In 1974, the fast food chain Burger King came out with the famous commercial – Have it Your Way. The jingle went on with a message that said “Special Orders Don’t Upset Us”- That commercial and the attitude it communicated, gained national recognition as a model for how all restaurants should conduct business. I haven’t always looked at accommodating special guest requests as an opportunity, but certainly learned to elevate their importance over the years. If you are not prepared for special orders they can create havoc in the kitchen.
Food and beverage operations are complex operational manufacturing systems. Raw products are brought in and fashioned into finished goods for sale to the consumer. In our business, those products are perishable making it even more of a challenging task to manage. With the ever-changing needs of our contemporary society and all of the special requests from our guests, it can be overwhelming. Unless you’re prepared, it can cause staff frustration, service and timing problems. One special order can negatively affect many other orders especially during peak business periods.
I think the first element of success in fulfilling special requests is a willingness to do them. Having a spirit of accommodation and the desire to serve others certainly helps. In addition, systematic kitchen design, staff training (front and back of the house), your Mise en’ place setup and menu development can simplify things. For example, today many menus offer gluten fee or vegetarian as standard fare.
Secondly, culinary, service staff and operational managers can all be inspired to advance their skills and knowledge in dietary studies, not just for the important goal of guest satisfaction, but for their own educational nourishment. The pre-shift staff meeting and line up is an excellent venue to promote staff accommodating guests. If you start building interest and genuine efforts towards guest satisfaction together, it develops team spirit and collaboration which are incredible assets to the team.
Long before Gluten free became cool, there were other diets. Every year the pendulum swung and a new diet trend or ailment seemed to surface. There was the grapefruit diet, the Pritikin program, low carb Atkins diet, the Sleeping Beauty Diet promoted by Elvis and then of course vegetarian cuisine gaining popularity. Then it’s onto the allergies, peanut and nuts, Gluten free, lactose free, asthma diet guidelines and finally, the plain old preference and sometimes guest’s just wanting to have it their way.
As a young chef at the time, I came to understand quickly that a lot of the members were also in their senior years and had challenges of aging and illness. Most of the time I was the first person the service staff came to with special requests because I would keep my cool. Eventually, I gained the respect of the front-of-the-house staff and I am convinced part of it was because they knew I was the one they could come to for help. Their customers were pleased and that was the ultimate goal.
It takes years just to learn the basics of dietary and nutritional studies. Most chefs pursue advanced study outside the parameters of our jobs. Getting my first sanitation certificate was a beginning for me. It was a start to understanding there is a science to this business and that I had a responsibility to provide safe, wholesome food to the guests. Later while taking the Certified Master Chefs (CMC) exam, I realized I was at another new starting point and still had so much to learn.
Encouraging your apprentices, cooks and sous chefs to pursue knowledge in food science, dietary and nutritional studies will pay big dividends. Offering the staff, a path to their own advancement can give them something to really dig into and work for improving your operation while giving the guests superior fare and personalized service.
Thinking beyond cooking; most successful chefs create synergy and excitement to encourage staff. If you create a learning track and performance review objectives for culinary employees based on solid outcomes of guest satisfaction as well as performance in the kitchen, they will contribute and handle special requests with enthusiasm.