Unfair or within reason?

by , under food, personal

SoCal restaurant Gjelina in Venice has a no substitutions policy, which they state on their menu. There are a number of small places that do this, but for the most part nobody talks about them. Except that they refused to make a change to a dish for Victoria Beckham who was dining with Gordon Ramsey.

As Ramsey tells it, the very pregnant Beckham asked for the dressing on the side. The restaurant refused. (You can read more about the account here, as well as Gjelina’s response to the LA Times when asked about it)

In reading the comments, there were a couple of things that genuinely bothered me and made me wonder about how the kitchen at Gjelina is run. There were a couple of commenters who had asked for dressings to be included on the side, or items removed due to food allergies. In each of their cases, Gjelina refused to accommodate them, citing their policy.

I’m not sure if this is an instance where the food is essentially pre-prepared, so that alterations to dishes are impossible (though it seems odd to pre-dress salad), or if it’s an instance where the executive chef is of the breed that believe that food allergies are rubbish and they won’t compromise the taste of their dish for anything and anyone.

If it’s the latter, that is frustrating. While I can understand that substitutions take up time in the kitchen – it’s often difficult for people with varied diets (from vegetarians to those with allergies) to find meals that are satisfying. Time and time again, I’ve gone to lunch with my mom where we discovered that all the salads a restaurant offered had bacon or chicken in them. She even once ordered a vegetable minestrone soup to discover that it was made with a beef broth!

For me, it all comes down to customer service. Yes, it might be a pain to accommodate some requests, but it’s just good business to at least understand that there’s a difference between food allergies and a picky eater. And for chefs to understand that yes, pregnant women do interpret flavors separately. I feel for Victoria Beckham- when I was pregnant with the Little Kidlet, I was extremely sensitive to vinegar. What used to be dressed perfectly, salad-wise, often seemed overwhelming flavor-wise.

So for me, I think that the restaurant is being ridiculous. What do you say? Is their policy over-kill or is it ridiculous for people to think they should be accommodated? And let’s ignore the fact that this story involves celebrities… imagine it was a story told to you about friends. Would that change your opinion?

  • Renee

    IMHO, asking for dressing on the side is not really a menu substitution… all components are there, just not mixed together.  So, if I order a salad and asked for it in a bowl as opposed to a plate would they nix that substitution as well.  Crazy.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that it’s crazy as well, as there should be no reason that the salad wouldn’t be mixed with the dressing at the last minute anyhow.

    Apparently at this restaurant, they’d consider it a substitution.

  • shalay

    I totally see the point you’re making. Father’s Office, a high-end gastropub in Santa Monica and Culver City, refuses to modify anything on their menu. I read one review on Yelp where a guy who was gluten-free asked to have his burger without the bun and they refused.

    But I can see both sides. I’ve worked in two restaurants and people these days are absolutely ridiculous with the modifications to their orders. “No sauce, extra broccoli, butter on the side, chicken instead of shrimp…” It goes on and on. It’s kind of refreshing that some restaurants simply refuse and say, “this is how it’s made. If you don’t like it, order something else or eat somewhere else.”

    Now, food allergies are a different matter entirely. I was gluten free for six months though, and I never entered a restaurant simply expecting them to modify their food to my liking. I would look online first to make sure that their menu had options for me.  Restaurants that refuse to modify (which are never chains) will likely make their policy very clear on their website, or it will at least be apparent in the reviews. Maybe it’s not fair, but I get it. And I’m glad that these restaurants don’t bend their rules for celebrities. THAT would be ridiculous.

  • Anonymous

    No, I do see both sides.  But there’s a huge difference between Sally’s orders from When Harry Met Sally and a very pregnant woman asking for dressing on the side (ignoring the fact that this pregnant woman was famous).

    And obviously, being gf myself, I ask restaurants a lot of questions and avoid restaurants that have no substitution policies.  For the most part I’ve found that those executive chefs have no clue about the difference between food allergies and picky Hollywood eater, and have no interest in admitting there’s something about food that they don’t know about.

    Heck, if Outback Steakhouse could put together a list that tells me how to special order certain dishes… it shouldn’t be too hard for a restaurant to put dressing on the side.  lol