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You’re the Judge: Melissa vs. the Restaurant

One Friday night, we went to a new restaurant in town to pick up dinner to go.  When they first opened a few months ago, there was nothing vegetarian on the menu.  I am not exaggerating: there was no salad, no side dish, no appetizer — not one thing on the entire menu that was vegetarian.  I wrote the restaurant owner and received back a message saying that he just didn’t care whether or not vegetarians came and ate.  I’m assuming he changed his mind after four months of being in business because he added three vegetarian options to his menu this week: a salad, a soup, and an appetizer.  We went over to get dinner as a sign of support — a thank you for changing your menu and accommodating non-meat eaters.

Dinner to go was fine.  We both got the soup, which probably was good in the restaurant, but became gummy and clumpy on the transition from restaurant to home.  ChickieNob tasted it and loved it, so I told her I would take her to dinner there two days later on Sunday (though we wouldn’t do carryout again).

Sunday rolled around and we got ourselves together for dinner.  The Wolvog couldn’t eat anything on the menu — not the vegetarian options nor the meat options — which is usually the case when we eat out.  At most restaurants, we bring him his own dinner in a bag, explain why to the waitstaff, and order our meals while the Wolvog eats his sandwich.  We have never run into a problem — from small establishments to big chain restaurants.  So far, everyone has been accommodating and understanding.

Until Sunday night.

I made his sandwich and put it in the bag and returned for the second time in the same weekend to the same restaurant.  It was dinner time; two tables had patrons and the rest were empty.  We started to sit down, and I explained to the waiter that my daughter and I would be ordering full meals, but my son couldn’t because there was nothing on the menu he could eat.  The waiter shrugged his shoulders and told us that he couldn’t allow my son to eat his meal because it was against the restaurant policy.  I politely pointed out that it wasn’t a health code violation to bring in outside food in our state, and I wasn’t doing it to be rude — he literally couldn’t eat one thing on their menu but my daughter and I wanted to patron their restaurant.  The waiter shrugged again and told me that we could eat our meal now and the Wolvog could eat his meal out of the restaurant later on (you know, because small children are excellent at waiting an additional hour to eat).  The manager stood there too and agreed with the waiter.  When I told him that we wouldn’t be able to stay, we again got a shoulder shrug and a goodbye.

Restaurants are private businesses and should set their own boundaries.   This obviously isn’t the only place in town to eat, and we’ll be fine giving our money to other businesses instead of this restaurant.  The restaurant suffered more than we did — we went to a different place and got a fantastic meal that all of us could eat.  The restaurant clearly wasn’t busy and lost out on the money from having a table filled, even if only two out of the three people were ordering main dishes.  But still, the ChickieNob is upset that this restaurant is now an impossibility when her brother is in tow (and I don’t think I would patron it regardless due to the way they refused to accommodate) and we lost out on the convenience of having a restaurant to patron that’s nearby vs. driving several miles to get to a similar restaurant (one that serves the same type of food but has multiple vegetarian options and not only allows my son to bring his sandwich, but gives him a pair of chopsticks to pick it up with so he can feel like the rest of the family).

You can obviously sense my take on things, but what do you think?  It’s not really a case of right or wrong, but perhaps poor business practices vs. demanding customer.  What would you do in this situation?  And where is the line — when is it okay to make these types of special requests of a restaurant — if ever?  Is it only okay for allergens, or do swallowing issues, religious reasons, or trying to stick to a diet count?

More questions appear (from me and others) in the comment section below.


1 stinkb0mb { 11.13.11 at 7:45 am }

as much as i understand where you’re coming from – it’s the owners business, his rules, if he is happy to lose your business that is his choice. he is entitled to run the business how he chooses – even if that’s to the detriment OF his business – so therefore decline customers business, special food requests etc etc

while a business, in theory, SHOULD do everything they can to capture and then hang onto customers – if you don’t like what a restaurant serves, what they do and don’t do for their customers, don’t patron them.

it frustrates me when people go into a restaurant and expect the restaurant to bend over backwards for their needs. in your case, of course, you didn’t do this but plenty of people do.

2 Lollipopgoldstein { 11.13.11 at 7:54 am }

Here’s a devil’s advocate question then. Let’s pretend that I don’t need a service dog, but my husband does. We want to go into a bookstore with the service dog and the store says, “bringing animals into the store is against our policy.” I explain that it’s not a regular dog, it’s a service dog for this specific issue. The store responds, “your husband doesn’t need to be in here. He can sit outside and wait for you while you shop.” Would that be okay? Of course not, which is why we have laws in our country that protect people with service dogs from being treated poorly by private stores. Does my husband HAVE to enter the store? Well, no. But should he be able to if I’m shopping? I think so. So I’m not entirely convinced that those with special needs shouldn’t have people bend their policies to fit them.

What do you think of that scenario?

3 stinkb0mb { 11.13.11 at 8:09 am }

In Australia all businesses, including restaurants, hospitals and public transport, are not allowed to ban service/guide dogs, it’s actually against the law.

I’m not saying that it’s RIGHT for a business not to accommodate people with special needs etc but as it is their business, it is, to a certain extent, their choice to run their business how they see fit.

4 Cathy { 11.13.11 at 8:23 am }

I think if it’s a medical reason, it should be allowed and if they objected I’d be wondering about legal ramifications. One of my kids has a feeding tube, and I know that falls under the ADA regulations that businesses do have to comply with. At least some food allergies do too, and I suspect other medical conditions (like swallowing issues). I may not be able to walk in and expect they will blend a meal up to his specifications – but I can and do expect to walk in with a premade meal and be allowed to feed it to him at the table while the rest of us eat. He physically cannot eat like the rest of us, he needs to be accommodated, it’s just that simple. If they objected we’d leave, but not without speaking to the manager about discrimination, and writing a letter of complaint.

If it was something that was more a choice – religious, voluntary dietary choices, picky eating … I don’t think you can make the demand. Most people, child or no, can wait to eat or do as you did and go somewhere that will allow you to bring your own food.

So I think my line is need vs. want. You can always ask and hope – but if it’s only a want and they say no, that is within their rights.

In any case, I’d leave and not go back. There are plenty of businesses that are welcoming and accommodating, there’s no need to spend my money somewhere that doesn’t want us.

5 HereWeGoAJen { 11.13.11 at 8:46 am }

I don’t think they HAVE to accommodate you. But I think they are jerks for not doing so and I wouldn’t eat there again, with or without the Wolvog, if it were me. I’d also leave a review on their restaurant website. Your request is reasonable and plenty of other restaurants have no problem with it, so I’d eat at one of them. There have been plenty of times that I’ve stopped going places because people have been rude and for me, this would be one of them.

A kid bringing in food, even if it is just because that kid is a picky eater, not even for medical reasons or allergens, is a perfectly reasonable request.

Also, the really nice expensive Japanese restaurant near our house, which is the nicest place we go on a regular basis, has no problem with parents bringing in food for their kids. We’ve seen Happy Meals plenty of times. Actually, the Chuck E. Cheese near our house lets us bring in Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds for breakfast for our entire family and technically, they shouldn’t let us do that either. This place isn’t even treating you as well as Chuck E. Cheese.

6 Bea { 11.13.11 at 8:49 am }

I think Cathy put it well.

But I wouldn’t go there again either. I like restaurants which are welcoming and accommodating, too. Maybe they want to stick to their outside food policy but they will offer to make something up in the kitchen (if that is a suitable solution for Wolvog). Or if that’s too much trouble they could just, you know, let him eat his sandwich – because I don’t think they should have to endlessly fall over themselves to please people, either. A little flexibility is good business practice, if nothing else.


7 Lollipopgoldstein { 11.13.11 at 8:56 am }

Cracking up over Chuck E Cheese being the gold standard in customer service.

Here’s another devil’s advocate question — what about babies being breastfed or formula-fed? Would it be okay for the restaurant to deny that child to eat in the restaurant? Like my son, there was no item on the menu he/she could consume, so the parents bring their own food for the child.

8 Journeywoman { 11.13.11 at 9:05 am }

Oh wow do I hear you.

I have food allergies–serious food allergies that will send me to the hospital if I “ignore” them (as one friendly restaurant suggested I do.)

That being said, I have a friend who works in a restaurant and says how horrid it looks to have someone there with a McDonald’s bag. Her boss will allow something like this (food from home for a Kosher or hallal guest) but never food that is obviously from another establishment.

I will say that since reading the blog “Please Don’t Pass the Nuts” I have been quite liberated in ways to eat at restaurants. I now call ahead, explain my allergies, and ask “Can I eat in your establishment safely?” I don’t call during the dinner rush (or I try not to) and Often when I go to the restaurant they remember me and are extra careful. Sometimes they are not able to accommodate me and that’s fine, I haven’t gone there, sat down and then have to watch everyone eating. Might I suggest this next time?

Anyway, glad that you had a good dinner where you landed.

9 Kymberli { 11.13.11 at 9:18 am }

I agree above with the line being drawn between need vs. want. However, I probably wouldn’t have gone back to the restaurant to begin with after receiving such a rude response to the letter in the first place. Poor customer service just does not sit well with me. He didn’t have to add vegetarian options just because you sent a letter to him, but it sounds like his response to you was worded rudely.

10 Tiara { 11.13.11 at 9:20 am }

I think it’s just bad business on the restaurants part…what’s that old customer service saying, the person who receives good service tells few people but the customer who receives bad service will tell at least 10 people who will tell 10 people & so on…I can’t understand what was gained on their part for refusing a reasonable request vs being accommodating to gain loyal customers & good word of mouth…

11 Michaela { 11.13.11 at 9:20 am }

I have worked in restaurants for over 20 years. Before changing careers I was a waitress, bartender and manager. I’ve worked in NJ and NY and I have NEVER worked in an establishment that would do such a thing!

That was completely rude and they do not deserve your business.

We are talking about a child and a sandwich. It’s not like you came in with 3 adults and one bought Chinese food or pizza with them!

I bet that place wouldn’t let infants eat Cheerios!

I’m definitely with you on this one!

12 Lollipopgoldstein { 11.13.11 at 9:28 am }

And at the same time, they’re a private business so they should be able to make their own rules and stick to them.

Here’s another devil’s advocate — the restaurant happens to be peanut-free just based on the fact that they don’t have anything with peanuts on the menu. They don’t advertise themselves as such, but people with peanut allergies know they’re a good place to go since they don’t have peanuts on the menu.

A child enters the restaurant to eat with peanut butter and apples because he’s allergic to something that IS on their menu… let’s say gluten. He gets the peanut butter everywhere because he’s a kid, and the waitress cleans it up best she can between customers.

Now the person with severe peanut allergies enters believing that while the restaurant doesn’t advertise itself as peanut-free, that they will not encounter blobs of peanut butter on the tabletop and have it inadvertently get on their fork when they place their utensil in that space…

What about a situation like that?

I’m really in devil’s advocate mode today.

13 Louisa { 11.13.11 at 9:41 am }

It really sounds like this restaurant is not big on customer service, no vegetarian dishes initially and now not allowing a little kid to bring on a sandwich. I’d be surprised if this place lasts more than a year.

14 katie { 11.13.11 at 9:45 am }

I’d say for a medical or religious reason, they should cater for you, and if they can’t, they shouldn’t be fussy if you bring your own. But you in turn shouldn’t bring bacon sandwiches to a kosher restaurant, and should respect that a Muslim restaurant is alcohol free.

Sticking to a weight-loss diet that excludes major food groups is tricky (as opposed to, say, a fat free diet for a gall bladder problem). I personally think these are a bit pointless since all the evidence says you just pile on the weight after you stop the diet, and also that it’s impossible to keep on it forever. So to me these seem like the kind of diet where you only eat blue food, but if you eat red food you won’t get sick – then you have the choice of either not eating at that restaurant, or eating red food, or eating the few purple things on the menu (i.e. the lower fat/lower carb options).

15 N { 11.13.11 at 9:48 am }

They don’t HAVE to accommodate you, but I do think it’s poor business practice. Do I frown upon them for having the policy? No. But I think it’s stupid, and if they think it’s a good thing to enforce it quite so much, then they’re stupid. I mean that in the not-thinking-ahead-to-creating-and-growing-a-business kind of way. When I worked in movie theatres, which are a very weird sort of retail/food service combo, my regional manager (who was a total jerk, but really really good at his job) had a saying – “The customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer.” You don’t have to like or agree with what your customer/patron is saying, but if you want them to come back (continue to be a customer), then you’d be best to make them happy.

16 Tara { 11.13.11 at 10:00 am }

It seems like the restaurant lost an opportunity to win over a family of customers. If I ran a restaurant, and a customer came in who couldn’t eat anything on my menu, I’d see if there was something special I could prepare for them that would suit their needs.

Having said that …. I don’t expect restaurants to accommodate me. I’m primarily vegetarian, so I always check the menu to decide whether I’d patronize a restaurant. If I (or someone I dined with regularly) had food allergies or other dietary restrictions, and I were being forced to go to a particular restaurant (let’s say, dinner in honor of someone’s birthday), I might call earlier in the week and see if the chef could accommodate my needs. It seems that most would be able and willing to do so.

Based upon the response you received the first time you visited this restaurant, it doesn’t seem like this particular restaurant’s management is interested in being the local leader in customer service.

I have no idea at all how this translates to dining with children or whether there’s a distinction with a difference. Maybe it’s not worth preparing a special meal for a kid who’s going to eat half a sandwich. Maybe most establishments do turn a blind eye to kids eating out of their own Tupperware containers. I do think there’s a difference between accommodating a picky eater and a kid with allergies.

17 Audrey { 11.13.11 at 10:43 am }

I can’t help but feel that the restaurant SHOULD be expected to make allowances for patrons with medical issues. Someone on a diet? No. They can forgo the meal if they want to be social or go somewhere else. (I’m assuming anyone on a diet would be an adult since I firmly believe children shouldn’t be “on a diet”.) But people with medical issues such as allergens, swallowing, etc. – especially when they are children and don’t really have a way to make another choice – should be accommodated. Doubly so when the majority of their party is there to consume a full meal. What exactly is the harm there? I have worked in the restaurant industry in my time and I know a thing or two about customers who expect people to bend over backwards. This is not a case of that. This is a case of a parent hoping for some compassion in the instance of the child’s circumstances and some good business sense when it comes to at least selling two meals instead of having another empty table.

18 JDragonfly { 11.13.11 at 11:05 am }

Sounds like it’s time for a Yelp review, Mel! I think that failing to accommodate a child after a clear explanation that it wasn’t a choice not to eat off their menu, but a necessity, is lousy customer service. You have a voice – not just on your blog, but on review sites that permit other restaurant customers to decide whether this establishment is worth their time.

Furthermore, as food allergies become seemingly more prevalent and more generally known, I expect that they’ll begin to receive more protection – just as service dogs did in the past (refusing to admit them is illegal). If I had more time (and wasn’t cramming to finish a take home exam today, but instead spending time on your blog!) I’d look into protections for food allergies that may exist now under the ADA and other disability rights laws. It’s a very interesting legal question.

19 Elizabeth { 11.13.11 at 11:05 am }

My off-the-cuff reaction was “how rude!” (Them, not you). But I’ve never worked in the restaurant business, so I don’t know. I think there are two sort of nested frameworks you could use to think about the issue – one, what is the implied social contract between a restaurant (not just as a place of business, but as a social space) and the people who eat there? and two, what are the general social norms of the society you live in governing that social contract? Which is, I guess, what you’re trying to figure out by putting this scenario and question out there, and playing devil’s advocate. What are the social boundaries and norms? The thing is, there is no absolute black-and-white line here; the line is wherever we as a society choose to draw it – and in that sense it is always fluid, always negotiable, always contingent.

I think my off-the-cuff reaction comes from growing up in a context (and currently living in another context) where restaurants are social spaces that are influenced by more generous norms of hospitality than are usual in the United States (broadly speaking).

I think part of the reason it’s a gray area is contained in the very term “hospitality business” – restaurants and hotels commodify hospitality, so create a kind of tension or conflict between the gift-oriented exchanges we engage in with friends or relatives that we feed and house as gestures of generosity, vs. the currency-based exchanges we engage in with businesses, where fairness is valued more highly than generosity.

Huh. I just went and got all anthropological on you there. Hope it helps 😉

20 Sushigirl { 11.13.11 at 11:25 am }

My family have loads of allergies between them, with one member prone to anaphylaxsis if he eats something he shouldn’t.

If we’re going somewhere that may not have anything he can eat, we usually call a few days in advance, book a table and give the restaurant a bit of warning. We’ve never found somewhere that wasn’t happy to accommodate us or use special ingredients if there was nothing suitable on the menu.

I think the restaurant should either have let your son eat something or offered to make up something specially.

21 Emily { 11.13.11 at 11:32 am }

I am the type of person that if the service sucks then I just don’t go there. Places will always get customers that don’t care, but there will be ones that do and if they don’t want to change then they will miss out on the money. I have a big family and if one person has a bad experience then it spreads and all of us don’t go there. My Hubby has a gluten allergy and very rarely do we find a place that isn’t accommodating. I just do my research before we go to a new place. After we found out he had the allergy I still got myself bagels and sandwiches at our local bagel place. I had a crazy idea to ask them if I could bring in a gluten free bagel and have them make a taylor ham and cheese on it (cuz when you make it at home its not the same) I didn’t think they would cuz bagels are their thing, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. I was amazed by their answer! They told me no problem and they would wear fresh gloves and keep everything on foil so it didn’t touch the counters. They even gave me the bagel the sandwich would have been on cuz I paid for the whole sandwich!

Maybe some day the restaurant will get it and change their policy, but for now i would just stay away from the negativity.

22 Astral { 11.13.11 at 11:58 am }

After being in the restaurant business for 11 + years (two different states and they were corporate & privately owned) you are correct! The customer is always right. They showed poor judgement in not allowing the Wolvog to eat his sandwich. I and all the restaurants I have worked for have always been very accommodating with guests. Because without customers you don’t have a business. Plus, word of mouth is still the most powerful form of advertisement. It’s 2.5 more effective than traditional advertising. If the customer has a bad experience they will tell 10-20 people about it.

23 amy { 11.13.11 at 12:15 pm }

I would so leave a bad review everywhere I could!

24 Empty Whole { 11.13.11 at 12:16 pm }

I’m just curious as to why he couldn’t eat anything on the menu. Was it explained and did they attempt to find something on their menu to accommodate him? This takes me back to planing the menu for my wedding, I have a very rare food allergy and I had a family of guests that are Vegan and a family that is Kosher. When I expressed my concerns to the various caterers not all were willing to accommodate 3 different types of meals. The one I ultimately chose adjusted their recipes to omit Corn Syrup for me, agreed to provide the Vegan Meals (which my friend was really surprised about, she said they normally just bring snacks for the kid that needs to be vegan and the rest just deal with it) and they would bring in Kosher meals for my Aunt and her kids, although it was to be a cold meal as they knew they could not heat it on their kitchen tools. Neither of my special needs guests ended up coming after a date change and the fact that they all lived out of the country at the time of the second wedding.

But, bottom-line, I think you’re in the right for leaving. If they couldn’t put together something vegetarian for you the first time, seriously, not even a plate of pasta with veggies, I think that just shows that they’re not willing to make adjustments.

(and my family has been in the restaurant business for over 60 years)

25 Empty Whole { 11.13.11 at 12:17 pm }

ps. I found your pho veggie soup base at Sprouts.

26 Alexis { 11.13.11 at 12:35 pm }

At many kosher restaurants, the policy is no outside food, period, except for formula in bottles. I have been to kosher restaurants that don’t allow home brought baby food–they’ll give you jars. This is to keep you from treifing the plates.

Not the same thing as bringing a sandwich into a non-kosher restaurant, but someone mentioned religious reasons.

27 Christa { 11.13.11 at 12:57 pm }

Seriously, how much of a hassle is it for the waiter to just let your kid eat his sandwich in peace? It’s not like you’re bringing in food from a competing restaurant. I forsee this place going out of business very soon with an attitude like that

28 jjiraffe { 11.13.11 at 1:56 pm }

This is a head-scratcher. It definitely do not seem like a service-oriented restaurant, and that does not bode well for their future. The restaurant owner seems like he’s not well-suited for the job.

Your post has brought up a bunch of questions for me personally. I am a picky eater and so is my son. I don’t know if that’s Wolvog’s issue. My parents used to pack dinners for me for playdates. When you mentioned bringing a meal for Wolvog at the restaurant, I was like, that’s what we could do for my son. We currently go to restaurants (like Chinese or Japanese restaurants and often while he doesn’t want anything, he often figures out something he can eat, and thus we expand his food horizons a bit. Not that this is a solution for everyone.

I recommend Yelping a review.

29 jjiraffe { 11.13.11 at 1:58 pm }

Sorry for all the crappy grammar. Darn autocorrect!

30 Tigger { 11.13.11 at 2:05 pm }

I think the business just isn’t willing to be accommodating to anyone, and that’s going to cost them business. I’d write up a “letter to the editor” type of thing, just to let people know that if you have issues (regardless of what they are) don’t go to this place.

Breastfeeding vs formula – that’s a good one. I have to formula-feed Cole and you can be damn sure that if some place tried to forbid me from feeding him, I’d be raising hell and I would NEVER go back, even once he’s old enough to eat regular food. We have a place we go to every Saturday and they are fabulous – we get to have our favorite server most of the time, and he always wants to know if there’s anything he can bring for Cole to eat (Cole is sorta starting on solid foods, kinda). If anyone there threw a fit about any of it, I know that all I’d need to do is talk to the manager and it would be all better.

I, too, foresee this company going out of business. If they aren’t willing to work with their customers, they simply won’t have any!

31 Mina { 11.13.11 at 2:16 pm }

Oh, dear God, Wolvog the rule breaker, bent to bring a restaurant down with a sandwich… I am not surprised only two tables had patrons. But I am surprised you went there anyway, after the first interaction with the manager.
Indeed, they don’t have to cater to your requests, but following this inflexible attitude, I should be surprised to hear they last long. Would it really have killed them to let the poor boy eat a freacking sandwich?!

32 Kimberly { 11.13.11 at 3:28 pm }

Working years in customer service, I have been told numerous times that the “customer is always right” but thats a crock. The customer is not always right, but neither is the business. I think a business should be accommodating to a point. We all know that a couple of heated or poor reviews can destroy the credibility of a business, especially in the food industry. But gleaming reviews can also help build a clientele for a struggling or new business.

When hubby and I first started dating, he was still under the impression that he still had peanut allergies (hes been since tested again and cleared of the allergy) and it became common practice to ask a restaurant about what products they used in preparing the food. And we received varying comments from “I don’t know, are you going to order or not?” to “I’m unsure, but if there is something you are interested in, I can check with the chef to be sure.” I’ve also gone out with friends and their young children who are picky eaters and they have brought a pre-packaged lunch for them to have in place of the menu and most places don’t even bat an eyelash at it. I’ve also gone out to lunch with my disabled aunt and have made specific requests for food and have rarely been given a hard time. (her food needs to be blended or very well cut up and she needs to be fed). Most businesses are as accommodating as they can be and actually have apologized to us in some instances for not being able to do more. But these are also the businesses that have been around for many years and have the experience dealing with it.

But I think that it should be ok. Your son should be allowed to bring in food with him if there is nothing on the menu he can eat. Just like a baby on milk or formula should be allowed to have their bottle. As a service person, I would even go so far as to asking the kitchen to make something that he can eat, even if its not on the menu. (One restaurant even offered that to my husband because of his allergy). But not because they have to or its required by law, I would do it to gain a good rapport with my clients and the potential clients that you could bring in after receiving good service. (Plus good service generally equals good tip.) But if a business owner wishes to turn away new customers because of a dietary need, then its at his loss. He clearly won’t be in business for long and he clearly doesn’t care if he stays in business. As the customer, we have the right to share our experiences through word of mouth and websites in reviews. My advice: share this in online reviews. Give them a poor rating and pass the word of bad service. Because the customer may not always be right but we have the power to hurt the business with just our words.

33 AlexMMR { 11.13.11 at 3:54 pm }

This restaurant owner sounds like a prime candidate for “Kitchen Nightmares”. So stuck in his own head about things should be and what rules everyone should follow that he’s leading his restaurant into oblivion.

Evidence 1 – nothing vegetarian? Really? I’m a meat eater myself, but just by accident I occasionally make a vegetarian meal. How can they not have a salad that doesn’t have meat? Or a side of steamed broccoli?

Evidence 2 – only 2 tables had customers on a Sunday night. Clearly no one is choosing this place to eat, certainly not for a second time!

Evidence 3 – With an empty restaurant, they would rather turn away 2 paying customers because they brought a third non-paying customer than allow that child to eat his own sandwich. The rules are clearly more important than the profit those rules are supposed to generate.

Don’t worry Mel, they’ll be out of business in 3 months and some other restaurant will rise in it’s place.

34 Bionic Baby Mama { 11.13.11 at 6:59 pm }

I’m pretty surprised that you went at all, given that it sounds like the response to your suggestion email was pretty rude. (I don’t think it’s rude per se for a chef to decide not to serve vegetarian food, but even vegetarians have friends, so it is both rude and stupid not to take a nice tone in the email response.)

of course the business owner has a right to run his business as he sees fit, and i can even sort of imagine objecting to an adult bringing in outside food. but a child? even if it isn’t for health reasons, that seems, well, rude.

full disclosure: i brought outside food into the same restaurant every thursday night from roughly ages 7 to 12, because my parents had a standing dinner with friends at a place where i hated the food. the waiter (we almost always had the same one) was perfectly awesome about it, because …kids. what are you gonna do?

sounds like chickie nob is in for a lesson in “there are some people we don’t give money to,” poor dear. is she the sort who would appreciate the present of a cookbook and a lesson in making whatever kind of food this is? self-sufficiency in the face of a jerk-y world?

35 Bionic Baby Mama { 11.13.11 at 7:10 pm }

and another thing:

as far as what the restaurant SHOULD have done, in bionic-rules-the-world land, i offer the following:

1. absolutely do not kick out paying customers. of course wolvog can eat his sandwich — can we bring him a plate? (bonus: this makes it less obvious to other patrons that outside food is being consumed.)

2. offer a practical solution for future visits, including talking to you and wolvog about what they could potentially feed wolvog next time, if you called a little ahead. i’m not sure how practical that is (bc i’m not sure what wolvog can’t eat), but at least trying is common sense and probably wins points with you — and you, after all, control the purse strings.

36 Stimey { 11.13.11 at 7:53 pm }

I think that I admire your restraint in not naming the restaurant. 🙂

I’ve actually had this happen to a group I was with. It was in college and there was a burrito and a pizza shop right next to each other with a shared courtyard. The pizza place wouldn’t let the burrito in the door. I guess I understand and respect the policy when it is a “I’d just rather have something from somewhere else,” but it seems that this could be taken on a case by case basis where when it is explained that it’s not just that the child would prefer something from elsewhere, but won’t/can’t eat anything on the menu, that could/should be accommodated. Otherwise I would be righteously annoyed.

37 Deathstar { 11.13.11 at 9:43 pm }

I don’t suppose they have to serve people with blue eyes either if they don’t want to. I seem to recall in the not too distant restaurants didn’t have to serve black people either – of course, they could always eat in the kitchen or go to the back door if they really loved the food. Whatever. I’m not sure why you went back given they didn’t even serve vegetarian food if that’s what your family liked. And I certainly don’t understand why you went back when you received the snarky reply to your first query. The fact is that they need happy paying customers to survive and in these hard economic times, it’s difficult to run a successful business never mind a restaurant business. The fact that they did not have empathy for your child’s situation even though you were a paying customer only further demonstrates their lack of goodwill. I’m surprised they don’t monitor if a child eats off your plate or not.

You have a right to your opinion and they have a right to theirs for sure. I would certainly write a review on Yelp or whatever and trust me, they won’t be around for long. And by the way, whatever soup that congealed by the time you got home – well, think about what they put it in it. Gelatin probably or corn starch.

38 a { 11.13.11 at 10:03 pm }

Most restaurants get business as much from word-of-mouth and customer service as they do from the taste of their food. It would be in their best interest to accommodate you. Of course they don’t HAVE to, but…

39 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 11.13.11 at 11:30 pm }

A different take from the previous comments:

I suspect that the owner’s rudeness and rigidity is a cultural thing. I have been to countries (on the same continent where I suspect this owner is from) where rules everywhere, including at restaurants, are rigid beyond what we could imagine. Such as, not serving you a bowl of rice because it’s not on the menu, even though they have rice because it’s part of many dishes.

Some restaurants are able to survive despite maintaining a customer service style that is not typical of American restaurants because there is a large customer base of people from their native land. Knowing where you live, I doubt that’s the case for this restaurant. Even when there is a large customer base, the food has to be really fantastic, and the restaurant notable in other ways such as decor or service, for people to put up with customer service quirks like the rudeness you describe.

On the topic of vegetarians and cultural differences: There’s a Middle Eastern restaurant (technically it’s a stand within the convenience store of a gas station) in the next town. Once I asked the owner if the grape leaves contained meat. He said curtly, “Not anymore, because of people like you.” He absolutely didn’t mean to be rude, but I very much see how someone could have taken his statement badly.

I’m personally quite sheepish about going to restaurants and giving outside food to my children, even when they were babies, and I’ll do things like order milk for them even though I have milk cups in the diaper bag. If I were going somewhere that had a good reason for banning outside food, such as a Kosher restaurant, I wouldn’t even have it in the diaper bag. But otherwise, things get desperate sometimes, and if the difference between a screaming toddler and a happy toddler is a few cheerios or a cracker, I’ll sneak it to them. I probably don’t have to sneak in most cases, but I just don’t feel comfortable bringing in outside food — even though I’m totally fine with Wolvog doing it.

Despite the tolerance for cultural differences, since you’ve had multiple interactions and have eaten the food, if I were you I’d leave a scathing Yelp review about their congealed soup, rudeness, poor customer service, and meanness to children. Then in a few months they will fold and a new restaurant can move in where you can hopefully all eat.

40 Mrs. Gamgee { 11.14.11 at 12:48 am }

Wow… I’m stunned at the crap customer service you received.

Yes, the restaurant owner has the right to set his own ‘rules’. But to basically turn away paying customers over something like this is just plain stupid. And bad business sense.

After more than 10 year in retail sales, I have learned that you have to pick your battles. Yes there are rules in every service establishment, but there are times when those rules need to be bent in favour of the customer.

An example… I worked in bookstores for many years. From a practical stand point, does it really make sense to have a coffee shop onsite in a bookstore? Liquids… in cups… that get spilled on paper products? Of course not. (and don’t get me started on the sticky pastries) But, coffee makes customers comfortable. It makes them happy. So we allow it, and gently remind them to please put a lid on their cup (or even offer to go get the lid for them). And that stack of $40 cookbooks they just ruined when they spilled their venti half caff caramel non-fat latte? No, of course you won’t be charged for them… just please be more careful in the future.

Are customers always right? Hell no! But it’s in a store/restaurant’s best interest to do everything they can to make the customer feel that they’re right. Or at least accommodated… As has been already stated, happy customers tell 2 friends about their experience. Unhappy customers tell at least 10.

41 Jen { 11.14.11 at 1:32 am }

While I don’t think they should be forced to accommodate you, it’s a no brainer that if they want your business, they should deal with it! As long as you are ordering something substantial from them (as you were), they should always accommodate a kid. Their loss!

42 Mijk { 11.14.11 at 2:48 am }

My local zoo once refused to not place a smoked sausage on my friends plate even though we would pay full price for chips and sausage. They said she just should not eat it. She eats kosher so that was clearly a no go. I had selected this place because I knew they use the friers only for chips so it seemed a good option I was so so so embarrased. I complained and never got an answer. I am completely on your team here.

43 Bec { 11.14.11 at 8:48 am }

If it was a cafe or somewhere similar, I can’t see a problem with it, but a proper restaurant and for dinner? To be honest, I would have called ahead and asked, and the restaurant would be well within their rights to say no.
It’s tough, and I can see it from your side too, but overall I think it’s the restaurants call and they didn’t do anything ‘wrong’.

44 Heather { 11.14.11 at 9:02 am }

Agree it was poor customer service.
However, at some point restaurants are going to say ‘enough’. You eat what we have or you don’t eat. Plain and simple.

Perhaps this restaurant feels that they give in to your one reasonable request, 50 others will flood in that are not reasonable. I read an article recently where a restaurant owner discussed how crazy people have gotten with their ‘special requests’. This particular owner explained that if he actually accomodated all the special requests, some of the meals would no longer be fit to be called ‘his’ meal. I’m not saying you did this with YOUR request, but perhaps the owner has a policy of not granting ANY special requests or accomodations.

45 Lisa { 11.14.11 at 5:57 pm }

You were much more restrained that I would have been. Kudos to you!

The ADA is about access. Public buildings have to grant people with disabilities the same access that you would a person without disabilities. That means sight, sound, and physical sorts of access. They don’t have to grant food access, so the ADA point doesn’t hold water.

BUT you should for sure write reviews. I personally don’t try a new place until I read the reviews and if I heard about how crummily you were treated, I would not go there. I’d want to know that information because I wouldn’t want to give them my hard earned money! Review it up! Part of the joy of a free market economy. And I agree, this place ain’t gunna last long!

46 Chickenpig { 11.14.11 at 6:07 pm }

I side with you. I don’t think a child (or an adult, either, but I’m using your case) going into a restaurant and bringing food because of being on a special diet is any different than bringing a baby into a restaurant and bringing baby food, a bottle, or breastfeeding. You don’t expect a baby to eat what is on the menu, and you don’t kick out the adults who are paying to eat. I don’t see any difference between that baby and a 6 year old child except a few years in age. They were being a-holes, IMHO.

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