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 more tales of unbelievably bad restaurant employees. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
A few years ago, my sister-in-law and her husband took us all out to Longhorn Steakhouse to celebrate their son getting baptized. Their daughter was about 4 or 5 at the time and is an especially picky eater (vegetables but not fruit, chili but not tomato sauce, etc.)
This was a big party, including two sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, godparents of aunts and uncles (we’re talking white Midwest Protestants, so baptism is a big deal). The server comes says hello and it’s immediately clear a large table of middle-aged church folk wasn’t at the top of his afternoon wish list. [Editor’s Note: Wouldn’t be at the top of mine, either, to be fair.]
Everyone orders and he gets to our 4-year-old niece. She asks for a hamburger, and her mom reiterates to the server that it is indeed a hamburger, not a cheeseburger. “Yeah, she won’t eat cheese,” she says apologetically.
Our food comes out quickly enough, but of course, there’s a big slice of cheese on the hamburger. After the server comes back to check in, we tell him that the girl ordered a hamburger, not a cheeseburger, and it’s sent back.
Anyone who has or has been around kids at this age know that you’re always one small action away from a crying spell, so we do our best to calm the kid when she starts tearing up and asking why everyone else has food, but she doesn’t.
A few minutes later, the burger comes out, and all seems fine. We then notice the girl hasn’t touched her burger. Her mom leans over to cut it up and, after noticing it’s ice cold, turns the patty over to reveal a yellow, gooey underside. The server had taken the burger back to the kitchen, then someone had wiped the cheese off with a napkin and flipped the patty over.
The little girl is inconsolable, since she’s now watched her food come out with a topping she won’t eat, then taken away, then brought back still with a food she won’t eat, and then taken away again.
Rather than going full “rampage mom,” my sister-in-law settled for a new burger and a free ice cream sundae for her daughter.
I moved to Dublin for a new job, and after a few months, decided to skip cooking one night and try the takeaway close to my house. It was a perfectly normal looking takeaway: sold fish, burgers, kebab and chips, that sort of place. I wanted cheese chips, which is a perfectly normal thing to want. [Editor’s Note: I’d make some crack about them actually being called “fries,” but honestly, being from that region, I’m just glad Maddie didn’t call them “pudding.”]
I go in and look over the menu, and I notice that while the menu has cheese and garlic chips and cheese and curry chips, there are no cheese chips (Note: yes, the Irish put curry sauce on chips. No, I don’t know why, even after nearly a decade here. It remains an eternal mystery. You can’t say anything, though, because they don’t understand how strange it is). The lack of plain cheese chips on the menu isn’t that surprising, as I’ve been in other takeaways that don’t bother to list them. They clearly have both cheese and chips, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
I go up to the guy taking orders, and ask for a large cheese chips. The man stares at me. “Cheese chips?”
“Yes?” I know I have an accent, but it’s not that strong, and anyway it seems like he heard me properly.
He stares at me long enough that I start to wonder what I did wrong. “Like garlic and cheese chips?”
“Yes?” At this point, I would accept garlic and cheese chips, if he will just stop looking at me like I’ve ordered kangaroo meat or something.
He goes over to the woman cooking, and they have a conversation I can’t hear, but which goes on longer than could possibly be necessary for “put cheese on chips”. I move to the till. The man comes over to the guy working the till, and they have another conversation I can’t hear. The guy at the till charges me and the man who took my order hands me my chips. Which are, I discover when I get home, regular cheese chips. I still don’t know how a simple order threw the entire takeaway off. No one I’ve told the story to has been able to guess what went wrong, either.
During summer breaks from university, I went back to my hometown and waited tables at the golf club. I grew up in mountain resort/tourist destination and, as such, the club hosted several weddings over the course of the summer season. We stocked a full bar in the restaurant, but for 90% of our customers we were pulling pints and making margaritas. Most of the liquor behind the bar sat there for the season and then was packed away for the winter.
At one particular wedding, the wedding party (bride, groom, five bridesmaids, five groomsmen) were set up at a long banquet table across the front of the venue in full view of all 300 guests. The father of the bride was a bit of a wild card and had gotten it into his head that the wedding party should do a round of Jager shots to celebrate.
I put in the order for 12 shots of Jager and made my way to the bar to pick them up. The delivery went fine — I dropped off the shots and left them to toasting and cheering. I had made it about ten steps from the table when I started to hear gagging and cursing. I turned around just in time to see the bride grab her napkin and wipe her tongue with it. She pulled it away and showed it to me, and to my horror, it was covered with FRUIT FLIES.
My idiot bartender had pulled a bottle of Jager from the bar shelf that had been there for who knows how long with an open pour top, and had apparently poured the shots fucking blind. Given how dark the drinks were, nothing looked amiss to me, and I had no reason to think he was stupid enough not to open a new bottle. By my estimate, we served a wedding party a 60% Jager, 40% fruit fly shot. Needless to say, we ended up comping a huge portion of that wedding bill, and the bartender got demoted to “bartender” in the cart shack on Hole 9.
I live in seacoast New Hampshire, which is now relatively gentrified, but ten years ago parts of it were still a crunchy hippy haven. One of the most popular places to eat in the area was an eclectically decorated diner — I’m talking Hard Rock Cafe on shrooms. Topless mannequin busts, bizarre paintings, and creepy life-sized dolls that stared at you from the tops of counters complimented the dark color of the walls. And the wait staff only added to this ambiance — there was no way they weren’t all subsisting solely on pot brownies and kombucha. But they were all nice and the food was amazing, so I would go there to eat pretty regularly.
The night before I went back to college, my parents took me and my sister out to dinner at this restaurant. I had to plead with them to take me — the place was not exactly appealing to the over-40 crowd. It was pretty busy, so we were seated at a table that was still in the process of being cleaned. A woman came over to wipe down the table with a rag that definitely used to be white, but was now a worrisome brown. My parents raised their eyebrows at me, and I shrugged (the food was REALLY good). The woman slouched away from our table and proceeded to lean on the counter, allowing us to see that she was walking around the restaurant barefoot. As my parents were about to self-righteously point this out to me, proving that this restaurant was truly grotty, the waitress then proceeded to clean her feet with the rag she had just cleaned our table with. We couldn’t push away from our table fast enough, and were on our way out the door when we saw her go to another table to “clean” it with her foot rag.
Needless to say, my parents don’t trust my restaurant recommendations anymore, and I don’t trust any place that looks like it uses the set decorations for a B horror movie.
In Mexico we have a dish called “quesadillas.” [Editor’s Note: Normally I’d edit something like this out, but it was just too adorable that Ivan thought we might not know what quesadillas are.] They are popular all around the country, but Mexico City is the only place where they’re served with or without cheese. For every other state in Mexico, quesadillas go with cheese and then any other ingredient you wanna try it with. I’m from Mexico City and I actually don’t eat melted cheese (I don’t like it), so I never order quesadillas with cheese.
This one time I was visiting a very small town in Queretaro called Tequisquiapan. I was there with my family and we decided to go to a restaurant. From the get-go, the waitress who took charge of our table wasn’t the sharpest. First my father ordered, I don’t remember what dish, but she asked: “Did you say you wanted the pozole?”
[Editor’s Note: Doubly funny is that Ivan assumed we would know “pozole,” which, according to Wikipedia, is “a traditional soup or stew from Mexico, which once had ritual significance.”]
My dad got really excited, since he loves pozole and hadn’t seen it on the menu, and answered:
“I didn’t know you had pozole! Yes, I would like that, please.”
To which she replied: “No sir. We don’t serve that.”
But that wasn’t the worst part. Then I got my chance to order:
“I would like the potato and baloney quesadilla without the cheese, please.” [Editor’s Note: Ivan, buddy, presence of cheese aside, we are going to have to have some kind of a discussion here about the restaurant existence of a “potato and baloney” quesadilla.]
I could see the surprise on her face. Not new, since I knew I wasn’t in Mexico City and these kinds of things do happen. But I couldn’t have imagined what came next:
“No,” she said. “I cannot serve you a quesadilla without cheese.”
“Sure you can”, I replied. “Just don’t put any cheese in when you’re making it.”
I should stop for a moment to explain that quesadillas are made on the spot. They’re not a difficult dish to cook. You literally just have to fill a tortilla with whatever ingredient, then fold it, then heat it on a grill. It’s very easy to avoid putting any cheese in it.
“No. I cannot serve you a quesadilla without cheese because then I wouldn’t know how to price it,” she continued.
“Oh. I don’t mind. Charge it full price, just don’t put any cheese in it.”
“Then it wouldn’t be a quesadilla,” she said, “It would be a taco.”
“OK, then. Let’s call it a taco. I would like the potato and baloney taco, please.”
“We don’t have that on the menu.”
And then she left. She never brought me what I ordered and I had to watch my family eat and make fun of me (“See what happens when you don’t eat melted cheese?”) while I went through the menu to decide what else I could order that wouldn’t put our waitress in crisis mode.
That would have never happened in Mexico City.
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.