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September 1, 2010

Industry Standard: Insider info for those who dine out

Absolute zero tolerance?

We had a lively discussion on our local foodie forum at www.LouisvilleHotBytes.com recently. It began when one forum member posted a link to a blog post that tsk-tsked the bookstore chain Borders for implementing a policy that made her feel, well, sort of empty.

The blogger had ordered an iced chai latte without ice at a Borders café and was dismayed to be served a cup with some empty space in it. The forum regulars proceeded to line up on opposing sides of the argument: Should a request to “hold the ice” translate automatically to “and fill up the empty space with the other part of the equation”?

My answer? No. No, it does not. The handle “iced chai latte” implies there will be some ice in the equation somewhere, doesn’t it? Now, I’m of the opinion that it was bad form to serve the customer her requested version of the beverage in a half-empty vessel. Had I been the business owner, I’d have preferred my guest receive her full ration of chai latte in a more appropriately sized cup. But the blogger was genuinely upset, and wrote: “Furthermore, I went to Barnes & Noble across the street and had a much better experience (their café didn’t charge $4 for half of what I ordered).” Wrong! She ordered an iced beverage sans ice, and paid for — and received — exactly what she ordered.

But folks who’ve traveled to or lived in Europe know that ice is a cultural (if not actual) luxury there, and most beverages are served without it. Even when we spoiled Americans request it, ice in a continental soft drink is normally limited to a cube or two. On the other hand, European businesses don’t typically serve the gargantuan portions we tend to favor here. So the net ounces come out close to the same — just not as cold. But, hey, I haven’t made it to Europe yet. I’m sure the servers there are thanking their lucky stars, because I’m quite the ice hound.

Several people on one side of the debate made the well-taken point that it’s hardly worth grumpifying a customer over a few pennies’ worth of soft drink. Others wanted to know where the line should be drawn. Heirloom raspberry iced tea? Scotch off the rocks?

Of course, you can analogize to the nth degree — should one order a wedding cake made entirely of frosting and expect the same price as a standard wedding cake? How about jambalaya, hold the rice — should your serving be the same volume as the original dish (because rice is cheap, like ice)?

These were only some of the questions I pondered at breakfast one morning not long after the great online ice debate cooled down. Just don’t tell anyone I asked for a glass of ice on the side over which to pour my orange juice while I was thinking … or chai might have a latte explaining to do.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, and Café Lou Lou. She now works for her alma mater, Sullivan University, as sous chef for the new residence hall, Gardiner Point.