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 stories of incredibly terrible people to grace the door of a restaurant. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
This tale hearkens back to a simpler time, a time when the very first Harry Potter film had just been released. The culinary world was graced with a new confection — Bertie Botts’ Every Flavour Beans — but they were only available for sale in the cafe area of big-box-bookstores. As a barista, an unfortunate amount of my time was spent either ringing these tiny cloth pouches up or making sure they didn’t walk off.
One thing to know about my crazy-ass state is that there were four levels of sales tax: 1) retail 2) eat-in food 3) to-go food 4) grocery — in order from most expensive (almost 9%) to least (3/4%). This was of zero concern to baristas other than pressing a button for here if we gave a person a real glass/mug. Tax #1 was charged to every packaged foodstuff because…neither a bookstore nor a cafe qualifies as a grocery store. Just in case that doesn’t make sense to every reader, please allow me to reiterate: according to the complicated tax laws of my state — a grocery store is the only type of store allowed to charge grocery tax, and even then, only on groceries…i.e. food-type necessities. Not too complicated.
So on Christmas Eve, after I rang up a woman for a to-go coffee plus three bags of Bertie Botts’ and dismissed her to the end of the bar to pick up the drink, I was surprised to see her wander back to me, scrutinizing her receipt with a perplexed look on her face.
“Miss, I think you charged me wrong.”
Me: “Oh, sorry, did I scan the jellybeans too many times?” (This was common)
Her: “No, the tax is wrong.”
Me: “Oh, sorry, did I charge you for-here? That’s odd, because the register default is to-go.” (This was less common, but upon finding out that the price-difference would result in being handed pennies, most people refused my offer to process the “exchange”)
Her: “No, for the jellybeans. SEE? You charged me RETAIL tax.” She thrust the receipt under my nose, shaking it, which clearly made it easier for my eyes to focus on and detect the issue.
Me: “Oh, uhm, yeah, that’s actually right. Since we don’t make the jellybeans, they don’t count for our food tax.”
Her: “Obviously. But they’re food, so they should be grocery. This is completely wrong.” (Accompanied by an eye-roll so large it made me wince on behalf of her optic nerve)
Me: “Well, the register is pre-programmed to calculate the tax, so I don’t really have any say in that. I can call the manager for you if you like.”
Her: “The cash register is programmed that way? So you are overcharging customers and then only giving the state tax for grocery items?!? You make me sick. I don’t have time to wait for a manager. It’s Christmas. I have to drive to see my family. Just change the tax amount, give me my refund, and tell your manager to reprogram the cash register so you are not embezzling money from unsuspecting citizens.”
Me: “Erm, I can’t change the tax amount, I don’t have the right authorization to do that. So, either way, you’ll have to wait for a manager, since she needs to sign off on the transaction. If you’d like to return the jellybeans and come back for them another day when your family’s not waiting…” 15-years-younger me had plenty of customer-service experience, but was still shocked by the unexpected meltdown that you all can see coming. FYI: the price difference was in the area of $1.92.
Her: “NO. I canNOT just RETURN the JELLYbeans! Do you think I eat these myself? These are PRESENTS! For the CHILDREN! And they are EXPECTING ME!”
At this point, I had already moved to the phone to dial the manager’s mobile phone. I also wished we weren’t required to keep our purses and wallets in our lockers, because I would have given this person $2 to STFU and GTFO. The manager just answered the phone “on my way” due to the histrionics that were audible across the entire small store. While we were waiting, her drink was called at the end of the bar. Enter manager, before customer got her drink. Manager: “I’m so sorry for your wait, ma’am, what seems to be the problem?”
As she loudly and vehemently described our insidious plot to cheat innocent but oblivious customers out of what must amount to thousands of dollars a year in misappropriated sales tax, accused this mid-level-manager of incorrectly programming corporate machines, and then expanded her theory to all stores in the chain, resulting in probably millions of taxpayer dollars, I went about my sidework. As the manager valiantly tried every corporate-trained method of conflict-resolution in her repertoire, the customer began insisting the register be reprogrammed right now, in front of her very eyes, as well as being issued her refund.
The manager diplomatically explained that 1) the woman is not technically owed a refund, as jellybeans in a cloth pouch do not constitute groceries, nor is a bookstore qualified as a grocery store, but we’ll offer her the difference back as a matter of “Customer Satisfaction,” and 2) reprogramming the registers today is an impossible request, as it is a holiday, but she would be happy to research the matter, and if the customer would like to leave contact information, someone would get back to her with the findings. Until then, would she like her [g.d.] refund?
Unacceptable. Just because it was a holiday, why did that mean the citizens should continue to be cheated? In fact, because it was a holiday, all the more reason to break this ridiculous practice and give people back their hard-earned money. And quickly, because she needed to be on the road to go see her family.
The manager was truly sorry the customer felt that way, but as she had been offered a refund and refused, there was nothing else the manager could do for her at that time. On Christmas Eve, there was no one at Corporate HQ to answer the question of appropriate tax. Manager repeated the reassurance that the store would look into the matter of just what qualifies as “grocery” according to tax law, wished her a Happy Holiday, and disappeared through an employee-only door.
At that point, the woman picked up her bag of bags of jellybeans and turned to leave. An unsuspecting bookseller wandered past the cafe looking for stray books, and the customer pounced, with the same oh-so-effective method of shoving the receipt under the bookseller’s nose and shaking it. I let out my breath in a snort, made eye contact with the bookseller, shook my head, and went into the back room to wash dishes. As I went about my closing duties, I continued to see the customer confront every. Single. Employee. At least once. Most of them came over to my counter to complain about this woman’s vendetta, which had continued to escalate. This was a matter of PRINCIPLE. She would report us to the SECRETARY OF STATE until EVERY CUSTOMER EVER was given back the tax difference.
When the manager made the first-warning announcement (at 30 minutes before close, since it was a holiday, and we closed early), the customer approached her a second time, near enough for me to see and hear. The manager took $2 out of her own pocket and said loudly, “I cannot help you. You told me an hour ago you needed to leave to see your family. Take the money or don’t, but you need to go have your Happy Holiday.” I will remember these words forever.
The woman clutched her bag, zipped her coat, and left.
Seeing her exit, I finally picked up her stone-cold 20oz. Gingerbreggnolidaywhatever that cost her upwards of $5 off the counter where it had been waiting the whole time, tossed it, wiped down the counter, went into the dishroom, stuffed my apron into my mouth and combination laughed/cried/screamed for about 10 seconds.
Merry Effing Exmas.
I was 18 years old and freshly discharged from the Marine Corps with no job prospects when my aunt decides to invite me out to a dive bar that she bartends at. Having nothing better to do, I go out there to hang out and play some pool. The owner of the bar is there that night and he offers me a job. I am still young and naive and do not realize that this offer stems from the fact that I am female, in good shape, and fresh meat. Also, this is in Florida at a time when you only have to be 18 to serve beer and wine and because this is a dive bar, that is all they serve.
So I show up the next night ready to start my shift at my first “real” job. About halfway through the night, this short, round, biker by the name of Popeye shows up. The night wears on and as he is about to order a third beer, he calls me over to make a wager.
“What’s your name?” he asks. I tell him. He says,”I bet you a beer that I have your name tattooed on my dick.”
Again, freshly discharged from the Marines, I am not clutching my pearls at this point and just laugh it off. Then he proceeds to show me. He unzips his pants and pulls out his dick. In what can only be described as green prison ink, he does indeed have “YOUR NAME” scrawled on the shaft of his dick. I buy him his next beer and continue to work there for another six months, because I am a masochist.
In the 80s, I attended a small Christian college in Oklahoma and worked in the dish room to earn tuition money. It was every bit as soggy and gross as you’d imagine, but we were all young, dumb, and able to make a game out of just about anything.
The diners were expected to drop their silverware down a chute and then set their trays on top of 1 of 2 separate conveyor belts that would bring back the dirty dishes, glasses, and leftover food (soooo much wasted food). Each worker on the line was responsible for grabbing one thing: glasses, plates, bowls. The speed of the conveyor belts lent an odd sense of urgency (or challenge) to the proceedings for us workers.
Since college students can be assholes, they found many ways to torture us poor saps in the dish room. A few of the low-lights: food/condiment sculptures, using peanut butter to “glue” many plates or bowls together, many full glasses of “stuff” on one tray, and several tables leaving in unison and placing way too many trays on one belt. All of these hilarious hi-jinks were done by good, God-fearing kids.
But one stunt stands out above all others. Some evil bastard smeared honey on a tray then flipped a glass full of ice onto the honey. The honey hardened and fastened the glass to the tray. The first time I witnessed this act of jackassery (it was repeated too often throughout the year), the person responsible for the glasses was a sweet little church-mouse of a girl who never said more than “hi” to me. We were buried by the dinner rush and moving as fast as possible when a “honey glass” came through. My co-worker grabbed the glass, yanked it toward her… and pulled the entire full tray off the conveyor belt. Wet food splashed up on her apron and face, plates and bowls hit the ground and shattered, and the glass ended up breaking in her (fortunately) gloved hand.
She stood stunned for a moment as the sounds of male laughter drifted in from the silverware chute. Then she leaned down so her voice would carry up the chute and cussed those guys out loudly and eloquently. We know her voice carried as several RAs came back to confront the offending swearer. Of course, none of us knew what the RAs were talking about since we were all VERY hard at work.
I’m not sure where that church mouse learned all of those phrases, but I still use “motherless fucking whore” when I’m really angry.
The morning of December 24th, 2014, I awakened after a scant six hours of sleep from the double shift the day before. As our fairly litigious roast beef-slicing restaurant opened at ten but remained so only until six pm, I had hopes that I might make it to our family’s Christmas Eve celebration for the first time in many years. I was, sadly, very mistaken.
Known well to our general and district managers, there had been issues with the plumbing for the last several weeks, with repeated calls to both upper management, our main maintenance worker, and an outside plumber, we had believed it to be mostly settled. The day carried on in normal business, and we all started our closing procedures with happy hearts, cheerful and full of joy… when first came the rush…and then, the smell.
In our insistence on closing early, an irate customer decided to flush something not meant to be flushed, and in doing so, flooded our bathrooms, our lobby, and our back storage (because why would the pipes run properly? That would be preposterous!). Deciding they would not be held responsible for the mess, all of my crew left promptly forty-five minutes later, while I was handling the mess in the back. I spent the next four hours cleaning up the disgusting slop that kept sullenly boiling up out of the women’s restroom and our back drain. [Editor’s Note: Anyone who has ever had to clean multiple gendered bathrooms is not surprised this happened in the women’s room.]
Christmas was not very merry that year.
Earlier this year I finished a two year run at a local family owned pizzeria in L.A County. It was a nice place in a relatively calm town, nothing too special, but even small towns have strange people.
Two months before my last day, we were getting pretty slammed due to a boxing match and a fundraiser happening on the same day. During this rush, my boss was working with us, mainly just making sure customers were happy and no one was waiting too long. So when we received a call from a delivery customer claiming we burned his food (we didn’t, I was working the oven and saw every pizza go in and out), she tried her best to reach a solution with him.
Five minutes later, she was almost ready to yell at the phone and hung up. She approached me, as I was manager for the day, and informed me that a man named Dave would be coming here soon and she would like my help talking to him. I said okay, and she walked away to wait by the front door.
Three hours passed, we were thirty minutes from closing, the rush had passed, and Dave was a no-show. My boss decided he wasn’t going to show, told me the usual closing spiel, and left to go home.
Ten minutes later as we were starting basic closing duties and helping the last stragglers get to-go boxes, a truck skidded into the parking lot, double parked, and killed the engine. Dave had arrived, and he was angry.
The register girl, the poor rookie, was getting chewed out by him by the time I had arrived at the front. The second I stepped up, she stepped back and Dave shifted his conversation from her to me. I could smell the booze on his breath. The conversation then went like this (basically verbatim, because whatever god of pizza there is refused to let me forget):
“Hi, what seems to be the problem?”
“Where the fuck is that pizza bitch? She here, boy?” (Note: I am a Mexican-American and was 20 at the time; old enough to know that when an older white man is calling you boy, he probably means it in a racist way)
“I’m sorry, she’s gone for the day, but she told me about you. You must be Dave. How can I help with your complaint?”
“Boy I don’t want you, I want that Nazi. She’s here. She fucked up my food, her and you pricks.” At this point, the stench of the alcohol was so thick on him I knew there was no helping him; he was too drunk to care.
“Sir, you’re causing a scene. I’m going to have to ask you to leave. “
One of delivery drivers, a former Marine, was waiting by the kitchen entrance ready to beat this man. Leaving was the best thing Dave could do at that point.
“You can’t make me leave. You fucking Nazi, you’re all fucking Nazi assholes. Your food is garbage, you are shit, and everyone here can go to hell.”
“If I can’t make you, the police can.”
For a second, I thought he was going to come around the counter (the driver later told me he wanted the guy to try so he could lay him flat) but instead he stumbled backward and busted back through the door. He flipped us off a few more times, then got in his car and floored it in reverse, leaving us all slightly afraid and very confused.
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.