Should Restaurants Allow Substitutions?


Anybody who follows the LA Times Food Blog knows about the brouhaha that went down yesterday when celeb chef Gordon Ramsay and his dining companion Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) left trendy Westside restaurant Gjelina in a bit of a huff after the waiter denied the 8-month pregnant Lady Victoria's request to have her salad dressing on the side.

"The lady's pregnant!" Ramsay said. "No one is asking to be fussy.... I still think that's the customer's prerogative.... It was a sour note. I don't think customers should be treated that way. That might not be the way I choose to eat it, but that's what the customer wants."

The kicker was when the reporter called back the restaurant to get their side of the story and was told, "So you would like to know about our 'no substitutions' policy? It's clearly stated on the menu. Have a nice day," and was then hung up on.

While having worked in restaurants I can personally understand a no substitutions policy as in no, I can't serve the mushroom tartlet to you in place of the spring risotto, simply because such changes make timing, plating, and handling food costs and prep a kitchen nightmare. But a no "subtractions" or no "on the side" policy? I find that to be poor customer service in the best case, and arrogant in the extreme in the worst, and would have quickly found my way out of the door if my 8-month pregnant dining companion was flatly refused such a simple request.

On the other hand, there's only a certain degree to which such leniency and customer service can be taken, and one can easily argue that making such concessions could lead to more and more special requests being demanded by customers until it ends up making a real impact on how smoothly a kitchen runs. But what's the line? Is the customer always right? And if not, how often are they right?

What do you think? To what degree should a fancy restaurant cater to the desires and tastes of its paying clientele?