Hello, and welcome back to Off The Menu, where we explore the craziest stories about food from my email inbox. This week, as we come up on the end of Off The Menu, we’ve got a grab bag of stories. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
This story takes place when my son was less than six months old. I was a really young mother, but I was lucky to have the support of my huge family and seriously the cutest, calmest baby on the planet.
One night, my extended family decides to go out to dinner at a local Vietnamese restaurant where we were regulars as a party of thirteen. It’s important to note that at least half of us are service industry folks. We know the rules. We love this restaurant. We know the staff by name. We always clean up after ourselves (and the baby), tip extra, the whole thing. My mother and I would go for lunch, the family had celebrations there, it was a staple in our dining out repertoire. We come at a slow time, we call ahead, and they seat us right away. There is no one else in the restaurant.
The baby is sat at the end of the table in his highchair. He’s already eaten, having had two bottles before we left for the restaurant. When we get to the restaurant, he’s acting like he’s hungry, which is weird; we’re two bottles in, and he’s just a little guy. I give him a bottle with some water.
We all order. It’s a big order, so we know it’ll take a little while. We settle in. My family is loud; everyone is telling stories around the table, having a good time, ribbing on each other — whatever, the typical stuff. It’s late afternoon and the restaurant is on a hill, catching the last rays of sun.
The food starts to arrive. They start mid-table and work their way around, 1-2 dishes at a time. Everyone sort of simmers down, expectantly, when the baby makes the weirdest noise — a noise I haven’t heard since but have always been on the watch for — a squeak burp. I look down at him (in my memory this is like a slow pan in a horror movie) and he projectile vomits a fountain of breast milk and formula. It looks like water out of a fire hose, like the Exorcist-style projection. I. Am. Shocked. I do the only thing that makes sense to me: I reach out and I catch the puke. Why? I don’t know. I still ask myself why. I don’t know.
So my family is slowly catching on to the horror that is happening at my end of the table, while the waitstaff calmly continues to bring out everyone’s meals, as though none of this is happening. One by one, my family falls silent to stare at me, holding a double handful of baby spit up and the baby, who seems unbothered. He is still going.
I drop the double handful onto the floor. My hands have overflowed and there is no point in trying to stem the damage to the carpet. It already sports a steadily-growing puddle. I spare a second to look at family and yell “Help ME!” and as though it was planned, eleven non-absorbent maroon cloth napkins are chucked in my direction. These are beyond useless.
He slows to a trickle just as the last entree is placed before my father. We are all silent, just horrified, barely beginning to process what had happened. This is when the baby spits up just a little bit more and coughs, sending a fine mist of baby puke spray down the table to dust the freshly made food. Time stops. From my vantage point, I can see the little droplets sparkle in the air as they pass through the sunbeams coming in the west facing windows.
Nobody moves. I can’t begin to guess what everyone was thinking. We can’t possibly send it back. We can’t order a whole new round. The restaurant staff had nothing to do with this disaster. My dad, a taciturn patriarch, looks around the table. He picks up his chopsticks and begins to eat his combination noodle bowl. As if on cue, everyone follows his lead.
I escape to the car with the baby where I proceed to change him as quick as I can. I come back, pass the baby to my mother, and start scooping baby puke into the napkins while my family eats. They eat quickly and quietly, completely out of character. I apologize multiple times to the staff. They are very kind, but I can tell they’re more than a little shocked and horrified as well. I scrape what I can off the carpet and return the bag of cloth napkins to the staff. I do not eat. I do not ask for my food to go (food is the last thing I want). My family finishes, my father tips something outrageous (close to fifty percent), we leave, and we never ever go back.
More than ten years later and it’s family legend now.
I used to work at Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers when I was still in high school. I was working the expo counter one time, which basically meant I had to interact with customers coming up to get their order. This woman, probably around 35-40, walked up to the counter and asked me where she could pick up her internet order. This is odd, because we didn’t do internet orders. She then showed me a receipt she printed out at home. I took a look at it and it had the “Five Guys” logo at the top.
I paused for a few seconds, doing everything I could in my power to keep a straight face and not burst out in laughter. I handed her back the receipt and said “Ma’am, you’re in the wrong restaurant. This receipt is for Five Guys, and this is Freddy’s.”
She looked at the receipt again, apologized to me, chuckled, and left. As soon as she walked out the door, I ran to the back of the kitchen, out of sight of any customers, and had a good laugh for a few minutes.
Kevin Keelty Gartland:
I was just at the Starbucks in Union Station. (Judge me for my bad coffee habits all you want.) While I’m waiting for my coffee, some poor woman drops her large (fuck that “venti” shit) iced drink right by the pickup counter. There’s now a big puddle of icy, coffee-tinged milk right in front of the counter. The barista behind the counter asks the woman if she wants a remake; after a minute or two of sighing, looking at the mess, and apologizing, she says no. (The woman did not hold the barista up at all, so she wasn’t a bad customer, just a really unfortunate one. The barista just kept on moving.)
Another barista comes from in the back with a few small rags (clearly not enough for the amount of liquid on the floor.) She gamely throws them into the puddle, and goes back into storage to get more…jk she comes back out from storage with a broom and a dustpan. I repeat: a broom, not a mop. Zero absorptive power. Like, the sweepy end parts (idk, are they called bristles?) are made of plastic.
After a couple minutes of aimlessly pushing the puddle around, making it twice as big in the process and getting the shit on multiple people’s shoes, she finally decided to push the rags around enough to get rid of the puddle (the floor is still damp, of course.) My favorite part, though, was when she tried sweeping liquid into the dustpan and kept frantically trying to push it back into the dustpan when it flowed out. (This is not how liquids work.)
I think this is the first time in my life I’ve ever witnessed a restaurant employee worthy of the Employee Fail OTM category. Everyone by the pickup counter was just staring at her in awe the whole time. HOW DOES AN ADULT NOT KNOW WHAT ARE LIQUIDS?
I serve tables at a sports bar in Seattle that gets pretty rowdy for Seahawk football games. This particular game was “a really big deal” (Seahawks fans say this before literally every game, so who even knows) [Editor’s Note: Well, when you’ve only been a fan for two years, every game does seem like a big game], so even though the game didn’t start till 5:30, the restaurant opened at 12:00. There was a group of four or five guys that moved from another section into mine when the game started, so I had no clue how much alcohol they had consumed so far.
They called me over to place an order: a bucket of five tallboys, a round of whiskey shots, waters, and some food — already about a $50 tab. I immediately got a creepy vibe from these guys, and every time I would walk past them, one of them would grab my waist (even after telling them not to do that) and ask for more water. Eventually, I just brought out a pitcher and left it on their table so I didn’t have to keep talking to them.
Fast forward to just before halftime. It was a very intense game (honestly I have no clue what was happening) and these guys had now racked up a $100 bill and consumed probably five pitchers of water. I noticed that one of the dudes was looking veerrrryyy intoxicated, so when he pulled me over to refill the water again, I didn’t hesitate (obviously, he should be drinking water, not alcohol). The next time I came out of the kitchen, something huge had happened in the game and everyone was screaming at the TVs. As I scanned my section of tables, I saw the very drunk guy take the full pitcher of ice cold water and dump it directly over his head. In the middle of the bar. I had no clue how to react, but I believe I walked over to him and said something like, “um, you can’t do that.” He slurred something at me and his friends apologized and said they were taking him home, so I thought that was the end of it. He and one of his friends left, and the rest of their group stayed to finish the game. Whatever, it was just water, it could’ve been worse.
So I was going along, the game was into the 4th quarter, and all of a sudden the water pitcher guy was back. I noticed this because once again, I walked by and he grabbed me with his clammy hands and asked me for a pitcher of water. I literally laughed in his face and said no, he could not have a pitcher of water. I guess he didn’t like this answer though, because the next time I walked by, there he was, unscrewing the caps and dumping his salt and pepper shakers onto the table and floor. Everyone around him was just staring, shocked, and then they all turned and looked at me, shocked. Very calmly, I went over to get the bouncer, and told him that this guy needs to gtfo before I lose it. In the 30 seconds it took me to walk to the door and back, the guy also managed to BREAK ONE OF THE LEGS OF HIS TABLE. The bouncer escorted him out and his friends apologized to me as I attempted to clean everything up.
To top it all off, his friends walked out on their $97 tab after each telling me that one of the others was gonna pay it. Luckily the bartenders had already run one of their cards for a charge earlier in the day, and we were able to add my tab onto that one. But seriously, WHO DOES SHIT LIKE THAT?
My boyfriend and I decided to try a new Vietnamese restaurant. We eat out regularly at different Vietnamese joints and are pretty familiar with what’s on a typical menu. After sitting down, we knew what we wanted quickly and the waitress came over to take our order. I asked for the spicy noodle beef soup, to which the waitress replied in a thick accent, “It’s spicy.” Somewhat offended (I’m Chinese and proud of my heat tolerance levels), I said, “Yes, I know. That’s ok.” She replied again, “But it’s too spicy for you.” What fresh hell is this? I fought back, “Yes, I want my #9 Bun Bo Hue please.” Next, when my boyfriend ordered, the subsequent exchange that took place was beyond amazing:
“I’ll have the pork patties with rice.”
“This is pork.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Uh. You can’t eat pork.”
“I thought you can’t eat pork?”
Then she mumbled a bunch of Vietnamese towards the cook in the kitchen not far away and walked away, leaving him stunned. My boyfriend is Jewish, so maybe she was assuming? That’s still really weird.
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.