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 classic stories of restaurant customers so stupid you wonder how they even put on pants in the morning. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I worked at a vegetarian place that catered almost exclusively to trophy wives in between yoga classes, with straight up nut jobs making up the rest of our clientele. The stories I have could fill a book, especially the customers telling me all about their cleanses, detoxes and whatever diet was trendy that week. I had just graduated with my degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, and I’m fairly sure I ruptured some blood vessels in my brain as I struggled not to tell these morons how wrong they were. I digress.
So this one time, Lululemon mom walks in and looks over the menu, telling me she can’t have ANYTHING with gluten or sugar. Fair enough; we catered to a lot of different dietary needs and restrictions, and this should be no problem. She points to the “steak burrito” that is made with seitan. For those of you not familiar with terrible meat substitutes, seitan is literally made from only gluten. Uncooked, it’s kind of like really springy play-do since gluten is a protein that allows bread to stretch and be chewy.
I tell the woman that our burrito is not only made from gluten, the wrap it comes in is also made of wheat. She looks at me with dead fish eyes and says, “well, I can’t have any gluten or sugar. Is there gluten in the whole wheat wrap?” I wait a beat, and then explain, as if to a child, that yes, the steak burrito is almost all gluten. “Well that’s fine, I’ll take the steak burrito, as long as there’s no sugar in it.”
I worked at a steakhouse for a while that also had a sushi bar. It wasn’t the best sushi; common Americanized rolls. It was pretty typical for people to order without really knowing anything about sushi.
One day, a man ordered a roll, and when I delivered it to the table he started to examine everything — mainly the (yellow) ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce. When I came back to check on everything, I noticed the ginger was gone. He looked up to me and said,”what was that little yellow fish? It was delicious.”
For a while I worked for a Caribou Coffee. Side-note: If you go into a Caribou Coffee or, for that matter, any coffee shop that is not a Starbucks and order a drink “like they make it at Starbucks,” I can 100% guarantee you that the barista is both wishing you a fiery death and is probably going to make your drink decaf. But I digress.
This particular location was in a building which had a long history — it had started out in the 50s as a mechanic’s garage with a gas station out front, and over the years had evolved into many things, including a Domino’s franchise in the 80s and eventually our store, which had been there upwards of a decade at this point.
One day, I was working the front counter when a middle-aged man came in looking confused. I greeted him and he continued to stand there for a while, looking over his shoulder, glancing all around him, up at our menu board, all around again, before finally settling his confused gaze back on me. I’ll never forget the next words out of his mouth:
“Sooo, do y’all sell pizza, or…?”
He trailed off expectantly. He looked into my eyes. I looked into his. I glanced at our large illuminated sign outside which he had just walked past, at the big, bold emblems on our doors, at the bakery case full of things that were decidedly Not Pizza, at the wall of bagged coffee beans next to us, at my own apron and hat emblazoned with our logo. I took a deep breath and inhaled the pervasive aroma of freshly-brewed coffee, listened to the sound of my coworker steaming milk for lattes right behind me. And then I gathered up all of the remaining shreds of my soul that had not already blackened and died and replied as chirpily as I could, “No, sir! This is a coffee shop. Can I get a drink started for you?”
He looked dazed and mumbled something else about how he was sure we used to have pizza, then wandered out again. I’m not sure who at that moment felt more like they were in the Twilight Zone — him or me.
Later I relayed this story of The Ghost Who Was 30 Years Too Late for Pizza to a coworker expecting a laugh, but it turned out he had me beat — earlier that week an old man who looked to be in his nineties had come in and asked him if we still sold gas. That one we just felt bad about.
I work the line at an Italian restaurant in northern NJ, where we have a nice balance of authentic cuisine and “ginzo” food — i.e. chicken parms, etc. We get a ton of ridiculous requests and a whole lot of create-your-own for the fragile customer who can’t have dairy, gluten, seafood, etc and would still like their fried calamari and pasta.
A server comes up to the window the other night, explains that she has a woman that is allergic to eggs, but wants the chicken francaise. For those who don’t know, francaise is a flour/egg wash, pan fried method. The server goes on to say she can’t eat fried eggs, but the egg wash is fine. So as long as her yolks are scrambled, it doesn’t count.
Luckily, no complaints from the guest.
One busy Sunday afternoon right after church had let out, I had two very elderly women in church clothes sat in my four table section. They ordered two of our omelets, I put their order in, and in a timely manner their food came out. Shortly thereafter, I walked by to check on them, as they had already take quite a few bites. I did my usual spiel and asked if everything was tasting okay.
“Everything is NOT okay.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“Our omelets are TOO EGGY.”
“Oh, like there isn’t enough vegetables or toppings in your omelet?”
“No, it just tastes too much like eggs.”
“…Let me go get my manager.”
Needless to say, my manager remade the omelets for them, and I very specifically asked if they wanted the same kind of omelet remade. They said yes. They took about two bites of the new omelet, put the entire meal in a to-go box, said they had a meeting to get to, and left me three dollars in dimes as a 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.