go ahead, show me the article in the Constitution.
I’ve been threatened with lawsuits for kitchens not being willing to substitute ingredients, or even to make dishes totally differently. I’ve had customers come in with written recipes that they wanted prepared. I’ve heard about every diet known to man, and a few that weren’t (the woman who insisted that she had a doctor’s orders to eat nothing but foie gras sautéed in butter, three meals a day, comes to mind – and, of course, since it was a medical necessity, she wanted us to submit her check to her insurance company and let her walk out for a “co-pay”).
Home visits, i.e., when you go to someone else’s home for dinner, are no place to start throwing your weight around either. Here’s my approach to throwing a dinner party – I ask everyone coming if they’re allergic to anything and/or if there’s something they absolutely cannot eat. If I get a laundry list in return, my response is, “I’ll accommodate the allergies, but I don’t make any promises about anything else, let me know if you still want to come.”
“There’s something irredeemably rude about phoning in your dietary preferences to a social acquaintance, as if you’re about to embark on a trans-Atlantic flight rather than a convivial evening.”
And be upfront about what is an actual allergy or problem for you. I remember one dinner in particular where one guest who’d assured me “I eat anything” showed up and declared incredulously after looking over my menu for the evening “but I’m a vegetarian, I can’t eat anything here!” Ummm… what part of “vegetarian” fits with “eat anything?” I’ve had guests tell me after dinner that they’re allergic to shellfish, after politely eating them – hey, I really didn’t have to cook shrimp for the appetizer, it’s why I asked you if there were any issues in the first place.
When it comes to your particular distastes… bluntly, I couldn’t care less if you’re on the South Beach Diet. I’m not interested in your lack of fondness for bananas. I actually don’t have to accommodate anything when you come to my house. You don’t have to come. You don’t have to come back. That doesn’t mean I won’t make an effort – but you know what?
My kitchen, my menu, my rules.