Ask for What You Need

I find it almost impossible to ask for special treatment at a restaurant. I know many people ask for special diets because they need them and have real allergies. I also know that many people want attention, control or simply want to be on a popular bandwagon and demand gluten-free, dairy-free, or meat-free dishes in public, while scarfing down bread, milkshakes and wings at home.

The Local is at 3rd St. and Roosevelt in Phoenix.

The Local is at 3rd St. and Roosevelt in Phoenix.

No one pretends to be diabetic. Diabetes, popular culture informs us, is a disease of weak, fat people. It is our fault we are diabetic, never mind genetics or that every food company within reach adds sugar, artificial sugar or “natural” sugars to keep consumers addicted to the sweet taste of. . . mustard, pickles, and bacon. All of which have added sugars.

I cringe at asking serving staff if there is honey in salad dressing, red wine or sugar in the sauce, or what is used to thicken the sauce. Often the server doesn’t know, and assures me that the dish is glueten-free. Great, but I don’t have a problem with gluten. When I tell the server I’m diabetic, I get shrugs or, “Can’t you just take something for that?” In short, no. And I no longer explain why.

Last night, I decided that unless wait staff and servers are mind-readers, I have

Adam Hargett (left), manager at The Local and Chef McKinley (right).

Adam Hargett (left), manager at The Local and Chef McKinley (right).

to ask for what I need. Because it’s my health and my body.

We (two couples) were eating at The Local in Phoenix. The staff knew it was my birthday, and brought me a glass of champagne, which I accepted and passed to my right, to someone who would enjoy it.

When the menus were passed and the server asked if we had questions, I asked if I could have my dish served without potatoes. I took a deep breath and said I was diabetic and could not eat potatoes. The waiter summoned the chef out of the kitchen. I’m married to a chef, and asking for the chef’s presence at a table is a serious occasion. Still, Chef Chris McKinley appeared, smiling. I wanted to know if I could substitute something for the potatoes. After all, striking an item from the dish unbalances the flavors of the entire course.

The chef said he could substitute farro, a low-glycemic-index wheat, for the potatoes. And he could make a vinaigrette without honey for the salad. I was amazed at how generously he made the substitutions. The server placed the meal in front of me, assuring me of the substitutions, as there was another order for the original dish. Both the salad and the main course were delicious.

In fact, the entire meal was delicious. I did not feel deprived, I felt heard and valued. It may not sound like much, but I had asked for what I needed and someone listened.

Keeping quiet out of fear makes no more sense than speaking up out of privilege. Health issues are not easy to discuss, but taking a calm stand makes it possible for others to know what you want and to help if they can. Asking for what you need is a step in the direction of self-care. And not expecting others to care for you more than you do for yourself.

Quinn McDonald will be back at The Local, because the food is excellent and the service attentive. The sticky toffee pudding, shared by the others at the table, comes highly recommended. The Local was named the best new restaurant in Phoenix by New Times magazine.




15 thoughts on “Ask for What You Need

  1. I waitressed in college; and I really never minded special requests. Sometimes it was difficult to verify whether the kitchen complied (for ingredients like sugar, which aren’t visible) before I brought the food to the table. By making health requests you are also educating the server. Hopefully, they will be more sensitive in the future, maybe for someone else. Unfortunately, there will always be some thoughtless, inconsiderate people who don’t care. If anyone reading this is in the restaurant business: Educating servers and kitchen staff about being sensitive and courteous would be a good idea. Especially about the rudeness of comments like, “Can’t you just take something for that?” Customers want to say as little as possible about a medical condition; and they certainly don’t want to debate matters in public.

  2. Good for you! And for every diabetic every where! Sounds like a restaurant that truly understands what great service means. 🙂 Thankfully my type 1 diabetes is not that difficult though I do have my share of dilemmas. Some restaurant dishes are really, really tricky when it comes to guessing how many carbs there are in them. That’s why I like authentic Chinese food which is made mainly of very tasty, often green vegetables and some meat. Anyway, I have to try that farro. Here in Finland rice is these days quite often replaced with barley groats in restaurants and school etc. cafeterias. It also has a low GI. Works well taste-wise too and keeps the hunger away for longer.

      • Have you tried oven baked barley groats porridge? Real slow food as it takes 2-3 hours to cook. Cooked in milk (creamy whole milk is the best) and served traditionally around Christmas with cinnamon and sugar (skip that) sprinkled on top and with a spoonful of butter melting slowly as an “eye”. Yummy! Or you can pour cold milk or warm fruit/berry kissel over it. Or cook it with dried fruits. There’s a version of the recipe for American kitchen here: If you end up with leftovers you can try frying it in a frying pan instead of the microwave.

        • You pushed all my porridge-loving buttons with this one! I’m thinking I can make it late at night in winter and leave it in the oven, so it gets that crust. Warm berries cooked with some low-sugar jam would make a good topping. So would putting in some dried fruit. I love that it gets a crust, so I could fry the plain version leftovers and serve with a salad. Oh, yum!

  3. My gosh, I had a conversation about this very subject, but for a different health issue, with my brother just yesterday who is upset that I am not (to him) asking for what I need.
    As for diabetes, I’m Type 2 and my blood sugar is at normal levels – for now. I have other dietary concerns that conflict with what I should do to manage diabetes and it’s a balancing act that I’m able to manage with my dietician’s help. But it’s a struggle and I so appreciate what you, Quinn, go through and what Lynn’s daughter deals with, even though my struggle is not as difficult as yours. Good luck to all of you

  4. Sounds like a great restaurant with people who care and understand and who are willing to make a difference. And it’s good to speak out and say what you need Quinn, says the girl who doesn’t do that enough……..

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