The fine line between flexible menu and flavourless dishes

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Customisation is no longer the mark of a difficult customer, instead it has become so normalised that entire businesses have not only built their menus around it, but they are proud to announce the number of options they offer. With far more awareness about diet and food’s credentials, no restaurant worth its salt would gawk at a guest omitting an ingredient from a dish or asking for the sauce on the side.

While this may once have been in the realms of our cousins across the pond, I have to question if perhaps, we have gone a little too far. Redemption Bar is looking to open two new premises, but a restaurant that prides itself on being vegan, sugar free, wheat free and alcohol free, I am left wondering if there is any flavour left to serve?

Clearly there is a market for this sort of flexible eating as the expansion can only attest to and we are seeing this in other areas of the industry. Where as once both staff and guests would have scoffed at the idea of an adult soft drink with as much craft as a cocktail and priced accordingly. However, Seedlip has taken hospitality by storm and is conquering the high street and the supermarkets with ease, proving that this is a time to rethink what the customer actually wants.

Cater to expectations

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If a guest wishes a dish altered, then there is no way an establishment and its staff should not be doing their utmost to see this done. When the customer is citing lethal allergies, there is no way this can be ignored, however when it comes to personal preference, it is somewhat of a grey area. If the guest wants to stick to their diet that means the chef has compromise the integrity of the dish and there is a vast difference to asking for the sauce on the side to changing the protein that is the star of the show.

That said, if an item is off menu or missing its key ingredient, the guest should know what they are getting. This may mean it will take longer in the kitchen or not have the same balanced look on the plate, so though it is the customer’s decision, front of house staff should inform them of what they are getting.


Trust the professionals

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Chefs have years of training, on top of that they may spend months on a menu, ensuring it is cohesive and even then, each dish may be a labour of love to ensure it is delighting, balanced and absolutely unique. Imagine the disappointment when all that effort is wasted to see your beautiful creation go out without the glaze that rounds it off, or with a substituted side. Sometimes, we have to trust in the kitchen staff to know what is tasty and by changing too many elements, we fundamentally spoil the experience.

Chef Abdul Yaseen relies on his guests’ faith in him: “I do not customise the dish.  I give you the best of what I do.  I have a proper scientific approach to what I do.  But if someone needs a bit more spice, I give fresh chillies or other spices or herbs in a bowl on the side.”

This can easily be avoided by offering a menu that caters to the main diets with ingredients which can be easily removed or replaced. If the vegetarian or vegan offer is as exciting, well thought out and appealing as the other dishes on the menu, there is a good chance you will not see a well-balanced and crafted plate customised beyond recognition.