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 the old classic: the worst of the worst with restaurant customers. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
My husband works at a fairly new restaurant in the area. They manage to be a successful New American restaurant in an area that has never heard the term before. A customer-favorite dish is a gnocchi mac ‘n cheese with chunks of pepperoni (this is important later). Generally, the mac ‘n cheese is only available at lunch, but if they have the ingredients still on the line, they will make it for a dinner customer if requested. Sometimes, though, they run out of the gnocchi and they just can’t accommodate the request. Most customers are understanding of that fact, and appreciate that the restaurant will go out of their way to make it if they can.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I stopped in for brunch, and the owner was sitting next to us and chatting with us at the bar. His phone lights up, and it’s a rather long missive from a customer via Facebook messenger about how disappointed she and her party of six were about the lack of options for observant Catholics on a Friday during Lent. This is rather perplexing, since the menu has a salmon dish and they were also running two other off-menu fish specials that Friday. The restaurant opened after Lent last year, but the owner is from the area and knows that it is heavily Catholic, so he was prepared.
The woman is not satisfied with this effort, however, because she and her friends are “non-pescatarian Catholics” (which obviously isn’t really a thing, but the meaning is understood, I guess). Now, there is nothing on the menu that is specifically called out as being vegetarian, but they do a few meat-free appetizers, some salads, and a Yaki udon that comes with just vegetables, unless you pay the extra to add meat. Owner kindly points out the existence of these dishes to the woman, and says that if they had let the server know, they would have gladly done all that they could to accommodate her dietary restrictions.
Finally, the woman comes to her real gripe. They were out of the gnocchi and couldn’t make the mac ‘n cheese. The mac ‘n cheese WITH PEPPERONI. On a Friday. During Lent. And she is a self-professed observant Catholic. Once we all finally straightened up, the owner (who is a seriously nice dude) tells the woman to please call him on his personal number the next time she is planning to come in, and he will make sure there is plenty of mac ‘n cheese for her and her friends. I guess it’s totally cool for non-pescatarian Catholics to eat pepperoni on Friday, as long as it’s smothered in cheese sauce.
As a teenager, I pretty much lived at a local coffee house, to the point where I got really close with the staff there.
This particular incident took place on their enclosed porch, when I was 16. My boyfriend Will and I went out to the porch and saw a pretty filthy guy sprawled on the couch, with no food or drink on the table. We politely asked him if it were possible for us to share the couch with him. He responded with a growl, “I ain’t sharing shit, this is my couch!” I swear a cloud of vaporized malt liquor expelled from his mouth when he said this. So whatever, we aren’t going to get into a pissing match with this dude, so we opt to sit at the table closest instead.
My back was to the guy and Will’s chair was facing him. After a few minutes, I heard this weird grunting/moaning coming from behind me. I ignored it and kept on with whatever I was doing. The grunting continued to escalate in severity and volume and I looked up to see Will’s face stuck in an almost comical expression of shock and disgust. Knowing I shouldn’t, I turned around to investigate what Will was so horrified by. This nasty motherfucker was rubbing his fully erect dick through his pants, staring unblinkingly at me.
I was/am a pretty fearless person; I chased some creeper following me with my knife while screaming expletives at him when I was 15. However, no amount of fearlessness was going to overcome the fact that I was NOT going to touch this dude. I went inside and alerted one of the baristas. Dan the Man (seriously, that’s what we called him) was the skinniest and smallest barista, but he came out and handled it like a boss. He also refused to touch the guy, but managed to coax him off the couch and off the premises by threatening to call the cops. That was the last resort, and of all the things he said before that, this one sticks out in my mind: “There’s a bridge and a park, you want to grab yourself out there that’s the city’s problem, but you can’t do it in here while looking at a teenager.” He said all of this so calmly, because honestly it’s not as if he’d never dealt with lunatics on the property before.
After the guy left, I helped Dan stick the couch cushions in garbage bags so they could be fumigated. Then he sighed and said, “Shit, we’re gonna have to bleach this couch.” Not long after that the couch was donated to the dumpster, and replaced with two large armchairs.
I worked in a pub. A dingy, gross pub with an AMAZING patio right on the ocean in the summer. So during the summer, it was quite nice to work there (lots of pleasant people on vacation, busy sections, great tips, etc.), but this happened when it was a bit too cold to be sitting outside and the local louts came out to drink their sludge beers and leer at the all-female staff. But at least they ate their food, paid, and left.
This lady, ugh, lord give me strength. She comes in, orders the whole lemon water business (“Not lime, lemon”). Then she asks my favourite question ever “what’s good?” [Editor’s Note: This is a horrible question. Stop asking this question.] I’m pretty ace at fielding this shit question now, and as we are a pub and have literally 50+ items on this 6 page menu, I begin:
Me: “Well, that depends on how hungry you are.”
Lady: “Oh, I’m VERY hungry. I’ve been out all day kayaking, and hiking, and have only had an energy bar.”
M: “Okay, well then, do you like meat, or seafood?”
L: “Meat, definitely meat, red meat.”
M: “Alright, we do have a surf & turf on the menu with a steak, or else we have a steak sandwich which is also quite filling, and we have a number of burgers that are all massive and come with your choice of side. I would say the Piledriver burger is our most popular one.”
L: “Hmm. Okay, I’ll have to think about it.”
No problem, I give her time, and actually go back to ask if she needs me to field any more questions — she looks at me annoyed, so I take the hint and wait for the folded-menu-on-the-table cue.
L: “I was wondering if you were ever going to come back.”
M: “Sorry about that. Have you decided what you’d like for dinner?”
L: “Yes, I would like the piledriver burger, but I want it on toast.”
M: “Okay, do you have a preference?”
L: “I want the rye bread that the reuben comes on.”
M: “Sure, I’ll get your order in right away.”
Place order, chef gives me one of those “huh? but okay” looks. Food goes out. Food comes right back. Apparently the bread isn’t toasted enough. Fine. We re-toast. Bring it back, quality check, when I return again she eats EVERYTHING except half the sandwich. And she has now placed a 20 on the table. So I ask her if she would like me to pack up her food and bring the bill.
L: “I’d like to see your manager.”
Me: “Oh, I’m sorry. Is there something specific you’d like me to tell her?”
L: “No, I’d just like to see your manager, and I’d like the rest of this packed up.”
I’m genuinely confused, and tell the manager on duty that she wishes to talk to her but I have NO idea why. The manager goes over, they chat. She comes back and tells me the customer hated everything about her food; the fries were gross (she ate all of them, of course), the burger was terrible, so she’s giving her 50% off, because she only ate half. The manager brings the bill over, then comes back, really red faced. “Why does she want this packed up if she HATED IT SO MUCH?” I’m just like yo, I know, right? But we both decide fuck it, just get her out.
So I go back for the bill, knowing about the 20, and grab her some change. Put it back down on the table along with the half-burger thing.
L: “Just so you know, for the future, when serving people, don’t ever suggest that burger.”
*my mind has just blown a fuse at this point*
M: “Well, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but I’ve never had a complaint about the burger before now.”
L: “I find that hard to believe. It was all filler, do you know what’s in filler? Soy. Do you know what’s in Soy? *cue rant about GMOs, etc, while my mouth is pretty much agape* DIDN’T YOUR MANAGER TELL YOU ANY OF THIS?!”
M: *Taking ALL my strength in my entire being to NOT say THEN WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU TAKING THE REST HOME?! but actually saying* “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy everything.” Then I try to walk away, because I’m sure my face is turning red, and I’m about to lose it here.
L: “Excuse me, but this is just not how you get a tip. See, when I was a server… *cue her new lecture on how to serve and get tips properly*”
It took ALL the fibres of my being to not kill this woman, just to choke her with her damn leftovers. It is one of the ONLY ties I will say that it was NOT worth the tip.
A few years back, while a high school kid, I worked as a cashier at a southern BBQ restaurant. The to-go window, where I worked, was situated in the back and right by (almost in) the kitchen, so the customers would have to walk all the way through the restaurant to order to go.
One night, a man walked through the front door and is talking/yelling so loudly that I can hear him, meaning since he was in the front and I was in the back, I could hear him literally though the entire building. At first, though, I just shrugged this off and thought maybe the guy was just naturally loud, like some people are. We got a fair amount of rowdies in the BBQ-eating crowd, so it was to be expected.
He came straight back to me and started placing a to go order. Even though he was very loud and maybe a little rude, taking his order for a rib plate went fine until I asked him what sides he wanted.
As many restaurants do, we had classic sides that come with the dish at no extra charge, and then we had “premium sides” that cost a dollar or two extra. This guy wanted premium sides at no extra charge. Keep in mind that I was not corporate and had no control over what the prices were.
This also wasn’t the first time I’ve had someone complain about the extra charge, but when I explained it to them, they usually accepted it. This guy, though, was having none of it.
Me: “We have to charge extra for those sides, Sir, because they cost more than the regular sides.”
Him: *slams his fist on counter* “BUT WHY? THE MENU SAYS IT COMES WITH TWO SIDES! THERE SHOULD BE NO EXTRA CHARGES!”
Me: “That’s correct, sir, and if you’d like to choose a classic side, there will be no extra charge. However, if you want the premium –” He pretty much cut me off and screamed the same thing.
At this point, my coworkers were noticing the commotion, so one of my managers came over. I told her the issue, and she basically looked at him and told him exactly what I just said, how we have to charge more for premium because of what they cost to make, etc.
The guy angrily turned around, leaned over, and spit on my arm that was on the counter. Yes, he turned and fucking spit on me.
I restrained myself as best as I could, threw my pen on the counter, and abruptly left and dove into the back of the kitchen where I promptly went into the sink to wash my arm. I told one of my shocked coworkers what he did and refused to go back out to help him.
My manager finished up with him and, from what I can tell, he ended up cancelling his order and leaving because they wouldn’t give him the price he wanted.
Also, the best part? That restaurant had pretty shitty owners who couldn’t care less about their employees, and I got scolded for “walking away from the customer.” I told them about his attitude and that he SPIT on me, but they didn’t care. I got the “the customer is always right” shit for a guy who spit on me.
I was on holiday in Greece with my brother and our wives; staying in a cozy old farmhouse in the hills outside a resort town. We had been recommended to go to a particular hotel restaurant, and so one evening we made a booking and went into town.
When we got to the restaurant, we were just waiting to be seated when in walked a guy – let’s call him Fred – who I knew at-one-remove both socially and from work (he was the director of a client, although we never worked together, and was a representative for the local ward next to mine). Fred is mid-fifties with a much younger wife and a college-age son from his first marriage; and was effusive to the point of excess in his greetings. He was staying at the hotel, and insisted that we sit together, he had eaten there every night of his stay, would recommend all the best dishes, etc. We weren’t really that keen, but he was insistent, and we couldn’t find a polite way out of it.
Fred started shouting at the nearest waiter that we needed a table for ten, and seeing an open table just walked in and sat down at it. The waiter just rolled his eyes and started moving chairs around – they were obviously used to him at this point. We weren’t really sure why we needed ten places for the seven of us (an extra place for his ego, perhaps?), but then three backpackers walked in and sat down next to the son. Fred explained that they were his son’s college friends and he was putting them up in the hotel for the night. He asked me if I minded, which I remember thinking was a bit strange given his imperious mood earlier, but I said of course I didn’t. Fred said he would put the whole bill on his room and could we settle up in cash at the end, which seemed fine.
Fred proceeded to order for all of us without consultation, insisting that he was just ordering the best things and we would love them. To be fair, they did all look nice (and were excellent – the whole meal and service were), although there was a bit of a tug-of-war when he insisted on ordering seafood for my sister-in-law (she is allergic). In the end, we just took what was ordered and swapped round plates. Fred also ordered some rather expensive wine, and when we demurred insisted that it was “his treat.” Thankfully, Fred’s wife was very engaging, and one of the backpackers had mutual friends with my brother, so we got through conversation and enjoyed the meal. Then came the bill.
The bill came with a 15% gratuity, which was fine (given how much we spent on wine, it was about 30% of the food bill – dunno if that makes a difference in tipping etiquette?). Fred scratched that out on the bill and went round the table asking what % each of us individually wanted to give, then said that we should leave that in cash. The backpackers looked a bit shell-shocked and we said we would cover their tip.
Then, when it came time to settle up with Fred, he said “Well, there are four of you and three of us, we’ll split the backpackers down the middle – so you owe me 55% of the bill”. No mention of the wine being “his treat”, no acknowledgement that the backpackers were his guests. When I pointed this out, he said “I asked you if you minded”, and “well, they are [my brother’s] friends too”; and a little later on said “Well, I’m paying for their rooms, so I don’t see why I should pay for their food at all – if you don’t pay then I’ll put it on their hotel bills”. The idea of just leaving some cash on the table and walking off was appealing, but suspecting that he would make good on his threat to dump the bill on these poor collegians we eventually settled on splitting the bill 50-50 and left.
A month later, my brother ran into one of the backpackers. It turned out that the next morning, when they went to check out of the hotel, Fred had charged 10% of the meal to each of their rooms anyway, and gone off to the beach. They had to use a “for emergencies only” credit card to settle the bill.
A couple of months after that, I ran into Fred’s wife and mentioned he had made the backpackers pay for their meals. She sighed and said “Yes, and I don’t know why he did that, because since you were there he expensed the whole meal to the business anyway.” So, to summarise, not only had Fred had managed to not pay for the meal at all, but between us, the backpackers, the tip, and his expense claim, he had actually turned a profit.
Last Friday, Fred was addressed for fraud and tax evasion.
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.