You may have every little detail and ingredient established for your challenge, all the way down to which yellow mustard brand you are using, but when you announce the challenge to the world I can guarantee you that more than one person will be asking if they can take one of the toppings off or substitute a different topping in place of something else. You will have somebody asking for a gluten-free bun, and you will have another person asking if you can just add more french fries and take away all of the pickles and onions. You should prepare for this beforehand and decide what substitutions you will accept, or whether you will accept any substitutions at all. Here is a list of my thoughts regarding substitutions to help you decide your plan so there are no surprises:

Denying substitutions will get you less attempts – If you deny all substitutions, some of your customers that want to take your challenge will not be able to attempt it. If your challenge has bacon, that eliminates all religious groups that abstain from pork. Denying substitutions also eliminates all people that are allergic to any of the ingredients used in your challenge, such as peanut butter and onions. If the goal of your challenge is to have as many people take the challenge as possible, then you definitely need to allow some substitutions.

There is a difference between “I can’t eat” and “I don’t want to eat” – If you don’t want to allow all substitutions but you still want most people to be able to take the challenge, then just allow substitutions for people with food allergies. It is one thing to not like pickles, but it is another thing to be allergic to pickles. If somebody can prove that they are allergic to a certain topping, especially if the substitution that person is wanting is very minor, you may want to just go ahead and allow it. Taking off the pickles and adding extra tomatoes isn’t really going to affect the challenge experience or difficulty. The same goes for bacon and pork items regarding members of religious groups abstaining from pork. It is pretty silly to deny a person from taking your challenge because they can’t eat the 4 slices of bacon. Add extra cheese or french fries and let them take your challenge. If a person is lactose-intolerant and can’t eat the 3 slices of cheese, substitute something else. This is the best way to avoid any comments regarding the restriction of certain religious groups, which is never a good idea.

The weight and difficulty matter most – Many restaurants are pretty relaxed regarding substitutions, and if you don’t like something they will just add something else. The main thing is that the weight and difficulty needs to remain the same. If a person doesn’t like bacon, add the same weight in ham or pulled pork. If the person doesn’t like vegetables, it is okay to add the weight in fries because fries are tougher to eat than the veggies. Be careful of eaters trying to make substitutions just to make the challenge easier though. Make sure the difficulty level of the food substitution remains the same or turns out better in your favor so past challengers don’t complain.

Don’t allow too many substitutions – Allowing more tomatoes and getting rid of the onions is one thing, but if the new challenge after all substitutions looks way different than the regular challenge that everyone else gets, that is a problem. Make sure to keep all challenges as close to being the exact same as possible. This will keep the losers from complaining that their challenge was tougher than every other challenge that they have seen.

“Shut up and eat” – I have seen this posted on multiple challenge rules which is a pretty bold public statement, basically denying all substitutions. It means quit complaining and if you can’t eat it then don’t try the challenge. If this fits your restaurant theme and attitude, then it might work for you and your challenge. Just make sure to remain firm. Definitely avoid allowing substitutions for some people and not others. That will cause problems!!

Substitutions should not be high maintenance – If a customer is wanting to substitute something on the food challenge for something you don’t have or stock at your restaurant, it is okay to apologize and say you can’t. The biggest example I can think of is gluten free buns. Most people that try to follow a gluten free diet don’t even have gluten allergies. There are some eaters that do have gluten allergies though, and they have one hell of a time trying to find food challenges that they can do. If your baker can make a gluten free bun for you, that is one thing, but it is up to you weather or not you want to go way out of your way to find somebody that can make a gluten free bun so that one or two people can now attempt your challenge. It just depends on your situation.

For most restaurants, minor substitutions are not a big deal. When planning and preparing to announce your challenge, you should decide whether or not you will be allowing substitutions. Then you can also figure out where you will give in and where you will say no, if you decide to allow them. It’s not fair to pick and choose who you allow substitutions for, but that of course does happen. If you are going to deny all substitutions with no exceptions, it would be beneficial to add that to your challenge rules so that everyone knows. People will still ask, but then you can just direct them to the challenge rules. At the end of the day, the challenge is about having fun, and allowing simple and minor substitutions allows more people to have more fun which translates into an overall better experience for all of the customers at your restaurant. Hopefully the above pros and cons have helped you decide how you will treat ingredient substitutions with the new challenge at your restaurant.

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