But I want to swap that item…

February 14, 2023
Paul Rifkin

I’m going to bring up a controversial topic today. It is one that I see causing customer anger in many venues. It an issue that also causes heated arguments between front-of-house staff, managers and chefs.

“But I want to swap that item…”

Those increasingly frequent moments when a customer wants to swap out a product on a menu item for another. Chips instead of mashed potato. Salad instead of vegetables. Or even pepper sauce in place of the tomato and basil listed on a menu item.

Image: Jessie Mccall, Unsplash

I was recently discussing this with a diner who eats out more frequently than most and they recounted an experience in a particular venue where they dined each month with a party of 12. The venue had changed contractors and the new ones had little tolerance for anything “out of the norm”.

As they had always done, this customer requested chips and salad in place of mashed sweet potato and vegetables with their lamb shanks. Unlike before, their order was flatly refused. Instead, they were told to take the dish as it comes and order the chips and salad as sides. The customer was upset but, not wanting to cause a scene, did just that.

The group of 12 changed to another venue after that.

It seems petty, but that is human behaviour.

Another customer I spoke to recently relayed to me their service experience. They wanted two different salad side dishes, and were happy to pay for both, all they wanted was for both to be served in the one bowl. A flat no was the response so the customer declined to order and sat with the group with nothing to eat. The customer told me that they wouldn’t go there again, despite them eating there every night during a holiday, prior to the incident.

Both these examples are real and did occur, and over my many years as an Executive Chef, I have observed situations many times where a chef refused to change any dishes.

I would instruct them to do as the customer requested.

“But the food cost would be out.”

“I didn’t have enough product to do other dishes”.

 “It is too hard to read the docket with changes”.

The responses were generally weak, and just didn’t hold water.

As a Consultant Chef, I have overheard many heated exchanges between chefs, wait staff and managers over requested item swaps on menus. In my experience, most of the requests would not have changed price points or product levels and were straight forward. They should have been followed.

What you don’t know is that by denying a simple swap how many customers have been so pissed off that they never came back.

Correct training and firm guidelines will ensure chefs don’t make these decisions in the heat of service and cause unnecessary problems for your venue.

I’ll leave that one with you.

Chef Paul Rifkin

Paul Rifkin – chefpaulrifkin consulting Head Chef Mentoring and Fine-Tuning Specialist for Club Catering chefpaulrifkin@hotmail.com


customer relations, Food service, service

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