In the age of fad diets, it seems like everyone these days has certain dietary restrictions. From paleo-friendly to not liking certain types of cheese, dietary requests can be wide-ranging. And, when planning out a restaurant's menu, can cause a major headache.
On one hand, restaurants are in the service industry and need to provide an open, hospitable atmosphere for their customers. But, customers also need to understand the effects of menu substitutions. One of the biggest challenges in allowing menu substitutions is interrupting the efficiency of the kitchen and food production. During the lunch or dinner rushes, kitchens have their plate productions timed perfectly. Falling of that rhythm leads to plates taking too long to hit the tables. As a result, customers complain.
In accepting menu substitutions restaurants are also potentially undermining the vision and integrity of each plate the chef crafted. Each ingredient and preparation method were carefully crafted and organized to create the best balanced dish to bring out all of the flavors. In taking out, or switching certain ingredients, the original vision of the plate is no longer preserved. Furthermore, the chef and restaurant now how to take ownership for that creation - and it's potential lackluster flavors - if it doesn't meet the guests' expectations. In the day of twitter and yelp, these risks are often too high for restaurants to accept.
Many restaurants are now turning to no substitution policies. When implemented correctly, no substitution policies can be beneficial to both restaurant and guest. Make sure that your menus, politely, give notice of no substitutions. Also, train your servers to be able to identify other menu options that meet your guests' dietary needs. For example, if a guest wants to remove potatoes from a dish because they are paleo, have servers suggest other menu choices that do fit their needs.
But, be mindful of those guests who do have serious dietary allergies. Educating servers on how to best identify these types of guests is worth the effort and appreciated by your guests. For those that have celiac disease, for example, it's easy to remove breadcrumbs from a piece of fish, while also creating as close of a version to the originally envisioned dish. Serious dietary allergies aside, guests should be able to find appropriate dishes on the menu beforehand, creating a better experience for the restaurant and guest.