The implied meaning of a signature menu item is that it doesn't change. And for restaurants who offer them, the message to customers is simple: If you come here, you can have this special item.
But what if the customer wants a signature dish with alterations? I asked Valley chefs and restaurateurs to offer their thoughts on changing their signature creations per customer requests -- here's what they had to say:
Romeo Taus Chef and owner, Romeo's Cafe
NO: The reason most of us do this is passion. We want to cook food that evokes a positive emotional response. If we're fortunate enough to have a few signature dishes, it's because in the process of creation we have achieved a unique taste profile that impresses us and our somewhat educated palate. This is what we want the guest to experience. This is what sets us apart from the next person with a set of knives.
Rita French Chef de Cuisine, Province
YES: Cooking is a collaboration and my guests play a huge role in my cooking. If you removed the guest's feedback from the equation, you would be doing a huge disservice to your operation. If I notice a trend in feedback, I will absolutely re-evaluate the dish and tweak as needed.
James Porter Chef and owner, Petite Maison
YES: As a chef, I signed up to be in the service industry, and that means to serve as needed. If a guest would like to make a change, I'm happy to do it. That said, if it's a really odd request I may suggest not making the change. But then again, what do I know? If it tastes good to a guest, then I guess it is good.
Shin Toyoda Sushi master at Sushi Roku
NO: When they are altered, they no longer remain signature dishes. As a chef, the recipe was made the way I wanted it served, and it should stay as close to that as possible. Although, there is always a need to adapt to new palates.
Aaron May, chef and restaurateur
YES: I'm a big believer that the customer is not always right but should always get what they want. If the guest wants to alter a signature dish, we will always accommodate them; however, sometimes with the caveat that the dish is not going to work as well. Obviously, if there's an aversion to the key element of the dish, there's a significant reason that the dish was created that way.
Rebecca Golden Owner, 32 Shea
YES: We do make alternations, but it's an uphill battle that we struggle with. On one hand, we don't want to change what we feel is perfect, but on the other, it's not worth an argument. Plus, it's possible the request is because of a food allergy. I try to suggest another item if I know what they are changing is not going to taste good. That's the best way I've been able to deal with these types of requests.
Joe Johnston, owner, Joe's Real BBQ, Joe's Fresh Farm Grill, Liberty Market, Agritopia
SOMETIMES: We balance passion for our food and we serve from the heart. Whatever we can do that satisfies both within the constraints of our food preparations systems we will do. We can't change the type of wood we smoke our meats with, but we're willing to delete and add toppings to signature pizzas. It's important not to become obstinate just for the sake of ego, nor a panderer that disgraces the food.
Bill Sandweg Owner, Copper Star Coffee and Circle H Barbecue
NO: I won't do it again for a long time. I got burned a couple of months ago when somebody asked for our cold cheese dip to be microwaved. Then, when they hated it, they put a picture of this melt-y pile of cheese goo up on their food blog and criticized us for it.
Christopher Gross Chef and Owner, Christopher's Restaurant & Crush Lounge
YES: As long as it's within reason. People go out to have a good time and often they have a dietary restriction, or just don't care for a particular ingredient. I feel it's a nice way to show customer appreciation.
Justin Micatrotto Co-Owner, Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers Restaurant
NO: Part of the dining experience is allowing yourself the vulnerability to trust someone's creation. You can always send it back.
Steve De Barril, Executive Chef Partner, Seasons 52
YES: I believe it's good practice to alter signature dishes based on consumer request. As a company, we don't just hear guest feedback, we really listen to it. Our guests' palates constantly evolve, as do our dishes to accommodate. Most of our signature dishes have changed over time in one way or another.
David Viviano Chef, The Westin Phoenix Downtown
SOMETIMES: Chefs put a great deal of thought into the flavor profile of signature dishes. As long as a request does not alter the integrity of the dish, I have no problem accommodating the guest. It needs to be assessed on a case by case basis. But ultimately we want the guest to be happy.
Mark Hittle Chef, Bobby Q
NO: You shouldn't change a signature item. If it's something like sauce or no sauce (on BBQ) you can, but I don't like to do any more than that. "No Soup For You!"
Dana Mule GM and partner, Hula's Modern Tiki
YES: My first thought was "no," since the ingredients in these items are combined to create a specific experience. But then my overwhelming urge to serve took over and I realized that it's all about the guest. So, yes, you should make alterations on request whenever possible. Whatever makes a guest happy is really all that matters.
Christopher Costantino Chef and owner, Costantino's Kitchen
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YES: As a customer, I try to honor the chef's vision of how he/she wanted the dish; however, the chef's ego should never outweigh the customer's happiness. Just because I think things go well together doesn't mean everyone agrees. If I'm serving salmon with risotto and another entree includes filet with a potatoes au gratin, I have no problem if the customer wants the salmon with the potatoes.