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 the old classic: truly terrible restaurant customers. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I work in a high volume bar/restaurant in Wrigleyville in Chicago. Anyone familiar with the area knows that the bars on the strip of Clark St. outside of Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Cubs) is an absolute shitshow of drunkards and assholes alike who behave like they were raised by wolves. When I first started working in this area, a coworker told me that once people walked through our doors they became the worst versions of themselves. I can handle drunks. I can handle Bachelorette parties. I can handle guys grabbing my ass. I can handle a lot.
Then she came.
I had a big party of about 12 people push together two of my four top tables after a weekend Cub’s game. Typical post-game behavior. Fine. They were older, probably late 40’s adults, which was a nice change of pace from the drunken 22-year-old frat dudes I had been serving. They immediately ordered drinks and when I inquired about how they planned on separating the tab, they told me to keep it all on one and they would pay cash. Music to my ears!
The next hour was great. I had a big section, so they would call out drink orders every time I came past. Each time I dropped off drinks, they would say “Thanks Erica! You’re an angel.” People could see how slammed the bar was and how busy I was, and they were very appreciative of the quick service.
A few more people joined the party: a couple and a small child. Why you would bring a toddler to a bar after a Cubs game on a Saturday afternoon is beyond me. The kid was bored and upset. The mother decided to keep him occupied by screaming at the top of her lungs in his face. I’m not kidding. She would let out a high pitched scream and the kid would laugh and scream at the top of his lungs back. We’re talking horror movie screams. Not only was this extremely distracting to the staff, everyone else in the establishment was looking on in disgust. And this is a huge, noisy bar.
My coworkers asked me to say something to her. “Hell no” was my response; these people had a tab pushing $600 and I wanted a big tip. They could scream all they want as far as I was concerned. Finally, a waitress went up to her and asked to please keep it down in her most friendly, 1st grade teacher tone. The “mother” told her to fuck off. Apparently being asked to not scream pissed her off so much that she decided she was going to leave. She grabbed me as she walked past and the conversation went like this:
“I need to close my tab. I’m leaving.”
“I actually don’t have a tab for you. I was asked to keep this party all on one tab.” I smiled.
At this point her eyes just lit up. She was ready to go with a fight.
“Shut up. I am leaving before them and I want to pay for what I HAD. IT’S NOT HARD. GIVE ME A BILL FOR WHAT I HAD.” She bellows.
“If they asked for it on one tab let’s keep it that way and give them money–” Her husband starts. She cuts him off and shoves her finger in my face, about an inch from my nose.
“SHE CAN SEPARATE THE CHECK AND SHE KNOWS IT!” She screams.
Fuck you. I put on my biggest smile.
“I absolutely can separate it off from the tab for you, ma’am. That is no problem at all and I do it about 25 times a day. I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear. I just simply wanted you to know your friends requested I keep it together.”
“Was that so fucking hard?” She asks, with a look of victory. At this point I have had it.
“It’s not hard at all. If you had let me speak I would have told you I could do it for you from the start. There’s no need to behave in such a hostile manner when people are doing what you ask,” I say. This was the first time I had ever talked back to a customer. I was over her shit.
I walked away to the server station where my friend was putting in an order. I started to tell her about what just happened when I looked over and the woman was waving her hands around frantically at the table. I walk back over.
“SO NOT ONLY ARE YOU GOING TO NOT DO WHAT I ASK, YOU’RE GOING TO TALK SHIT ABOUT ME? WHO FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?” She screams.
“Ma’am, I was waiting to use that computer so I could separate off your check for you…”
“WHAT KIND OF FUCKING RESTAURANT CAN’T SEPARATE CHECKS?”
“I don’t know… not us because we can and that’s what I was doing…”
This goes on and on. She has this crazy, bloodthirsty look in her eyes. She is clearly taking delight in having people look at her yelling at me. I’m almost 6 feet tall. So I’m standing there with a grown woman about a foot shorter than me who looks like a troll jumping to get in my face. Everyone at her table is looking at their feet, embarrassed. I am shocked and horrified, half about to laugh and half about to burst into tears. Finally she screams that she wants to talk to my manager. I am so relieved and hurry off to find him. While I’m doing so, she screams in another waitress’ face who asked her if she needed assistance and in a security guard’s face who wasn’t finding my manager fast enough.
My manager now gets three separate radio calls about a woman screaming. He is probably the most chill and professional dude I have ever had as a manager. I can say that I have never seen him so frustrated or visibly upset while trying to help a customer. She screams at him for about 15 more minutes. He later tells me that he asked what he could possibly do to make her happy (AKA leave) and she wouldn’t tell him. She just went on and on about me and everyone else. At one point she screamed “AM I SPEAKING FUCKING SWAHILI?”
My managers had it. He says he understands if she has a problem with me but in order to fix the situation she needs to tell him what she wants. Does she want her tab split off? Can he comp it for her? What can he do? She won’t stop. He then asks her why she felt the need to scream at the security guard who was trying to help. Her response? “He’s just a fucking security guard, what does it matter?”
Everyone else at the table continued to order drinks from me and apologized on her behalf. Apparently she was the sister of one of the people there, so no one else really knew her. I could tell they were really embarrassed, which made me feel better. The lady’s husband even came over and paid for their SPLIT CHECK and tipped me generously.
At the end of the day, it takes a lot more to shake me than an unhappy middle-aged woman who wants to make a 22-year-old waitress feel like shit. I can honestly say I don’t think she was going to be happy unless I started crying or if my manager had told her she was right, neither of which happened. I hope for her sake, she had drank too much at the game and lost control. I truly hope this isn’t a regular thing she does to waitstaff. [Editor’s Note: I’m sure it is.]
My wife texted me one weekday night and said she was working late, and I was on my own for dinner. She and her sister work together, so I called her sister’s husband (my brother-in-law) and asked if he wants to grab dinner at a sports bar and watch some baseball. He said sure and insisted we try this new place that was a block from his house. He and his two toddlers meet me there right as the dinner rush begins.
I’ve never worked in food service, but I assumed a new restaurant would be either understaffed, understocked, or just generally unprepared. This was only their second day open, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The place was busy, but we found an open table and start glancing through the menu.
After a few minutes, we realized there was only one server, a bartender, and a guy doing a little bit of both. The server eventually came to our table to get drink orders, and my brother-in-law asked for the list of gluten-free beers. He has a gluten “intolerance,” which makes eating with him a challenge. They didn’t have a list of GF beer, just a cider, so he ordered that. Server came back and said they were out.
Brother-in-law immediately set in about how unacceptable this was, and the server said he could make him a cocktail. Pacified BIL ordered a whiskey & Coke, but after tasting it, waved for the server to come back. He demanded to know what kind of whiskey was used, and when the server told him whatever bottom shelf hooch they had, BIL demanded a straight, non-blended whiskey, because “GLUTEN INTOLERANCE!” He then instructed the server to bring him the bottle so he could inspect it. After deciding on Knob Creek, he had his drink and we were enjoying baseball.
Remember, there are 1.5 servers for a crowded sports bar, so it took a while to get our food order taken. We went through that same speech about how ridiculous it was that there was no gluten-free menu (it was a freaking sports bar) but finally, he decided on a bun-less burger. The server was then told to bring crayons and coloring books for the kids, and he timidly explained they didn’t have any of those in the bar (it was a FREAKING sports bar). My BIL shook his head and gave me the can-you-believe-this-asshole look.
The kids started to get cranky, so we figured we better watch the game at the BIL’s house. We had been sitting down for about an hour when we got our checks, which is longer than we would expect at a normal bar or chain, but this place was brand new, so I wasn’t upset. As we were getting our check, BIL started in on poor customer service, long wait times, etc. The server apologized earnestly, encouraged us to come back, and checked on his other tables. BIL then looked at his check and realized he had been charged for the premium liquor in his cocktail. Furious, he pulled the server back to the table and asked why he should pay $6 a drink. It wasn’t HIS fault they didn’t have any more GF beer or GF whiskey on the bottom shelf. The server relented and gives him the cheaper price. We’d now been at the restaurant for close to two hours, and I was just ready to leave and get drunk by myself.
With my drink and an appetizer, my bill was around $13. Knowing what it’s like to be around my BIL, I gave the server a $20. But my BIL noticed this and asked “You didn’t tip him, did you?” and then went back into his speech about “customer is always right,” blah blah blah. After trying to explain why I had the balls to tip a restaurant employee, I gave up and admitted my “mistake.”
After my BIL left, I went back and gave the server another $20. [Editor’s Note: This could’ve fit in Best Customers for Rob himself, honestly.]
I work in a grocery store, and one winter I needed to pick up some hours, so I worked as a cashier once or twice a week. It isn’t my normal job, so I was a little unfamiliar with it and I had to ask for help several times. Anyways, I had this older lady come through my line and right away I knew she was going to be trouble. She requested her groceries be bagged in paper ONLY. The usual standard is paper and plastic, so I double checked with her. She gave a snotty reply in return.
Of course, I ended up having none at my register. This normally isn’t a big deal, but my bagger started to panic. He became very upset (most of our baggers in the morning are special needs). I tried to calmly explain to him that it was okay and he could just take them from the next register. I think he was really thrown off by anything that wasn’t part of the normal routine. The customer interrupted and rudely asked me if there was a problem. I politely told her my bagger was just getting more bags.
My bagger calmed down and we continued with the order. I got this one item that wouldn’t scan. I tried to straighten out the label, I typed in the bar code multiple ways, nothing worked. I went to flip my switch to ask for help, and the old woman snapped, “Never mind.”
Then we got to the grapes. I typed in the right code and rang them up, but then the lady asked me how much the grapes were. I read her exactly what it said on the screen and she said NOTHING. She gave no indication there was a problem. I finished ringing her out and sighed in relief. I didn’t realize the worst was yet to come.
Instead of leaving the store, she went to check the price of the grapes. She came through the line behind me and came close enough to whisper the sale price of the grapes in my ear! She then demanded a refund at my register, which I cannot do; it has to be processed at the service desk, and I told her so. Her response was that I get her someone NOW, because she had already waited and refused to wait any longer. So I flipped my switch and a manager came to ask what’s wrong.
The manager took her to the podium at the front of the store. I could still hear snippets of their conversation. The lady threatened to return her entire carriage of groceries because the grapes rang up wrong and for what she considered to be poor customer service. The manager talked her out of it. Then I saw the customer gesture wildly at me. The manager came over to grab the item that wouldn’t ring up and hissed, “Next time, ask for help.” She walked away and finished with the customer.
My first and only food service job was at a place called Mozart’s, located on Lake Austin. This place was enormous: massive indoor area, and three different decks outside. It could easily fit 150-175 people at once. They prided themselves on their coffee and espresso drinks (which were in all fairness, pretty damn amazing), and barista training was unflinchingly serious.
As a 16 year old night owl, I always worked closing shifts, which meant I was generally out by 1:30 AM, because it took 6 employees at least an hour and a half to shut that shit down properly. Night shift was ALWAYS packed; in my six months working there I never experienced a night when there wasn’t a line out the door for at least 3 hours.
Working there has forever ruined my ability to return to food service. The clientele were by and large the worst type of people that reside in Austin. College freshman who drove brand new Porsches, old money good old boys and their snooty wives, and spoiled teenagers carrying Amex cards with THEIR names on them. $10 in tips after an 8 hour shift was considered a good night.
But the worst customer I’ve ever dealt with was the bane of the night shift’s existence. We were all young women, and he would come in every night and order the same thing. “I’ll have a slice of apple pie and a large coffee, and aren’t you looking sweet tonight/I hope that apple pie is as sweet as you/some other foul incarnation of creepiness.” This guy was in his mid-50s, and I’m pretty sure the only reason he came there was to eye fuck the baristas and make lecherous comments. Long after he was done with his coffee and pie he would lurk by the bar and attempt to engage us in creepy conversation.
One night he finally crossed the line when he came inside after close (we had to leave the doors open for cleaning reasons) while I was on bar duty. He sauntered up with a box of doughnuts and said, “I just thought I’d leave these for you, you all look like you need something sweet after sweating all day, blah, blah, I’m gross, blah.” My manager asked him to please leave, we were closed, etc. Visibly affronted, he told her he wanted to make sure we enjoyed his gift, like he wanted to watch us eat them or something. Nothing doing, you gotta beat it, douchenozzle. He left, but was obviously super pissed.
At the end of the night, we decided to inspect his “gift” before tossing them. Unsurprisingly, they had clearly been tampered with; the glaze had obviously been removed and then spread back on. We all assumed he’d laced the glaze with GHB or something equally as terrible. Cut to us leaving for the night, one of the girls was walking to her car parked in the sketchy lot across the street. We heard a blood-curdling, “What the fuck?!” and all rushed to her aid. Turns out, this asshole was waiting behind a tree to ambush her. He booked it when he heard us coming. We called the cops, but I don’t think they ever found the guy. Sadly, he always paid in cash so we had no idea who he was. We never saw him in there again. I can only assume he left town and is now terrorizing some other coffeehouse staffed with pretty young women.
Back in the 1970’s-80’s, tourism to Soviet Russia was pretty restricted for most Americans. You had to get approved for all sorts of special visas and go with qualified and designated tour guides/groups, especially to visit cities such as Stalingrad or Moscow. My father worked as one of these tour guides for years, schlepping groups of often wealthy obnoxious Americans who wanted a taste of “Old World, pre-revolutionary, Czarist” Russia that they had seen in the movies, and who had yet to truly grasp what life in the USSR was truly like for Russians. He had endured a number of complaints from his culture shocked groups in the beginning, who would whine about the lack of their favorite brands, especially when it came to cosmetics and cigarettes. They never seemed to grasp that he could not summon these items from across the sea and that they were unobtainable, except in the really shady black markets. Sick of being stiffed on tips, my father eventually wrote up a sheet for all the travelers and distributed it to them well in advance, specifying which brands are unavailable in the USSR, so they could bring such items for themselves. After this, the complaining about the lack of Camels and Salon Selectives slowed to a crawl and my father naively assumed that his list covered every craving an American tourist may have.
That is, until he met Mrs. B. Mrs. B was a shrill woman who brought with her a limp silent husband and an endless barrage of loud complaints. She hated the historical buildings. She hated the Russian people and their “ugly” language. She hated the other people on the tour. But most of all, Mrs. B hated the food. Keep in mind, despite the restrictions and rationing that its citizens endured, the USSR did need tourist income; and so, the hotels that catered to the American tourists spared no expense. These tourists had mountains of red caviar, black caviar, stacks of blinis, every kind of roasted meat from any animal you could name, neverending bottles of champagne and vodka. None of it could satisfy Mrs. B. It was all “disgusting”, which is a remarkable judgment for someone who refused a single bite of anything. My father had to negotiate with the chef to get her things she deemed “acceptable” such as plain undressed salads and cornflakes. Even the bread wasn’t satisfactory, because she couldn’t understand why they didn’t have Wonder Bread in the USSR.
But the capper on all of this was the Coca-Cola. Mrs. B HAD to have Coca-Cola, you see. With every meal. Three times a day was her custom at home. On the first day, when my father explained that only Pepsi was allowed in Russia, and Coca-Cola had no distribution rights, she started screaming. Pepsi was unacceptable, she said. She could only have Coca-Cola . Why hadn’t he put Coke on his list? If she had known, she would not have come on the trip. My father made the mistake of saying it had never occurred to him to add it because he had never met an adult who consumed that much soda daily. She threw the can of Pepsi at the ground and ran around asking every hotel employee where they kept their Coke, they must have had Coke, and repeated her screaming rant anew whenever the confused worker attempted to explain in very broken English.
This ranting continued every single meal time until the 4th day in, when they arrive at a new hotel. On their way to check in, Mrs. B lets out a blood curdling scream. Hoping for her imminent death, my father runs back to her only to find her frozen at the currently closed concession stand near the shoeshine booth that sells snacks, cigarettes, and drinks. Through the locked glass around the stand, Mrs. B is pointing straight at 2 lone bottles of cherry red, old fashioned American Coca-Cola. She is babbling with joy and pointing frantically, screeching for the bottles right this moment. My father goes to the hotel manager, who says that those are the only 2 bottles left from when a tourist left a case at the hotel a few days ago and they have been selling fast. He says that the stand opens again in 4 hours and that Mrs. B can purchase them then. No, Mrs. B wants them NOW. She demands that the manager opens the stand, only to be told that the concession clerk is the only man who has the key, and who won’t be there for another 4 hours. She then whirls around, and demands that her husband do something about this, only to have him shrink down and stare at my father pleadingly. Mrs. B now demands that my father break the glass, Mr. B will pay for any damages. The manager understands this and is getting agitated at this hysterical American ready to destroy his hotel.
My father, trying to calm it all down, says that he will wait in the lobby. He will be right there when the stand opens, buy the Coca-Cola, and bring it to her room right away. He won’t let anyone else buy it. And god bless him, he spends the next 4 hours smoking cigarettes and reading in the lobby, watching the bottles like a hawk. He and my mother were saving to start a family, so he needed every single tour tip possible and hoped that she would tip generously for this extra service. Finally, the stand opened, he snatched the bottles, and paid an exorbitant fee out of his own pocket for them. My father brought them to her room in triumph. She whipped open the door on his first knock, grabbed the bottles to her chest, and slammed the door in his face. No thanks. No offers to pay him back. Nothing.
At the end of the trip, she left him a measly bare minimum tip and actively prevented her husband from giving him any extra. But at least the lady got her Cokes.
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.