“You can’t please everybody.”
Time and again, the old adage rings true. Back in September, this chef/owner/operator of So Restaurant in San Francisco temporarily closed his doors after a customer refused to pay for a meal that he didn’t enjoy. Of course, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was up to his ears in paleos, gluten-freers, and people with “Sensitivities” and Allergies. I’m surprised more chefs don’t have episodes like that.
Any time someone says they have a Sensitivity, I’m immediately suspect. “I have a mushroom sensitivity.” Oh really? Or maybe you just don’t like mushrooms? I’d guess that maybe 2% of the people who walk through the doors of my workplace in Los Angeles with allergies actually have them. It’s become a real problem.
I’m not sure if people realize how much pressure this puts on a restaurant kitchen. If the guest gets sick on our property, from our food, we could be held liable for their illness, which would not only be expensive, not only due to litigation, but also to profit lost from bad press. I’m also not sure how many people have seen a real restaurant kitchen. There is food literally flying through the air. The odds of allergenic particulate landing on your “allergy–free” dish are rather unfavorable.
Remarkably, People also seem to have a fixation with the ingredient they say they can’t have. “The Forbidden Fruit” syndrome, where the man with the peanut allergy orders the dessert that has peanuts but asks for it with no peanuts. Why not just get a different dessert? It COMPLETELY boggles my mind.
Despite all of that, we do our utmost to make sure cross-contamination never occurs, When a ticket comes up with an allergy note on it, I wash my hands before touching anything, get fresh plates from the dishwasher, and take the utmost care not to touch a single thing that could have been contaminated with the allergen.
As a top restaurant in LA, we get all kinds of individuals through our doors. Of course we get the regular LA crowd, no gluten, no grains, no dairy, no nuts, etc. But then we also get some pretty bizarre creatures with bizarre eating habits. An especially memorable patron claimed he had an allergy to Chlorophyll. Now, I’m no nutritionist, but I seem to recall that eating leafy greens and broccoli, both full of chlorophyll, were super healthy things. How do you live your life without eating a single green thing? Absolutely appalling. I definitely call shenanigans. But that isn’t the craziest guest. Oh no, the piece de resistance is right here:
Pardon the crumpliness. I balled it up and almost tore it in half in a tiny fit of rage. Read it over for five minutes and you’ll feel the same way. This… This is a list of allergies. But, if you look closely, only the top portion is non-negotiable. The lower, more extensive section is a list of “Limited Allergies” if which she may only partake of two of those items per meal or per day, or something. It was never quite clear… I dare you to try and find similarities between the items. It makes no medical or nutritive sense. I honestly don’t know if she’s ill or crazy. Maybe both. Either way, it’s our job as hospitality professionals to not even blink and desperately scrounge through our menu to find items that fit her… unique…. situation. After carefully perusing her list, we figured out that she could only have two of our gelatos, and not even the cool ones. I’m not sure what she had for her appetizers and entrees, but she declined dessert. As I said, there’s no pleasing everyone. Maybe I need one of those signs.