October 2, 2012 at 6:58 AM
It’s become ordinary to be a high maintenance eater. It’s our expectation when dining out to request preparation exactly to our liking, at any and all times. On the side, no nuts and may I substitute this for that are commonplace, if not unalienable rights. I do it all the time, and have for years. We collectively laughed in the late 1980s when Sally ordered her turkey sandwich with a long list of conditions and requests. It was absurd then, but now it seems normal. Now it’s more Have It Your Way than I’ll Have What She’s Having. Twenty-five years later, we have all become Sally to a certain extent.
When was the last time you went out to dinner and there wasn’t at least one special request in the group? The person making a special request used to be that pain-in-the-ass guy, now we take turns interpreting the menu and transforming short order cook to private chef just for you. Most of us expect at a minimum to request a substitution, side cup or allergy notification. But over-the-top ordering requests have become a staple of our dining diet. Most restaurants, aside from the snippety chef who may be insulted, will accommodate and are equipped and staffed appropriately.
It’s not so easy to do when guests come to your house to eat. Recently I had a barbecue with 3 other families. When planning the menu, I had to consider a variety of food obstacles. Allergies, Kosher, diets, eliminations, cleanses. Free of this, none of that. What is left to prepare?
I felt like an Iron Chef contestant considering her instructions. Everyone’s prescriptive ruled out someone else’s requirement. The kosher family could eat fish, but not seafood. The steak tips I considered for my Cross-fitter guest on the Paleo diet wouldn’t work for the vegetarian. He would love tofu or hummus, but my daughter has a soy protein and legume allergy. And I just started my third month on a wheat free diet and I’m hell bent on sticking to it. Luckily my friend on her cleanse brought her own food.
I played it safe and came up with a menu that could work for everyone. I made a plate up of cheeses, olives and rice crackers. I fired up the grill for inch-thick swordfish steaks, grilled balsamic asparagus and sliced squash. I made a batch of red quinoa and tossed with olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, feta and basil. I tossed a Greek salad with red wine vinaigrette. The kids ate pasta with choice of sauce and dipped carrots & cucumbers in ranch dressing.
I don’t think anyone missed the pasta salad I didn’t make, or has the need to down a huge chunk of beef. If so, they are welcome to stop by Burger King to have it their way, or get a slice of pie at a diner on the way home. To baffle more waitresses, like Sally in her classic pie-ordering scene. And not know that she is being high maintenance. According to Harry, that is the worst type to be.
Lauren Weiss writes her column A Foodie State for The Alternative Press. She recently moved to Marblehead, MA from NJ, where she was The Westfield Foodie and Regional Editor for Jersey Bites! She works individually with restaurants, caterers, shop owners and event planners to help them improve their customer service, public relations and social networking. When she's not eating, Lauren loves to run, ski, play tennis & golf, do Bikram yoga and spend time with her husband, two daughters and a floppy cavechon.