Confession: I Make Special Requests When Dining Out


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  319 comments   :  23,419 Views

I like to eat healthy. It's not something that I feel obligated to do; it's something that I want to do—99% of the time anyway. Sure there are times when you go out to eat with the intention of splurging on French fries or dessert, but for all the other times, it's tough to order anything "as-is" from a restaurant menu without it being a complete diet disaster. Even foods that masquerade as "healthy" choices are usually anything but—especially in the oversized portions they're served to us.

Dressing on the side. Baked, not fried. Hold the sauce. No fries. Extra broccoli—steamed, no butter. These phrases become commonplace for anyone who wants to eat a healthy meal at a restaurant. If you've said them many times yourself, good for you! I do the same, but sometimes, I take it even further.

I'm not afraid to ask about things that aren't on the menu (notice I said "ask" not "demand"). I ask for items on the side or items to be removed entirely and then replaced with other things. Sometimes I'll ask for extra on certain things (like veggies) or light on other toppings (like cheese). I wish I didn't have to do this, but sometimes I have to create my own healthier choice because there isn't one on the menu. On top of it though, I'm a picky eater who also hates to waste food, which is why I remove anything I don't like from the meal during the ordering process.

Here's an example of something I'll order:

Menu item: House salad
My order: "Is the house salad made with Romaine or iceberg? Can I get it with Romaine only? No blackened chicken, add black beans. I'd like the balsamic dressing instead of the dressing it comes with. On the side, please. Light cheese. No mushrooms (they're not unhealthy, I just don't like them). And do you have something like whole-wheat or whole-grain bread instead of the breadstick it's served with?"

Menu item: Vegetable fajita salad
My order:"I'd like the vegetable fajita salad but without the meat. Can I get black beans or refried beans in place of that? Those are 100% vegetarian, right? OK. Also, no cheese, no sour cream and no dressing. Instead of dressing, can I just get extra salsa? And I don't want any of the fried tortilla strips on top. Thanks!"

OK, these are extreme examples, but it's still true to life. It's very rare for me to go to a restaurant that needs that much tweaking, but on occasion, I don't have a choice in where I'm eating. I try to be as polite and respectful as possible. Most of the time, the server is more than happy to take down my special order, read it back to me, and do his or her best to make sure the kitchen staff makes it that way. Believe it or not, they usually get my order right—or just mess up one small thing. I don't usually complain unless the food is somehow inedible. I actually expect mistakes because I ask for so many things and know how easy it is to do the same thing out of habit. I'll eat it and scrape things off if I need to, but wasting food is a big pet peeve of mine. I would rather tell them I don't want mushrooms or sour cream than to waste perfectly good food because it comes with my order and I didn't want to be a bother.

I don't have to make special requests like this too often. I tend to frequent a few specific restaurants where I know there are healthy, tasty menu items that I can enjoy with little to no modification. But occasionally, I have to meet my family at a restaurant where I'd never eat otherwise or I try a new place only to find out there's nothing on the menu that appeals to my healthy sensibilities. My boyfriend, friends and family are used to these special requests and even expect it from me. When we try a new place and I only have one modification—or none—they look at me in disbelief that I didn't spend 10 minutes ordering my custom meal.

I know it seems high maintenance, but I don't LIKE to do this. However, I dislike it even more to force down food I don't want to eat just because "that's the way it's made." Maybe if restaurants offered more healthy options, people like me wouldn't have to make special requests. So until that happens, I'm only going to go to the places that do offer the kind of food I want. And when I have to go elsewhere, I'm going to continue to make special requests. The way I figure, I'm paying a premium to dine out—way more than I'd spend to eat the same thing at home. So I'm going to try to get something as close as possible to what I want—as long as they're willing to indulge me.

Do you make special requests to eat healthier at restaurants or do you think it's inappropriate?

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  • RENE550
    I always order dressing and sauces on the side. I was a server for 5 years and if you make it worth their while, they will do anything for you. Please and Thank-you go a long way! After all, you are paying a hefty price for your food.
    You may have to pay more, but it is worth it to keep your health. As more people order healthier preparations, restaurants will respond. - 2/28/2010   12:03:15 AM
  • KZD2008
    I also tweak my meals leaving things off or on the side. It always amazes me when I ask for the dressing on the side and the server brings two or three little cups of the dressing for my salad. I ask for it on the side because I may or may not use it. If I wanted to drown my salad I would let the restaurant put the dressing on. I find in many cases that I don't use the dressing at all. Salads with a lot of vegetables have so much natural flavor that the dressing just covers it up.
    Here's to healthy eating! - 2/27/2010   11:41:32 PM
  • 267
    I make requests, and change the meal all the time. My reason is slightly different though. Yes, I want to eat healthy, however, even some of the very healthy foods are difficult to eat for someone with IBS. For example, broccolli is a killer! So, I am always substituting and tweaking. My family is used to me doing this too. As they say, "She orders anything that isn't fun." Oh well.... - 2/27/2010   7:47:44 PM
  • 266
    My major line of defense is to have the dressing on the side, hold the cheese and to ask for a doggie bag from the start. I immediately divide the serving into 2 meals and box the 2nd up out of sight (and hopefully not forget it when I leave). - 2/27/2010   5:24:46 PM
  • 265
    This is great advice. The first time someone told me this, I was bewildered - why hadn't I thought of just tweaking it until it's healthy? I mean... I work at starbucks... people do that with me all day long, and I don't mind at all. Now when I go to chili's I ask for grilled shrimp, rice, and steamed broccoli w/ no butter - no sauces, no cheese. I always start out by saying "I know this isn't put together on the menu, but don't worry about just charging me for the full grilled shrimp plate... it's fine." I think the only worry that the server has is that you'll expect it to be super cheap since it's missing so much, and they'll have to explain it to the manager, etc. I'm going to be spending the money anyway to go out with friends and be waited on, plus they're taking care of a special order w/o complaint... so don't be a cheapskate.. you know? - 2/27/2010   3:13:12 PM
  • 264
    I always have a guilt issue about asking for picky healthy prep on my main meal if I am going to order the chocolate mousse cake for desert. After all, the main reason I am eating out is the decadant desert I have decided to allow myself and I am willing to 'pay' for the slice of that, but I don't want to 'pay' for the butter that makes the veggies shiny cause I like those fine without it. I have arrived with hubby at his fave restaurant to find that there is roast crown rack of lamb on the menu today, because it is my anniversary (birthday), and hubby (a regular) asked for it, because he knows it is a favourite that is 'too much trouble to make at home." If the restaurant has gone to the trouble of providing me with the choice of items they only offer occaisionaly, I feel obliged, and after all they are favourite items. But it does make it so for 'just to eat' I'd choose somewhere else, and keep hubbys favourite special occaision and weekday business lunch restaurant for special indulgence. - 2/27/2010   1:53:07 PM
    I try to avoid eating out for the fact that it's not healthy for you, plus I can't afford to eat out very much anyway. But these are some really good tips for when you do have to eat out! - 2/27/2010   12:53:25 PM
  • 262
    I have been avoiding eating out since I started this plan. I will use this advice. - 2/27/2010   11:41:22 AM
  • 261
    Yes, I also do things like dressing on the side and no croutons on my salad. Once a waitress had the chef come out and talk to me about healthy choices and what they could do for me. Found that to be very helpful. But then again I've been to some who are not so friendly and are not willing to make substitutions for you. I try to avoid this eatery but when you are going with friends you just do your best. I did luck out last time the waitress fixed me a small scoop of fruit salad in a small cup for the hash browns which should have been an extra charge. - 2/27/2010   11:02:09 AM
  • 260
    My husband wanted to take me to lunch a couple of days ago, so I looked up the menu online ahead of time so that I could study it and decide what I would have. I wish that more restaraunts would make their menus available like this; maybe we could just write out exactly how we would like our meal and save all of that time (and embarrassment for some) and hand it to the waiter. - 2/27/2010   10:39:18 AM
  • 259
    I applaud you for asking what you want...and it's not high's knowing what you want and not being afraid to voice your wants...I do this when appropriate as well and I feel that it's ok if asking with kindness... - 2/27/2010   10:29:22 AM
  • 258
    I ask for simple things like dressing or sour cream on the side, sub veggie for fries, etc. But I try to keep it within reason. I think an added factor for Coach Nicole here if it is as it seems, that she is vegan. This adds a whole other factor into the mix, and I am not sure how I would handle this. - 2/27/2010   8:26:38 AM
  • 257
    Great blog! I love the way you riled some people up. Funny.
    You ask, they say yes or no. Many things are prepped in advance, and they just say 'no'. Then you ask for something else.
    I assume you are doing this to be 'with' a larger group. Makes sense to me. I've made my special requests, gotten great meals, and sent back compliments to the chef at a few restaurants. I've even had the cooks come out and tell me they had fun doing it.
    Of course- that's at 'classy' places, when it's not too busy. I can read a room. If they are going nuts, short handed, I get the baked potato and some steamed vegies. Works for me.
    Have a great one, folks... and if you are wildly tweaked by this blog- ask yourself... don't you deserve to be treated well? Hmmm? Go for what you want. - 2/27/2010   3:48:07 AM
    I am not worried about being rude at all. And we learned that they are supposed to accommodate all! And if they do not make accommodations, or let you order from the children's menu because you "too old" they are being discriminatory. Because it is the smaller portions, and sometimes healthier food choices! One of the first rules learned in Weight Watchers. - 2/26/2010   9:55:47 PM
    Unless you're eating out three times a week, what happened to the SparkPeople attitude that no foods are off limits when eaten sensibly and in moderation? - 2/26/2010   9:41:16 PM
  • 254
    I have no problem asking for my food the way I want it since I am paying for it. Especially salad, even if it weren't unhealthy, who would want to eat a salad drowning in dressing? - 2/26/2010   6:36:22 PM
  • 253
    When I first began this healthier journey - my kids especially were a little "embarrassed" as I would ask primarily for a nutrition guide - by they are now used to it. Sometimes they will even suggest a restaurant that has healthier choices, or includes a nutrition guide knowing that's what I require. - 2/26/2010   5:06:26 PM
  • 252
    I am going to try that tonight. Friday night is date night so we always eat out. We'll see how it goes. I need to get more veggies in my diet! Agree with all the comments about restaurants needing more veggie options. - 2/26/2010   4:29:31 PM
  • 251
    I am a vegan, so I make these types of requests all the time. To those who say, why don't you just stick to vegan restaurants, I would say, that is fine, if it is just my husband and I going out, but we have friends who are not vegan and love meat. So we do find ourselves at non-vegan establishments quite often. In these cases, I do my best to choose something that is already vegan or can be made vegan with only a few substitutions, and I have never had any issues. One caveat though...I don't eat at chain restaurants normally, just at local places, where there is an actual chef, and not just someone out back microwaving frozen food from a central warehouse. I think that those places would have a lot more trouble customizing something and wouldn't be as willing to get creative with substitutions.

    If you or a family member had food allergies, I don't think you would hesitate to ask for substitutions or changes in your meal, for health reasons. And healthy eating--whether to avoid heart disease, diabetes or obesity--is just as valid a reason. So if you are paying for food, I think you should be able to request whatever you like, as long as you are being reasonable and trying to take the type of restaurant and type of request into account. - 2/26/2010   3:49:19 PM
  • 250
    If more of us ordered this way, I have a feeling there would be many more healthy options available for us in restaurants. I always UP THE TIP when my special request meal is done right, or even mostly right. For those who think these requests are excessive, listen to other people in the restaurants and pay attention to their appearance. I've noticed that fit and healthy looking people do this all the time.
    I have to say, I'm very shocked by the number of comments condemning this practice!!!! - 2/26/2010   3:02:55 PM
  • 249
    I agree with Pamzia and Cathiete, some minor modifications are OK but some sound a bit extreme. Maybe you are better off not eating out. I kind of feel sorry for the waiters./waitresses. - 2/26/2010   2:49:01 PM
  • 248
    This is something I need to work on more! - 2/26/2010   2:27:00 PM
  • 247
    I do this all the time!! I have restrictions on what I can eat for health reasons, so I feel less guilty about things. While I am not truly allergic to 1/2 the stuff I can't eat, they do cause bad things to happen in my body, so I don't feel guilty telling the wait-staff that I am allergic to it.

    Most of the time I look at the waiter/waitress and say "I am so sorry... I am going to be one of those complicated orderers." They tend to react better for that.

    I DEFINITELY think that restaurants should start serving healthier options!! - 2/26/2010   2:23:39 PM
  • 246
    I haven't done this but it makes sense. Your paying for it why not have it the way you want and not waste food. I am going to start ordering more like this!! Thanks - 2/26/2010   1:55:53 PM
  • 245
    I don't have the guts to do something like that and I am a beginner at eating healthy. Plus I don't go to the kind of restaurants that will do that. Hopefully one day I will hsve the know-how and the guts. - 2/26/2010   1:32:30 PM
  • WENDYA61
    I often tweak a menu item to make it as calorie friendly as possible. None of my servers have ever seemed to have a problem with it. - 2/26/2010   12:14:09 PM
  • 243
    I've been doing it for so many years that I don't even think of "dressing on the side, please" or "May I have steamed broccoli instead of the french fries, please?" as "special requests." :) Altering a dish fits that description more, but I don't think that's out of line either.

    I'm not embarrassed to ask to have something created that isn't on the menu ("Can I just get penne in tomato sauce?) nor to ask to be allowed to order from the kid's menu.

    I feel that, in general, if you are polite yet flexible, you'll meet with pleasantness in return. I have found restaurant staff willing to work with me insofar as the "house guidelines" allow. Together, we can almost always create a meal I will enjoy.

    You are right to bring up the point that, if you are paying a premium to eat a meal out, you should - within reason - be able to tailor that meal to your own preferences. You can certainly bring your own politeness and flexibility to that, though (e.g., start with a meal that's as close to what you want as possible, be flexible about what they are allowed to do, deal with perhaps getting something that you didn't want, etc.).

    And, as always, I tip in accordance with the willingness of the restaurant staff to accommodate my pickiness. :)

    I think that, as more people do just this in an effort to become healthier diners, restaurants will see the opportunity to not just adapt but to even enhance *their* flexibility and advertise it to attract us. Hopefully more people WILL do it and that's not just a dream. :) - 2/26/2010   11:32:48 AM
  • 242
    My special requests arent only with my weightloss in mind, but also and most importantly~my daughters life threatening food allergies. My husband used to be embarressed about this; however he now understands the importance of it where our daughter is concerned. I often go so far as to request meeting the cook, so he/she is fully aware of the situation rather than just by reading an order form(that are often times just skimmed over quickly). In our case "quickly" means emergency situations where 8 minutes without air ...means death.

    I will always do special requests when ordering even after my Daughter is grown and gone. I am determined not to ever weigh 365 pounds again!!! Yeahhhh! Healthy is WONDERFUL! :o) - 2/26/2010   10:33:16 AM
  • 241
    You sound like me and it is a big reason I am 52 pounds lighter than I was 3 years ago. I always ask for things on the side or off all together. - 2/26/2010   8:07:08 AM
    I never bother making a list of special requests. I just dine at places I know I'll enjoy simply ordering off the menu. - 2/26/2010   7:51:17 AM
  • LJ1225
    Both my daughter and I have been making special requests when ordering at a restaurant for years ... "I'll have the salad with no onions and dressing on the side" has been my salad order for years. Unfortunately I've been doing this because of my likes and dislikes, not for healthy reasons. My daughter is a little more health conscious, so she will ask about the type of greens in a salad. I do get razzed a bit when ordering this way and so does my daughter, but we agree with Coach Nicole that one shouldn't waste food. Thanks to this article I am now more aware of how I can also use my voice to make my many restaurant meals more healthy, not just to my liking. - 2/26/2010   7:31:03 AM
  • 238
    I don't have a problem in special ordering something & don't have a problem sending it back to make certain they get it right (the 2nd time). - 2/25/2010   11:06:43 PM
  • 237
    I regularly order things "special", and I never feel badly about it in a restaurant (If I were to try something like that in someone's home, checking my rude self would be the correct thing for a host to do).
    Part of it is because of allergies (all berries make me sick), but it could also be because I just don't like something (peas = little green balls of paste), so I have no problem asking for something made differently.
    I do prepare myself for the possibility of paying a bit extra for a "substitution", but most of the time this doesn't happen, since the restaurant's know that they are lucky to have customers in these economic times.
    Being pleasant about it ALL is the key to anything like this and I firmly believe that rude people deserve whatever slop they get.
    (but then I'm pretty hard core...) - 2/25/2010   10:23:21 PM
  • 236
    Not as much as I should. I do find myself requesting the steamed vegetables more than the french fries or loaded baked potato. However I do need to work on making more special requests. I don't feel any restaurant really has any problems with special requests because more of the ones that I've visited are offering healthy alternatives. - 2/25/2010   10:21:36 PM
  • 235
    I'm just like Nicole and have been special ordering for years. Hubby gets a kick out of me going first with all my requests, and then just quickly giving his order straight off the menu. I'm always nice about it, call the waitstaff by name, and they are always very gracious in granting my requests. - 2/25/2010   10:10:31 PM
  • 234
    On Wednesdays for lunch, we usually go out with my co-workers. I frequently "special order" my food. Sometimes I get looks of amazement from my friends at the table and sometimes, I get pats on the back. I simply say that I am paying for it so I should get what I want. - 2/25/2010   10:10:03 PM
  • 233
    I'm always asking for special requests. Small salad, with O&V/side. I ask them if them have a Shrimp cocktail? Fish with no breading....etc. I have also emailed restauraunts to give them low cal info. The wait staff have been wonderful, in this enocomy they want us coming back.

    - 2/25/2010   10:07:33 PM
  • 232
    I have just started special ordering. I was always to embarrassed by it, but now I don't care, I just want to get what I want. - 2/25/2010   10:03:33 PM
    I won't argue the merits of special ordering. What I want to know is why restaurants arent coming around to what people want faster and how do we talk to them. Really, Red Lobster has healthy fish, but then the side is plain broccoli or sometimes asparagus. How hard would it be to have a choice of 5-6 plain healthy, cheap and easy vegetables for sides. This is not rocket science and shouldn't be that hard to have for instance carrots, green beans, grilled or steamed squash . It would be so easy to make over most places menus and with just a few easy tweaks offer 6 or 8 easy cheap healthy offerings for everyone! - 2/25/2010   8:34:36 PM
  • 230
    I agree we wouldn't have to be a bother if our food was healthier to began with. I too ask what type of sause and decide light or not at all and add extra veggies. Many places need to step up on the veggies especially now that they are in dier need for customers due to the economic times. It is very hard to go out to eat because nothing is healthy. - 2/25/2010   7:38:59 PM
    Nicole - you sound like me -- I do it all the time. I eat out once or twice a week and most of the places I go are more than willing to accomodate requests such as these. Some of them even encourage it. I always "ask" and if they say they can't then I leave it at that and scrape stuff off if possible or order something else. If they have to charge me extra for something, I'm fine with that. - 2/25/2010   7:29:39 PM
    There are special requests... and then there's altering the meal so much you might as well go back into the kitchen and cook for yourself. I have - and still do - make requests, but nothing like what's listed here. In my opinion, this is way too picky, bordering on OC. Why bother going out if everything is bad? Or why not stick to vegan restaurants, since it sounds as though that's how you mostly eat (Nicole.)
    I do understand that eating out is supposed to be enjoyable, and I also agree that it's ok to ask for a few changes. But going beyond that is where I draw the line.
    I have to agree with others here: if you're changing the meal so drastically, just cook for yourself and spare the restaurant and yourself. - 2/25/2010   7:22:14 PM
  • 227
    Asking politely for one or two minor substitutions is not too much to ask, but as someone who has worked in the restaurant industry as a hostess, you should be forewarned that MANY MANY servers out there are harried and easily annoyed and if you are too nitpicky (doesn't matter how nice you are) they will purposely make you wait longer, screw up the plate, and are even known to do things to your meal. Trust me, I've seen it firsthand, and it was in a very upscale restaurant where servers got outstanding tips, so they didn't care about one particular ticket. Just be careful. If your server seems at all put out, ease up. Many of them truly do not give a **** about what you want, especially when they are extremely busy. - 2/25/2010   5:58:07 PM
  • 226
    I think it is reasonable to request to have the meal prepared how you want it. My friends sometimes tease me and calll me a "princess" because I ask to change things. I see them noow doing that more often. Since I almost order fish I don't usually have to make too many requests except, not fried, and don't put any sauces on it and no big dab of butter on it...eew, You can't even taste the fish when butter tops it. I find that if I ask nicely and smile they are happy to accomodate . Sometimes I have to pay more , just a dollar or two to have salad rather than fries and I don't mind since I get to eat what I want. - 2/25/2010   5:39:44 PM
  • 225
    I must confess, this is me eating out these days! I used to LOVE to eat out. Not any more. I am always afraid they are going to do something to my food for being such a pain!
    :) - 2/25/2010   4:59:34 PM
    I do make requests of this type sometimes, and I don't think it's anything wrong with it. I will say though, that I think it would be easier to frequent restaurants where you know healthier options are always available so you don't have to make so many complicated requests and orders. - 2/25/2010   4:42:31 PM
  • 223
    I make special requests and substitutions all the time. My friend, whith whom I dine out regularly, gets annoyed with me b/c she feels she can just pick off or scrape off what she doesn't want, but I feel that is wasteful too! However, if it does come and I don't want to eat it, I won't. I always get a salad instead of fries and always dressing on the side and no croutons! I think some places are getting used to me and fix my salads the way I want automatically! I too feel that I am paying for my meal and should get what I want. I am polite and always ask instead of demand and am still polite if it is wrong. - 2/25/2010   4:34:12 PM
    no dressing (never have liked it)
    sauce or gravy on the side
    steamed veggies instead of corn (teeth can't handle it) - 2/25/2010   3:34:07 PM
    I went to lunch to celebrate a friends birthday the place chosen did not have many healthy choices, one of the ladies proceeded to recreate her entree,the waitress was polite and at the end of our meal the owner only charged our creative friend for her meal.
    I believe that most restaurants today are adding more healthy choices to their menus bottom line is they want their customers to be happy and come back, they do need to turn a profit.
    I think that if you have a serious health issue you should call ahead and ask if they can create an entree for you, most restaurants if given advanced notice will do this. Your family / friends will also be pleased that you did not hold up the order while you are picking the menu apart.
    I ask and tip the server well. - 2/25/2010   3:31:08 PM
    I have no guilt about special requests like these. It is because people started making these requests that many restaurants now put dressing on the side as a matter of practice and offer veggies-instead-of-fries options - 2/25/2010   3:27:45 PM

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