Saturday, December 16, 2023

No Substitutions!

 You go to a restaurant to have someone else cook for you, not to play pretend chef!

I saw something online the other day about people who go to restaurants and play pretend chef or perhaps fancy themselves a sophisticate, by making complicated orders and substituting one item from a dish for another.  I despise dining with people like this.  Serving staff isn't much happier, nor is the "back of the house" where the food is made.  No matter how carefully the cook tries to follow the convoluted instructions during a busy dinner hour, these sorts of diners will always complain it isn't right and thus ruin the meal for everyone at the table.  Then they go online and leave a bad review when their concoction takes like crap.

Worse yet are places that try to accommodate folks like this with "make your own burger!" or "design your own sandwich!" where they provide a list of ingredients and you have to painstakingly recite what it is you want, from the bread type to the meat (if any) to toppings to condiments.  It is just exhausting and in most cases they never get it right.  It is what I like least about Subway - where the sandwich maker acts all pained because you asked for hot peppers and banana peppers.  So many decisions to make!

And often, the end result sucks.  Why?  Because most of us are not chefs or even cooks.  And there is a big, big difference!  A chef designs a meal, a cook merely prepares it according to instructions.  You go to a restaurant because a chef created a menu item and if you tinker with it - even with the best intentions, you probably screw up the delicate balance of flavors.  And I have been down this road before, at "design your own...." burger, sandwich, pasta bars, or even buffets.  You are far better off having a meal that was created by someone who knows what they are doing than to throw together ingredients willy-nilly just because they sounded good at the time.

The worst are people who think they are clever or sophisticated by ordering "off the menu" at a fast-food restaurant.  If you know the "secret tips 'n tricks" you can get a Big Mac with one beef patty replaced with a breaded chicken patty!  Oooooh!  A freaking gourmet burger!  Ahhhh!

You are not fooling anyone - it is still fast-food and I suspect the net result tastes the same as the ordinary Big Mac, which is to say, no flavor at all, other than a scientifically designed "mouth feel" that does not require teeth to masticate.  Enjoy your soft kibble!

There are some restaurants that don't allow substitutions for the simple reason that the meals they prepare come out of a freezer bag already made, and the Chicken Pesto can't be made without the Pesto because it comes that way from the corporate factory kitchens via refrigerated truck.  You might as well ask McDonald's not to bread the chicken nuggets.  They come that way, in a big frozen bag.

Some better restaurants don't allow substitutions for other reasons.  They have a line out the door, for example, and the one "special order" throws the whole system out of whack.  They can afford to piss-off Ms. Special Snowflake and her complicated order instructions, as no matter what they do, she will be pissed-off anyway and demand a refund or discount.  Meanwhile, three potential paying groups walked away, tired of waiting for a table because Ms. Special Snowflake threw a wrench in the works.  The "Soup Nazi" had the right idea - "No Soup For You!  NEXT!"

Others will try to accommodate the special snowflakes by offering a "make your own" on the menu, but not allowing substitutions on signature items.  It is harder to remove or change one ingredient from a menu item than to simply start with a list of what the diner actually wants.

But you know, I tend to shy away from places like that, particularly ones where they ask you to "pick your protein!" - I am not running a science experiment, I am trying to have a good meal.  Protein? Yuk!

But what about allergies and Celiac disease?  People have special needs!  Very true, but then again, you can't order the peanut chicken and expect them to "hold the peanuts" - you have to order something where your allergen is not a primary ingredient.  But a better bet is to not go to a restaurant that serves shellfish, if you have a severe shellfish allergy - or whatever.

More and more restaurants are putting disclaimers in their menus that their menu items may contain nuts, dairy, or whatever else you are allergic to - even if such ingredients are nowhere to be found in the kitchen.  It is akin to California's Proposition 65, which was supposed to require businesses to warn customers about carcinogens in products. Since almost anything could be deemed a carcinogen in certain quantities it was just easier to label all your products as carcinogenic and avoid a lawsuit.. Far less time-consuming as well.  It is just easier to slap this label on all of your products than to try to figure out the chemical composition of everything you make (and still getting it wrong!).

This label is emblematic of how irrelevant California politics have become.  By the way, this blog may contain cancer-causing chemicals.  Run and hide!

This is the end result of our litigious society and political correctness.  If you have a food allergy or some other "special diet" requirement (real or imagined) the onus is on you to deal with it, not the rest of the world.  But I digress...

What was interesting about the discussion on this issue is that the majority of people chimed in about what a pain-in-the-ass these "special order" people were - either to the waitstaff and kitchen workers, or to fellow diners.  A small, vocal minority thought that their food should be prepared "just so" and the "way I like it" because since they are paying for it, everyone else has to be their slave.  Again, I despise dining with folks like that - who treat waitstaff like shit and make a big freaking deal about whether they have Pepsi when they wanted Coke (or vice-versa).  The soda-pop gourmand strikes again! 

It just gets tiring. And as I noted in an earlier posting, sometimes these chain restaurants plant these "off the menu special!" stories as a means of inducing consumption.  You had no plans on visiting Onion Garden but now you've read online the "secret tips 'n tricks" to getting extra breadsticks, you want to go - to show everyone you have the inside knowlege!

Sadly, we all fall for these gimmicks on occasion.  I have been visiting our local gas station here on the island to get free coffee as part of their online "app" promotion.  Of course, since I don't commute 40 miles every day in a big-dually pickup truck (or indeed, drive very much at all) I am not buying much gas.  Nor are they cleaning up by inducing me to spend on a candy bar or a "roller item" as I have bought neither.  Nevertheless, I feel like a member of the "inner circle" when I ring up my XXL coffee and the amount due is $0.00 and I walk out the door paying nothing.

Like I said, we all fall for this sort of nonsense.

The only thing worse than these "design it yourself" menus are the ones where if you don't tell the server you want all the ingredients, you don't get them.  I was at a sub shop once and ordered the roast beef sub and was surprised when all that it was, was a sub roll and roast beef - period!  "Oh, you wanted lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, pickles?" the server said, "you didn't ask!"   What do I have to do, jump over the counter and make it myself?  Like I said, this shit gets tiring, which is one reason why I just dread going to restaurants these days.

When I was five years old, for some reason, I hated yellow mustard.  It literally made me gag for some reason.  Kids favor sweet over savory - the latter being an acquired taste as you get older.  It is why 20-somethings drink flavored vodkas and sugary shots of crappy liqueurs.  I outgrew that phase, but not before annoying everyone around me.  When we went to McDonalds, back in 1965 - when they were still frying hamburgers en masse, I would always ask for mine without mustard and it would take forever for them to make one special burger (when they fried them in batches of 50).

Remember that?  You went to McDonald's and they had little chutes that the burgers came down and the server would grab the burger and throw it in a bag.  If you were in a hurry, you just looked to see which chute was full and ordered that.  Today, everything is made-to-order and fast food is no longer fast - or cheap, for that matter.  Or good - if it ever was.

The place was run like a machine - you went in, ordered one of three items on the menu, took you feedbag and then left.  In-and-Out seems to still follow that model.  I blame Burger King for their "Hold the Pickles, Hold the Lettuce, Special Orders Don't Upset Us!" jingle.  Special orders upset everyone there, including the guy behind you in line.  And what's the point?  "I want my shitburger without pickles!  Pickles are gross!"  Like you can even taste the difference?

I mean, I was that way with mustard.  I was five years old at the time!

And yes, it annoyed the snot out of everyone, too.