Hello, and welcome back to Off The Menu, where we explore the craziest stories about food from my email inbox. This week, we have that old classic: terrible restaurant customers. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I worked at an Irish Pub chain in the early 2000’s, a spot most notable for people who pretended to like Guinness and then bitch and moan that it was cheaper (and better) when they went to Ireland 15 fucking years ago. This happened literally every day. Anyway, for some reason that wasn’t ever quite clear, we had an entirely male bar staff. This wasn’t by design, and I have no idea how it happened, but that’s what it was.
One night a man came in, sat at the bar, and promptly announced he was going to be our “new, best regular” which is fuckface code for “Hi, I’m here to ruin your life for however long you allow me to frequent this establishment!” We will call him Pablo. Pablo had the awesome character flaw of eavesdropping on other people at the bar and then inserting himself into their conversations, promptly insinuating they were stupid for whatever personal beliefs the voiced, and then getting angry when they stopped talking to him. A real charmer, this guy was. Naturally, we all hated him with a passion so pure it could solve our country’s energy problems.
Of course, when we were slow, Pablo would piss and moan about his personal life, which we all stomached only because we were locked behind the bar and had nowhere to reliably hide. Pablo came in at least 5 times a week, and would blow stupid dollars on getting righteously shitfaced, but he tipped well, and goddamn it, that was the only thing that prevented him from being 100% intolerable.
One night Pablo came in and was forlorn, and before we could not ask him what was wrong (because that would be shift suicide) he proceeds to tell us he found out his wife had been fucking a dude she worked with. First and foremost, how was this septic anal fissure able to procure a female who not only agreed to spend more than one date with him, but to take it next level and marry him? Secondly, he had never mentioned her before, so we thought this was just a bullshit ploy for attention and treated it with the collective eyeroll it justly deserved.
We did a double take when he brought her in with him the next week. Pablo looked like a bean bag chair that had sprouted semi-working appendages, but his wife was maybe one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever laid eyes on. We had to have a five minute bartender huddle to determine if this was a pro he had bought for the night or the real deal. One bartender, Mike, noticed the matching wedding bands and noted they looked custom made and expensive. Pablo may have actually been telling the truth. We were kinda happy for him for like ten seconds…until he had a few drinks and started to audibly berate his wife for her recent infidelity.
Pablo’s wife was trying to quiet him down, but it was clear, Pablo was getting off on shaming her in front of us, like we were his audience. And before too long, he started making a show of it. The volume rose, and the language became offensive even for a bunch of drunks at a bar. The c-word started making a regular appearance, and that is when it was time to intervene. Mike, on top of being awesome, was a Marine, and looked the part. My other bartender, Keith, was an amateur Muay Thai/MMA fighter and was maybe the toughest guy I knew. I was a hungover wad of biscuit dough crammed into a shirt and pants that were a size too small. By this point, Pablo’s wife is crying, and the situation is spiraling drastically out of control. Pablo is asked to quiet down, and he does, only to get irritated that his wife is “bringing the whole place down with all her crying.” It should be noted that EVERYONE had left the bar during Pablo’s last tirade and he and his wife were the only ones remaining.
Finally, having had enough abuse, Pablo’s wife told him that she had hoped they could talk about getting back together like adults, but that she had changed her mind. Pablo had no reaction, said he had to take a piss, and got off his barstool. Pablo then grabbed the back of his wife’s head and started slamming her face onto the bar top hard enough to break bones. Keith, with a running start, leaps over the bar and connects with a vicious kick to the face that would kill a horse, but didn’t seem to faze Pablo. As we scramble to subdue him, Pablo is kicking his now only semi-conscious wife in the ribs as hard as he could. It took four people to hold him down until the cops got there. His wife was in pretty rough shape, but she managed to stay conscious and give a statement to the police. Pablo’s parting salvo to us as he was loaded into the squad car was, “Hey, honey, don’t press charges on my friends for beating me up.”
We never saw Pablo again. But we were graced with regular the presence of Lori, Pablo’s ex-wife, who turned out to be an awesome person and has, thankfully, only gone on to bigger and better things post-Pablo.
Back when I was younger, I was a professional bellydancer. I taught lessons, performed in shows with bands, the whole nine. My one continuing gig that paid my bills was at a well-known, very popular Moroccan restaurant in town. We were always busy. We had the whole deal: luxurious seating on the floor, beautiful decor, rose water/tea pouring by our staff, etc.
This particular year, it was the weekend before Christmas, our busiest of busy times, in which I had to dance 3 shows — sometimes 4–for 3 separate seatings. This night, though, before I could go on for the first dance, my manager (the nicest man in the world) said to me, “we have a table that keeps asking when the ‘Bellydance woman’ is going to perform.” They were apparently appalled to learn the restaurant had a bellydancer, because the Bible says this and the Bible says that.
My manager, being the kind soul that he was, said okay, we’ll wait until you are finished, but by 7:45, we have to have her dance, because we have the next group seating and we need to start the show. The customers apparently then prayed at the table holding hands — one prayer of which involved my immortal soul. Finally, by 8 PM, my manager told we were going to have to have me start dancing, because the other customers were complaining.
I went out there dancing and the look on the wife’s face was priceless. I thought she was going to drop dead of a heart attack right then and there. The husband’s mouth was agape, too, as were those of the two kids, who were maybe 13 and 15. They got up and ran out of there so quickly I don’t think they had ever moved that fast in their entire life.
I told my manager I should have started dancing earlier!
I’ve been working at a local bar/restaurant on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts for four summers. I encountered the most bizarre couple last summer, and they still take the cake as the most weird, uncomfortable table I’ve yet had.
The man was maybe 65-70 years old but was trying to appear a lot younger. It was clear he frequented a tanning bed. He had on a button down shirt that looked to be made from snakeskin material and was showing a little bit of chest hair. His girlfriend looked to be 30, maybe, but she had so much plastic surgery that I really couldn’t distinguish her age. Her lips were so big she looked like she was in pain, and the skin on her face was stretched backwards. I shuddered when I saw them sit down. It was also 9:45 and we stop serving food at 10:00. Most of my side work had been finished and I wanted to go home.
He ordered the short rib entree and she ordered chili in a bread bowl. I served the food and asked how it was, and they said it was great. I came back later to see if they were still doing okay, and the man announced that the short rib was the most disgusting thing he’d tasted in his entire life. I said, “I’m sorry about that. Would you like to see a menu and order something else?” He ignored my offer and continued to light into me about how bad the food was. I tried to deflect again: “I understand, and I’m sorry about that and would be happy to remove the meal from your check and get you something else.” He pressed on, “Seriously… this food is so bad I wouldn’t even feed it to my dog.” At this point I laughed, because it was too hard not to. It was clear the guy just wanted to engage in the dramatics of it all.
Next, he proceeded to get really quiet and gestured me for me come closer towards him and told me, “You know on Animal Planet how lions will attack a hyena? Well, if the lion were to bite into the hyena’s butt, that is what this food tastes like. Just like a hyena’s butt.” I said nothing as I conjured up the mental picture. In case I didn’t believe him, he cut off a piece of the short rib and demanded that I try it, waving it in my face. I had to take the fork away from him.
I took the bad food away and gave him some tortilla chips he asked for instead. He then waved me back over and asked me if I could get some marijuana from one of the kitchen workers and sell it to him. He was assuming that someone behind the line had marijuana in their possession at that moment. I said to him that I couldn’t do that and would potentially lose my job. He started arguing with me about how his girlfriend’s chili had made her sick to her stomach and that she had to smoke right then in order to feel better. He then demanded to see the contents of my apron, saying that I must keep marijuana in my apron. I continued to tell him no. Next, he took out a wad of one hundred dollar bills in a rubber band and flashed me the money, saying, “If you help me out, I’ll help you out” and winking. I walked away and told my manager to have him pay and leave.
I’ve been working in food service for over 15 years, and this story occurred a few years ago when I was managing a Friendly’s. There was a woman who came in almost every week and was known as a problem customer. If it was slow enough, I would take care of her, but on some nights, I didn’t have a choice but to hand her to the next available server.
One night, she came in when we had a packed house. I made sure she was sat with our best server on staff and didn’t think anything of it until the server came to me to say that the woman wanted to complain. She ordered a brownie fudge sundae and ten minutes later, all of the ice cream was melted on her plate. She wanted a new one. I said I would make sure that got done and refired the sundae. About 10 minutes later, she called me back over to complain, again, the ice cream was all melted. I reminded her that the sundae was made with a hot brownie and that it would eventually melt the ice cream. She wasn’t having it. I ended up having to go back and make the sundae myself and bring it right out to her.
She gave her server a smug smile and said, “Maybe if you weren’t such a bitch, this wouldn’t have been so difficult.” My jaw hit the floor and the server turned bright red. I immediately grabbed another server to take her into the back and told the woman that that was inappropriate and we were a family restaurant where that kind of language shouldn’t be used. She blew me off and ate her sundae. I brought out the check and left it on the table. She left her money (exact change) and while she was heading out, she bumped her server and said something that I didn’t hear, but following which the server responded with “don’t you threaten me,” and a shouting match ensued. I asked the woman to leave immediately and followed her out to make sure nothing else happened.
The worst part about the whole story, is that apparently this woman had a history of this at different stores in the chain, but corporate wouldn’t let us ban her from entry because it would “give the wrong impression.”
I worked at a small chain of Italian restaurants (I think there were maybe five locations total, all Maryland). The two owners were old Italian men who we’ll call Fred and Artie who thought it would be neat to own a restaurant. They had the foresight to hire a good GM and VP of operations, so it ran smoothly enough, and by themselves, these two men were great owners. Kind, generous, understanding old men (and I mean OLD, like late 70s/early 80s when they started the chain, a few years before I started) who treated each employee like a real human being, which, as you know, is exceedingly rare.
These traits were not passed on to Artie’s granddaughter. All of 16 years old and as entitled as you can be. She would drive her new benz to the restaurant and ask the hostess to park her car so she didn’t have to walk (our restaurant was the bottom floor of an office building across from a Mall, so there was a roundabout in front, and the parking was across the street in one of the Mall lots) and then seat herself and however many friends she brought with her that day with no regard to whether there was a wait or not. Thankfully she usually came in during lunch, but still.
This girl. Finger snapping, ice in the glass shaking, shouting across the floor, you name it she did it. Ordered around her server like a queen scolding a servant, she was a terror from start to finish. And what a finish. When the meal was “over,” she would ask the hostess again to fetch her car and she and her friends would just get up and leave with the same catch phrase, spoken very loudly so that her friends and anyone else with ears can hear: “Oh, my Grandpa owns this place so I don’t pay for anything. Bye, now!” and then off to terrorize some poor mall boutique worker, I assume.
We were able to staunch the impromptu valet service by hiring a couple of 15 year old hostesses with no drivers licenses, but the spineless managers just insisted that we allow the behavior to continue because “it wasn’t hurting anyone, and besides, it’s not like we aren’t comping the check so it doesn’t impact your tipouts.” But working a Friday lunch with 3-table sections and having one of your tables commandeered by a petulant child for two hours was a pay cut all the same.
I quit that place before the chain itself collapsed two years later, but I was told that she kept coming in up until the end and never changed her behavior or her catch phrase.
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.