Dining Out: Are Food Adjustments Allowed?

Q: I got stuck in London because of the volcanic eruption and had to miss my friend's wedding (in which I was supposed to be a bridesmaid). I told her I was very sorry, but when I finally got home, I found out that she was extremely angry with me. She thinks I shouldn't have gone overseas so close to her wedding. I think she's being completely unreasonable. I did everything I could, but planes weren't flying! What was I supposed to do, swim? What do you think?

A: Uh-oh, sound the bridezilla alarm!

Does your friend think you specifically planned a trip to Europe right before her wedding because you knew a volcano in Iceland no one had ever heard of (let alone pronounce) would erupt and close European airspace for a week, preventing you from attending? That's ridiculous.

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Yes, it stinks to be short a member of your wedding party at the last minute. Trust me on this; I speak from experience. But you can either let it totally ruin your wedding (and potentially a long friendship), or you can chalk it up to rotten luck and move on. The polite thing to do is the latter.

As long as you did everything you could to try to get home, and you let your friend know as soon as it became apparent you might not, she has no reason to be angry. And honestly, did she even turn on the news while flights were grounded? People got stranded without medication. Donor organs couldn't be flown to recipients, for heaven's sake! If this is the worst effect the volcanic eruption had on your friend, there are an awful lot of people who'd gladly switch places with her, so in my opinion, she needs to stop complaining.

Q: How many changes are you allowed to request in a menu item when you're ordering in a restaurant? I have some dietary restrictions (lactose intolerance, plus I don't like fish or nuts) but don't want to be a pain when I eat out.

A: In most restaurants, it's usually no problem to subtract ingredients. So if there's a pizza with goat cheese, red peppers and mushrooms, but you're lactose-intolerant, it shouldn't be a big deal to leave off the cheese. Most places are also usually cool with requests for light sauce, no sauce or sauce on the side. Side dishes are usually interchangeable to some degree as well (though I'd expect to be charged a bit extra if you ask for, say, truffle risotto instead of French fries).

What you don't want to do is major surgery—altering a dish so it's completely unrecognizable. Saying, "I'll have the fried fish sandwich. But I don't want bread. And I'd like chicken instead of fish. And can you put tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese on it, too?" is a bit obnoxious. That's not a fish sandwich anymore; that's chicken parmesan! If that's what you want, go somewhere where it's actually on the menu, or stay home and make it yourself.

Bear in mind, though, that some items may be prepped in advance and, therefore, can't be altered. Baked entrees, like lasagna or pot pies, tend to fall into this category.

Also, don't forget that you can tell your waiter what your dietary restrictions are and ask what would be suitable for you. Saying, "I can't have dairy, nuts or fish—what would you recommend?" also just sounds more gracious, I think, than completely editing an entree yourself.

Finally, don't forget the obvious—if you have dietary restrictions, it's always smart to call ahead to confirm the restaurant will be able to accommodate you.

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