More Than Lip Service
By Elisa Camahort
LAST WEEK I went out to dinner twice and had two very different experiences. One restaurant went out of its way to accommodate my veganism. One was so flummoxed by it that we ended up leaving.
You may be surprised that the great experience was at a steakhouse in the Midwest. People joke about cities like Chicago-—that they like to eat meat with a side of meat and cheese. But I've had numerous wonderful veg*n dining experiences in Chicago, including last week at Buckingham's Steakhouse. When I mentioned my pesky vegan thing to the waiter in the context of asking whether the pasta was made with egg, he did look at me askance. But within two minutes the chef was at my side asking the particulars of my eating "condition" and offering a creative solution. The pastas they used for the dinner menu had egg, but they served an Asian noodle stir-fry at lunch made with egg-free rice noodles and could easily substitute. Fine with me, thank you very much.
The next night, we went out for a nice dinner at a local Silicon Valley restaurant here whose stated ethos is all about organic, local, seasonal—you know, it's not just food, it's a statement. I actually agree with that, and I was happy to go to this restaurant, since I had been there three previous times and been served what I was told was a veganized version of their one vegetarian entree, and was quite satisfied. I guess a few months can make a difference, because there was a different chef, waiter and manager, none of whom could figure out what to do with me. All because I was hoping to have the chef throw together whatever vegetables they had with maybe a little helping of some carb-related food to round it out. Something that had been a piece of cake mere months earlier—three times. They looked at me like (a) I was crazy, (b) they sincerely doubted my story that I had been there and been fed vegan food and (c) they deeply wished I would go away. To the point that the waiter said, "Maybe this isn't the restaurant for you."
We agreed with him, heading down the block to our favorite local place, Pizza Antica. Also not a vegetarian restaurant, but consistently welcoming and accommodating.
Talk the talk about eating ethics all you want, but it's pretty meaningless if not accompanied by a customer service ethic. I look for both.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.