Let the right cake in -- a Tuesday rant
You want to give a restaurant owner a real thrill? Insist on bringing in your own cake.
I spoke to handful of restaurant owners about this. Their responses were all over the place. One patently refused to allow customers to do it and has lost business over it. Another few allowed it all the time. In between, there were a few that allowed it, reluctantly, but charged a plating fee for it.
I had thought, incorrectly, that bringing in your own cake was something that was actually forbidden by health-code regulations. Not exactly.
What you may not do, what is expressly forbidden, is this: You may not bring a cake that you've made yourself into a restaurant. (For that matter, you can't bring in any food you've made yourself into a restaurant.)
You may, however, bring in a cake from an approved food provider (approved, that is, by the State of Maryland and/or local municipality) At least you can legally do this -- individual restaurants will have their own policies.
This is all according to David Paulson, the communications director for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Local municipalities are responsible for enforcing the State code and can, if they choose, take an even stricter stance. The city of Baltimore's policy is aligned with that of the state's, according to Brian Schleter, Paulson's counterpart in the Baltimore City Health Department, who found the appropriate language for me in the Code of Maryland Regulations (known and loved as COMAR):
"The person-in-charge [restaurant owner] shall ensure that food served to the public is wholesome and free from contamination, not adulterated, safe for human consumption, obtained from an approved source...."
The truth is that cake-smuggling is seldom (never) enforced.
The code clearly places the matter in the hands of the restaurant owner, and it is reasonable to expect a restaurant owner to exert control over what is brought into the his or her restaurant. It is unreasonable, or at least tacky, for a customer to throw a fit when told otherwise.
There are good reasons, apart from health concerns, not to allow in an outside cake, and, as always, so mcuh depends on what restaurant we're talking about. A pizza parlor probably wouldn't mind your doing it; a restaurant with its own pastry chef would.
It depends, too, on whether you've rented out a private room for your party. I think it's perfectly reasonable for a restaurant not to control cake-importing simply on aesthetic grounds. Who knows what dreck someone will show up with!!
It's like I always say -- unless it's a Mylar balloon, nothing brings down a room faster than a sheet cake.
Recently I wrote a little bit about proposed corkage legislation. I wish it well, but the legislative process is awfully frustrating to look at, what with all the rampant venality and stupidity.
And then it occurred to me -- I could make laws myself!!
Or at least rules.
Here's my first draft on a list of rules for bringing cakes into restaurants:
I. Call first, every time, at least two days in advance, but preferably further.
IA. If the restaurant advise you that it does not allow patrons to bring in cakes from outside but that one can be produced for you by the restaurant's in-house baker or provider, you should either accept that option or look for another venue. Or don't have cake.
IB. Similarly, if the restaurant advises you that a cake can be procured for you by the restaurant from a list of approved providers, that is what you should agree to, or look for another venue. Or don't have cake.
IC. And again, if the restaurant provides you with a list of acceptable providers and dimensions and other criteria for you to order from, you must accept this or look for another venue. Or don't have cake.
II. If the restaurant advises you, in this planning conversation, that it will charge you a reasonable fee* for cutting, plating and serving a cake you've brought in, you must pay it. You may negotiate the fee in advance if you like. (For its part, the restaurant must advise customers who call in advance about the fee; if it doesn't, you could reasonably be annoyed for not having been alerted to it in advance. I'm a terrible negotiator but even I could make that go away. Or don't have cake.
III. Bringing in a cake without calling in advance is strictly prohibited.
* reasonable fees are reasonable
REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa