New York restaurants are fighting back against Gen Z viral menu hacks

You are choppy.

Big Apple restaurateurs are fed up with legitimate social media influencers and their lemming-like followers wreaking havoc on fragile profits with ridiculous off-menu requests. Some cheered last week when an Atlanta-area Waffle House took a stand against the phenomenon that sees users vying to create the most outrageous off-menu dishes imaginable.

“I can’t be bothered to make any crazy requests, especially when it doesn’t even make sense. It’s not in our DNA,” Stathis Antonakopoulos, owner of Carnegie Diner, complained to The Post.

“No one eats 10 pancakes and 10 pieces of fried chicken on top of each other.”

Carnegie Diner owner Stathis Antonakopoulos says many come to his restaurant expecting extreme customization.  He's had enough.
Carnegie Diner owner Stathis Antonakopoulos says many come to his restaurant expecting extreme customization. He’s had enough.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

Antonakopoulos has seen customers on West 57th St. try to blend in with Moscow mule milkshake mashups and elaborate lobster appetizers to create content. Earlier this year, an influencer requested a £5 burger – things apparently got ugly when the request was denied.

“[They] threatened to give us a bad review for not accommodating customers,” said the harried restaurateur. “They didn’t want to take no for an answer.”

The unwelcome demands follow a customization craze sweeping the fast-food industry, with nationwide chains struggling to strike a balance between the free publicity a viral post can bring and the actual workload and cost involved in fulfilling it which are often connected with absurd requests.

A New York diner owner said he's received urgent requests to cook the type of dishes that have become popular on social media, like giant pancake and chicken platters along with a five-pound burger.
A New York diner owner said he’s received urgent requests to cook the type of dishes that have become popular on social media, like giant pancake and chicken platters along with a five-pound burger.
Antonakopoulos (c) said influencers tried to get him to do their special orders by threatening bad reviews.
Antonakopoulos (c) said influencers tried to get him to do their special orders by threatening bad reviews.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

Workers at Chipotle, for example, have rebelled on more than one occasion, most recently after a cheesesteak quesadilla hack in Philly overwhelmed locations across the country before the chain capitulated and put it on the menu.

Starbucks, a popular destination for content creators looking for clout, caved in in 2017 and added a popular “secret item” to its daily menu, the Pink Drink — an acai refreshment made with coconut milk and various berry substitutes. And it doesn’t help, restaurants say, when a popular brand like Chick-fil-A encourages diners to do their worst, like they did last summer, by releasing a menu of approved hacks.

It’s getting to a point where regular customers, let alone TikTok viewers, are starting to think restaurant menus at non-national outlets are just a suggestion, laments Zazzy’s Pizza owner Richie Romero.

Richie Romero, Zazzy's pizza owner, says the social media menu hack culture situationally attracts unconscious customers who automatically expect to be able to order off the menu.
Richie Romero, Zazzy’s pizza owner, says the social media menu hack culture situationally attracts unconscious customers who automatically expect to be able to order off the menu.
Tamara Beckwith/NY Post

He blames the TikTok mentality for the ridiculous requests he’s getting at his high-end Manhattan Slice franchise.

“People think we’re a general store and come in with no situational awareness,” Romero told The Post. “You’ll ask for Jamaican beef patties like you’d get at a dollar slice store, whole Italian appetizers, and worst of all, a Hawaiian pineapple-topped pizza — which we would never do.”

Not everyone in NYC looks down on custom orders, however.

Rahim Mohamed's Bodega in Brooklyn is operated on customer request.
Rahim Mohamed’s Bodega in Brooklyn is operated on customer request.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

Brooklyn deli owner Rahim Mohamed has made it to a certain level of notoriety on social media by fulfilling the craziest customization requests imaginable — from gummy worms in a bacon and cheese egg to one with Sushi Roll Stuffed Chicken Cutlet Heroes – at Red Hook Food Corp.

“At least 90% of my business now comes from TikTok,” Mohamed told The Post. “The difference has been incredible since we started doing custom orders in 2019. Now people from all over the world like London, Spain, Australia and the Middle East will visit us because they saw us on TikTok.”

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