Photo of
November 28, 2019

Several of today's newspapers are running with a story about an Edinburgh restaurateur who is cheesed off with customers presenting nonsensical dietary requirements.

Vikki Wood of The Wee Restaurant vented on Twitter after a booking for five people listed more than a dozen dietary requirements, many of which were conflicting.

Any chef worth their salt will always bend over backwards to accommodate genuine allergies or food intolerances. What Wood objected to was customers making nonsensical requests.

In this specific case, one of Wood's customers claimed to follow a vegetarian diet but wanted to change her gazpacho order for calamari.

Another customer, a vegan, wanted to order chocolate crème brûlée. Last time we looked at the recipe, that was a dairy heavy dish that was very much off the menu for vegans.

While emphasising that her restaurant was more than happy to cater for genuine allergies, Wood reckoned that false allergy requirements, or 'picky eaters', go into overdrive in the run-up to Christmas.

This blogger sympathises with Wood. At the same time, I suspect that her Twitter feed may be  a little more circumspect in the future.

Twitter storm

Obviously, this is not a new bust-up. Craig Millar, chef patron at 16 West End in Fife, set off a similar Twitter storm in a teacup earlier this year when he tweeted that:

'We actually just did a full service with no "dietaries". It was like the 90s all over again - when the words pescatarian, flexitarian and f***witarian didn't exist and the only allergies were hay fever!'

It is an interesting development. There has been an increase in the numbers of people with dietary requirements in the last ten to fifteen years.

How many of these are genuine allergies or have genuine medical causes is moot. But that doesn't really matter.

If people don't want to eat certain ingredients out of preference then that is fair enough.

However, demanding that chefs create separate dishes for each individual in a party is not fair and it places an unreasonable burden on the kitchen.

Your blogger is more interested in the root causes of the rise in dietary requirements, irrespective of how medically genuine they are.

Is it down to a rise in identity politics? Is it because of health reasons; however ill-founded they may be? Are people just becoming more picky?

Taking back control?

I don't know the answer but I did hear an interesting theory a little while back.

Our food chains are becoming longer and more complex. Many people don't know where food comes from or how it is produced.

When it comes to highly processed food, most of us don't know exactly what we are eating. In fact, when it comes to highly processed food, few of us have a clue what we are eating.

Increasing numbers of people can't or won't cook for themselves so they don't really have ultimate control of what they eat.

Asking a chef to personalise your meal is one way of controlling what you eat. The customer is paying for a service and, so, at least according to the theory, they should be able to dictate what food they are served.

It is an interesting idea although I think that it confuses the services that a restaurant provides with the services a customer might expect from a private chef.