Where in the states, menu substitutions and alterations have become the norm these days (however obnoxious they may be), in the Caribbean they are still generally met with the sucking of teeth and an overall attitude of inflexibility. The accommodating of diets like vegan, paleo, gluten-free, and macrobiotic (to name a few…) is still a ways off. As a vegetarian who has spent literally *years* picking meat off her sandwiches and wiping up its revolting juices from her plate because there was simply no other option, I’m only now beginning to find suitable veggie options (meat-free protein! not just pasta!) on some menus.
As a general rule, I find it’s better to just stick to what’s listed on the menu, hence the reason I had to start occasionally eating fish. Servers here don’t like to be inconvenienced, no matter how small the favor you believe you are asking, no matter how big you smile. If you don’t want something, try to just remove it yourself, trade with your table mates, or feed the seagulls/feral cats. And enjoy the view while you’re at it – that’s why you’re here after all, right? 😉
Case in Point:
The following is based on true events – a scene that generously provided us with entertainment while dining out recently. A bit o’ lunch theater, if you will…
Out to lunch, we are seated near a group of 8 jovial American tourists. When the time comes to place their order, the waitress silently approaches the table, pen in hand, and stands before the group, staring down at her notepad. The tourists beam at her eagerly in hopes of forging a connection, but are met with what can only be described as dispassionate detachment in the form of zero eye contact. With small talk effectively ruled out as an option, ordering commences. Trouble comes when it’s Woman #3’s turn to order.
WOMAN #3: “Yes, I’d like to have the grouper sandwich please, but I’d like a salad on the side instead of fries.”
WOMAN #3: “Ummmm….” Confused, she stutters as she glances around the table at her friends for guidance but is met with a communal shrug. “Umm, ‘no’ what? No more grouper? No more salad? ….”
WAITRESS: “No salad. Only come with fries.”
WOMAN #3: “Oh. Well, that’s okay, I’ll pay extra for the salad. I just don’t want the fries.” She grins sheepishly, desperate to not be the only one at the table who is disliked.
WAITRESS: “No. Not possible.” She then turns to face the man seated beside Woman #3, beckoning his order with an impatient stare, an unmistakable signal that this whole fries vs. salad debate is officially over.
Woman #3 resigns to her fate, clearly disappointed, but willing to let it go. We’re in the Caribbean! There’s rum in my punch!
Ordering continues, but a snag in the process arises once again when it’s Man #7’s turn to order. Judging by his alert anticipation, it’s clear he has devised a plan he’s confident with. For his order, he tries a different tact.
MAN #7: “I’d like to get the cheeseburger please, but without the bun and fries. Then, I’d like to order the garden salad please, separately.” His self-satisfied smile is ever-apparent, as he believes he has outsmarted the system.
WAITRESS: “No. Not possible.”
MAN #7: Undeterred, he clarifies, “No, I understand that I can’t substitute the salad for the fries, so I’d just like to order the burger without the bun and fries. The salad is a separate order.” He relaxes into a sip of his beer. Surely they’ve reached a suitable agreement.
WAITRESS: “No. The burger come with the bun. You can’t have it without. You can order the salad, but the burger come with fries. You can’t have it without.”
Unwilling to accept defeat, he scans the area for someone, anyone, to rally to his cause. Looking beyond the waitress, he spots another woman in the open kitchen window, and waves. She does not return his wave.
MAN #7: “Is there any way I could just ask someone in the kitchen? Maybe see if we could work something out? I just don’t want any carbs. You can just keep the bun, just save it for someone else.”
WAITRESS: “There’s no price for a burger without the bun. It has to come with the bun.”
MAN #7: “That’s okay, I’ll pay the regular price, just please – can you keep the bun and fries in the kitchen? I really don’t want them.”
Waitress sighs audibly, trudges away, and confers with the other woman in the open kitchen window, all within view of the customers. Man #7 smiles widely at the other woman in an attempt to lure her to his team, but she looks away, shakes her head at the waitress, and returns to her cooking. Waitress returns to the table.
WAITRESS: “No. Not possible.”
Man #7 gives a deflated nod and takes another swig of his consolatory beer.
Waitress finishes taking their orders. No one else attempts any funny business. After she leaves, the tourists, who are no doubt accustomed to being treated like valued customers instead of unwelcome intruders, shake their heads, laugh amongst themselves, and cheers their drinks. Oh, well! We’re in the Caribbean! There’s rum in my punch!
Forty-five minutes later, their lunch is served. Woman #3 is served her grouper sandwich with fries. Man #7 is served his cheeseburger on a bun with fries and a garden salad on another plate. Just like it says on the menu.