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 stories of old people, so often the wackiest of restaurant customers. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I was in a local Chinese restaurant with my two-year-old last week when in swept an older white lady, trailed by some nervous-looking friends. They sat in an adjacent booth and began discussing the menu. Apparently Older White Lady thought the restaurant wasn’t “authentic” because no Chinese people were dining at that moment (despite the fact that they were seated by the Chinese owner, looking at a menu printed half in Chinese and hearing the Chinese news on TV in the background), which was okay with Nervous Friends because “Oriental food can be too spicy.”
After considering every item on the menu and asking inane questions (“can I get the pork wontons with chicken? Is there shrimp in the shellfish soup?”), they ordered. Nervous Friends actually did fine. Older White Lady ordered a chicken stir-fry with one or two substitutions… and then proceeded to ask for the “onions on the side.” The server said “ok, no onions?” That wasn’t right, nor was an offer of extra onions. Nope. Older White Lady explained that she didn’t like onions themselves but enjoyed the way they made food cooked with them taste.
She expected them to cook her dish, then remove the onions by hand. I guess that’s what they get for not being authentic.
A while ago I was having breakfast at a Ritz Carlton, it was a buffet but there was also a chef preparing fresh omelets.
I was seated next to an elderly couple and get up to go fill my plate. While I’m at the buffet I suddenly hear a commotion and people stomping angrily in my direction, it was the older couple followed by a mortified looking server trying to calm them down. The man walks up to the chef preparing the omelets and loudly shouts “What is this?!” Obviously, everybody falls quiet at this point and just stares at him, the server looks like she wants to sink through the floor.
The chef calmly asks him what the problem might be. The man holds up a boiled egg saying “This! This egg is clearly not cooked through, don’t you know eggs can carry diseases? Are you trying to poison us all?!” His wife was just standing there agreeing with everything he said. The chef looks at the egg and says, “Sir…that’s a soft-boiled egg.”
This man had never heard of soft-boiled eggs.
I worked at a popular German restaurant in my hometown. One night I hosted a table of retirees who ordered schnitzel. After the meal, one woman mentioned to me with a scoff that her food was “good, but obviously not authentic German schnitzel” and she knew this because “my husband was stationed with the military in Germany for two years, so I know real schnitzel very well.”
The owner of the restaurant was born and raised in Germany and ran the restaurant with his son, who was also born-and-raised German. Tomas, the head chef, was a German who barely spoke English. I went back to the kitchen after the woman left and said with a laugh, “Hey, Tomas, somebody said your schnitzel wasn’t German enough.”
When I left the kitchen the owner and his son were on the floor laughing while Tomas yelled a slew of German expletives.
My mother in law is on a restrictive diet, partly for medical reasons and partly out of personal reasons (i.e. she invents things she needs to avoid because “they will make her sick.”). Her diet is as close to non-fat as you can humanly get, and “spicy” is universally to be avoided, although in her case “spice” can mean anything more exotic than salt and pepper.
The in-laws were visiting and wanted to go out to eat, and we suggested a chain restaurant that they had never tried but that we both agreed they would really enjoy – it had pizza, pasta, steak and ribs, a variety of pretty average fare with lots of “safe” options for MIL. She decided that she wanted to have a build-your-own pasta, and my husband told her, “You’ll really like the bolognese sauce they make here!” So she checked out the description of the bolognese in the menu, which is when her eagle eyes noticed DANGER: the word “zesty” in the description. As in, “a zesty tomato-based sauce.”
She immediately asked whether the bolognese would be too spicy for her, and my husband, who regularly gets the spaghetti bolognese as a side for his meal, told her no. Apparently, though, her son was not to be trusted, and she immediately started interrogating him about this dangerous word “zesty”; was it spicy? She can’t eat spicy food. Maybe she would be better off having the blush sauce. Both of us immediately spoke up at that, because the blush sauce was cream-based and included lots of parmesan cheese, and therefore was probably one of the fattier things on the menu.
But we silly young people couldn’t possibly know what her diet required, so when the server appeared, MIL immediately started peppering her with questions. The bolognese sauce is zesty, does that mean spicy? How spicy is it? What about the blush sauce, would it be milder? The poor server latched in on the word “mild” and eventually said that the blush sauce would likely be the mildest sauce – because, of course, there were no spices in it whatsoever. Ha! MIL knew we were trying to steer her wrong. She triumphantly ordered a build your own pasta, spaghetti with blush sauce, and my husband and I rolled our eyes at one another behind her back.
Those with any gift for foreshadowing can guess what happened. MIL’s plate was presented to her, and she frowned, saying, “Oh, the blush sauce is cream-based?” And then her eyes nearly bugged out of her head when she saw my husband’s side pasta – with that dangerous, zesty bolognese sauce – and she cried, “What did you order?”
The exasperated chorus of “THE BOLOGNESE SAUCE!” left a rather awkward silence behind it.
I was working at a coffee shop in a Barnes & Noble. One day, I had an older man who waited in line to ask where the Civil War magazines were. It was pretty empty, so I said I didn’t know about Civil War magazines specifically, but I’d be happy to walk him to the Military History magazine section.
“No,” he said, “I want the Civil War magazines.”
I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was a legitimate misunderstanding, so I asked exactly what kind of Civil War magazines he was looking for.
“You don’t understand,” he continued. “I’m looking for the Civil War magazines.” I was a little confused, so I offered to take him to the Barnes & Noble customer service, since, keep in mind, I was just a barista at the cafe. He wasn’t satisfied, though, and I guess he thought I just needed some extra motivation. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “If you take me to the Civil War magazines, I’ll buy you a chocolate cupcake. But if you don’t, I’ll come back here with my dog and have him bite you.”
I went to call the manager, but before she could come by he had left the store. For a while after that, I was afraid he was going to show up with an attack dog and have it maul me, but fortunately, it was an empty threat.
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.