It seems to be a growing trend to be of a certain (voluntary) dietary restriction. There isn’t just Kosher and vegetarian anymore, you can choose from a plethora of subcategories. With regard to just vegetarianism, you can just be a simple vegetarian, you must choose…lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescatarian, frutarian, su vegetarian and the coup de grace: vegan.
Now, I haven’t the slightest problem with people who choose such a dietary lifestyle, but I do have a problem with people of such stringent dietary limitations aggressively imposing their needs upon you…especially in a restaurant that does not, by any means advertise itself as “Vegan.”
There have been countless interactions with having to accomodate these people, and typically it goes rather well. They simply accept the limitations of their torturous restrictions. When taking this sort of order, you immediately know who the vegan is as their sentences typically begin with an emo-like sigh, followed by, “So, I’m a vegan…” After the introduction of their dietary masochism comes the game of “20 Questions.” Typically, by question 15- we have an order.
After creating and agreeing on an order, the conversation as to why one has gone vegan is typically the result of following:
1) Medical. Lactose Intolerance + Gout = Legitimate Vegan.
2) “I just saw this documentary….”
3) “So, you’re o.k. with murdering the innocent? Murderer.”
4) A discipline mandated by a new-age religious leader’s orders, including biweekly colonics and a $4,000 start-up fee.
With the exception of the first scenario (most of the time) being a vegan is simply a phase, resulting in a complete lack in the slightest idea as to what their alleged diet entails. For instance, a regular that comes into the bar claims himself to be a devout vegan. He orders a glass of wine with a cheese plate.
Insert confused look here.
My restaurant by no means a vegan restaurant. A quick glance behind the line reveals metric tons of softened butter being delightfully slung into frying pans. Julia Child would giggle in delight at the sight! Despite this blissful image, we happen to have a few items that just happen to be vegan. An entree that is both gluten-free and vegan: pan-seared polenta. No tweaking required. If that doesn’t sound appetizing, how about a lovely steamed artichoke? Or perhaps a salad (hold the cheese), or maybe some grilled vegetables? These suggestions usually amply satisfy any vegan as they are ecstatic about being able to actually eat out. Considering we don’t have tofu, tempeh, quinoa and wheatgrass on hand- we do what we can to accomodate. Typically, it works out rather well…until this woman just had to be seated in my section.
It was a mellow Sunday evening in the restaurant, and I leisurely made my way to greet the table. Before I could even ask what they would like to drink, I was interrupted by a loud sigh. The first symptom of a vegan.
“So, before you even start telling us about specials- I’m a vegan.”
“Ok,” I responded, “we actually have a few things to offer-” and as I was about to list the options, she began to reveal her very unfortunate personality.
“Yeah, I’m sure you do- but I’m not seeing anything on the menu that I would ever eat,” and thus commenced an arduous and fruitless next 25 minutes. The vegan shot down nearly every single proposal I could offer with a venomous retort:
“We can do a steamed artichoke for you with vinaigrette,” I proposed.
“I don’t like vinaigrette. Do you have soy-ranch dressing?” she asked.
“Sorry, no. We don’t really have any soy-alternative dressings other than vinaigrette. Sorry,” I responded, trying not to reveal my shock at the request.
“Forget it,” she barked.
“How about a salad with no cheese and-”
“‘-you don’t have soy-alternative dressings, remember?” she hissed. “Besides, a salad wouldn’t be enough anyway.”
I moved on to the entree options as clearly appetizers were out the window. “How about the seared polenta? It’s vegan and delectable.”
“I’m gluten-intolerant,” she groaned, trying to gain sympathy from the others (who hadn’t so much as ordered drinks yet). Only there was one problem with her attempt to wallow in the increasing stringent sea of dietary restrictions- polenta is gluten free. I happen to be gluten-intolerant myself, and know for a fact that polenta is gluten intolerant. Perhaps she didn’t know? Thinking for a moment that I had finally found something she could order, I smiled in relief and announced the good news.
“You’re in luck! I happen to be gluten-intolerant as well and polenta is completely safe.”
“Well, I don’t care for tomato sauce,” she sassed.
“We could leave it off-”
“-yeah? and then what? Dry polenta? No thank you.”
I wasn’t just about to offer any alternative sauces as she clearly wasn’t being receptive. Never mind the pesto that would have been delicious. All of the tweaking on the menu items had run out. So I started down the road of a method of ordering that I absolutely loathe: B.Y.O.
Build Your Own. Three words that make the upscale culinary world cringe. Not at taking the order, but submitting it to the kitchen…terrifying. Don’t get me wrong, in the appropriate setting, “Build Your Own” is great. Sandwich shops, salad bars, etc…but in a fine dining restaurant?Allow me to explain. In the upscale gourmet world, there are people called chefs. These chefs attend culinary schools, apprentice under many different chefs, travel to learn new techniques and finally land a job. Once their knife sets are in hand and in the kitchen, the process to construct a menu is underway. Their YEARS of dedication and culinary wisdom are put against innovation to hand craft each individual item on a menu. This caliber of chef finds it extraordinarily offensive to deconstruct menu items, only to bastardize a dish that was made with such pride.
The long and short of it? It’s one thing to leave something off- mix and match is fucking rude.
This woman had officially become the perfect storm of annoyance: insatiable vegan and BYO order. Regardless, I take down the BYO vegan order: grilled vegetables with a side of olive oil. But not just any vegetables, because there was a seemingly personal vendetta against carrots, bok choy and peppers. Which left all the vegetables that are notably irritating to spell out on an order: mushrooms, broccolini, asparagus and zucchini. But at that point- I didn’t care anymore. I was happy to take the other three people’s simple orders and be done with it. What I was dreading was typing it all in, and worse- submitting the order to kitchen.
An average BYO order takes about two solid minutes of tapping each prompt for MEMO followed by the finger tapping of every imaginable substitution known to man, followed by the spelling of the additional requests. This results in an order that requires scrolling on the computer to verify. But that’s not even the worst part- it’s the tapping of the last button: SEND.
Suddenly the power in the restaurant surges as the computer transfers a binary code format of the B.Y.O order to the printer. There’s a moment of silence and the Earth stands still…until suddenly, the printer light starts to flash and the entire shelf it sits upon starts to tremble. Taking a step back to watch the frenzy of activity that takes place thereafter is necessary, as the printer starts to shift so dramatically, it could register at a 7.5 on the San Andreas Richter scale.
Paper laden with red and black ink begins to shoot out the top like a composite volcanic eruption. Ribbons of paper start slithering down the sides of the printer and inch near the floor and just before you’d anticipate smoke to start pouring out the motor- it stops, and a little green light flips back on saying, “That hurt.”
I reach to tear the order from the printer, when I can hear the chefs start their rant.
“Ah, shit- did you hear that printer going off? I know she doesn’t have a 10 top-” and so begins the rant. I made my way to the line and began to lift my hand up to the basket when one of the cooks snapped the order from my finger tips with a pair of tongs. He mechanically retracted his arm like a robot and the other chefs on the line hovered in around the order. Their faces began to sag in anger, their brows brimming with sweat furrowed as they all darted me the look of death.
“Are you fucking kidding me dude!? You had better charge them for this shit-” barked one of them. Trying to mask my evident fear, I asked them how much I should charge.
“An entree price- $27.”
“What? That’s a bit ridiculous for just vegetables, no?” as much as I loathed this woman, I wasn’t about to rip her off. Not to mention that if she had already bitched about the lack of soy-dressings, she was sure to turn into Medusa at the $27 charge for grilled vegetables.
“Whatever- just do it, ok? Please?”
“ON THE NEW, VEGETABLES AND THAT’S IT!” expedited one of the chefs. They were pissed, but I could care less- all I wanted at this point was to get this table out, fast.
Twenty minutes passed and I was paged to retrieve the entrees. Loading my arms with the plates, I skipped over to the table, placed their orders in front of them and patiently waited as they finished…two hours later, they were ready to see dessert.
I wasn’t even going to begin offering the vegan options to the BYO vegan as I anticipated she may tell me what to make her anyway. But, to my amazement, there was no sigh nor 20 questions.
“Did we save a bit of room for dessert?” I asked the table. They all nodded and proceeded to give me their orders, this time starting with the person who ordered last.
“I’ll have the sorbet,” said one.
“Ooh, me too,” said another.
“I’ll do the bread pudding please,” said the third, and I as I pivoted to ask the BYO vegan if she was ready, she nodded and proceeded to utter the words that no vegan in the right-mind would ever even consider spelling.
Yes, you read that correctly. That surly witch of a woman put me (and the computer printer) through hell, made me fear for my life by dropping that Godforsaken order into the basket all in the holy name of “Vegansim”, just to order the most animal byproduct laden dessert?! Flabbergasted does not justice for the look that waved over my face as I wrote the order down.
“And a coffee too-” she barked.
I drifted over to the computer, dropped the order and assembled coffee service. Placing the coffee cup i front of her first, she shooed my hand away when I attempted to do so with the coffee creamer.
“Um, dairy- remember?” she snapped. And I nearly did as another waiter arrived with the desserts for the table.
“You do know what ‘creme brulee’ means in French, yes?” I inquired.
“I think we all know what it means sweetie,” she replied condescendingly while glancing at the others at the table.
“Oh? Humor me.”
As I was about to correct her, a mischievous glimmer twinkled in my eye. She cracked the sugar with her spoon and glared at me as she took a bite.