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 customers that were D-U-M. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
A while back, I was working at a local pizza joint as a delivery driver. It was the flagship store of a local chain, by dint of being in the most convenient location for the most drunks, the most students, and the most drunk students. It was locally famous for a very generous carry-out only deal — two 16 cheese pies for $9.99, at a time when that was the base price for a medium cheese at most other pizza places.
So it was hardly unusual when at about 11 pm on a Sunday night two youngish guys walked in, red-eyed and hungry-looking. We were due to close at midnight and were in full cleaning mode, getting as much done ahead of time as possible. I was up front with a broom, so I stepped up to the counter and put on my helpful face.
The two gents decided on the special, but as soon as I hit the button on the cash register to open the drawer, one made an abortive grab for the cash and the other tried to snatch our tip jar off the counter.
The tip jar was a gallon plastic pickle jar and was screwed to the countertop, so that didn’t work too well — that fellow got about 3 dollar bills and a few quarters for his trouble, and his partner didn’t even come close to the cash drawer as I bumped it shut with my hip. They panicked and dashed for the door, and I bellowed “what the fuck!” and brandished my broom at them.
At this point, my indignation got the better of me and I chased them out the door, and chucked my broom at them, like the world’s most awkward spear. They stumbled across the parking lot, and down the small hill to the church parking lot next door, with me still in hot pursuit. When I saw them fumbling with and failing to get onto their getaway bicycles, I thought I had them, and I could hear my coworker Dave behind me.
As they fled across the vacant lot behind the church, one of them turned to yell “You better back off, we’ve got knives!”
“You stop motherfuckers, we’ve got guns!”
At this point, I recalled that Dave had a concealed carry permit and was armed. And apparently dangerous. Our two would-be felons ran faster.
Despite the adrenaline surge, that warning shot must have provided them, I actually caught one of the miscreants and tackled him — holding him until the cops arrived. We all gave our statements and fuck-o went to jail. Dave’s citation for discharging a firearm within city limits was paid by the restaurant owner, and I nailed fuck-o’s hat to the wall in the office.
I worked in the Kosher Kitchen, this little segment of the dining hall that was run by Orthodox Jews and catered to Jews who keep kosher at a little liberal arts college in upstate New York.
There were untold numbers of people who would come up in twos and threes, where one of them would ask me, “What’s kosher mean?” and before I, the Orthodox Jew, who has kept kosher all her life, could do more than open her mouth, one of their friends would invariably say, “It’s when a Jewish priest/rabbi blesses the food.” (I have actually heard people say “Jewish priest”) Always. They always do that. When I explain that that’s not actually true at all, they usually nod and say, “Oh, that’s cool, I didn’t know that,” and we all go on with our lives.
Except for this one guy. This one self-assured, self-centered, “I know all the things” kinda guy. You know. He’s straight and white and cis and Christian and never worked in the service industry, if he’s ever worked at all, but he thinks he knows better than everybody in every place he walks into.
When one of this guy’s friends asks, “What’s kosher?” the guy says the above incorrect explanation. However, when I say, “Actually, no, the most a rabbi has to do with kashrut is supervision in restaurants,” the guy cuts me off and says, with all the confidence of someone who is totally wrong and refuses to acknowledge it, “No, actually, it is. I know these things.”
For the record, he’s very visibly wearing a little silver cross around his neck, so I know he’s not any kind of Jewish.
I, slightly stunned at his arrogance, say, “I’m sorry, but I think you don’t. Whoever told you that was misinformed or lying.”
He, offended, says to me, “How would you know?”
I say, “Because I’m Jewish, and I’ve been keeping kosher since birth, and I’ve worked here for a year now, and if all you had to do to make food kosher was to have a rabbi bless it, then why wouldn’t that work on bacon? It’s still not kosher. It never will be.”
I could see him winding up to tell me all the ways I’m wrong and cite all of his “sources” and completely ignoring everything I said while I spoke, but I never found out what his retort would have been, because his very embarrassed friend thanked me for the information and dragged him away without getting anything. That was a fun time.
I walked into McDonald’s the other day, and got in line behind the guy who was placing his order. He was wearing a dirty looking flannel shirt and a phone headset, and I would bet money he hadn’t showered in a few days based on his appearance. When I walked up, he was finishing his order. All I caught was “and some mashed potatoes.”
The guy behind the counter was so shocked that somebody tried to order mashed potatoes that he couldn’t even respond for a few seconds. He finally managed to say “uhhhhh… we don’t have mashed potatoes…” and the guy seemed completely shocked that McDonald’s didn’t have mashed potatoes for him. The cashier eventually got him to get an order of fries, but he didn’t seem very happy about it.
It was everything I could do to not laugh my ass off at this guy.
A group of six of us flew out from LA to Dallas in 2009 to see the Cowboys play in what was then their brand new, state-of-the-art stadium. The Saturday before the game, we were looking for some stuff to do to kill the time. We were in our twenties, young, and in Dallas for the first time. Three of us who were a little more tourist-minded decided to go check out the JFK Museum at Dealey Plaza, while another three decided to go watch some games at some Hooters knock-off called “Winghouse” to kick back some beers and watch some games.
We finish up the museum in a couple hours, and our buddies are still at Winghouse. There’s going to be a UFC fight, and we should get over there to join them, they tell us. All told, our group squats at this table for a grand total of 3-4 hours, first for the pre-game and then for the UFC fight. We eat a couple plates of wings, but we must have had 10-12 pitchers of beer between the six of us. Fight is over, all but one of us are pretty drunk and ready to roll, they bring the check over, and because I’m low on cash, I offer to put in on my card and collect cash from my buddies. I don’t recall the exact total anymore — somewhere around $200 dollars — but I did what many native Californians do for tip: I doubled the tax. CA sales tax is often around 9% so doubling the tax is usually a pretty reasonable tip.
I was drunk, so I didn’t realize this at the time, but for some reason the tax on our bill was only $4. Which meant my stupid drunk ass tipped $8 on a bill that was easily in the $200 range. I guess Texas doesn’t always tax on beer/alcohol sales, I later found out?
At any rate, I somehow discovered my error in the cab on the way home while looking at my receipt and I was absolutely mortified. My father, a server most of my childhood, had died about 10 days before this trip, and for whatever reason this was the straw that broke the camels back. I burst into tears in the cab, drunkenly sobbing with what I can only call “sad-gression,” which is a mix of rage and sadness, terrifying my driver and my friends. When I got back to the hotel, I called the restaurant back and slurred my way through asking them to charge me another $50 for a tip, which they agreed to do. One of my other buddies had stayed behind to flirt with a waitress — our server apparently came up after we left and asked if there was a problem with the service, and he gave her $30 in cash, so she ended up getting double-tipped, which is only fair for how she must have felt when I stiffed her.
So the story has a happy ending, but I learned a valuable lesson about not lazily doubling tax. Now I just always calculate 10% of the total and double that as my minimum.
Every server/bartender has a particular guest they have come to loathe with every fiber of their being. Most of us, even years after the fact, can remember their exact order or reason why they were so infuriating. My guy was “Fish Nugget Guy.” The pub I worked in had a large space in the back that could be rented out for large parties, and if you had 25 or more people, you could order a buffet style meal for your guests. On this special menu were our usual fish and chips, only the fish was sectioned into pieces that could be picked up with a toothpick to ease serving for large groups. These fish nuggets were never on the regular menu, and if someone asked, we were to tell them that we offered that exclusively for large parties.
Of course, one guy just couldn’t get the message, and he would order them every time. The first time, we had a long drawn out debate on why he couldn’t order them, with his main point being that “I’ve had them here before!” The second time he tried it he came with a new argument that while they aren’t on the menu, “Maybe they should be and you guys are missing out on a goldmine!” The third time, and yes he did try a third time, he decided to reason that the cook’s job would not be made harder by sectioning one piece of fish into about 10 smaller ones, battering them individually and then frying them simultaneously. After being told no, he tried to get tricky by tracking down other servers, to no avail. The last time he took a run at it, he called the front desk and specifically asked NOT to be transferred to the bar for a carryout order. When I picked up the phone and he heard my voice, he asked to talk to the hostess again. We both observed him emerge from the men’s room and walk back to his seat at the bar like nothing happened, still holding his cell phone. The hostess for the evening, in a stroke of genius, called the number back and when he picked up, she informed him that we could not accommodate his request for fish nuggets.
He never came back after that.
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.