How to Order Off the Menu

Asking for Something That's Not on the Menu
Order something that fits with the restaurant's style.
Order something that fits with the restaurant's style.
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If you're dealing with a specific dietary limitation, give the restaurant a few days lead time. "If [customers are] vegan or lactose intolerant, those are things that they should clarify before they make the reservation," says Neal McCarthy, manager of Miller Union restaurant in Atlanta. As long as he or she knows what's needed and has time to prepare, it's possible to work around dietary restrictions.

If you're hoping to repeat the special you had last month or the dish a coworker raved about, describe the offering to your waiter and ask if it's an option tonight. It wouldn't hurt to include some praise for the chef. If the answer from the kitchen is "no," it may simply be because they don't have the ingredients, or a different chef is on duty. In that case, talk over possibilities with your waiter. Just remember to be polite. You want to be a valued customer, not a difficult one.

Other tips:

  • Keep requests in line with food the restaurant serves.
  • Make special requests on slow nights, not during a dinner rush.
  • It's better to ask for sauces and toppings on the side than tell the chef how to cook.

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