Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. She writes frequently about her kitchen exploits in this column, Half-Baked.
The dining-out clientele in South Florida is... let's use the word unique. Some are here to play (and we restaurant workers don't begrudge them; we live for our snowbirds). Some are here to stay (it's you locals who keep us from shuttering up during the rough, slow summer months). And some are here to decay (the most hated words in the industry language are early bird!)
Of course, you all have different needs and special requests... and you are not afraid to express them, even in the middle of the rush. Whoever uttered the phrase "the customer is always right" was a masochist and a sadist! From the annoying to the just plain bizarre, here is my own list of Strangest Requests From Diners.
I know I'm not the only one who has a list -- so, my industry friends, chime in and vent!
The tempt-ress: Life is rough on the island (ritzy Palm Beach), which is why so many seek solace in the spas. While rejuvenating herself, one diva ordered a very typical lunch -- salad with dressing s.o.s and grilled chicken on top. Sounds like a simple order? Wrong! Specific instructions on what veggies to use, how they should be cut and placed, were given. Then she vanquished a server through her body wrap and avocado mask because she eats proteins, including chicken, only medium rare! That's just fowl!
The Late Bird: Even in the sleepiest corners of South Florida, the typical Saturday-night rush is buzzing from 7 to 9 p.m. So in the midst of a full board, the server knew better than to just ring in this order.
"Can you please cut up 61's" -- she was referring to the table number, not the guest's age -- "steak?" she begged. It takes a lot to bring a line to a complete halt, but that definitely did it. Turns out the sweet old-timer was having a bad arthritis night. We obliged; we won't deprive a man of his steak.
Fido's Gotta Eat Too: I love my canine friends. In fact, there's a whole line of products made for kitchens to serve them, including desserts. But it's tough knowing that you'll be harangued if you don't cook that filet mignon to a perfect medium for Spot, who's hanging out on the patio on a Friday night.
Off the Menu Requests: These are a favorite in any kitchen [note curled lip and sarcastic tone]! I'm actually surprised how frequently diners request special items, and I'm mortified when I'm out with someone who commits this sin. But as the saying goes, the guest is blah blah blah, even if it means the kitchen staff must run to the closest supermarket to make them happy. We've fetched it all: lobster, special condiments, even rainbow sprinkles because chocolate ones would not do.
The Separatist: Sauce on side? No problem. But everything on the side? I've seen this request a lot more than I'd like to admit but sometimes guests want every element of the dish on its own plate. What's with the deconstructionist approach? I don't understand the purpose if it's all going to the same place anyway. This isn't annoying just to the cooks but especially to the dishwasher.
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The Raw Foodist: I'm not talking about your average vegan superheroes who walk among us (though I think they show tremendous commitment) but hardcore raw foodists. I've actually had to check with the server and ask the chef if I could serve a steak just straight out of the fridge. Of course, this made my job as a cook a lot easier, but I couldn't help feel like I didn't earn my coat on that one.