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 truly evil restaurant customers. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
A few years ago, I was working behind the counter at my family’s ice cream parlor in a sort of high-end neighborhood in the south that’s always being featured in Southern Living and Garden and Gun (an actual real magazine). We sell ice cream, hot dogs, candy, and a chicken salad that my mom made from literally the first internet search she did for “chicken salad with walnuts and cranberries” or something. People loved it, and would get pre-orders in massive amounts for parties and holidays, and would regularly run out of chicken salad for the day (ruining people’s entire lives, if we’re judging the impact based on their reaction).
[Editor’s Note: Oh Christ, when we ran out of chopped fucking liver at the grocery store. Jesus. It was like we had murdered the customers’ dogs or some shit.]
One day, a lady called up to ask if we would set aside a pint of chicken salad for her to pick up in an hour. I said sure, and pulled a pint from the cooler to set aside and kind of forgot about it. It’s a very, very slow weekday and I’m working at the shop for free at the time, basically doing my mom a favor, so I called a friend to hang out with me, and we were mostly just talking and drinking blended orange sherbet margaritas so we could be properly day-drunk before my mom came back and released us back out into the world.
Anyway, about an hour and a half goes by, and I completely forget about the phone call, and seriously, she could have been four hours late and it’s not like I would have sold her dumb chicken salad because who cares. I think we’ll be leaving any minute when this lady suddenly storms through the door, wearing a pair of horrible, 80’s era Oakley type fishing sunglasses, a huge, insane, bleached perm, a Hawaiian shirt, and a pair of very short cargo shorts. She began to talk rapidly.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, with a nasally twang “I couldn’t find parking because n*****s are taking up all of the parking spaces! They’re everywhere!”
I stare at her, and, seriously, my mind fizzles, pops, and goes blank. Like, there is no way that she just said what I thought she just said. I glance over at my friend as though to ask “is this real life?” to find that she is also staring with incredulity, her mouth actually hanging open in unconcealed shock.
“Nice white folks are just trying to do their shopping, buy their chicken salad, and the n*****s are here instead, taking up all of the parking spots! Good white person like me can’t park anywhere, I’m sick of this bullshit!”
I’m from the South and have heard people say racist things for my entire life, but they are usually coded, indirect, or just ignorantly racist, the classic “I’m not racist, but…” kind of statements that people think are defensible. I usually don’t have much of a problem telling people in those situations that they’re being racist as hell. But I have never, ever heard anything quite like this, and a part of my brain feels like it’s short circuiting, like there is still no way in the world, no matter how many times she repeats it, that I am hearing this woman correctly. She can’t actually be blaming black people for her being late to buy a bucket of chicken salad and expect us, complete strangers, to sympathize with her and also be angry at black people on her behalf.
She continues for a moment, saying the n-word an uncountable number of times, and then stops, as though in sudden realization. The room is dead silent, and I think it occurs to her that whatever whites-only comradery she was hoping to enjoy, all of us complaining together about the scourge of black people taking up our precious parking spaces, was not to be.
I am moving very stiffly, but I reach into the cooler, hand her her chicken salad, and ring it up, without speaking somehow. She left very quickly, and I’d like to think it was because she was embarrassed or ashamed, but probably not.
At the time, it didn’t really occur to me not to take her money, because I seriously just felt in a sort of shock and like I wanted her to go away immediately. Maybe I should have made a statement through the denial of delicious chicken salad. Who knows.
When I was in college, I worked nights at a mom-and-pop sandwich shop that had a huge lunch rush, so my shifts were usually quiet.
One day I came in to start my shift and was talking to the morning cashier. I looked at the drink fridge and taped to it was a mailbox key with a note: “No Mayo Guy.” I asked him what that was about and got this doozy:
A man came in and ordered an Italian sub. While mayo is not a universal condiment for that type of sandwich, it’s not uncommon, and it was stated clearly on our menu. He got his sandwich and came up after he had taken a few bites (in the middle of a lunch rush) to tell us that he didn’t know there was mayo on the sandwich and asked us to remake it without.
Our policy was that if it was clearly stated on the menu it was on the customer to tell us, so we wouldn’t remake it. He changed his tactic, claiming he was allergic to mayo (he had already taken some bites and didn’t freak out about it) and that we had to remake it for him. The manager finally caved and told him we’d remake it without mayo. The man then reached into the tip jar and pulled out $3, saying, “I put this in when I ordered but I’m taking it back now.”
The man got his remake, ate it, and left. He forgot his mailbox key at his table. He never came back and one of the cashiers turned it into a necklace.
I’ve heard that people who are former servers tend to be the hardest customers to please in restaurants. Or at least that was the excuse used by the absolute douchetart I went on a first (and last) date with this week.
In our pre-date text planning, I had suggested a Mexican place in my neighborhood. They had great drinks and the fajitas were a personal favorite. I specified before the date that this place was really casual and you’d usually step on one or two chips on the way to your table. But this dude showed up in a suit and tie with his hair gelled, Eric Trump-style. Bad sign. (Editor’s Note: This is a bad sign in ANY situation.) He greeted me as if we’d been dating for years (with a “hey babe”) and immediately flagged down a waiter to seat us. The waiter had a full tray of food and told us he would send the host over.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to inconvenience you,” responded my date with a painful-looking eye roll. He shook his head at me and said he had been a server in college. “Don’t let these guys push you around. You gotta let ‘em know you won’t take any shit.” I really should have walked out right then.
An hour later, our whole section was aware of my date’s theory that because he was once a server, he could treat the servers like shit. He “knew their language.” Every question was met with dripping sarcasm and when the server came by to check on our food, he responded “um, we’re in the middle of eating. Come back when we’re done.”
When it finally ended, he not only tried to kiss me but also hailed a cab and motioned for me to get in (clearly meant for me to come back to his place, since he knew I lived on the next block). I said I would be right back and ducked back into the restaurant. Sure enough, he had left a three dollar tip on a $40+ bill. I left some more cash and asked the waiters if there was a back door I could use.
They looked at douchetart waiting outside with the cab and happily snuck me out through the kitchen.
We live in a pretty family-friendly part of Brooklyn that is very close to one of the only hospitals in the area. I think a lot of people just sort of wander around our neighborhood after being discharged because it’s got a park and usually people are just hanging out outside, so it has a nice safe feel. This leads to a general neighborhood composition of kids, younger parents and a light dusting of people that just seem a little…unhinged?
So this being Brooklyn, where everything is artisanal and coffee is served exclusively to stay by models, we just got our first Starbucks a couple months ago. It’s the cheapest coffee in a six block radius, so my roommate wakes up early one Saturday morning and heads on over. Everything is going normally, but while she’s waiting in line she notices a woman getting a little agitated and behaving kind of erratically speaking on her phone by the door. Now, my roommate has seen this woman before, as she wanders around our area a lot. She seems a little off, to the extent that you know better than to strike up some light chit chat, but it’s not like she’s an imminent threat.
She keeps getting louder and is yelling into her phone. It’s unclear if the woman now screaming into her phone has even ordered anything or is just making everyone uncomfortable because it’s the only place open that early on a Saturday. By this point, my roommate has her coffee and is mixing in whatever it is she mixes in at the little station by the front door. She’s really just trying to get out of there as soon as she can. As this woman just keeps getting louder, she feels something fly behind her and turns to see a chair go directly through the glass front door. Glass is everywhere, the people working just don’t even know what to do, and my roommate is like, fuck this and goes to walk out, through the now non-existent front door.
As she goes to leave, the woman who threw the chair looks at her, points at the ground and totally calmly tells her, “watch out, there’s glass.”
So, it’s the Fourth of July. In SoHo (NYC), the people that come in to eat on holidays are either (1) foreign tourists who don’t realize it’s a national holiday (fine), or (2) or godless entitled heathens who think going to a restaurant on a national holiday is a fun and cute thing to do (not fine), rather than a giant slap in the face to the people who have to SERVE them on the DAY OFF EVERYONE ELSE HAS.
Please also note, for the record: the staff was not only required to wear ostentatious Hawaiian shirts during service but were required to actually purchase them ourselves for one single day of service. We all hated everything and ourselves pretty thoroughly upon arrival to our shifts.
During dinner, I had a table where a woman literally shouted at me about the music volume, the wine by the glass list, the table at which they were seated, the options for Celiac-diseased persons (note: our menu was FULL of gluten-free dishes), the options for Celiac-Diseased Persons Who Also Won’t Eat Anything Except Beef (great, now that makes sense), the burger being “disgusting,” and the lack of gluten-free desserts. After they left, they literally screamed so loudly at a cab that ignored their hail that the entire dining room thought someone was being violently murdered outside the window.
THIS WAS NOT EVEN MY WORST TABLE.
I had a table of three thirtysomethings who took at least four hours to eat, including dining at least two hours past the time the kitchen officially closed. There was a birthday in the party, so when desserts were (FINALLY) ordered, they received VIP treatment and a sparkler and the whole nine birthday yards.
While leisurely enjoying dessert over a period of at least an hour and a half, the biggest Bro started smoking his e-cigarette, which is just as illegal as smoking a real cigarette under NYC law. He did this repeatedly and with impunity for a sustained period of time. Meanwhile, the ENTIRE RESTAURANT had been broken down around them for over an hour–the bar, every other table, everything. The remaining server (me), manager, busser, food runner, and pastry chef were visibly standing around waiting for them to deign to let us go home on a national holiday.
Finally, after dessert was ordered and Vape Lord continued his thing, my manager went over and informed him that smoking was prohibited in restaurants in New York and politely asked him to also remove his sneakered feet from atop the banquettes. The table argued with him angrily, insisting “no one else was in the restaurant, so they weren’t bothering anyone,” and they’re paying customers and blah blah entitled asshole nonsense ad nauseum.
After this, of course, they extended their dessert course FOREVER. They stared and laughed at us in knowing recognition of their actions. When I was finally able to drop the check, they paid and effusively thanked/mocked us for the meal and evening.
The tip line for their $400 tab? It read “NO SHOES.” So we stayed two hours over closing time and got NOTHING because our manager had the audacity to ask these sociopaths to conduct themselves like adults for five minutes.
To boot, some asshole who worked at this restaurant robbed every wallet out of every unsecure locker that night. Twenty minutes after seeing “NO SHOES,” I discovered I’d also lost $45 bucks cash to some newly-hired klepto never to be seen again.
HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY, Y’ALL.
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.