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 our old standby: truly horrible restaurant customers. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
The summer between high school and college I worked at a Jack in the Box. This one night, I was working drive-thru. We had closed the dining room around 10:00p, but on weekends the drive-thru stayed open 24 hours. It’s usually pretty quiet most nights, so the entire staff was just me and the guy working the grill, a Vietnam-era veteran with a touch of PTSD. Nice guy.
At the time (circa 1980), the bars in Arizona closed at 1:00 am, so we’d usually get a “drunk rush” from around 1:15 – 2:00 am. This night’s was a bit lighter than most, perhaps because it was the 4th of July and most folks were out getting drunk and driving elsewhere, or they’d already had their fill of burgers from backyard cook-outs.
Around the end of drunk rush a car pulled into the drive-thru. I greeted them as usual (at their end, the drive-thru patrons talked to the big Jack head) and I heard the car’s occupants murmuring among themselves, “We have to order something.” “What?” “Anything.” I’d heard this conversation many times; folks often wouldn’t know what they wanted until they were parked at the talking clown. After a moment or so, they ordered something innocuous — a couple of burgers and some fries, probably, and I asked them to drive on through.
The car pulled around as I was filling their bag with burgers and whatnot, and when they arrived at the window, I saw it was a carload of young men about my own age. As I gave them their total and waited for the cash, I saw a lighter flick on in the darkness of the car — a cigarette being lit, I supposed.
It was not a cigarette. It was a string of firecrackers, which were then perfectly thrown AT MY FACE, the first Black Cat exploding as it hit my nose. I fell backward, certain I’d been shot, and the rest of the string detonated around my feet BANGBANG BANGITTY BANGBANGBANG. The guy flipping the burgers was also certain they were shooting; he dropped his spatula and dove under the grill.
Once I realized that I hadn’t been shot (and thanked God for my quick eyelid reflexes), I got mad. As the car with its laughing passengers peeled out, I jumped out of the drive-thru window to try to get a good description of the vehicle. I got a partial license plate and partial description which I relayed to the cops in a breathless phone call. “Someone threw firecrackers through the drive-thru window at Jack In The Box? Yeah, we’ll get right on it …”
The grill-guy eventually crawled out, punched out, and went home, leaving me alone for the remainder of my shift. I never heard a word of follow-up from the police. Aside from some ringing in my ears, I escaped pretty much unscathed. But the worst part: I was born on the fifth of July. So it had been my birthday for about two hours when I got my first present: a string of firecrackers to the face.
My little town in South Texas is known for its German heritage and there were two major German restaurants in town: one for the everyman for breakfast and lunch, and another place that was much more highbrow.
My company hired this young man who’d moved to town, was a little lacking in social skills, and had a great deal of difficulty integrating himself into the organization, so I made a “project” of him and tried to help. One day, he told me he’d never tried German food, would love to, and since I’d once been a waiter in Germany, I thought I’d be the perfect person to make the introduction.
I recommended the cafeteria-styled breakfast/lunch place, but my friend, “Mike,” wanted the whole lederhosen/dirndl-clad cultural experience, so I took him out to the Hochbrow, fine-dining place for its German ambiance. This place was owned by a German family and was the kind of restaurant where, if the man in a party didn’t seat his frau, the host or the waitstaff would pull out her chair and set a polite example for him. There were several tables around us, and when we arrived, at least, all of them seemed to be enjoying their meal.
Right away, Mike had trouble with the menu and I made recommendations he ignored, going for a “sausage platter” that featured a rotwurst and a bratwurst with potato salad that aficionados know is served warm and delicious, along with sweet pickled beets. I even made a point of mentioning the beets, because I know not everybody enjoys them. I ordered a Jaegerschnitzel with all the trimmings, which, as always, was wonderful.
The entrees came, and my friend Mike eyed his very carefully. Even though it was an entry level meal for an American trying German food, it was pretty plain it wasn’t what he expected. He started in on the rotwurst, which wasn’t much of a reach for him because it looked much like the Polish sausage you see at the grocery store. The bratwurst was veal — the real deal — and I knew from my own experience that I’d never found a better one in the United States.
As Mike sampled his potato salad, I saw from his expression that he wasn’t really ready for it — or for the beets — and that, just maybe, it was time to switch gears and order a burger for him, but he declined and said he would eat the entire thing.
To his credit, Mike tried really hard. The problem? He was making involuntary gagging faces as he did so, and the patrons around us were beginning to notice — and to whisper. He’d take a bite, struggle like a five-year-old being forced to eat his peas and somehow force it down, but not without making gagging noises you could hear at the adjacent tables. I tried hard to pretend I didn’t notice, as did our waiter.
Mike decided a little “Sauce Americain” — you know, the type that comes in 57 varieties — might help, and the restaurant had some, because it also offered hot dogs and burgers for kids, so our much-suffering waiter brought it without a word. Mike poured a puddle of it in his potatoes, dipped the bratwurst in it and soldiered on. We got through the meal, I paid the check and included a huge tip for the show we’d subjected the waiter to. The waiter was grateful, but the host was giving us the stink eye because of the show Mike had put on.
And then, just when I thought dinner couldn’t get any more embarrassing, it did so.
As we prepared to leave, Mike glanced around the dining room to try, unsuccessfully, to make sure nobody was looking, picked up the ketchup bottle, put it to his mouth, licked the ketchup from around the rim of the bottle, and put the cap back on. I don’t think I’m easily shocked, but I was too stunned to do anything except to say, “Let’s go.”
I was never able to bring myself to go back into that restaurant, and I never even brought Mike to McDonald’s after that. A few weeks later, when he flamed out on the job and was let go, that was just fine with me.
I work at a small locally owned Italian restaurant in Huntsville, AL. This happened to me last Saturday night. I consider myself a seasoned server; I’m a person in my daily life that rarely gets offended or flustered. I’m quick on my feet and enjoy a sarcastic comment or two, but this one took the cake. I had already been there since 11am with no break and, it was inching toward 6pm, so I was already exhausted before this table came in. I was working on an 8-top on one side of the restaurant when the hostess comes to me looking terrified and says she’s sat a two-top in a girls section who isn’t even on the floor yet, and could I please take this table. Sure, I say, thinking of the whole “I’d love to actually eat this week” thing.
I check on my 8-top before heading to greet the two top across the restaurant and not in my section. It’s two gentlemen. One is younger, maybe 30’s, attractive. The other looks like a goddamned Tony Soprano reject, gold chains and all. After informing me that they would be “taking their time” with the meal this evening, Tony orders a very dirty vodka martini with blue cheese stuffed olives. Now again, I work in a really small locally owned Italian restaurant. We don’t even have a bar for guests to sit at. We don’t even have a bartender. We’re not a “dirty martini” sort of establishment. I stuff some regular olives with bleu cheese crumbles because, frankly, I need the tip. Martini delivered, he loves it. They get calamari. Everything’s great. Soup is perfect. He’s a happy camper.
After I take their entree orders, he informs me I’m doing a “bang up” job. I sweetly thank him and let him know I’m glad he’s enjoying everything. To which he replies, “You know, Missy, you’re a 6 on the Clydesdale scale.” I look at Tony Soprano confused, saying something about the horse. He says (quite loudly in a family restaurant) that the six was “how many horses it would take for me to get off of his face if I ever sat on it.” Both myself and the other gentleman at the table looked at Weak Ass Tony Soprano with slack jaws. I replied that I would be back with more bread promptly.
The rest of the meal went very quickly as I went and told every male server what had happened and they immediately made their presence known. Weak Ass Tony leaves 25% and tells me to have a good night with a wink and a smile. I still don’t know if that was a compliment or not.
Hordes of people flock to the diner I’ve worked at for the past eight years like moths to flames. There is never a slow day between all of the locals, the business drummed up by the five colleges in town, or the tourists up from NYC to see the leaves change or visit the presidential library. That being said, my patience has been tried time-to-time and sometimes it’s easier to kiss a tip goodbye and risk a complaint than take crap from somebody that seems more interested in picking a fight than enjoying their dining experience.
One night, I’m working one of the busier sections (it’s imperative that everybody sit near the window so that they may gaze over our scenic parking lot) and a man and his daughter are sat at the same time as two other tables. In situations like this, I’m sure to give everyone a few seconds to settle in before working my way down the line taking drink orders and treating my triple-sat nightmare like one big table.
All three tables start out pleasant enough but it’s clear that the man with his daughter is getting pretty impatient. I apologize for the wait and assure him it should only be another 2 or 3 minutes. This sets the guy off. “If my GODDAMN lobster crepes were going to take 15 FUCKING minutes, why didn’t you tell me that when I ordered?!”
To this I politely responded that it’s absolutely unacceptable to yell profanities at someone while they’re working and if he was going to continue, I’d ask him to leave. He didn’t like this at all. He said that he’d lost his appetite and that he didn’t want the crepes. “Bring my daughter’s omelet out so we can leave.”
Upon bringing her omelet, he looked flabbergasted that he was still without crepes. I recited back to him his instructions to me which set him off again. He yelled at me that he wasn’t serious and that now he “really didn’t want” his crepes. She ate quickly, I dropped the check and they made their way up to pay. My other tables were beyond generous in over-tipping, each making it very clear that it was to “make up for the jackass,” as one so succinctly put it.
I was a server in an amazing small Italian restaurant/Pizzeria in college and loved it, so when I got laid off and completely changed career paths at 28, I assumed I could handle being a server again. I worked at an Irish Pub and Restaurant in northern New Jersey, Thatcher McGhee’s. Loved the staff, enjoyed most of the customers, ignoring your standard amount of evil outliers, but one day things got weird.
I got sat with a 4-top consisting of one woman, probably in her late 60s to early 70s, and 3 women who were obviously her daughters. Only reason she stuck out in particular, she had only one arm. They were a decent table, kinda standoffish, but hey, who wants friends when your main job is to serve them corned beef and cabbage. They camped for a while, ordering dessert and tea. When I came to check on them after 3 hours, I saw that the dessert had melted and dissolved and tea was empty. Awesome. I want the hell out of here, so I ask if they need anything else, aka the check. A bit more tea and the check, cool.
I come back out with more tea and notice a few weirdass things. Number one, the matriarch with one arm has her head tilted back and eyes closed. Number two, the daughter sitting next to her is SHAVING HER CHIN with one of those weird NoNo razors or something. Number Three, the daughter across the table is catching the shavings on the dessert plate that formerly held restaurant depot key lime pie. When they notice me noticing them, huge amounts of evil eye and behind the hand talking. I drop the check, tell my boss and his wife, and we sit in the back room and watch them shave her entire jaw for the next 15 minutes.
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.