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 horror from every server’s worst nightmare: kids. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I work at a pizza joint. I was working the pickup/order/cash counter and I was giving a customer his pizza. He realizes he forgot his debit card in his car and leaves to go get it. The other customer in the store, a lady whose small child had been running around and screaming on and off, asks if their order is ready yet. I say I’ll go into the back to check, and I leave the first customer’s pizza sitting on the counter.
Big mistake. When I come back, the box is open and said child has taken a piece out and is. Eating. It. Appalled, I stammer and try to get his mother’s attention. She’s texting.
“Excuse me, ma’am — if — if you could just control your child –” she just rolled her eyes at me and waved her hand.
Cue first customer walking in and staring from his pizza, to the kid, to my horrified face. Thankfully, he was cool about it, but the mother was completely unapologetic and rude about the fact that I had to make a whole new pizza for a customer just because she didn’t want to watch her damn kid.
A family of three came into the restaurant where I work one night: a mom, a dad, and a little girl. It was the year that the movie “Frozen” was big, and almost every little girl on the planet was Elsa for Halloween. It was almost Christmas at this point, but that night the girl was in full-on Elsa gear, including the platinum hairpiece, which was clipped onto her brunette head and was so snarled and ratty mice wouldn’t have nested in it. Nonetheless, she stroked it possessively as she trailed her parents to their table, chin in the air, like a duchess.
“I love your ponytail,” I said as I handed her a kids’ menu.
“It’s not a ponytail, it’s a braid,” she sniffed. Her mom gave me a “What can you do?” smile and I left them to get water.
When I returned, the parents promptly poured her tumbler of water into a stem glass, which she grasped in both hands and downed, like Henry the Eighth.
“Would you like some more water, miss?” I asked.
“It’s not water. It’s Champagne!” she yelled, and I resolved to not address her directly for the rest of her stay. This was going fine for a while, as her parents ordered for her and produced a Frozen coloring book to keep her occupied, but when I was delivering their entrees to the table, I felt a tap on my wrist. Elsa was staring at me, clutching a blue crayon.
“My vagina hurts,” she said.
There have been few record-scratching-to-a-halt moments in my life, but that was one of them. I stood there, frozen myself, eyes darting to her, the parents, and back. They appeared to have not heard their daughter. What should I do? What should I say? If I walk away she might say it again, scream it this time, and then what would people think?
“I hope you feel better,” I finally rasped, and dashed away.
The parents finally asked for the check and paid up. I had said my goodbyes, from a safe distance, when the father returned with mini-Elsa in tow.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, “my daughter dropped her jacket in between the booth and the wall and I can’t seem to get it out. Can you help us?”
Five minutes later, with the aid of an unbent coat hanger, I fished it out.
“Here’s your jacket!” I said merrily, holding it out.
“IT’S NOT A JACKET. IT’S A VEST,” she spat.
After work that night, I toasted my decision to remain childless.
When I was about 16, I worked at a family-run pizza place in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
One day, I was working the lunch shift when a woman came in with her kid — a toddler around two years old. They got seated in a booth, and the first thing that the woman did was take the rectangular container of neatly-organized sweeteners (sugar, Sweet & Low, Equal) and dump the entire thing onto the table for the kid to play with.
[Side note: don’t ever do this. Here is a guide for when you should touch the sweeteners: when you need one to sweeten your drink, at which point you should open one, dump the contents in your drink, and leave the wrapper on the table. Under no circumstances should you dispose of your gum in an unused sweetener packet and then put it back in the container. What the ever-loving hell is wrong with you? You should not take one out, use half of it, fold it over, and then put it back in. No one will use the other half. No one. They will assume that shit is Anthrax. You should not throw the used wrappers on the floor under the table or crumple them up into teeny tiny balls and shove them deep into the cracks of the booth. You should also not take them all out, rearrange them in some bizarre order, and put them back in. Seriously — at Houston’s, we had to maintain a certain number of each kind and they had to be grouped together and facing the same way. Don’t add to my closing work just because you like to fidget. Here endeth the side note) [Editor’s Note: Co-signed.]
Now, never mind that we had crayons and coloring sheets for children upon request. She did not ask for crayons — or, heaven forbid, actually think to bring something for her child to play with. So the kid spent a few minutes tearing up sweeteners, dumping the contents on the table, and flinging the wrappers all over the restaurant. Good times. I took their order, and when I brought back their drinks the kid had moved on to the parmesan shaker. I watched him unscrew the cheese shaker — while mom looked on — and dump the entire contents onto the table. He proceeded to lick the inside lid of the shaker and then put his face down on the table and started licking the cheese and assembled sweeteners. At this point, as I watched in horror, mom stirred herself enough to remember that she was a human being in a public place. She took the cheese shaker away from the toddler (who immediately started screaming), scooped the remaining slobber/cheese/sweetener mixture off the table and BACK INTO the shaker, and then put the shaker back into the holder on the table. She did not hand it to me and say “Gee, I’m so sorry I allowed my child to do something so repulsive. You’re probably going to want to empty this and put it through the dishwasher.” She PUT IT BACK IN THE HOLDER. I guess in her mind she had “cleaned up?” And that it would be totally ok for future customers to eat her child’s nightmarish slobber/cheese/sweetener concoction in blissful ignorance?
Their pizza came and they ate it. This is the least eventful and least gross part of the meal. The story gets better from here. And by better I mean appallingly awful.
When they finished I came to clear the pizza and she asked for a box. At this point the restaurant was full and bustling with the lunch rush. When I came back with the boxed pizza and the check the toddler was LYING ON THE TABLE and the mom was changing his diaper. His POOPY diaper. AT. THE. TABLE. She was not even doing it on the bench of the booth, which might have been marginally better (if we were grading on a curve). She was doing it on top of the table. The people at the surrounding tables — less than a foot away — were wide-eyed and horrified and wrinkling their noses and staring at her incredulously. Because I was 16 I maturely dropped the check, mumbled something incomprehensible, and fled the scene.
You paid at the counter at this restaurant, so I did not have to interact with her directly again, but the pièce de resistance was that when I went to clean the booth I discovered she had left the soiled diaper balled up underneath the table for me to deal with. You will no doubt be shocked to learn that this was the only tip she left me.
I cleaned the table and benches with bleach, and I took the cheese shaker and ran it through the industrial dishwasher about twelve times. But I have never used one in a restaurant since that day, and I don’t think I ever will.
In my town (a rich, white town), there’s a total dive of a Chinese restaurant that has been repeatedly shut down for serving alcohol to minors and would probably fail even the most cursory of health inspections. That said, I’d recommend it to anyone, because the food is SO DAMN GOOD, fuck my health. It has made me incredibly spoiled with regards to Chinese takeout — and, to make it even better, it’s dirt-cheap, and has been owned/operated by the same (very large, extended) family for decades. Pardon the long exposition, because it’s all important.
My grandparents have been going to this restaurant for almost as long as it’s been open—they’ve lived in the next town over since the late sixties, having moved there from Jersey City because they wanted to raise their kids in a nice town rather than a crime-infested hellhole. They went to this Chinese restaurant almost every week, if not more frequently. Despite their awful behavior, their heavy eating, heavier drinking, and even-heavier tipping made them the place’s hands-down favorite customers. This gave them a lot of leeway to do horrible shit in the restaurant:
-They were never, ever, EVER cut off, no matter how much they drank (this was bad, very bad, because they had to drive home WITH KIDS IN THE CAR)
-In fact, my grandpa had so much, so frequently, that he became known as Navy Grog Man, and is still referred to as such thirty years after his Navy Grog phase
-They were never spoken to about their noise or profanity
Most memorably, though, is the following story.
My uncle Dan was a scrawny, sickly child who was very, very picky with what he’d eat. This understandably frustrated my grandparents, because even in the eighties it was generally accepted that French fries and ketchup do not constitute a nutritious diet. He also HATED anything remotely spicy — this killed my grandfather, who made everything spicy (possibly because super-spicy shit was all his taste buds, long deadened by tobacco and alcohol, could taste).
One night, the whole family is out for dinner at this Chinese restaurant. Dan is being picky, and my pre-tween mother is just watching her parents berate him because she’s an evil sibling. My grandfather is fed up with this and also on, like, his fifth Navy Grog. So you know what he does?
Okay, so you know that super-hot mustard? It’s basically nuclear shit? Yeah, this Chinese restaurant has tons of it, and my grandpa dares Dan to eat a bowl of it after Dan rather belligerently states he doesn’t like spicy food.
Dan does. This is a bad idea.
Tears streaming down his face, Dan chokes down spoonfuls of this awful shit. My mom and grandma are horrified, but Dan insists on continuing, and my grandpa helpfully tells them to shut the fuck up anyway. Dan finally finishes the bowl, bright-red and drenched in sweat.
My grandpa opens up a couple more packets and squirts them into the bowl, and Dan dutifully finishes that off, too, basically shaking by now.
“Wasn’t so bad, was it?” my grandpa says, as he wipes up globs of mustard with his finger and loudly slurps it all down.
And that is one of the only things my grandpa has ever done bad enough that he feels guilty for it. Have I mentioned he doesn’t really feel guilt?
I’m working as a server at a west coast-only bear themed “diner” style restaurant chain. Lots of bear decorations and bear puns on the menu. Basically equivalent to a Shari’s or a Perkins or some other place where you go to get breakfast food and pie.
It’s a busy night. One of my fellow servers decided not to come to work, so I’m covering a much larger station than I would normally have to. Mostly things are going well. High ticket times, and the cooks are on the verge of a breakdown, but we’re pulling through.
Then, The Table arrives.
It’s a middle aged man and his ~10 year old son. Both relatively normal looking. The dad is wearing a “wife-beater” style tank top, which spoke volumes on its own, but he fit in with the usual crowd for our restaurant.
Right off the bat, the kid asks for crayons. I think the kid looks a little old to still want crayons, but what do I know? The kid’s menu is intended to be colored on. So I bring him some crayons. The dad orders a beer (local brew, I’m in an Oregon city famous for having lots of breweries). No problem. I bring these things and give them some time to look at the menu, while I go off to manage the chaos that is my current existence.
I come back to find that the kid has broken all of the crayons. He didn’t even attempt to color with them. He took all of the crayons that I’d given him, deliberately broke them into as many pieces as possible, and scattered them across the table and floor. The dad (who has already finished his beer) looks at my face and laughs. The kid asks for more crayons. I politely refuse (I’m pretty sure I just lied and told him that we were all out). The dad orders another beer, which I bring. Then they tell me that they’ll need more time to look at the menu, so I leave to plunge back into the heartless maw that is the rest of the restaurant.
Finally, about 10 minutes later, dad waves me over. Beer #2 is gone, though he doesn’t ask for a new one (yet). Both order burgers. Pretty simple order, actually, which I’m thankful for.
The food comes up about 30 minutes later, and I bring it over with my usual spiel about how we’re really busy and I’m sorry for the long wait. Dad asks for another beer. I’m feeling kinda bad about the long wait, so I bring him one. He’s a big guy, so I’m not worried about over serving him just yet.
The two of them dig into their burgers. For about 15 minutes, they are relatively low maintenance. Then, the kid sees someone else in the restaurant being given a chocolate milkshake. All of the sudden, the milkshake is all that matters in the world. He stands up in the seat, points at me from across the restaurant, and SHOUTS. Conversations stop and heads turn as I gingerly make my way across the restaurant. Dad is laughing again. Kid orders a chocolate milkshake.
I, with a forced smile on my face, go to make a milkshake for this kid. In this restaurant, servers make a number of small items themselves (side salads, soups, most desserts, most drinks, etc.). So I make the milkshake by adding chocolate ice cream to the tin, adding milk, and mixing it. Just like anyone would.
I bring the milkshake, and drop it off. A few minutes later, dad flags me down. Kid has finished almost all of the milkshake. Kid looks at me and says “this is too chocolate-y.” His chocolate milkshake is too. Flipping. Chocolate-y. Dad looks at me, smirks, and asks me how I made it. I explain the milkshake making process. He says “no no no. You should have taken vanilla, added just a smidge of chocolate syrup, and made it that way. That’s how everyone with brains makes a milkshake. Take this one away and remake it.” I, with the iciest smile I can muster, tell him that, as kid has finished the majority of the milkshake, I cannot make him a new one without charging him for the new one. The dad picks up the milkshake tin, and very deliberately upends it, allowing the melty milkshake dregs to poor over the table and broken crayon fragments.
I am beyond words. I go find my manager, who is hiding in her office, as per usual. She begrudgingly makes her way out, gives the guy some half-hearted lecture about how his conduct wasn’t appreciated, and asks him to leave. The guy literally throws some money at her, most of which lands in the milkshake puddle, and walks out. Surprisingly, the amount is actually enough to cover the cost of the meal, plus a very small tip for me, once I dry the milkshake off.
For the rest of the night, I get pretty decent tips. Everyone else in the restaurant feels bad for me. Before leaving, the couple sitting immediately next to The Table pulls me aside and lets me know that, throughout most of the meal, the dad was surreptitiously letting the kid drink most of the beer. I am, at this point, not surprised. I’m not sure about the legality of this — something tells me it’s pretty damn illegal — but there’s nothing I can do. He paid with cash, and I don’t have any way to identify him.
At the end of my shift, the manager gives me a free pie. It tastes like sadness.
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.