Author Topic: Ordering "off menu"  (Read 6919 times)

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Possum

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #30 on: June 07, 2014, 09:38:03 PM »
What about saying "I don't know what I want.  Surprise me with something with chicken in it."  SonIL#2 does that in certain restaurants, and always gets the most amazing results.
I'd never do that, unless I knew that there was literally nothing in that kitchen that I wouldn't eat.  Even then, it probably makes servers nervous, because then *they* are responsible for whether or not you like your dish.  If you don't and something else has to be made, it's on their backs--and possibly out of their pockets.

Ask for a recommendation instead.  "If you were going to surprise me with something with chicken, what would it be?"  "What chicken dish do you have that nobody orders but is really worth trying?"  Something like that.  Then order it. 

The exception might be at a place where you go often enough they know you.  They might not remember your tastes, but they'll know you'll be a good sport if you don't like it, and won't blame them.

Psychopoesie

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #31 on: June 07, 2014, 10:10:57 PM »
I don't think I've ever asked for something that's not on the menu, even if it used to be on it. Don't see a problem with asking.

I occasionally ask for changes to my food which is a bit different. Asking for salad instead of chips (fries) with my main when they serve that with other menu items, for example. It's usually stuff that isn't a big deal.

Last time I made a request was last week when I went to a specialty chocolate shop cafe. They had two sundaes listed. One was all chocolate from the ice cream to the sauce - just too much for me. But I was craving their choc fudge sauce so I asked if they could substitute that for the caramel sauce in their other sundae. They said yes. If they hadn't, I would have ordered something else.

Of course, then they forgot and served it with caramel. Luckily it was in a separate jug so it was easy enough to fix.

If they'd have had to remake the whole thing to fix it, would I have been rude to insist?

CakeEater

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #32 on: June 07, 2014, 11:57:46 PM »
^I don't think so, because they did agree that you could have it the way you asked for it. Although I probably wouldn't, because I asked for something odd, and the person who made it was probably on autopilot and did it the normal way.

I think you need to be willing to pay extra to order off-menu. Restaurants have worked out their pricing for certain dishes, and if you want it made differently, it may be more expensive. The only time I've ordered 'off-menu' is to ask for half a small milkshake for my kids when they were too small to drink a whole one. And I always offered to pay for the whole small milkshake.

I think it can be a bit insulting t a chef to order something made very differently. In upscale restaurants, the chefs have designed dishes to be a certain way so the flavours meld etc. Salad instead of chips isn't such a big deal, though.

Ceallach

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #33 on: June 08, 2014, 12:02:10 AM »
I've been a server, and I'll tell you that people trying to order off-menu is rather annoying... but if the cooks in the kitchen are the same as they were before, it's actually probably not that big a deal.
Try never to do it when the restauraunt is very busy--one weird thing can throw the whole line off for everybody...

I've never worked in hospitality, but I do agree that many people underestimate the logistics involved in this type of request.    Communication between waitstaff and kitchen staff is crucial in any location, and any special detail requires stepping outside of their usual routine.  It's one of the most highly process driven industries I can think of apart from an actual production assembly line!    Which is why I think a lot of smaller establishments or mom & pop type places might be more open to this, because if the person making it is standing right there it's easier for them to understand what you need. On the other hand, they may also have fewer resources/people available to work on customising an order.  So I think it's something we can't assume and is just a case by case business decision.    I really love the idea of the sushi restaurant a PP mentioned where they actually make a point of knowing by name the special orders of their regulars - that's really cool.   But that's clearly a deliberate decision they've made as part of their customer service. 

On the flipside, I did stop going to a particular cafe that denied a request I made.  I wasn't rude or upset about it, but I'd been a regular for awhile and what I was asking for was fairly minor (and I'd never asked for anything special before).  It was lunchtime and no other customers were waiting so I didn't think it was unreasonable to at least ask.    I asked nicely and the no I got was pretty clear.  I accepted that politely.   But after that I just didn't feel inclined to go back there again, and found somewhere I liked better.   Nobody was at fault - they made a legit decision as a business, I made a legit decision as a customer and voted with my feet.
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lowspark

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #34 on: June 09, 2014, 08:48:06 AM »
I've been a server, and I'll tell you that people trying to order off-menu is rather annoying... but if the cooks in the kitchen are the same as they were before, it's actually probably not that big a deal.
Try never to do it when the restauraunt is very busy--one weird thing can throw the whole line off for everybody...

I've never worked in hospitality, but I do agree that many people underestimate the logistics involved in this type of request.    Communication between waitstaff and kitchen staff is crucial in any location, and any special detail requires stepping outside of their usual routine.   It's one of the most highly process driven industries I can think of apart from an actual production assembly line!    Which is why I think a lot of smaller establishments or mom & pop type places might be more open to this, because if the person making it is standing right there it's easier for them to understand what you need. On the other hand, they may also have fewer resources/people available to work on customising an order.  So I think it's something we can't assume and is just a case by case business decision.    I really love the idea of the sushi restaurant a PP mentioned where they actually make a point of knowing by name the special orders of their regulars - that's really cool.   But that's clearly a deliberate decision they've made as part of their customer service. 

On the flipside, I did stop going to a particular cafe that denied a request I made.  I wasn't rude or upset about it, but I'd been a regular for awhile and what I was asking for was fairly minor (and I'd never asked for anything special before).  It was lunchtime and no other customers were waiting so I didn't think it was unreasonable to at least ask.    I asked nicely and the no I got was pretty clear.  I accepted that politely.   But after that I just didn't feel inclined to go back there again, and found somewhere I liked better.   Nobody was at fault - they made a legit decision as a business, I made a legit decision as a customer and voted with my feet.

I don't see why it's annoying for people to ask considering that many restaurants have no problem with it. As the server, you just say no. It should only be annoying if after you've said no, the customer doesn't accept the no politely.

And of course, as Ceallach points out, saying no just increases the risk that the customer will be unhappy about the no and not come back. But that's the way it goes. Your restaurant can't be all things to all people.

123sandy

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #35 on: June 09, 2014, 08:56:19 AM »
The only time I'll ask for something to be different would be to ask for mash instead of fries or salad instead of rice and veg. I'm always willing to pay extra for being a pain though.

GreenHall

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #36 on: June 09, 2014, 09:28:02 AM »
I think it can be a bit insulting t a chef to order something made very differently. In upscale restaurants, the chefs have designed dishes to be a certain way so the flavours meld etc. Salad instead of chips isn't such a big deal, though.

I'm not quite done with this thread, but it has had me thinking.  I am a 'tweaker'.  My tweaks are generally to remove something entirely, or ask for what I consider a general equivalent that I have seen elsewhere on the menu.  This weekend I saw a salad on special, but it included blue cheese.  I don't really like blue cheese that much, but there was another salad on the menu with goat cheese - which I love.  I asked for the substitution.  It was a little more complicated than normal because apparently they are phasing the goat cheese salad out to replace with the blue cheese, and I ordered something else. But then the waiter came back and they did still have some goat cheese, would I like to to that instead.  (YES!).

I try to limit myself on the 'tweaks' I make.   As long as I'm not quite ordering like Sally in When Harry met Sally, I figure I'm not too hated by the waitstaff/kitchen.

tinkytinky

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #37 on: June 09, 2014, 10:02:46 AM »
OP I do the same, I have a favorite place that I call in the same lunch order about once a week....they know me either by my order or by my voice because they call me by name no matter which phone I'm on. To think they could change owners and change the menu would seriously throw me for a loop (and make me cry).

I don't think it's rude to ask if your favorite is still available. If it has fairly general ingredients, and the chef knows the dish, why would they want to risk a guaranteed sale? If they have a suggestion box, it can't hurt to suggest they return it to the menu. If not, speak to the waitstaff/new owner and explain that you have a standing weekly "date" and that is your favorite, would it be possible to order it when you come in. You may be pleasantly suprised. If they say no, no harm done and you can still order something else. As long as you are polite and can accept "no" for an answer,  this is a case of "it never hurts to ask".

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mime

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #38 on: June 09, 2014, 01:41:39 PM »
The only off-menu things I've done are asking for veggies or salad instead of fries or that type of substitution. I may be charged a bit more, but no big deal. Only once has a server said "no". I politely accepted that, but asked for the fries to be left off of my plate. The server said the fries are a garnish, so they couldn't substitute or even leave them off.  ??? I also accepted that answer but I thought it was strange. When my food arrived I moved the fries off to my salad plate because I hate the smell. When the server came back near the end of the meal to clear the table, she saw the pile of fries and rolled her eyes and shook her head as she took them back.
The combination of her attitude and the no-substitution was enough to ensure I would never return.

I see some menus that say "no substitutions", so I adhere to that. I probably still return to those places unless I'm worried that I can't order a meal that stays within my weight watchers points restrictions.

There is a place in MN (The Good Earth) that revamped its menu around 8 years ago. They included a story about re-doing all of their food, stating that most of their diners were tweaking the orders, and that a lot of them were making healthier substitutions. They interpreted this behavior as collective advice from their customer base, and made several very well-recieved changes to their food. I haven't been there in ages, but really respected the way this business "heard" their customers.


lowspark

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #39 on: June 09, 2014, 01:55:08 PM »
Quote
The server said the fries are a garnish, so they couldn't substitute or even leave them off.  ??? I also accepted that answer but I thought it was strange. When my food arrived I moved the fries off to my salad plate because I hate the smell. When the server came back near the end of the meal to clear the table, she saw the pile of fries and rolled her eyes and shook her head as she took them back.

Wut!  :o
Wow. Just wow.
Leaving the fries on the plate is bad enough, but rolling her eyes at you?
Yeah, I wouldn't go back. Don't know how much of a tip I'd have left either. Not much.

Venus193

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #40 on: June 09, 2014, 02:05:30 PM »
The only off-menu things I've done are asking for veggies or salad instead of fries or that type of substitution. I may be charged a bit more, but no big deal. Only once has a server said "no". I politely accepted that, but asked for the fries to be left off of my plate. The server said the fries are a garnish, so they couldn't substitute or even leave them off.  ??? I also accepted that answer but I thought it was strange. When my food arrived I moved the fries off to my salad plate because I hate the smell. When the server came back near the end of the meal to clear the table, she saw the pile of fries and rolled her eyes and shook her head as she took them back.
The combination of her attitude and the no-substitution was enough to ensure I would never return.

I see some menus that say "no substitutions", so I adhere to that. I probably still return to those places unless I'm worried that I can't order a meal that stays within my weight watchers points restrictions.

There is a place in MN (The Good Earth) that revamped its menu around 8 years ago. They included a story about re-doing all of their food, stating that most of their diners were tweaking the orders, and that a lot of them were making healthier substitutions. They interpreted this behavior as collective advice from their customer base, and made several very well-recieved changes to their food. I haven't been there in ages, but really respected the way this business "heard" their customers.

There once was a place in my area that made a pretty good chicken parm, but would put far too much spaghetti on the plate for my liking or anyone's diet.  The last time I dined there I asked if they could just give me half the portion.  The waiter said "OK" but brought the plate back with their usual size.

Another place always puts a plate of small muffins on the table at breakfast.  I don't usually eat those -- and don't want to -- when the breakfast already includes substantial starch (as in home fries).  When I asked the waitress to take them back she said "It's decoration."

That made me realize that both places considered their food portions as part of their advertising display.  How insanely wasteful.

The first place went out of business.  The second one is still in business although their quality isn't what it used to be.  After that incident I made sure to have a ziplock bag with me if I was going there for breakfast.  That way I could either eat the muffins at another time or feed them to the pigeons.

Idlewildstudios

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #41 on: June 09, 2014, 02:39:08 PM »
There is a Chinese place nearby that DH lives.  He especially loves their sesame chicken and eggs rolls.  We ask for extra sesame sauce on the side for dipping the egg rolls.  It has never been a problem and they are happy to do it.  We would totally understand if they said no.

That being said, I used to work in a Chinese resturant.  We would often get people asking for white rice instead of fried or to maybe leave the eggs or green onions out of a particular dish.  Or even for extra onions or veggies. Always happy to do so.  We did have one family that would come in and ask for these small changes and we always did it, and with no extra charge.  They were a bit picky and got a reputation for being difficult customers. Then one day they ordered 2 orders of Mongolian Beef, hold the onions.  Mongolian beef is onions and beef, period. So what they wanted was double the beef.  I told them there would be a small charge for that request, since beef is considerably more expensive than onions.  They were absolutely enraged.  Substitutions should be free of charge, especially since the dish already had beef in it.  They just wanted us to sub more beef instead of onions.

After about 10 minutes of abuse and them refusing to pay more for more beef, the owner agreed to make it without onions.  Those were his exact words.  The family smiled, very pleased with themselves.  Until they got their order.  Yes, they got the dish with no onions, but only the nirmal amount of beef.  They started yelling again, but the owner booted them out, telling them they got what they had paid for and to please never come back.

Sophia

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #42 on: June 09, 2014, 02:42:35 PM »
I spent many years in high school and college waitressing.  I don't think I once heard someone grumble about Off-Menu or tweaks. 

Well, one chef did quit about it but that was really a power-struggle between the chef and the manager.  Those are pretty typical because both usually feel like the head rooster.  One Christmas the chef made Mousse.  It was amazing.  At least 50% of the customers were weekly regulars.  So, even after it disappeared from the specials menu, the number of people ordering it really didn't drop.  Even people that had never ordered it, saw it and ordered it.  By the next spring, the chef was sick of making mousse.  By late summer, there was an argument over the mousse and chef stormed out.  But, even then, he was never annoyed with the customers.  Just over his lack of complete control of the menu.  When we told people we didn't have the mousse anymore, no one batted an eye. 

shortstuff

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #43 on: June 09, 2014, 08:11:00 PM »
What I usually do is either make a tweak to a dish so that it suits my requirements or ask for something that takes an element from a few other dishes, so I know that they have the stuff to make it.  So, for instance, last time we ate out at FancyPlaceThatServesSteaks (I don't eat steaks), I asked for the polenta and vegetables that would normally come with the rib-eye plus the side dish of steamed vegetables, but both on the same plate, then also a piece of garlic bread as well, which was also listed on the menu as a side.  They did it for me, no problems.

This sums up pretty well my thought process when ordering off menu.  I also did this at a place that had "specialty toppings" on their burgers.  I loooved the description for the turkey burger with special sauce, avocado, and a side of fries, but i really wanted a burger.  So I asked if I could have the turkey burger, subbed with a beef patty instead.  They accommodated my request  ;D  and I felt OK asking because I knew they had the ingredients to do it. 

ETA"
Quote
I think you need to be willing to pay extra to order off-menu. Restaurants have worked out their pricing for certain dishes, and if you want it made differently, it may be more expensive. The only time I've ordered 'off-menu' is to ask for half a small milkshake for my kids when they were too small to drink a whole one. And I always offered to pay for the whole small milkshake.

Yes and no.  I've seen it play out in two different ways.  If I wanted to substitute the grilled chicken in my salad with fresh ahi tuna, then yes, I'd completely expect there to be a surcharge.  Most places with spell out these charges anyway, so no big deal. 

However, I was just recently at an Italian restaurant that added a $1 surcharge if you wanted a different pasta to come with your dish.  It didn't affect my order, but it did leave my figuratively scratching my head.  I don't see a huge cost difference between, say, spaghetti and linguine, or even penne.  It just seemed like such a tiny thing that was made a bigger deal by the restaurant for no reason. 
« Last Edit: June 09, 2014, 08:23:06 PM by shortstuff »

snappylt

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Re: Ordering "off menu"
« Reply #44 on: June 10, 2014, 12:17:14 AM »
I think it is fine to ask politely if it is possible for the restaurant to make your off-menu request, as long as you are prepared to accept a polite "no" as the answer!

My favorite ethnic fast-food restaurant chain was bought out by their main competitor a few years ago. After the buy-out they switched over to the new owners' menu, and my all-time favorite breakfast item was no longer listed.  I knew that the ingredients to make my favorite were used to make other items that were on the new menu, so I just politely asked if they were still allowed to make my favorite, please. The cashier said, "sure thing" and was very polite about it (although it did take her a moment to figure out which buttons to push on her cash register).

To me, the key is that I asked politely, in a pleasant tone of voice, and that I was prepared to graciously accept a "no" answer.