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How far is too far when customizing your restaurant order?

A viral "Saturday Night Live" sketch highlights the extreme lengths some diners will go to have it their way.
Saturday Night Live - Season 48
Molly Kearney, host Pedro Pascal, Ego Nwodim as Lisa from Temecula, and Punkie Johnson during the “Lisa from Temecula” sketch on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.Will Heath / NBC

Out to dinner with friends last fall, I winced as our server considerately asked if there were dietary restrictions at the table. Little could she have anticipated the litany of requirements to come.

“Does the dressing have garlic in it? My acid reflux can’t handle garlic.”

“If the beef is not grass-fed, I can’t have it.”

“I’ve sworn off sugar. Is there any in the glaze? Can you check with the chef?”

The requests my dining companions made were so granular and particular, I began to wonder if our server would need a spreadsheet to keep them all straight. But this was just the beginning, for next followed the substitutions:

“I know the frites are not on the prix-fixe menu, but can I swap those for the watercress salad?”

“Would it be a problem if instead of jasmine rice — I realize that’s what comes with the dish — could I get the golden beets? There’s no butter in those, though, right? I’m not doing dairy.”

No sooner had the server confirmed the chemical composition of the food that would come to the table than my friend who is gluten- and dairy-“free” began diving into the dinner rolls — slathered with a copious amount of butter. “This bread is just too good to pass up,” he proclaimed. The waitstaff looked on in disbelief, likely annoyed for having taken the empathetically stated restrictions at face value when my tablemates apparently didn’t follow them so religiously after all.

(Mealtime with Mister Manners is a column that delves into a smorgasbord of modern-day dining dilemmas.)

This crowd made Lisa from Temecula — a fictitious steak lover played by "SNL" cast member Ego Nwodim, who orders her meat "extra, extra well-done," without a "speck of red" — look like a walk in the park.

I understand and appreciate special dietary needs. I’ve been a strict pescatarian for about 15 years and steer clear of all wheat. Neither practice is allergy-related or doctor-mandated; both are choices. And yet, when I dine out, I do not expect a restaurant to warp its menu to my needs or jump through hoops answering a battery of questions. If I somehow find myself at a steakhouse, I do not grouse at the paucity of enticing vegetable dishes. I find something on the menu that will fit my diet. And on the rare occasions when nothing does, I accept that gracefully and simply ponder the meal I’ll have when I get home.

With a patient "Third time’s a charm," the "SNL" server brought a very pleased Lisa her steak, which may as well have been an igneous rock. For the rest of us, whether you have one dietary restriction or 20, your choice to foreswear ingredients should not include making requests of a server that go above and beyond what they could ever hope to deliver.

For the sanity of all involved, choose your restaurants wisely. Check the menu in advance. And if it’s your wont to see every menu as a smorgasbord fit for mix-and-match customization and ingredient substitution, it may be time for you to open your own restaurant.