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 stories of genuinely amazing restaurant customers. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
When I worked at Bennigan’s, we had a lunch regular we all called Fat Man. Because he was. But Fat Man was the best. He would stroll through the door in all his rotund glory, and sing opera for us while he waited for his table (he always came in right as we opened at 10:30) and if his favorite waiter wasn’t working, he was cool with whoever, as long as they “knew the deal,” which was to keep his Pepsi full at all times and have his regular order ready as soon as possible because he was “HUNGRY!” he would say with a robust pat of his belly and a big laugh.
Baked potato soup, two bowls. One first, then the next as he was finishing the first, so it stayed nice and hot. Then, mozzarella sticks, extra dip, followed by a monte cristo with extra jelly for dipping and honey mustard for his fries. He was always super pleasant, arranged his plates at the end of the table for easy bussing, and tipped very well. When our store closed down to be moved to a new location, he came in one last time and sang “Con Te Partiro” (Time To Say Goodbye) for us, and I almost cried.
Wherever you are, Fat Man, I hope you’re doing alright.
When my Dad was stationed in Germany in the late 90’s, I was in High School and got a job working as a server at the Officer’s Club on the base. I was excited because the tips were pretty good, and usually I didn’t have any problems with any of the customers. [Editor’s Note: This isn’t surprising to me. My personal experience with military officers as customers has been pretty uniformly positive–and since I used to work right near the Pentagon, it isn’t a small sample size.]
One young couple would come in during 2-for-1 prime rib night. It was really good prime rib, and was a really good deal, so that night was always packed. I have forgotten why, but their first night in, their order was messed up beyond my control. I felt terrible and made it up to them, comping them on their wine and making sure they got the extra attention that night. They left an above average tip and went on their way.
The next time they came in for the 2-for-1 deal, I was able to remember what they wanted to order, exactly. Like the extra horseradish sauce, the type of wine, their dessert, etc. So they would sit down, I would tell them what they were going to order, they verified it was correct, and I would put the order in. Every single night after whatever incident that happened that was beyond my control, they would tip the price of what the second prime rib meal would have cost them. I don’t remember the price of the prime rib, but let’s just say it was 15 bucks, they would tip me 15 bucks every single time. I appreciated it then, but I appreciate it even more now as an adult.
I’ve been bartending and waiting tables for over a decade now, but there is one guy that stands out as my favorite customer ever. My first bartending job was in a bar/club hybrid sort of place in Lake Dallas, Texas. During the week it was a sort of pool hall that catered to locals and service industry folks, and on weekends we brought in DJs and were the closest thing to a club for UNT students unless they wanted to make the 45-minute drive from Denton to Dallas.
Like most bartenders, I tend to identify people by what they drink, not their names. This is especially true for the regulars who you see often, but don’t necessarily have a conversation with. One guy in particular came be known as “Bud Light.” Bud Light came into play pool at least once a week, if not twice, and always drank Bud Light bottles. This is not noteworthy. What is noteworthy is that whenever he came in and one of the bartenders greeted him with a smile and “Bud Light?” he would get the most amazed, earnest look on his face, and without fail, would say “how do you know that?” with a true sense of wonder. This happened every time I served him a beer for over a year. On busy weekends, one of us would frequently just grab a bottle out of the ice and plop it down in front of him as we rushed to fill other orders, and leaving him to yell “HOW DO YOU DO THAT?” after us. I think he thought we were magicians who could read his mind. I am fairly sure we were the smartest people he knew.
So, fast forward a few months, and I have quit bartending to get a “real” job, run out of money, and am now waiting tables three towns away at a mid-range steakhouse that fancies itself high-end. This place catered to corporate events, so it was not unusual to have the entire dining room plus the event rooms taken up with big parties. On one particular night, we had one big long table running down the center of the dining room (not in my section) with regular four tops all around. As the night went on, I overheard some of the other servers talking shit about a guy who had picked up his bone-in ribeye by the bone, and was walking around the dining room with it. Apparently this was considered uncivilized and inappropriate for such a “classy” place. I think I made some throwaway joke about how everybody likes meat on a stick, and went about my business.
A few minutes later I was walking through the dining room, and sure enough, there is a dude bouncing around the big party table gnawing away at the bone-in ribeye in his hand and talking to his fellow party-goers, completely oblivious to the looks he was getting. He turned around, and bless his sweet lumpy head, it was Bud Light. Our eyes met. He pointed his ribeye at me and said, “You!” As I was throwing up my hands and yelling “Bud Light!” he ran across the dining room and swept me into a big, meaty bear hug. My fellow servers gawked at us as we chatted for a few seconds to catch up (“You work here!” “Yep. You need a Bud Light?” “HOW DO YOU REMEMBER?!?”), and then I went on my way, scent of meat in my hair, never to see Bud Light again.
I like to think he is still out there, staring at some bartender in wonder as they hand him the same exact thing he drinks every single time.
The week before Christmas, the beloved chef at the bar/restaurant I work at had a heart attack during morning prep. In between frantically calling 911, aiding the EMTs in getting Chef out of the 19th-century tiny basement where the walk-ins are and getting him safely to the hospital, and checking on his progress, our heroic kitchen crew managed to finish preparations for everything on the menu before opening, except for chicken wings.
My first customers at the bar for lunch that day were a pair of guys, one of whom I’d dealt with before. While many of our customers who work in upper-level finance are notably kind, interesting, appreciative and a pleasure to serve, this particular man took the stereotype of trader douche, turned it into a virtual leotard a la Slim Goodbody, put it on, and never took it off. I would happily bet ten years of my life that a pile of sticky tissues accumulates at his bedside every time he rewatches The Wolf of Wall Street.
I had low hopes from the jump, submitting to his quizzes on the properties of every fucking single malt we have before making his selection, ignoring his eyes going places they shouldn’t when I placed the drinks down, remaining expressionless when he made me stand there for a full fifteen seconds before answering when I asked, “Did you gentlemen want to see a lunch menu as well?” But I was not prepared for his reaction when he ordered chicken wings (BECAUSE OF COURSE HE ORDERED CHICKEN WINGS) and I told him and his friend that I was very sorry, that was the only thing we were out of today.
“You’re fucking kidding me!” he said, throwing his hands up in outrage.
“I’m terribly sorry, sir. Our chef was rushed to the ICU an hour ago. That’s the one thing we weren’t able to make available for lunch today,” I said in the icy tones that are often the server’s last resort when dealing with 24-karat assholes. (Dining Public, know it: If your server abruptly starts sounding like Carson the Butler from Downton Abbey, chances are you’ve done something shitty.)
He looked at me like I was something stuck in the treads of his shoe. “Well, should I even fucking eat here, then?” he asked.
I was forming a reply that would have either gotten me fired or put me in jail when suddenly, this giant UPS man materialized behind them. He looked big enough to block out the sun, and he’d clearly heard this entire exchange. He slammed down a big package right in between the two of them, making their glasses jump.
“I am so sorry to hear that, ma’am!” he boomed. “That’s horrible.”
“Thank you,” I said, with feeling, as I signed the register.
“And so close to Christmas, too. Damn. Well, you let me know how he’s doing next time I’m in, okay?”
“I will,” I said through my choked-up throat.
“He’ll be all right. Have a blessed day!” he said, gave those two the scariest smile I’ve ever seen, and left.
“Um, we’ll just have the tacos,” his friend said meekly. “And we hope your chef is okay.”
Thankfully, Chef is indeed okay.
My husband and I were in Minneapolis to go to a concert. We wanted to be out drinking before the show started, so we went to grab an early dinner at about 5 pm. We ended up at a sort-of-fancy restaurant near the venue (the type of place that serves bone marrow). My husband is usually a pretty adventurous and educated eater, so we were looking forward to getting away from the typical burger-and-fries food that we’re used to living out in the boonies of Minnesota.
We were the only ones in the restaurant, and our server was an adorable zaftig woman who was really attentive and helpful the whole time. Things were going great until dessert. My husband ordered a “bombe” dessert from the menu, while I ordered the cheesecake.
Our waitress came back out and popped the bombe in front of my husband. He looked at it quizzically and said, “OK, so, like … where’s the bombe?”
The waitress’ eyes got wide and started darting back and forth. There was nothing on the plate but a dusting of cocoa and a little mound of chocolate and ice cream … you know — THE BOMBE. She was trying so hard to think of a way to explain it to him without making him look like a moron. I felt so bad for her, I jumped in.
“That is the bombe. What on earth did you think you ordered? Like, an actual bomb?”
The waitress scuttled away, clearly relieved she wasn’t the one who had to break it to him. I can never resist being a smartass when the opportunity presents itself, so when she returned moments later with my cheesecake, I summoned up my very bitchiest, most sanctimonious voice possible and said to her “EXCUSE ME. But where’s the cheesecake?” She froze, the deer-in-headlights look crawling across her face once again.
“I hate you so much,” said my husband.
She had to sit down she was laughing so hard.
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.