If you’re like 99% of Americans, you’ve already started planning your Thanksgiving Day - regardless of whether you intend to cook or just stuff your face. And if your home resembles 47% of other households in this country, according to the Humane Society of the United States, you also own at least one dog.
You know what that means: Nearly half the country must decide if it will give - or not give - Fido a little something extra in his bowl on the country's most food-focused national holiday.
I grew up in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s, eating out and drinking regularly several nights a week. I vividly recall what it was like to be near smokers, whether it was my friends sucking down cloves at the bars (we were 14), weird old men immersed in a smoky haze at the local coffee shop, or grandpa Ed lighting up a cigar at the fancy seafood joint (he gave me the band to wear as a ring, so I was cool with it).
I never liked smoke or smoking, but the law didn’t forbid it back then and people just accepted it as a part of our culture, like being near a smelly person who doesn’t use deodorant. What are you going to do? Outlaw that? Part of the ritual of going out was coming home smelling like smoke - and hoping no one would light up at a good restaurant and impose cigarette smell on the rest of us.
To much of the restaurant-going world, chefs seem to have exchanged “the customer is always right” with another saying: “No substitutions.” Seeing those two words at the bottom of a menu can sour the mood, if not your palate, before you’ve even taken the first bite. It’s a needlessly pre-emptive, passive-aggressive kind of note. Imagine if a hotel contract stated: “Don’t even think about asking us if you can stay in your room past noon.” It’s one thing to have a policy and quite another to deny a request before it’s even been made.
And yet, the increasingly ubiquitous no-substitutions policy is a reaction to customer demands run amok. But rather than choose a side, I think there’s a middle ground - a set of rules that, if followed by both restaurant owners and patrons alike, could benefit everyone. First, let’s take a close look at where each side is coming from.
Which industry has the most egregious surcharges? Airlines have added some surprisingly sneaky fees over the years and were recently in the news again for considering charging extra for overweight people. One airline, Ryanair, seems to take pride in its fees and even contemplated adding a cost to use the bathroom. Not that hotels have been kind; $8 water bottles and $40 parking spots are as common as charging for Wi-Fi. But restaurants and bars, in my estimation, have developed the most crafty ways to squeeze profit out of that which was once - and should still be - gratis.
I made a list of every “extra” charge I’ve ever heard of (16 examples came to mind and I’m sure there are more) and separated them into two categories: those that seem warranted (like charging for shaved truffles on an entrée) and those that seem brazenly unnecessary and unfair (like charging extra for ketchup).
Below is my definitive list of potential offenses with reasoned assessments of the fairness quotient of each, based purely on personal opinion.