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 truly bad restaurant employees. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I used to work pastry at an upscale but aging restaurant in Denver. “Schooly D” was an intern working with us for a semester from a culinary school on the East Coast. The sous chef gave him the nickname, and for the life of me, I can’t remember his real name (when asked what Schooly D was supposed to mean, the sous would always say, “he just looks like a Schooly D!”).
One night on the lead up to the holiday season, we were particularly slammed and nothing could get out fast enough. Everyone was stressed, cooking as fast as possible while Chef yelled at us to pick up the pace (the vein on his forehead was visibly pulsating—never a good thing). The pressure got to Schooly D, who somehow forgot to take the pan off the stovetop before adding the vodka for the vodka cream sauce. Not surprisingly, this immediately started a fire inside the half-full handle of vodka.
Always cool under pressure, Schooly D decided he would squeeze the vodka bottle to get the flames out. He decided to squeeze the flames out of the burning vodka bottle. This was over 15 years ago, and I am now a high school teacher who specifically works with kids who have impulse control issues, and this is still the single most stupid thing I’ve ever seen a person do.
So Schooly gives that bottle a mighty squeeze, which means more vodka comes out, which means more flames. The entire line, about 7 feet long, goes up in flames, and lightly singe the ends of Chef’s hair. He had just gotten his previously quite shaggy hair cut that day. The bottle of vodka turns into a little rocket and shoots backward out of Schooly D’s hand straight into the trashcan.
Luckily, alcohol flames burn out quickly, and we got the trashcan under control before it spread. Chef was understandably a bit perturbed.
I was working at a Bonefish Grill almost a decade ago and generally loathed it somewhat less than my previous stint in retail, so was trying very, very hard to make a good impression.
My section receives the gift of a four top of grownups one Sunday, which I was already counting as a gracious gift from the normally cruel god of post-church shifts. On top of that – in a midwest chain restaurant! – they actually want to order cocktails. I’m already envisioning a post-shift cash out where I wouldn’t be harangued by management for not meeting our liquor percentage quotas, despite the fact that no one in the flyover states orders a $12 martini right after church.
Anyway, this is a four top of what seemed to be three generations. Everyone wants liquor. The obvious matriarch of the clan, who seemed like a really sharp octogenarian, orders a gin martini with bleu cheese olives. Resisting the urge to high-five her, I go to put the order in and feel someone gently touch my elbow. It’s a woman from the table who seems to be maybe 60-ish, and she gently tells me that her mother can’t drink our huge chain restaurant martini because of the medications she’s on.
“Make it half water, please. We’ll pay for the normal martini, and please don’t let her know,” she said, politely. “We want the receipt to look totally normal as well. We’ve been doing it this way for her for years and she won’t know the difference. It would be a huge favor to us.”
Grandma needs her liquor, and the kids are willing to pay for a half-water drink. I’m ok with this, so I add a “see server” note to the order in the system and walk over to the bar to explain this completely reasonable request to the bartender. The bartender, a smarmy little rat man with the personality of a jock strap and half its usefulness, sizes me up and declares “I won’t serve that.”
“What do you mean, you WON’T serve that?”
“I have a reputation to protect,” the turd grunted, as though he didn’t work at a chain restaurant bar in the middle of Bumblefuck, Nowhere. “I can’t have people thinking I serve watered-down drinks.”
Now, I wasn’t much of a drinker, but even I know that if your customer wants godforsaken Sprite in their 30 year Glenlivet, you shut up and serve it that way. Not this guy. He’s got power for the first time in his life and is drunk with it. I tell him just to make me the martini and I’ll do what I need to do. Now, he’s refusing to even make the ordered martini. I’m forced to run to the back, grab the GM, walk him to the bar, and go over all of this with him in the hopes of getting the drinks to my poor table before their appetizers come out. The GM sighs, tells him to make the drink, and walks back into his cave.
The bartender makes a full martini and stares me down. “It’s what’s on the ticket!”
So I’m forced to take this drink back into the kitchen, chill water in a water glass, pour out half the drink, mix in the cooled water, and get it back out to my poor table.
Everyone enjoys their meal. Everything is fine. I drop the check. All is well. Until they get up to leave, and the bartender comes running out to APOLOGIZE to the table for their “substandard martini” and to blame me for intentionally watering it down.
Grandma takes it in stride and tells him it tasted fine to her. The angel who had approached me with the strange order manages to hold it together long enough to usher her family out of the building without punching the asshole bartender in his smirking mouth.
I was working midnight at a grocery store because it paid better and I did not have to deal with customers. My sole responsibility was stacking food neatly on shelves and imparting that ability onto others.
One summer night, my manager came over and said “Hey, can you…train the new guy? Nobody else is willing to put up with him.” I stupidly agreed and the boss went and got a guy who I can only describe as a walking corpse. He shuffled around and answered questions with monosyllable grunts.
I had to show him how to open big cardboard boxes of groceries without cutting into the products (we called it facing the product) We were working in the “Things which pretend to be milk” aisle. If you could make a vaguely milk-looking fluid with it, we had it there. I thought he’d gotten the hang of it, so I excused myself to use the bathroom.
When I returned there were literally gallons of fake milk all over the shelves and floor. Anyone could make that mistake, right? The only thing is, each case only held about a gallon. He’d sliced several in a row, getting the same result each time and doing it again anyway.
I saw this and yelled “[ZOMBIE GUY]! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!?!?” He looked at me. Looked at the floor, looked at the shelf, floor, shelf, me. For a good ten seconds. Then he stopped, deep in thought. “…I think the milk… is… broken…” he finally said.
I walked into a busy Burger King while on a very quick break from my job. I stood in line for 10-15 mins or so before the cashier/cook even took my order which was some kind of deep-fried chicken burger.
The restaurant is set up so you can see everything the cooks are doing; you can see all the way to the back deep freeze, all the fryers and all the prep stations in this place, and there was a line up of at least 10 people waiting for food or waiting to order and generally just facing that direction and watching what was going on. So after I paid, I watched the cook walk back to the freezer and grab a big white bucket, which I can see is filled with chicken and a giant pair of tongs. Immediately after she came out of the freezer, she reached in with the giant tongs and pulled out the frozen chicken breast for my order and started the walk. As she took her first steps, the chicken slipped out of her tongs and landed on the floor, sliding 15 feet towards me through grease and lost french fries and shriveled brown lettuce and all manner of foulness that I can only imagine lives on the floor of a fast food restaurant kitchen. The cook, who was walking behind the sliding chicken breast with her tongs out, hoping to stop it, finally kicked the chicken into the base of the fryer. She then grabbed the chicken with her tongs, and instead of tossing it in the garbage and getting new tongs, she plopped the chicken back into the bucket, stirred it around, and picked out a “fresh” one for my order.
I quickly looked around and could see that I wasn’t the only one who saw it; customers had stopped and were staring right along with me. But I was clearly the only one horrified. After a brief moment of silence, business and conversations resumed as normal, and I was standing there with my mouth hanging open. I finally found my voice and said,”whoa whoa, I’m sorry, that just slid across the floor”
All I got was a blank stare. She was just standing there, still holding the “fresh” breast up in the air, ready to launch it into the fryer and looking at me with the most confused expression on her face.
I said again: “That just slid across the floor.”
“…so…I mean…..you stuck the dirty chicken breast that slid across the dirty floor back in with all the rest of that chicken.”
So I was just standing there with my mouth and eyes open wide and wondering if I was fucking crazy. I looked around at the all the people standing around me and the other cooks who had at that point all stopped to stare, and I realized NO ONE CARED. Not a soul in that place cared that they were going to serve food that fell on the ground. Not only that, but the food was placed back in with the “clean” food and had contaminated that as well.
Look, I’ve got two children and I’m not against picking something up off the kitchen floor, giving it a lick and giving it back to my kids, but this is a restaurant with regulations and standards. [Editor’s Note: Wow, you’ve never been inside a Burger King before, huh?]
The cook, finally able to see that I was trying to draw her attention to something, said, “so… do you still want this? I can grab a different one!” and just dropped the chicken back in and grabbed another one. I realized this was a losing battle and all of these people were bat-shit-crazy. All I could do was wait patiently while she refunded my money and I backed away slowly from the very-well hidden portal to this alternate universe I was clearly standing in, to never return.
I used to work at a Little Caesar’s. The crew there was pretty young (all teens except for the manager and me), but worked well together — but there was one girl, let’s call her Lisa, who just couldn’t seem to get much right. The manager usually kept her on drink and register duty.
After listening to her begging the manager to let her do something else, she was allowed to make the pizzas for a rather large order that had come in. Lisa was thrilled with the responsibility, and quickly had the pizzas in the oven.
About a half hour after the customer paid for and picked up her pizzas, the phone rang. It was the customer, and she was asking to speak to the manager IMMEDIATELY. The manager was apologizing profusely and asked the customer to PLEASE come back so the order could be remade and her money reimbursed.
The manager got off the phone and looked to see who had filled the order. Lisa, in her happy-go-lucky way, said, “That was the one I made!” Her smile didn’t last long after she was told what the customer had called for.
From that point on, EVERYONE had to wear gloves, no matter what they were doing. It would seem that bloody Band-Aids don’t make for very good pizza toppings. Lisa didn’t last long there.
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.