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 tales of the craziest food service customers ever. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I worked at a cafe and lunch spot in midtown Toronto in 2011. One day, I was behind the counter, surreptitiously studying, hoping the weather would keep customers away, when a tall, thin, shabbily-dressed man wandered in.
I said, “Good morning, sir!” And he just started laughing hysterically. This nightmarish, high-pitched, psychotic laugh.
Then the stench of something like sealant or paint-thinner hit my nostrils. It was so strong that my eyes instantly stung and started to water, and my nose and lungs burned. He walked up to the counter and, involuntarily, I took a few steps back and pressed myself against the wall as well as I could. And he was still laughing, reeking of fumes, a sparkle of something shiny and toxic glistening in his turd streak mustache.
We had these bowls of fruit near the cash register so customers could buy apples, oranges, and bananas for 90 cents each because that’s the kind of nonsense they do at Starbucks or something. The man started picking them up and whipping them at me with surprising speed and force while continuing to laugh maniacally. I ducked down after the first orange, which splattered against the back wall. I dropped to the floor and scurried back towards the service counter to hide behind it as the barrage of fruit missiles continued.
After he finished throwing all the fruit at me — he never stopped laughing — he smashed the bowls on the ground and left. I was shaken, but calm. I decided to make a non-emergency call to the local police division. I told them, in detail, what happened. Their response? They said they’d send a patrol car around the area to look for the guy, then mentioned, “We’ve been hearing a lot of that lately.”
To this day I’m still not sure which is more what-the-fuck: being attacked by a fruit-throwing huffer, or the fact the officer had heard it all before.
Back in high school, I worked at a pizza place that sold a small/personal pan pizza; it was a tiny little square of raw dough in a pan filled with oil. Apparently, one customer thought the small pizza was a little too small because I received a phone call from a customer that went like this:
Me: Thank you for calling [pizza place], how can I help you?
Weirdo: Your small pizza is MINUTE!
Me: Um, okay?
Weirdo: The small pizza is MINUTE. Say it with me…MIIIINUUUUTE!
Me: It’s a small personal pizza, so it will be small.
Weirdo: No, it’s not small…it’s MINUTE. SAY IT, SAY MINUTE!
Me (Repeats): It’s minute.
Weirdo: Thank you! (Hangs up)
Not sure if this customer was trolling us high school kids, trying to enhance our vocabulary or if they were just high as hell, but if you’re ordering the small, you might find yourself a bit underwhelmed by the size of the pizza.
I was working at a Trader Joe’s in NYC a few years ago and thoroughly hating life. I had worked for the company on and off for years in California and mostly enjoyed that, but the East Bay and NYC were 2 very different Trader Joe’s beasts.
I DREADED being on register, where you were expected to be the friendliest and fastest of them all. But one day, I said “fuck it” and decided to try and chat with people and see if it made the time go by faster.
I started out with the youngest, friendliest-looking 20-something couple I could find. Gave them the usual banter, they bantered back and it was all going nice and sappy and aimlessly until eventually, all the tons of stuff that they were purchasing became too much to fit on my tiny station and in their cart, so I started doing what everyone does in that situation, I started placing their bags on the ground.
This is where I learned that you can’t trust a book by its cover. I look at the young girl and she is MORTIFIED. I see her life flashing before her eyes. I look to her boyfriend and he’s becoming pale as if he knows what’s coming.
She proceeds to freak the fuck out and have a borderline panic attack because I have placed her boxed, sealed food contained in a double bagged, thick paper bag on the ground. She first starts quickly muttering about how she can’t believe it, she can’t believe I would do that.
I look at her like I’m being Punk’d while she proceeds to get louder and louder and more animated and insists that all her groceries are “trash” now and this is so “disgusting and unbelievable.” She’s so red that carts are stopping. She keeps saying she’s not buying any of this trash and insists on speaking to a manager until finally her boyfriend chimes in, calms her down ever so slightly, and the two of them shuffle out of the store with their “trash” that I assume she burned once she got home to keep the germs from spreading.
Needless to say, I never tried being talkative again. If everyone is secretly nuts, then why bother?
At the Claim Jumper where I worked in college, one time a family of five came in and ordered a dinner. One son who was around 15 ordered a turkey dinner which consists of turkey, gravy, cranberry relish, stuffing, mashed potatoes, a biscuit and some roasted veggies. He explained that he needed everything on his plate wrapped individually in tinfoil and the plate wrapped in tinfoil as well. No explanation…he just needed this. So the kitchen wrapped each and every item in individual tinfoil and sent it out on a tinfoil-wrapped platter. Halfway through his meal (he unwrapped things individually) he requested more gravy, which was brought out by a runner. The runner was met at the table with deafening silence before the father of the boy explained that the gravy dish had to be wrapped fully in foil and brought back to the table.
Still never got an explanation on that one.
During college, I worked at a cookie place in a downtown shopping center in Edmonton, Canada. I would usually work evenings and the occasional weekend. I was paired up to do closing shifts with this guy named Reilly. The routine was that the day shift would do a shift report to the evening and closing staff just before shift change to let them know of the events of the day, the crazy goings on, orders to be done, and so on. Our first night, our manager gave us the report and at the end, said, “Oh, by the way, watch out for Napkin Man.”
So off to work we went, scooping dough, cleaning the store, and dealing with customers. At about 5:30, we were watching the crowds go by in the food court and just screwing around, as we were not busy. Then out of the crowd, we noticed this squat, gruff, unshaven man dart between a pillar in the middle of the food court, then dash to the garbage can beside our store. He wasn’t very good at hiding, as we could see his large belly poking out from the side of the garbage can. From there, we watched as he came around the garbage can, approached our counter, and grabbed a handful of napkins, then fled in a panic back around the pillar and away. This continued on a fairly regular basis for a couple weeks; every morning and every evening, he would pull the same ninja tactics, darting between pillars to our store, then running away with his prize.
One night, Reilly had had enough, so he grabbed the dispenser just before the Napkin Man grabbed his napkins, and asked,”What the hell are you doing with all these napkins?!” Napkin Man’s eyes went wide. I thought he was going to bolt away like a deer, but instead he locked eyes with Reilly and said in a rough Russian accent, “I use them to feed my dinosaurs!”
Eventually, our owner got fed up with him as well, so we started handing out napkins manually to control them. Napkin Man looked on from afar once he figured out we didn’t leave the dispenser any more, until one night. That night, he made a beeline right up to our counter and yelled “MY DINOSAURS ARE ANGRY AT YOU!” He pointed his finger threateningly at Reilly and stormed away.
After that we didn’t see him again. We both figured maybe his dinosaurs got fed up with him and finally ate him because they couldn’t get their napkins.
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.