restaurant billJack Litsky and his wife recently became vegans to get their cholesterol under control. According to the Litskys, a lot of pasta isn't vegan (who knew?), so they decided to bring their own uncooked noodles to a restaurant in New Jersey. This is where you start to lose me, but AMAZINGLY, the restaurant went ahead and specially made their pasta dish using the Litsky’s pasta and the instructions the Litskys wrote on a card to make it easier for the kitchen staff.

Um, okay -- right there, that’s going WAY beyond the call of duty as a restaurant, but fine. The problem came after the Litskys' third trip to the restaurant, when they requested the same thing and instead of getting charged less, like they had the past two times, they were charged more for the special dish ...

You can read the Litskys' whole torrid tale, but basically the restaurant says new management decided to charge him more because it was a special request on a Saturday night; Jack said no fair and didn’t want to pay the full bill. I say -- are you kidding me?! You want your special pasta? Go home and cook it!

The police were called (I repeat: THE POLICE WERE CALLED), and Jack paid the bill, but now he’s contesting it with AmEx. Listen, this Jack guy honestly doesn’t sound like a bad guy. He came to expect a certain price for a certain dish, and I see where he’s coming from. HOWEVER. It seems ridiculous to me to go to a restaurant if you can't EAT anything "as is" on the menu. It's one thing to request steamed veggies instead of fried; it's entirely another thing to BRING YOUR OWN PASTA to be cooked and served to you.

For my last couple years of college and about six months after I graduated, I worked at a cafe in downtown Petaluma, California, where I grew up. It was the kind of place where you get to know half the town just by working there, and I can still vividly remember the particulars of many people's special orders and requests. There was the couple who came in several mornings a week and each wanted a coffee and a bagel, but he wanted his "medium" toasted and she "well done." If you dared bring out their bagels in the wrong respective shades of brown, then back they had to go.

Then there was the guy who wanted me to rip his English muffin open with my HANDS; a knife, you see, made the cut too clean. "I'd prefer you to do it with your teeth," he said once, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't kidding, but I pretended he was.

Of course there were many, MANY requests when it came to people and their coffee drinks (this was before our town had a Starbucks): the half-caffs, the extra foams, the soy milk with a splash of whole milk, a dash of cinnamon, and one Splenda put into the cup BEFORE we steamed the milk. All par for the course. The only truly egregious offender was the man who loved to come in about 10 minutes before we closed, and request a "fresh" cup of decaf coffee -- he'd watch while we rolled our eyes and brewed it in the pot we'd already cleaned out in anticipation of being free for the night.

Even so, those are all pretty minor things -- sometimes annoying but not really a big deal, just like subbing rice for salad or bringing sauce on the side. But no one ever came in with their OWN FOOD and asked us to swap it in for part of something on the menu! (Though there was that one lady who, bizarrely, brought her own tea bags. No skin off my nose, lady, I thought -- I brought her a pot of hot water and charged her the same.) The Litskys are really taking it a bit far, don't you think?

Where do you draw the line for what's reasonable and what's ridiculous when it comes to special requests at restaurants?

 

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