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 tales of that most elusive of creatures, the genuinely fantastic restaurant boss. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
The summer before college, I was working three jobs to provide my portion of the private college tuition: this meant 80 hour weeks, minimum, working in a music store, youth camp, and in my first food service job — a full-time busboy at a very nice restaurant/inn near Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony. The job was a miracle: famous musicians would stay there (most were really, really nice), the bosses were great, the other servers were fun, and the food was really good. They were incredibly good about tips for bussing, and I honestly really liked working there.
Many of our guests were staying at the inn — the rest were tourists in for a concert. I would usually work the non-concert nights, and I was paired one night with my favorite waitress. She was a couple of years older, and had worked there in the summers when she was home from college. She was smart and funny, and was really easygoing — a terrific person to show a young guy the restaurant ropes.
So on this training night, there was a 6-top of the older patrons we often have: New Yorkers, in couples, up to see the Berkshires. I fill water glasses, she takes their order. All seems fine. I help her bring out the orders so she can serve them without a second trip. That is when things go to hell. After she sets down the plates, she asks if there is anything else. One old guy (I’d say about 70), says, “This isn’t what I ordered.” She, sweetly, says, “I’m sorry, what did you order?”
The sensible thing would have been for him to tell her what he had ordered. In fact, all she had done was swap his order with that of the (frankly, identical) old dude sitting across from him. It would have taken three seconds. Instead, he went absolutely batshit crazy.
He started SCREAMING at her — this isn’t the sort of service he expected, how hard could it be to get their orders right – and then, he asked her a question: “Are you fucking retarded? What is wrong with you that you can’t figure this out?”
She started crying. I had been standing there, stunned, and I ran back to get our manager, who was the 5’1″ female version of Winston Wolf. She came out immediately. Other eaters were staring, the waitress was crying, he was still shouting. She asked him, brusquely — “What did you order?” He told her. She pointed to the plate across the table, and they switched. He then asked, “Are you going to fire this fat cow?” pointing to the waitress (she was a bit heavy).
And this is the best. My manager said, “Leave now.” They didn’t move. She said it again, but not louder — more quietly, in the intense, this-is-the-moment-before-I-murder-you way. They got up. They left. The waitress hugged our manager. I bussed their table, and we ate two of their untouched meals.
Later that summer, the waitress hooked up with a hot violin soloist. Suck it, old man.
I work in specialty food retail and have done so for much of the last 15 years.
One day, in came a late-middle-aged white guy with straw fedora and small poodle in arms. When asked if said poodle was a service dog, he sneered “NO,” and refused to take the dog outside in spite of the state health code violation he was committing. His attitude was so shitty, though, that my colleagues just served him anyway, in hopes he would leave as quickly as possible. Thankfully quickly, he got his stuff and headed to the cashier.
As the cashier rang Fedora up, he offered to bag his groceries, like you do. In response, Fedora snarls “If you give me a shopping bag, I will strangle you with it!” We hoped that’d be the end of it and we’d never have to see Fedora again.
But Fedora came back the next week, and whipped out the same line on another well-meaning cashier. At that point, we all wanted to 86 the bastard. So we decided that the next time he arrived, we would call the CEO, who LOVES 86’ing people for bad behavior.
Two weeks later, it was late morning on a Saturday, and Fedora showed up, dog in arms. When asked again politely if it’s a service dog, he again smugly sneered that it was not. One of the managers peeled off to call the CEO. It took him about five minutes to come down from the office, during which time Fedora made a stink because two of the employees adhered to company policy and refused to open a brand new ham for him for some slices until the working piece was gone — Fedora apparently could not fathom that we could take off a couple oxidized slices and it would be nice and pink again. He declined the ham, saying he was a “good customer,” and how dare we deny him.
The CEO stationed himself at the cash register, and greeted Fedora in a very friendly manner. Fedora proceeded to assert that “[He’s] the one who drives up in a Rolls-Royce, and that [he has] never been treated so poorly!” Fedora demanded to speak to the owner. “That’s me!” the owner said with exaggerated cheerfulness, coming around the counter to face Fedora more directly. “You’re not the owner!” “I am, and you are not welcome at any of our locations, ever again.” The exchange got a little heated. Fedora had to be threatened with police involvement, and escorted out.
He drove away in a Volvo.
In the early ’00’s I worked at McDonald’s, mainly front counter and first window. During the time I worked there, being able to pay with debit was a fresh new technology. There were signs everywhere on the property, stuck in the grass, hanging from the ceiling, stuck to every window, advertising the new ability to take DEBIT.
Well, day, this guy comes in with a lady, they order, and I ask if he’d like to pay with cash or debit. He looked kind of douchey, middle-aged with a sucked in gut and thinning, spiked up hair. He was kind of puffed up and obviously thought the world of himself, at least in front of his lady friend. He made a big show of pulling out his wallet and sorting through all his plastic, before handing me a card. I swiped it and handed it back, then tried to hand him the keypad to enter his pin. Now, maybe I didn’t check the card too closely to verify if it was a debit card, but many debits had Visa logos by then, and the store was busy. He looks at me like I’m the one who is a little slow, and says, very loudly, “V-I-S-A. Visa. Can’t you fucking read?”
The entire front, customers and staff alike, stop and stare at this guy talking down to me, kind of waiting to see how I would respond. Thank goodness that my manager was right there to swoop in and correct this guy, because my 17-year-old brain had just frozen, having been treated like shit by a customer for the first (of many, many) times. She shunted me aside with her hip to point to every sign in the lobby that said debit, loudly asking if he could read. He must have been too embarrassed to complain to upper management because that was the last we ever heard about it at the store level.
In the late 80s, I was stationed at RAF Bentwaters, UK, and did some part-time waitressing at the NCO Club. One of our specials was a Chateau Briand, a multi-course European specialty that was more like an event than a meal. You didn’t order it from the menu — you made a reservation to experience it. It was a labor-intensive, showy meal which started with a fancy salad and ended with flaming cherries jubilee made tableside. We always warned people who wanted this meal that it was a two-hour event at the very least. It was also a bit of a pain for the server, because we still had to take care of our areas.
On this occasion, I was told by the manager on my arrival that there was a Chateau reservation made, but the people who had made it hadn’t shown up yet. Because we were busy (there was some concert at the base theater that evening), it was first-come for whoever got them. They finally swanned in about 45 minutes late, and I drew the short straw. It was two couples, and they immediately started making demands, as they were in a hurry because they wanted to see the show. I told them that a Chateau was not a fast meal, and asked if they preferred to order off the menu instead. They said, no — they’d come for the Chateau.
I hustled back and forth, getting their food, playing wine sommelier (they ordered the most expensive wine), and dealing with a growing list of complaints from this group. Nothing seemed right, and at one point, I got exasperated and went to the manager to complain. She was reading a fax she’d gotten [Editor’s Note: Chekhov’s fax alert!], and told me to keep serving them. Back out I went, only to field another barrage of complaints about the wine, the veggies, and how slow I was. They wanted to get to the show! Dessert was next, and I noticed that they’d cleaned their plates and emptied the wine bottles in spite of their constant bitching.
The cherries jubilee was the grand finale of the meal. We prepped for it carefully, getting a measure of brandy from the bar, opening a brand new box of ice cream, dolloping it into freshly washed dessert glasses, dishing out the cherries, etc. I did all of this, rolled it out to their table, and prepared it with a grand flourish. The best part is setting the brandy on fire in the metal bowl with the cherries — that was what got the big applause — and more reservations. I dished the cherries onto the ice cream after the alcohol fire went out, and left them to their dessert. I noticed the manager watching from across the room.
Moments later, I was summoned back to the table. The group was furious; one of them had found a piece of glass in their ice cream! They were indignant and threatened to have me fired for messing with their food. They demanded to see the manager, and by that time, they had the entire dining room watching them as they shouted and threatened me. The manager came out, and one of the men insisted that she call the cops to arrest me and give them a refund on the meal. To my horror, she assured them that the cops were on their way, and hustled me to her office. I was in tears. I thought I was about to be fired.
To my surprise, she told me I wasn’t. She grabbed the fax she’d been reading earlier and headed back out to the dining room, where the cops were waiting. To my surprise, they arrested the group, and marched them out of the dining room in handcuffs.
Come to find out, this foursome was going around various US military bases in Europe ordering expensive meals in the Officers and NCO clubs, then vociferously complaining about them to get them for free. Chateau Briand, expensive steaks, and pricey wines were their favorites, and they always found glass in their desserts. My manager had gotten the fax about them that day. They’d defrauded the various military clubs in Germany and Belgium out of more than $2000 worth of meals on their jaunts, and decided to take their act to England. Word had circulated among the management of the clubs, and they finally got caught in our club. Their jig was up.
My manager paid me an extra hundred bucks along with my tip-out that evening. She told me I’d earned it for putting up with that bunch.
I worked in the restaurant business from high school through college as a waiter, food runner, busboy, kitchen prepper — pretty much everything.
While working one Saturday night as a waiter at a certain “No Rules, Just Right” Australian-themed restaurant in Kentucky [Editor’s Note: Yes, Steakback Outhouse, we’re aware], amiddle-agedd man was seated at a two-top in my section. It had been a business-as-usual busy Saturday night: plenty of families and couples and decent tips. This lovely gentleman, however, did not seem to want to go with the flow.
I headed over to greet him and everything seemed perfectly normal. He ordered a glass of red wine and I punched it in and went about taking care of my other customers. When I brought the glass out, along with the free loaf of bread, I asked him about his food order. He pulled out a newspaper and gave me the shoo-off hand — like a shoo fly, don’t bother me, kinda gesture. [Editor’s Note: This is the single most dickish hand gesture in existence. A middle finger would piss me off far, far less than this.] So I just brushed it off and figured I’ll come back later.
I came back to the table three more times over the next 20 minutes before he finally decided he was ready to order. But before he ordered, he wanted more bread — the last loaf was cold (of course it was, he let it sit there for at least ten minutes before eating the whole thing). So I brought out a new, hot loaf of bread and asked him again if he is ready to order. He didn’t answer, he just cut into his bread and took a bite, which he then swallowed and said, “I want fresh bread, this bread is stale.” I, in my best nice person voice, responded, “Sure, I will get you another loaf and then get that food order.”
I marched back into the kitchen, grabbed some more hot bread, went back out to the table, and set it down, to see he had already eaten half of the last loaf. I tried again to get an order and this time he picked up the bread with his bare hands, squeezed it (to see if it was stale?) then set it down, upon which he noticed the finger holes he had just made in the bread and angrily said, “There are holes in my bread! I want fresh bread that doesn’t have holes in it! Is that too much to ask?!”
At this point, I went back to the kitchen, grabbed the manager, and told them what was up with my table. She came out with me, bringing some more fresh bread. The manager, capable of putting on the most vacant smiling stare I have ever seen, got him to make an order and offered him a free appetizer. Which he begrudgingly accepted, while mumbling under his breath about it getting screwed up, too.
The appetizer came out, Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie. He complained about the thin slice of bread underneath all the greasy shrimp being too soggy. The rest of the meal went on like this. He ordered Caesar salad; it’s wilted, it’s soggy, it’s too cold. He ordered a sirloin medium well; it’s undercooked, then they cook it a little more and it’s overcooked — at which point he doesn’t complain about it until after he’s eaten over half the steak. Then the potato is cold; he wants a new one.
The manager came out, they talked, she ended up comping his whole meal — all but the glass of wine, since they legally can’t do that. He put up a stink, so she gave him a free dessert. I brought out the check and his free cheesecake and he handed me a card as soon as I get there. I run it and return it and he signed it quick enough for me to see him draw a line through the tip section. He then handed me the check book and pulled out a novel to read. I never once saw a book sitting next to him. I don’t know if it was there the whole time and my building rage blinded it from me, but he had a freaking novel along with his earlier newspaper. He took up my table the rest of the night after stiffing me on the tip. He was there so late that I got to enjoy smacking him in the feet with my nasty broom as I cleaned the floor under his table, because we were closing.
The next night was slow — being a Sunday, that’s pretty normal. Mister complainer walks in at about the same time as the night before and requested to sit at the same table. Luckily for me, I was in a different section, so I just got to watch while he started up his same act verbatim with his new waiter.
Unluckily for him, he didn’t get too far into it before the owner of the restaurant showed up. The owner was not there the previous night, and he was not one to let people get away with that kind of crap. While the guy was on the salad course, complaining about the veinyness of romaine, the owner walked out, asked the waiter to go back into the kitchen, and then sat down with the guy. I don’t know what got said, but I do know that the guy didn’t complain once the rest of the night. I even saw the steak they sent out to him as medium well which could have passed as a lump of coal, and he choked it down without a word. He left a 20% tip for his waiter that night, and the owner grabbed me later and handed me a $20. He said it was from the guy, but I feel like he gave it to me from his own pocket.
[Editor’s Note: That is one hell of an owner!]
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.