Ordering Off Menu

By Murray Gottheil | April 30, 2024

I like eating out, but I don’t always like what is on the menu. I have been known to explain to the server that I consider a menu to be merely an indication of which ingredients the chef has in the kitchen, together with samples of some of the ways that they can be assembled. With that information, I often request that they be assembled differently. Lose the beets from the beet salad; lose the feta cheese and replace it with goat cheese; add the spicy pecans from another salad, and so on.

I like to eat a bespoke lunch, and I expect that it may cost me a bespoke price.

Of course, there are some restaurants that do not accommodate my whims. I do not go back there.

Others do go along with my craziness but are not pleasant about it. I do not return there either.

And then there are those servers who smile and say, “Yes, of course we can do that.”  I tend to eat there quite a bit.

Of course, none of this applies to where I now live in the country. There are only so many ways to mess with the local culinary specialties of burgers and fries.

Back in my law firm, I had clients who were just like me. They wanted their agreements to be simple when complicated was called for. Or short, when long was required. Or today, when even tomorrow was going to be a stretch.

So I gave them simple, and short, and today. They liked me. They came back. But unlike the servers in the eating establishments that I frequented who would give me whatever concoction I requested, I only accommodated the crazies when they actually had a good reason for their demands, and then only after they accepted my disclaimers and assumed the risk of doing it their way. And eventually I learned that if every assignment was an emergency that had to be done today, I was not the lawyer for them.

Telling clients that a law firm’s way of doing things is the only way is not a great approach for building a client base. Doing whatever they demand without thought is not a good way to build a life. There is some balance required.

Which brings me to a fellow whom I knew but never liked much who ordered a steak at a fine restaurant in Paris. When the steak arrived, he requested ketchup. The server took the steak back to the kitchen. The fellow thought that was unusual because he expected that the server would bring the ketchup to him, not take the steak to the ketchup. However, he eventually understood when the waiter never returned the steak. His request was ridiculous. The chef was simply not going to put up with it. Every now and then I had a client who reminded me of that story, and I fired them.

The customer is not, in fact, always right.

Murray is a happily retired lawyer who lives in the country, drives a pick-up truck, writes, teaches and mentors. You can reach him at [email protected] or see what he is up to at lawanddisorderinc.com.


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