(Probably part of several entries to come)
"Can I have the fettuccini alfredo and Caesar salad, except... could you substitute the fettuccini with a spaghetti noodle, and then instead use the tomato sauce with a bit of pesto. For the salad, instead of Caesar dressing, may I have the olive oil and pepper dressing? On the side, please. Oh, and instead of a roll, could I get a breadstick with a bit of parmesan cheese grated on top? Oh yes, and for my drink I would like a coke, with lemon, and a few cherries stirred into the drink. And half-ice please. Oh, and could you add a bit of rum to that?" - As might be heard in a restaurant
A favorite means of celebration for my family and friends is to visit a nice restaurant. In addition, my friends and I enjoy sampling food from different cultures (well, the Americanized versions of their dishes, I suppose) and do so as a means of socialization. So, I find the occasion to be in restaurants quite often. Not a boon for my beltline, but a wonderful opportunity for people watchers such as myself.
This is where I was introduced to the concept of ordering off of the menu, and since then I have been very attentive to when people do this. Growing up, I never experienced this phenomenon; you either saw something that you liked on the menu, or you dined elsewhere. I am not talking about the very-understandable situation where a member of the party has medical or religious dietary restrictions (from gluten sensitive, lactose intolerant, IBS, peanut sensitivities, acid reflux...to the food must be halal or vegetarian...I have known people with many unavoidable health and religious concerns), but recently it seems that the menu-substitutions are requested because people are just simply... picky. Or does it go beyond that?
It certainly goes beyond the health-conscious "can you substitute the chips for steamed carrots?" or even the condiment-particular "can I have that without the cream sauce?" but has evolved to choosing a menu item, and transforming it to something that isn't on the menu at all!" You can observe this at the coat-and-tie Italian restaurant, and even watching someone order a Quizzno's sandwich. In restaurants that, unlike a good Sushi place or similar, doesn't arrange their menu to easily accommodate this.
Picky, perhaps...but doesn't picky usually translate to one substitution, rather than creating another meal entirely? And why, when people make the substitutions, is there a sense of smugness...a curl of the lip in a half-grin, a look around the table, and a nod? Is it now chic to order off-menu?
I don't just see it amongst my varied parties (in fact, I would say I see it probably less-so in my own party, although there are Certain Individuals who I anticipate will make at least one substitution in their meal), so I can't believe that it just happens to be that I have gravitated toward these folks; I can hear it amongst parties in the restaurant all around me.
Has anyone else noticed this? Is it, in fact, fashionable? If you are part of wait staff at a restaurant that experiences this often, do you mind sharing how you go about calculating a new price for the meal? Do you charge for the original item, and when the substitutions are extreme enough to resemble something else on the menu, do you suggest the alternative item, charge for the alternative, or simply serve the customer without saying a word? Do you think this will eventually shift the restaurant industry to have a "create your own meal" type of menu? Do you think this is a bit offensive to the cook, at least at non-chain style restaurants where you can truly find passionate chefs?
Slightly unrelated, my mother used to always order fries without salt from the fast food restaurants, at least when the fries looked a bit...flimsy. A bit inconsiderate of the cook staff, but it always assured her (and the next several people in line) fresh fries. She would walk around the corner to the condiment line and add her salt there.