Hello, and welcome back to Off The Menu, where we explore the craziest stories about food from my email inbox. This week, we’ve got one of the rarer categories: really good restaurant customers. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I was working in a Ground Round many a year ago (this was post the whole “free peanuts” stage in the franchise’s history, but it was still pretty awful when I worked there.) Like many shitty chain restaurants, the menu was massive and covered with photos of all the items that could be made most cheaply. The hostesses were supposed to clean all these many-paged menus after guests used them, making sure they were intact and not glued together by ketchup or peanut butter or vomit (all substances I encountered on menus).
Well, it seems $7 an hour or whatever these hosts got paid wasn’t incentivizing them enough to actually DO their jobs, because one Saturday afternoon I walked up to a couple that had just been seated and launched into the peppy little spiel I was required on penalty of death to give to everyone who so much as glanced at a menu: “Welcome-to-the-Ground-Round-specials-drinks-apps-do-you-have-any-questions?” I thought they were staring at me particularly hard, but figured they were just weird, like most of our guests. But then the male half of this couple said “Yes, we actually do have a question. What…” and then he gestured towards his wife’s menu “…is this?” At which point she flipped the menu around to show me that some perv had slipped some super disgusting, hardcore porn into her menu.
I was horrified (we had kids in there all the time, and this shit really was extra gross even by porn standards), and of course I got a manager over there to beg for forgiveness. This couple seemed to take it in stride, saying they were glad it was then and not some 7-year old (yeah, us too, hello lawsuit). Of course, we offered them comped meals, and right after I told every single other staff member the story and we recalled EVERY DAMN MENU in the place (though no more porn was found), I went back over to take their order, asking the woman what she’d like for dinner.
I so wish you all could hear the husband’s perfect deadpan inflection when he said “She wants what’s on the menu.”
His wife was not amused, but I was.
October 2006, Anaheim: I’m giving a buddy a ride home (after picking up an oz. of weed) and I get pulled over. The young officer takes my license and registration while my buddy starts sweating bullets. Upon returning from his patrol car, the officer informs me there is a problem with my registration (ex-wife shenanigans, we were separated at the time) and he can take my car. I explain the shenanigans and he listens politely.
Then, out of the blue, he asks, “Is your wife white?”
“Uh, yeah.” I’m a big Samoan guy, so I’m not sure where this is going.
“Step out of the car, please.”
“Hoo-kay…” This is weird and I’m standing uncomfortably in front of him now.
“It IS you! I’m David, I just graduated the academy and got hired on here. I used to be a waiter at Esther’s (Taco House in Placentia) and I had you and your family all the time. I didn’t recognize you with short hair at first.”
“Oh, haha! I didn’t recognize you at first, either. So now what?”
“Hah, sorry you guys split up, but take care of that registration before you get pulled over again, OK? Have a good night.”
“No problem. You were always cool and tipped well.”
And that is why you always treat your server with respect and tip well.
The other day my friends and I went to a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop. The entire shop was smaller than my studio apartment, but it was packed nonetheless. While we waited for a table to clear up it became apparent that the staff, the cook and the guy doing everything else, were incredibly busy and stressed.
I overheard that one of their staff who was supposed to be in was a no-show and that they were seriously behind and needed a break, so the server flipped the open sign to closed and put up a note saying they were closing for “maintenance” and that they would re-open at 3:00. As it turns out, they needed to just lock the door.
No one who came up to the door read the sign, and they all just barged in as if the presence of people inside the shop trumped any official markings stating otherwise. At one point, the server got caught up in a call, so I started telling people who entered that the shop was really closed, and that they wouldn’t be served. One hipstery-looking fellow and his date just flat out ignored me for like seven times I said it. Eventually, I got his attention, explained to him that there was a sign on the fricking door, and that he wouldn’t be served. He got instantly indignant, as if my pointing out of his inability to read was somehow my fault. He bemoaned that he saw people sitting inside, so how was he supposed to know? Once again, I said “there’s a SIGN on the DOOR.”
At that point the server stepped in, having finished telling whoever called that they were closed, and apologized to the man, confirming for the 10th time that he would not be eating here today. Given the puffed up appearance, I can only assume he was seconds from flipping my table and trying to fight me.
When we paid, the server and chef thanked us for trying to help, which made it all worth it.
A couple years ago, I was working as a line cook at a Vapiano restaurant in the D.C. area. For those of you who’ve never seen one before, Vapiano is a German chain restaurant serving up Italian food — pizza, pasta, and salads. It’s probably best described as what happens when Olive Garden meets Subway, because it has an open kitchen so you can talk to the guests while you cook for them. I was a pasta guy, which meant manning a station with two induction-style wok pans so I could cook two dishes at the same time. I’d say about half the people who came in hadn’t heard of it before, and while a lot of people enjoyed it, some of them were really confused by the concept.
One night, we were about 15 minutes from closing. I had worked a double that day, and I was looking forward to getting out of the chef jacket and into my apartment to celebrate by drinking a beer in the shower and falling asleep soon after. Just as I was about to finish breaking down my station, a pack of four late teens/early twentysomethings wandered in. They reeked of weed and their eyes were crimson-red. They had no idea what kind of restaurant they walked into, so I spent a few minutes explaining the concept to them.
I should probably mention the most confusing aspect for most people was the ordering process. The host/hostess gave each person in the party a chip card when they arrived, which the line cook/bartender scanned on a point-of-sale terminal when food was ordered and drinks were poured. After food and drink were consumed, each cardholder paid as they left the restaurant and returned the card. It was unconventional, and most people got it after being briefed on the system, but some people just didn’t get it and were rude while ordering as a result of their confusion. It’s also worth noting that the basil plants on the customers’ side of the sneeze guard often obscured the tip jars, and as a result, only a couple people picked up on the fact that they were there.
I was able to overhear that three of the four picked up on it reasonably well, but the one guy who wanted pasta and came to my line was having difficulty wrapping his mind around the concept: “So, are you like a waiter?”, “Why can’t I just pay you in person?”, “This is a stupid idea,” and so on and so forth — just generally kind of being a douche the entire time. Since I’m a professional (plus, I really needed that job at the time), I chose not to remind him that I didn’t make the rules, choosing instead to shrug it off and explained what I was doing every step of the way. I’d be out of there soon anyway, no need to sour the evening. On their way out, I was expecting this guy to just brush past me, but instead, he stopped off at my station again. It was about a half-hour past close, so my station was broken down at the time.
“Hey, man,” he said.
“Ah, nuts,” I thought, “what next?”
“That Chicken Alfredo was actually awesome. Thanks for not telling us you were closing in five minutes!”
Dude slipped $20 in my hand and he and his boys went gently into that good night. Guess I should be a little less quick to judge books by their covers.
In college, and slightly after, I worked at a sorta-upscale seafood restaurant in Boston. We did take out but not delivery — until one of our GM’s got the idea that we should start doing deliveries to the apartments/hotel that we were next door to. There was an automatic gratuity included, so I was all for it, since I was already making like $12 an hour working the takeout counter.
We were about two blocks from the river; the only things blocking a great view of the Back Bay were some buildings. 4th of July came, and the city’s fireworks took place right around the corner from us, so we were SLAMMED until it got dark, when everyone left to go outside and watch. The deliveries that night were CRAZY, because everyone who lived in the high rise residences next to us had parties to watch the fireworks from incredible views overlooking the city.
Predictably, at 8pm we went from the population of Norway inside my restaurant to a complete ghost town, tumbleweeds and all. I got cut, but there was one more delivery to make. The manager told me to punch out and deliver it on my way home. I was slightly annoyed, but happy to leave, so I said sure.
I got to the high rise apt, and this gorgeous blonde opened the door. She was super friendly and had me put the takeout bags on the table. She was hosting a party where everybody was drunk, and when I came in with food, they started cheering and clapping like I was the Pope or something. I put the food down, and as I started to take off, the hostess grabbed me and insisted I stay and watch the fireworks that were about to start. She shoved a drink in my hand and the whole group started doing shots as we watched the fireworks go off over the river. They were so close they shook the windows of the apartment and lit up the entire city, and us happy drunk strangers were best friends for like half an hour.
Best delivery ever.
Do you have any food-related stories you’d like to see included in Off The Menu?Feel free to submit them to WilyUbertrout@gmail.com. New submissions are always welcome! (Seriously, you don’t need to ask if I want you to send them in, the answer is always yes). If you’d like to stay up to date with OTM news, my Twitter handle is @EyePatchGuy.