Some restaurants remove seasonings from tables. Why? Should you, at home?

Why is it that when you go to a *better *restaurant they may have removed salt, pepper or essentially everything for seasoning from the table. Generally, I (you?) accept that the chef knows best and do not ask for seasonings or condiments. Why is there that practice in some places, not others and sometimes something in-between? When is it gauche and unsophisticated to ask for salt or hot sauce and when is it not?
What about at home? When you have worked diligently to prepare a perfect meal do you have the right to not have salt, pepper, et al on the table and let them ask for it if they want it? My refrain is usually to ask them to taste it first. Is it impolite to ask someone to try the food before they attack it with seasonings?
If you feel you are preparing “fine restaurant” grade meals do you have that right to influence the diners in that way? What’s proper etiquette?

Personally, salt and pepper doesn’t offend me. Some people have really sensitive tastes buds, others don’t and may require more seasoning.

What does offend me is when people want to throw ketchup on something, other than french fries. My husband will grab for ketchup immediately before even trying something that I have worked hard on. That insults me.

1 Like

Scar-GLyn, I know you’re a great cook so I’d be inclined to leave the s&p off the table and ‘make’ them ask for it :slight_smile:

Certainly it is known that after a certain age your tastebuds become less sensitive. The other side of that is excessive amounts of salt can increase hypertension.
It just seems a bit heavy-handed that some restaurants make you ask for salt, pepper and more.
I am fascinated by your ketchup comment. I also get offended when someone does not bother to taste the food I’ve prepared before they start seasoning it. Worse still is when they want condiments when you have pre-seasoned everything. Some are not willing to try something different from what they are used to. A good example is marinating a steak and cooking it over wood and then someone asks for ketchup to dump on it. That’s worse than someone asking for it to be well-done or “burnt”. These are rare occurrences, but yes, I am bothered when my food is not good enough, as I’ve prepared it.

1 Like

I always taste my food before I decide whether I want to add salt and/or pepper. I don’t mind asking for it, and it is always on the table at dinners that I host.

2 Likes

Oh lord, what awful examples. Say you don’t have any ketchup etc. Total blech, Glyn

1 Like

God Have Mercy! The hubris attendant to letting ANY chef dictate that the patron NOT season her food is a cardinal sin. The implicit Infallibility rankles mightily…

It’s a lesser, inconsequential evil when the patron seasons a prep without tasting it. It’s a little like applying accelerator or brake with eyes closed. Except the only victim is the patron.

Like it or not, salt and pepper (and whatever other seasonings it’s within the power of the house to make available) is just good basic hospitality.

Aloha,
Kaleo

2 Likes

I know a number of restaurants which don’t have s & p on the table. And, you know, I can’t really recall ever seeing anyone ask for it. Except me, on one occasion. It was a Michelin 2* place which had a few rooms and we’d stayed overnight. I wanted some pepper at breakfast. Woman running the room (chef’s wife) said the kitchen would have perfectly seasoned it - but brought the pepper, of course. I probably shouldnt have doubted it - I’d eaten my way through a 15 course tasting menu the night before and every dish had been faultless, including its seasoning.

As for cooking at home, i would always have s & p on the table. Main reason is that I havnt added salt to my food at the table for what must be 20 years, nor do I cook with it. Others may not find my food salty enough for them (whilst I might find their’s very salty)

Honestly, to me ketchup is like “crack” for some people. I put it on a hamburger, perhaps a fried egg sandwich and sometimes French fries.

My husband will automatically throw it on potatoes of any form (gasp! Horror!).

He also used to throw bbq sauce on steaks, which is a bit of a crime in my books. Well done steaks are a waste of good beef as far as I’m concerned. My husband didn’t know a properly cooked rare (me) to med rare (him) steak until he met me. His dad used to cook the heck out of beef and thus the need for the bbq sauce. We once had to coax my father in law from bbqing steaks at my house because we didn’t want our tenderloin ruined.

I never use salt at a restaurant but I usually throw pepper on salad, vegetables and perhaps potatoes.

I agree that most foods are salty enough and most people get way too much sodium.

Thanks for previous compliment. I have worcestershire for seasoning; likewise soy sauce. I use a French style mustard and a sun-dried tomato ketchup from CA by Traina. I highly recommend it for its rich, un-ketchup-like flavor. Mustard usually goes in dressings and, well, the Traina is used more like tomato paste. I fry hardly anything. We keep Cholula and Sambal Oelek on the table.

It is hell getting old. Though I’m quite healthy, I am now borderline hypertensive and take an anti-statin. I pay attention to what I eat more than ever before. We tend to make things hot as an alternative and many hot chile condiments have plenty of salt in them.
I am quite sensitive to the amount of salt in food. The place I enjoy, where salt is used liberally, is Mickey’s in Hamden, CT. It is Italian influenced Mediterranean styled cuisine. I know not to use salt (and have something to act as a foil to the salt) and drink lots of water (and white wine). Another seemingly salty food is Indian. I never season anything in an Indian restaurant.

Not having s&p on the table at a restaurant is one of my pet peeves and I have been known to ask for them. And yes, they are on my table when I’m entertaining at home.

And this thread reminds me of a dinner I once had with my boss at a conference. Fortunately, he and I had a good working relationship. When the meals were delivered, he reached for the salt immediately. Before I could self-censor I remarked that his mother wouldn’t be happy (yes, we were both 40-ish at the time). He wasn’t confused, just responded “oh, because I salted before tasting?” So I think most adults know they should taste first, but they’ve just become conditioned to add seasoning.

I definitely don’t get the ketchup thing. Burgers and scrambled eggs are about the only things I use the stuff for. And on a marinaded steak . . . that just sounds gross.

1 Like

I rarely salt the food . I find a lot of the restaurant food has plenty of salt already , sometimes to much. The pepper is pretty much worthless . Crappy little pieces of flavorless dust that never comes out of the jar . If I need some I unscrew the cap and dump a little into the palm of my hand and then on the food . Same with salt .

1 Like

Why would you dump ‘crappy little pieces of flavorless dust’ onto your food? Doesn’t sound like it will improve your experience.

1 Like

It doesn’t . I like a little flavorless dust on my clam chowder sometimes . :smirk:

2 Likes

Ah. We have some pepper snobs, er… aficionados on here. I might be guilty. I have heard of people bringing their own seasonings to the party. A little flask of secret sauce?

Good restaurants, they are usually attentive, and well seasoned.

I remembered one time in a not so good one, probably a fast food type, a dish arrived tasteless, I was playing around with the salt, pepper, chilli oil etc… every seasoning on the table to recreate another dish.

At home, I don’t leave the salt and pepper on my table. I’m a control freak in nature…I need to chose the type of salt, some texture goes with what…etc. If people asked, I will hand them out without problem. No guests ever ask yet…

I suppose it depends upon the “level” of the restaurant. That is to say, if I’m having breakfast (e.g.: bacon & eggs, hash browns, toast), I have no doubt I’m going to want some Tabasco, and probably some salt and pepper. OTOH, if I am dining at Le Bernadin, I have no doubt that I won’t need a thing . . .

Answering the last part of the original question (“Should you, at home?”), I’ve never thought about it, but generally speaking – at dinner – there is no salt or pepper on the table . . . but the grinders are nearby should they be requested.

1 Like

You mention something that this thread brought up. I realized that I almost never put s&p on the table. Perhaps I should?

No matter how high falutent the place is, they still can’t salt and pepper the inside of my baked potatoe before it is baked. And I don’t mean that salt rub on the outside.

I need S&P for that $9 potatoe damnit.

4 Likes

I’m suggesting that if you entertain you do have them out. Then let people ruin their food if they are so foolish as to not taste it first. I’d say do whatever you’re used to if it’s just you and your partner.
I admit that part of what prompted me to start this thread is that I prepared an elaborate , well-seasoned dish and my wife asked where the pepper grinder was. Now, we have many but this was the freshest, best pepper we had and I could adjust the coarseness just like I wanted, so I grabbed it off the table and used the pepper liberally for this specific dish. I got the pepper grinder from the kitchen and even suggested that it was generously peppered and she still started to grind pepper on it before tasting. I should have let it alone at that point. I didn’t and I got offended. How can you not taste something before you start doctoring it? It’s part of my makeup as a curious, engineering and artist type that I experiment. You can’t experiment and repeat the results if you have no base or control for reference.
This is why I think a chef would not want salt and pepper on the table. Pride, hubris or whatever you want to call it, he/she wants you to taste it the way he/she thinks it should taste.
Salads OTOH, can be fancy or they can be plain. So many picky eaters have special ways they want their salad, like dressing on the side. Most fine restaurants won’t drown a salad but some might and some diners might want it on the side so they can drown it themselves! Thus I can see a server offering pepper. Particularly in some Italian restaurants we frequent, they may offer fresh ground pepper and/or parmesan on the entree. Often this is before you have a chance to taste it! So, I give up…

1 Like
“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold