In a world filled with picky palates, ever-changing diet fads, and more and more allergies, it's not easy for a chef to design a menu that pleases everyone. Because of this, some restaurants are implementing a no-substitution policy. In order to avoid compromising the integrity of each dish, they don't allow diners to ask for sauce on the side, or remove or add ingredients, unless there is a serious allergy involved. Both Salt in Cleveland, Ohio and Tarsan I Jane in Seattle have a no-substitution policy. Each execute it a little differently, but both have the same consistent reason: to avoid compromising the integrity of the dish. Here is their advice on how to add this policy to your establishment.
Believe in Your Craft
No-substitution policies are often found at very chef-driven restaurants, meaning that the executive chef is often the one doing the cooking and wants to be able to control the environment. Chef Perfecte Rocher, of Tarsan I Jane, who has worked in some of the best restaurants in the country, thinks it's important for chefs to take risks and make bold statements with their cooking. "A restaurant is very personal and you need to take a risk and want to cook what you believe," he says.
At Tarsan I Jane, guests don't order off a menu. Instead, they give the reins to Rocher to create dishes that are based off of fresh ingredients from local farms and his strong background in Valencian cuisine. Similarly, chef Jill Vedaa of Salt has always kept a no-substitution policy in her kitchens. She puts great thought into each ingredient that goes into her small plates, and she wants to make sure they stay composed as is.
Train Your Service Staff Well
Vedaa believes that a well-trained staff can make your policy successful. Instead of harshly saying that her restaurant doesn't offer substitutions, she encourages her staff to intimately know the ingredients in her dishes so they can help guide customers in another direction. For instance, while they may not enjoy a certain dish without making substitutions, the waitstaff can guide them toward another dish that may better fit the flavor profile the guest is trying to achieve. The staffs at Salt and Tarsan I Jane tend to know when a customer has a severe allergy because they usually call in advance or are very up front about it right away. Because of that, both restaurants are happy to make accommodations when necessary.
Help Customers Understand Why
Rocher is of the mindset that diners need to enlist full trust in the chef. He believes that chefs study their craft just like writers and dancers do, and Vedaa agrees. "You wouldn't tell a painter to change a particular brush stroke in their painting that you didn't like," she says. "Each dish has a balance of flavors, colors, and textures—that's how I want my plate to go out, like a work of art." Rocher thinks that trust is key. A good chef is constantly honing his or her craft, and wants to bring you the very best experience.
A no-substitution policy may sound harsh, but in reality, it's a good way for chefs to protect the integrity of their dishes. Whether you adopt a full-fledged no-menu setup like Rocher or more of a service diversion approach like Vedaa, either can be beneficial to staying in control over food quality and presentation, and ultimately maintaining a chef-driven establishment.