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 subjects — restaurant employees who absolutely nailed it. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I worked as a lifeguard at a pool in a pretty affluent area when I was 18. Our pool was attached but separate from a tennis center in a “city within a city,” a subdivision with its own real cops, basically.
A group of about 8 people walked in one 100 degree Texas day, probably all about 20-24 years old–older than all of the lifeguards except the manager. Since we were attached to this nice tennis center, they were kind enough to open up to pool patrons to sell food and snacks like pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, gatorades, etc. There was no alcohol allowed on-site, as it was a family place. That means all stupidity is pure stupidity, cultivated when your parents formed you and neglected teaching you for 18 years.
Anyway, these college people were tanning and having a good time, and got hungry. They went to buy food and drinks at the tennis center and brought it back into the pool grounds. There were maybe 40 people in the two pools at the time, and two lifeguards on stand, with four off in the guard room. One of the bright college kids decided he was going to eat a hot dog with chili and cheese while in the pool (a big no-no!), in the DEEP END of whilst hanging onto the wall! By the time we had scanned the pool, he had taken one bite. I blew my whistle and told him, “you can’t eat in the pool, please get out and eat at the table.” He gets out and takes it back to the table…or so I thought. Actually, he had pretty much shoved the whole thing in his mouth and ate it. He went back to the table TO GET ANOTHER HOT DOG TO EAT IN THE POOL. He didn’t listen to me, because what college-age kid listens to someone younger than them.
He gets back in and before he can bite it, I call him again with my whistle. He ignores me and shoves the entire hot dog in his mouth. At the same time, kids playing sharks and minnows jump in near Hot Dog Guy. Some dive, some jump and some slip and fall after being told not to run. A large 7-year old-ish kid slips and hits Hot Dog Guy in the face with the full weight of his body. Hot Dog Guy goes under water. Guess who had to jump in for Hot Dog Guy? Me!
I pull all 200 lbs of him to the side and as the first responder, I have to properly assess the situation. Laying there breathless, I give rescue breaths and notice his airway is blocked by something. Chunk of hot dog is my first thought! Since he is unconscious, the Heimlich is not possible. So you have to straddle the unconscious and do these upward thrusts. THEY DIDN’T WORK.
EMS was called but were still minutes out. Every minute is crucial with no air. I had a whim. A LUCKY FUCKING WHIM. I break protocol and grab the victim’s neck like I’m choking him out of anger (this feeling was not hard to imitate, given the circumstances) and I feel it…THE FULL HOT DOG IN HIS TRACHEA. I push up on it. Open his mouth and there it is. I pull out the frank and he’s still unconscious. I do two chest compressions with enough force to break his ribs and the forced wind and adrenaline wake the guy up. EMS is there. He goes to the hospital for brain damage tests and stuff.
One week later, he comes up to the pool with his mom and dad close behind and says, “I am sorry you had to save me. I willingly refuse to chew my food when there is no one there to make me do so. I have regularly choked on my food and incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills from choking on unchewed food. I am grateful you are trained in lifesaving techniques.”
[Editor’s Note: That young man grew up to be the 43rd President of the United States.]
His parents tried to give me $1000 bucks. I turned it down and said if they must give it to someone, make it the Red Cross or a needy youth program.
Don’t eat in the pool.
Just before Christmas last year, my daughter and I did a mother-daughter thing (she was 11 at the time) and went and watched Scrooge in a nearby theatre. We got there early, so we went to the attached bar/restaurant place. We were the only customers because the place tends to get full after the shows. We chose seats by the window, which happened to be far from the bar where some staff stood preparing for the evening. I have a glass of red wine and my daughter had a hot chocolate, served in a tall latte glass with lots of foam on top.
We were mucking about with my mobile phone, passing it back and forth, having a good time. Somehow, we managed to drop the phone; it bounced off the latte glass and knocked it over. There was hot chocolate everywhere — over the table, on the floor, splashes on the chair legs and over the seats. As is the way with spilled drinks, the amount of liquid had quadrupled and was everywhere. It looked as if someone had been violently ill all over the place.
The bar staff, being so far from us, had not noticed, so I sheepishly went up to profusely apologize and ask for some paper towels or rags. One of the guys, who may or may not have been the manager (he must have been in his sixties) insisted on coming up to the table with us. When he saw the mess, he took up the latte glass (there was still some chocolate milk in it) and said, “Hey! There’s still some left!” He then started pouring some over the table, some over the floor, bouncing left and right like an artist going “there, that’s better!”, “still missing some here!”, “now it matches the artwork on the walls!”, “a lot better now!” while we speechlessly watched and eventually started to giggle and couldn’t stop.
Once he’d emptied the remaining contents all over the place, he reassured us that these things happened and it was no problem whatsoever and definitely improved the overall design. Then he cleaned up the entire mess with a big smile without letting us help him.
We did not get the big fat grins off our faces all evening and watched Scrooge in the perfect state of mind.
My family was at a restaurant in Hawaii with a work associate of my Dad’s. It came around to dessert, and in my family’s typical fashion, we decided to share dessert, ordering a piece of the macadamia nut ice cream pie. My sister, who was about 15 at the time, kind of meekly asked if she could get her own slice. Sure, no problem.
Well, when the pieces arrived, they were gigantic. Like, truly enormous — they looked to be about a fifth of a pie each, and I swear they were about six inches tall. Easily all of us could have shared one piece and had more than enough. My sister got extremely embarrassed, face turning red, realizing the sort of faux pas in getting her own piece that she would clearly not be able to eat, and in front of not just the family but a colleague of our Dad’s (really not a big deal, but as a kid or teen these sorts of things seem like a big deal).
The server took one look at her face and immediately told us there was no charge for that piece — it was on the house. Over 20 years later, my Dad of still remembers that server, considers it one of the best examples of a server being awesome, and is still thankful since she immediately relieved the pressure on my sister and made everything ok for her.
One summer about 10 years ago, while I was home from university, I took up a part-time job at this crappy, hole-in-the-wall Chicago-style pizza restaurant in my hometown (in Texas, so you can only imagine the level of quality and authenticity we’re talking about). Of all the places I’ve worked over the years, this was by far the most bat-shit insane work environment I’ve ever encountered. It was like a zoo of incompetence and fuckery. The owner of the restaurant was very fond of me though, mostly because I was a bit older and more experienced than the rest of the waitresses (many of whom were still in high school).
One of the managers was a 40-something former-carny (a fact he was incredibly proud of) alcoholic who apparently lived in the back of the restaurant (no, really) and also apparently never showered. “Mike” was like the human equivalent of a pee-soaked rug. He was almost always drunk on the job – including when he was doing deliveries. The cops occasionally showed up to the store looking for him; unfortunately, he always seemed to manage to evade them. When he was drunk (which, as we’ve established, was always), he would turn into a tyrannical lunatic, screaming at all the young, inexperienced waitresses until they were in tears.
On the fateful night in question, he and I were the only two people on duty in FOH. He was waiting on his regulars – a group of older patrons who held weekly poker games at the restaurant – while I was overseeing the rest of the tables. As he got progressively drunker throughout the night, he naturally became more and more incompetent, forgetting to refill drinks, botching orders, forgetting to give orders to the kitchen, et cetera. And, naturally, he started to try to shift the blame to me. At one point, he got in my face and started screaming at me about an order he had screwed up (which, clearly, I had nothing to do with).
Unlike the rest of the waitresses, I was not even slightly intimidated by this smelly, half-evolved excuse of a human, and I was in no mood to put up with his drunken bullshit. And with that, I launched into one of my all-time favorite tirades: “First off, Mike, you need to back the fuck away from me, because you smell like shit. Second, you alcoholic asshole, I have nothing to do with your fucking incompetence.” As I continued to loudly berate my manager, I failed to notice that the owner of the restaurant had emerged from the BOH to see what the commotion was all about. Once I caught sight of him, I froze. He looked at me, then at my drunken manager, and calmly said, “Mike, you’re fired.” Dumbfounded, Mike stood there speechless for a few moments before sulking out of the restaurant with his tail between his legs.
He was hired back a few days later, but it was a satisfying victory in the short-term. And anyway, I imagine the cops probably managed to catch up with him at some point.
It was Sunday and my wife and I wanted pancakes, but not just any pancakes — IHOP pancakes. This desire was mostly born from perversity.
We got there late morning and the place was half full. The hostess seated us at a table and gave us a pair of menus. We knew what we wanted, but we started checking our options anyway. Twelve seconds later (before we’d done more than glance at the first page), our waiter materialized from the ether like a PSA on alcoholism. If he hadn’t been wearing a uniform, I’d have taken him for a fifty-year-old dockworker on a Wild Turkey bender. His eyes had the squinty, haunted look that comes from combining hangovers and bright light. His hair must have been combed with a fork.
“Yeah?” he barked.
“Are you asking for our order?” I was honestly curious.
He made a get on with it gesture.
My wife and I stared at him. “We were going to get blueberry pancakes but…”
He interrupted. “You don’t want that.”
“No.” He took the menu, flipped the page, and pointed out a different dish. “You want that. Tastes better.”
“And you’ll want coffee,” he said, writing a note on his pad. “Lots of coffee,” he added fervently. Then he disappeared. And by disappeared, I mean vanished like a damn ninja. I didn’t see him go to the kitchen. I didn’t see him talking to any other tables. He stepped out of my line of sight and folded space.
I was trying to figure out his magic act when my wife said, “I don’t know if he actually works here.”
“What, like he wandered in off the street and stole an apron?” I said.
She looked around, uncertain. “Should we ask for a different table?”
But now I was curious. “No. Let’s see what happens.”
Twenty minutes later, our waiter rematerialized to drop off our meals, then beamed away again.
Before I say anything else, yes, we ate the food and yes, it was fantastic. Way better than anything justifiably expected from an IHOP. Halfway through our meal, the waiter popped back into existence.
“Well?” he barked.
“It’s good! Thank you!” my wife said, startled at his abrupt appearance.
He nodded, muttering inaudibly. Then he blinked away once more. I still couldn’t tell if he worked there, but I didn’t care. He was freakish, hungover, and possibly magical. We left a big tip.
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.