Is It Ever OK to Bring Food to a Restaurant?
GIF courtesy New Line Cinema
As more chefs jump on the “no substitutions, no modifications" bandwagon at a furious pace, some picky patrons – no longer able get that pasta dish with extra cherry tomatoes minus the pancetta – are taking matters into their own hands. They enter said chefs’ restaurants toting their favorite condiments, specially-made dressings, even full-on vegan meals. And that’s leaving many others wondering if they can pull it off, too.
Is this behavior ever OK? Does a severe allergy give you a pass? A baby in your party? We ran these scenarios by chefs, restaurant owners, and etiquette experts to find out. Here’s what they find acceptable and those that are definite faux pas.
SCENARIO 1: You have a severe allergy, so you bring your own nut-free salad dressing/gluten-free roll/dairy-free cheese.
Eric Greenspan, chef/owner of The Roof on Wilshire and Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese in Los Angeles: “I actually like those people who bring in lists. If someone says, ‘Here’s a list of everything I can’t eat,’ awesome. That saves a lot of time and effort. I would much rather them say, ‘Hey man, handcraft me something,’ then bring in their own s***.”
Elaine Swann, lifestyle and etiquette expert and author of “Let Crazy Be Crazy”: “If you have actual strict dietary concerns, especially if they’re medically induced, and you choose to bring your own item, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. At least let the server know so they’re aware of it. Explain to your fellow guests what it is, but don’t make a big discussion about it. We don’t need to know the gory details.”
Ron Eyester, executive chef/owner of Atlanta’s Rosebud, The Family Dog, and Timone’s: “If your diet is that strict, you might need to eat at home. When someone looks me in the face and tells me they’re going to die if they eat something, it takes all I can not to burst out laughing. It’s not that I don’t believe you, but what are you doing here, then? I’m flattered that you’re willing to put your life in my hands, but do you really think you should be dining out at a busy restaurant on a Friday night?”
VERDICT: Let the restaurant know what you’re looking for ahead of time and you might not need to bring anything with you after all.
SCENARIO 2: Your boss has set up a working dinner at a restaurant where you, a vegan, know you won’t have many options. But it’s your boss; it’s a non-negotiable. So you show up with your own meal.
Graham Elliot, chef/owner of Graham Elliot’s Bistro in Chicago: “It would be no different than going to an art gallery with your own set of paints and brushes, or to a concert and telling the band what songs you want them to play.”
Eyester: “I think there have to be certain parameters. We once had someone bring almost their entire meal with them in a Tupperware, instructed us on how to reheat it and plate it, and was then put off by the suggestion that we would actually charge them something. We are about hospitality and we take that very seriously, but this is a business.”
Julie Wakefield, president/founder of JW Etiquette: “Most restaurants are willing to prepare special plates for people who have special dietary considerations, especially if they know in advance of your arrival. Try to call the restaurant the day before your event or as early as possible to discuss your dietary needs.”