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 genuinely fantastic restaurant customers. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
For three weeks in the summer of 2008, I delivered sandwiches for Jimmy John’s in the suburbs of Chicago. My delivery zone was extremely unusual. Within three miles of my store was a shopping mall, the corporate headquarters for at least three major corporations, and loads of strip malls. There were also a lot of residential subdivisions full of McMansions (rapidly being foreclosed upon).
One of these subdivisions was notorious for not tipping. One address in particular was known for running a $19.87 tab and handing the driver a $20. Anyway, it was late on a Saturday evening, and I was heading into this subdivision…and I got lost. Suddenly all the houses looked more alike than usual, and the numbering didn’t make sense. I tried using an early version of Google Maps, but it sent me to the wrong place.
Finally I found the house, and ran to the door with apologies in tow. A woman in an evening gown opened the door with a big smile. I immediately started in with the excuses, but she interrupted me. “You tried to use Google didn’t you?”
“Ooh yeah that doesn’t work so well. Hopefully they can fix that. I’m so sorry you had such a hard time this evening. We’re just happy to eat though, so don’t worry about it. Thanks!” And with that, she handed me payment for the meal and a $50 tip, and closed the door.
I thought I had died.
I used to work at the campus Taco Bell in college. Since Taco Bell was one of the very few places on campus you could get food for a dollar or two, we’d often get all the football players in to fill up on something that wasn’t burgers or the soup of the week so popular in the dining halls.
One day, a rather popular running back came in, and as I handed him his Baja Blast, I said sympathetically, “I hope that ankle sprain won’t keep you out of action long.” He jumped back like I’d brandished a gun at him and said, “How’d YOU know about THAT?” I explained I read about it in the campus paper that morning, and I’d seen the game he’d had to leave the Saturday before. He narrowed his eyes and said I couldn’t have known it was him because he’d paid with cash, not a card. I had to laugh at that point and explain I loved football and followed it religiously, and proceeded to scare him shitless by reciting his height, weight, 40 time, his stars as a prospect, number of starts and what high school he’s from.
The next day he was back with two friends, who I correctly identified, and after that, it became a game and we got quite friendly. The one that I remember most is when he brought in an offensive lineman and said triumphantly, “You won’t recognize him!” I looked at his friend, who was every inch of 6’6 and around 250 lbs, then looked back at the running back and said, “If you want to challenge me, shouldn’t you pick someone who was ranked less than four stars by Rivals?” I then asked the lineman by name what kind of drink he would like, and he just laughed while the running back facepalmed himself into eternity.
I was going to the University of Utah when the 2002 Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City. Everyone was hiring temp workers for the weeks leading up to and during the Olympics, so I got a job at a local brewpub to make some extra cash. I was a pretty terrible server. I tried, but I just don’t have the temperament. That job left me with a massive amount of respect for restaurant workers.
Anyway, I was working a lunch rush during maybe my second week when I got sat with a four top. I took their drink order, loaded it on my tray, and walked back to the table. For some reason I’m still kicking myself for today, I started unloading the tray by grabbing the cup farthest away from my body, which then destabilized the tray, and I dumped four large cups of soda on the entire table. As the last of the liquid dribbled from the table onto my customer’s laps, I heard someone say “Just in time!”
I looked up and my mom was standing here. She had walked in right as I had dumped the tray. All I could say was “Hi mom” and everyone lost it. Everyone who saw and heard what happened, even the now-soaking diners, laughed for a very long time, while I was mortified and wanted to disappear.
It turns out that my customers had all worked as servers in college and told me their stories of spilling on diners. They then left me a very good tip even though most of their bill was comped. I strive to be as nice as them every time I eat out.
I was waiting tables at a semi-trendy burgers and beer place at 8 PM on a Tuesday. Place was pretty dead, and I was sort of killing time when a dude walked in with a woman. Both of them were dressed completely normally in t-shirts and jeans. I motioned for him to sit wherever, and they set themselves up at a table next to the window. I dropped off menus, waited five minutes, then went over to get drink orders.
“What can I get y –“
“Hello. I am Doctor Acula, and this…this is my bride.” The man interrupted me, speaking in the most ridiculously fake vampire accent I have ever heard. It was basically just The Count. He gave me their drink and food orders (both vegan burgers, for extra strangeness) without once dropping the accent.
I sort of shrugged and went to drop off the order. Then, since the place was dead, I started sort-of hanging around Dr. Acula’s table doing busy work. He chugged his beer, talked with his wife about her day, and then began discussing how much he enjoyed the series “Black-ish,” all in that absurd accent. It was about 10 minutes before their burgers came out, and I swear the dude never once spoke normally.
I dropped their burgers and did a few checks to make sure everything came out okay. For all their absurdity, Dr. Acula and his bride seemed genuinely pleased with their burgers. They ate pretty quickly, paid their bill, left me a 30% tip, and left.
I don’t know what the fuck was going on with that fake accent (god I hope it wasn’t a sex thing) [Editor’s Note: It was definitely a sex thing.] but it did make that shift less boring.
I worked for a while as a bartender and waitress at a now-defunct Providence restaurant near Brown University. On the bar side, we tended to collect a sedate group of regulars — business people, some Brown profs and grad students. On the restaurant side, the ideal customer was more like the parent of a Brown student: well-heeled enough to pay the exorbitant price of our quiche; dim enough to believe that a French name on an egg dish elevated it. The restaurant was popular for business lunches, so we kept lunch going rather late — 2:30 — and those who arrived after were asked to sit in the sunny pleasant bar and given a late lunch menu. It took some time to change over the room for dinner, so we would lock the restaurant door precisely at 2:30, but the adjacent bar door was always open.
One day — I was working in the dining room that shift — my coworker had just changed the menu in the front hall and was about to lock the door, when a mother and her daughter pushed in. We knew them well; the mother always ordered the quiche and they generally tipped well. My coworker headed them off at the hall, explaining that they could sit in “the lovely sunny wooden-floored bar which even has vibrant murals — it’s like being in Europe in there.” I have a distinct memory of the mother’s head and neck craning around her, peering into the dining room where she spotted a customer who had just been seated ten minutes earlier. She was observant (and cunning) because she pointed out that the other customer had just been served with bread — a clear sign that though he had ordered, it hadn’t been long ago. We explained that we needed to change over the dining room etc., and promised that we’d make sure they could order from the full menu in our nice, sunny bar.
The mother dug in — “we’ve been coming here for years” etc. — and so did we, to the point that the bartender, who acted as the de facto manager, came over, just in time to hear “would it really kill you to let us sit in the dining room?” I think the bartender just didn’t want them herself, so in flagrant disregard of all solidarity, she seated them in the booth next to the other customer. The two tables made a strange pair because the duo was predictably twin-setted, and the one-top was a man in his thirties with multiple piercings and a mohawk. I think one of the causes of the entitlement flare-up was that the mother saw this from the door, and couldn’t accept that he was seated when they could not be, though the critical issue was that he had arrived fifteen minutes before the dining room closed.
They proceeded to order quiche and talk about Jesus. Well, perhaps not Jesus himself (that would be too evangelical for the waspish WASPs) but about church business: the new plans, the function, who bought tickets, who had signed up to do what. “Church,” “our church work,” “church ministry” — that was the whole topic of the day.
Soon after the pair’s menus had been taken and they were served with bread, the pierced mohawk wearer stood up, having paid his bill immediately after finishing (of course he did, while they would go on to linger). After pulling on his jacket, he paused at their booth. “Ma’am, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation about your church work.” They looked up at him, pleased and expectant. “And I wanted to tell you that Jesus would have sat in the bar.”
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.