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 bonkers tales from fast food joints. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I worked at a McDonald’s for about three years, and one thing I tried to do when I worked there was make sure I had a stockpile of each of the happy meal toys ready under my register in case some kid wanted a specific one. Basically, I figured “if I can keep the kids happy, they’ll be less obnoxious.”
Anyway, one day I’m not working register, but I’m running for front counter, and I hear this little girl say “Look mommy! A Barbie! I want a Barbie!” So I rummage through my toys to find that oh crap, I’m out of Barbies, but I do have Barbie BRACELETS. I decided to give her one of each one because screw it, it’s one extra toy, McDonald’s can live.
So I turn around, with her happy meal, both bracelets at the ready, smile on, sure I’m just about to make this little girl’s day with her beautiful new Barbie bracelets.
SHE HAS NO ARMS. Literally. Both arms are just gone at the bicep.
I’m standing there now slackjawed and turning multiple shades of red before I snap out of it and apologize profusely. I found some other Barbie toy gave it to her, as well as a free sundae. I have never ever been more embarrassed in my life, and hopefully I didn’t upset that poor girl too much.
The craziest thing that ever happened to me at Starbucks was during one of the awful, practically middle-of-night opening shifts. One fine Sunday morning, this guy — a regular — came in, and ordered a triple espresso and a separate Venti cup of ice. Most baristas will recognize this scam — they pour the espresso over the ice, then fill the cup up with free milk from the espresso bar, essentially getting an iced latte at quite the discount. It never really bugged me that they were getting something they hadn’t paid for. It was more that these people were usually rude and entitled, with this weird self-satisfaction that they were pulling off some awesome heist.
Case in point: this dude came in and pulled this on us all the time, but on this day decided to bring his whole family — like six people. He ordered the same thing for everyone. We made the drinks, whatever. It was starting to get a bit busy. The guy came back to the bar and put the empty half and half carafe on the counter. “It’s empty,” he said, with a bit more attitude than I was prepared to accommodate from someone who was already so obviously self-assured that he had pulled a fast one that he’d brought his entire family in to do it as well. I sent off our little trainee to grab another one and told the dude to sit tight. There’d be more coming out soon. I went back to making drinks. I guess “instantly” was the only response time this guy was comfortable with, so when my trainee didn’t reappear within ten seconds he started screaming at me and my co-worker, “Get the fucking milk! You cunt! Get the fucking milk now!”
We went into crisis lockdown mode and hit the floor just as he chucked his espresso at us. The shift supervisor came running out of the back, saw us crouched behind the bar while this guy continues to scream for free milk for his family, and asked what was going on. I told her he ordered a trippio and a venti cup of ice.
She didn’t really need to hear anything. I could tell she’d been waiting for this day for a long time. She looks straight at the guy: “You need to LEAVE.”
I fly to NYC pretty much once a month for work, and as a frequent flier I am well versed in JFK’s many offerings and quirks. My normal move is to get through security and immediately head over to Starbucks because the line is normally insane and I need iced coffee like a margarita needs tequila. On the day in question I get in line (only four people in front of me, score!) and order my traditional and very easy to make drink, “Venti iced coffee with a splash of coconut milk unsweetened.” I pay and wait in the weird pickup/loading zone.
I’m standing there for a few minutes waiting and a line really starts building behind me. I should mention two of the people who ordered before me were airport employees. One guy gets his drink and then one of the employees puts out a “Venti iced coffee.” I move to pick up my drink and one of the airport guys cuts me off and grabs the drink then turns to me and says, “This one’s mine.”
I apologized and move back to my waiting spot. The guy picks up the drink, looks at it and then reiterates, “Yup, definitely mine.” before leaving. Now, I’m sure you can guess what happened afterwards. One of the employees ends up setting down an iced four-shot macchiato with caramel. The drink sits on the counter as more and more people get their drinks and I’m still standing there looking at my boarding pass and my phone, waiting for my iced coffee and no one is picking up the giant monstrosity sitting on the counter.
At this point, I’m pretty sure that the airport asshole with the fancy drink order absconded with my drink, but now I have to be THAT person who is leaning on the barista counter all like “Where’s my drink, boo?” But I decide that caffeine was too important to forgo, so I politely inquire about my iced coffee from the speedy Starbucks employee slinging drinks and he looks at the lone iced drink on the counter, then at me, and goes “Oh man, that guy took your drink. I’ll make you a new one.”
He splashed it up super quickly and as I’m picking up my new iced coffee off the counter, I see the airport coffee thief hustling back to the condiment counter to grab a handful of sugar packets. It wasn’t that he accidentally took my drink… it was that he looked me dead in the eye and said “Yup, definitely mine,” while walking away with a drink that looked absolutely NOTHING like ordered other than having ice. It’d be like me going to the vet with my tabby and taking someone else’s bengal cat because HEY, I brought one cat in, I should get to take one out, right?
My first waitressing job was at Steak ‘n Shake. I was hired for a brand new store that had not yet opened, so we had various orientations and trainings in our empty store, then a week or so of shadowing the wait staff at the existing store about five miles away. Our store opened, people came, we worked. Everything was fairly normal – some rude customers, some nice ones, mostly crappy tippers because the food was so cheap, etc. – for the first few weeks.
Then one afternoon, my manager pulled me aside frantically. A regular customer of the other store was coming to our location check us out, and there were VERY SPECIFIC requirements for serving him:
He is to be seated at the first table closest to the kitchen in the smoking section. Before he arrives: Brew a fresh pot of regular coffee, NOW, and put it in a carafe. Replace the sweetener caddy that has all the types of packets with one filled completely with Sweet ‘n Low. When he sits down, DO NOT ASK HIM WHAT HE WANTS TO DRINK. Bring him the coffee carafe and a mug – and a soup bowl full of creamers, at least twenty, not the usual finger bowl of 5-6. AFTER he has had his first cup of coffee, you can go take his order as usual. When he is finished eating check if he wants more coffee. Do you understand? Get the table ready, NOW, I’ll check it when you’re done.
OKAY…I was terrified. TERRIFIED. By this point in my very short serving career, I had already had people yell and me and verbally abuse me over practically nothing. How horrible is this guy that my manager is this wound up about it?
He turned out to be not a big deal. He was a normal looking dude, not very tall, slim build, glasses. He was gruff and not very talkative, but not mean. I followed the coffee instructions carefully. He ordered a burger with fries and a side salad with ranch on the side. No dessert. No complaints. He left an unremarkable tip – decent, not huge, not stingy. He paid and left.
This is maybe not the strangest story ever, but more than sixteen years later, I still want to know what the deal was. How do you become an infamous regular of a Steak ‘n Shake of all things? Who was that guy? Was he an owner or something? And/or WHAT happened at the other location? Or was my manager just messing with me?
It’s weird enough that I still remember his coffee rules, what he looked like, and what he ordered. It haunts me that I will never know.
My family and I have a tradition of taking long road trips out across the country for some hiking and camping once a year. And generally, that means a lot of fast food stops during the drive. Now, my brother and I have always been pretty picky eaters, moreso when we were little. When we ordered a burger, we always wanted it plain – that is, just the meat patty and the bun. A lot of places either have a different definition of “plain” (putting the “standard” array of condiments on instead of nothing), a different definition of “hamburger” (including cheese even though we didn’t say cheeseburger), or the employees would simply make mistakes.
I say all this to explain why we got in the habit of stressing just how plain we want the hamburgers to be, and checking them thoroughly the minute they’re in our hands. It’s happened to us enough times that we anticipate it, and just calmly get it exchanged for the correct burger. My parents, on the other hand, had much less restrictive tastes, and more often than not could just eat whatever if the order didn’t come out exactly right.
So, on to the story. On one trip several years ago, we stopped at a Carl’s Jr., a place we’d never heard of because they didn’t exist around us. But they had burgers and fries, so that was good enough. Mom and I went inside to place the order, then we got our food and headed back out to the parking lot.
I checked my burger and my brother’s as we walked, and we were pleasantly surprised to see they’d gotten it all correct. Then we were back on the road, Mom was passing out the food, and everyone was happy.
And then Mom bit into her chili burger.
Because of the aforementioned circumstances, we’d always vigorously checked the burgers to make sure they were plain — but we never bothered much with my parents’ food. This would have been the time to do it. Something was definitely off with this chili burger, so Mom opened it up. On the bun was a small-ish pile of chili, and nothing else. No meat patty.
So we turned around and headed back to Carl’s Jr., because that’s a pretty unsatisfying burger. She headed back inside with her usual patient Mom demeanor, and this time the manager is at the counter. She explained the problem, and handed over the problematic sandwich.
With a great sigh, the manager glanced at the employees and took the chili burger. She opened it up, looked at Mom, and said, “This keeps happening…and I don’t know why.”
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.