Hello, and welcome back to Off The Menu, where we explore the craziest stories about food from my email inbox. This week, we have more stories of truly evil restaurant bosses. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
In the summer of 2009 I worked at this bourgeois gelato place that was just opening in Washington, DC. Like fancy cupcake places before it, this was the type of establishment that tried to give off an aura of “you are better than everyone else if you eat here.” God, the customers ate that shit up.
The best day was my last:
It was a long one. I’d worked a double without a break, because we weren’t allowed breaks. I’d already seen the GM take most of the tip jar to go buy stuff from the Whole Foods across the street for his lunch so, I knew I probably wasn’t even getting enough cash to grab a bite to eat tonight. On top of it all, we were slammed through the whole shift. Line out the door vs. me and my one other coworker.
Now, the important part to this story is, the doorway to the behind the counter section from the kitchen was a normal sized doorway. However, we served from a platform about a foot higher than the floor. So, this doorway was actually way too small. I am pretty tall, and I’d knock my head on it constantly. The clock strikes closing time and I am in a rush to get out of there in time to catch the 8:05 bus instead of having to wait for the 8:45. Deliriously tired and in a rush, I take one quick step towards the kitchen and slam my head into the corner of the doorframe (enough to dent it into the shape of my head). I am briefly knocked unconscious.
When I come to a couple seconds later, I feel like I am soaking wet. I wipe the wetness off my face with my hand, only to find my hand now COVERED IN BLOOD. I have a wound under my hair that is pouring out blood like a faucet. I run, quickly, to the employee bathroom to grab all the paper towels I can. Meanwhile, the GM is standing outside the door to the bathroom screaming at me to get back into the kitchen and clean up my puddle of blood. So, I step out of the bathroom, one hand holding the paper towels on my wound, and he watches as I mop up the floor with my other hand. The whole time I am doing so, he is scolding me for using too many paper towels, and that I am going to need to pay the company back for those (we didn’t have any first aid supplies in the place, mind you). A fun little note about me: sometimes, when I am under extreme pressure, or when I am in a traumatic situation, I laugh uncontrollably. So, it is at this time that I turn towards him, laughing my ass off, with blood pouring down my face like a horror film, and ask him to please tip me out so that I can catch my bus. He tells me I am not getting tips today because of this incident. I finish up, and walk out. Some straggling customers are still in the service area, they seem pretty creeped out by the bloody guy.
The next day, I show up for my shift only to see my name removed from the schedule, and a note for me to call the GM. He informs me that I have been fired, due to my actions the previous day. He also tells me that he is going to use my last paycheck towards a contractor to come fix the doorframe my head dented. I hang up on him and send him a very stern letter from my “attorney” the next day. I get my paycheck delivered to me the day after.
I continue with the “attorney” letters for a while, acting as if I am preparing a suit for a laundry list of issues and medical bills (I never went to a doctor, by the way – no insurance and no money). I have him running around for about three months of negotiations before I get tired of playing my game and stop emailing him. This really scared him. Fin.
After doing my food service initiation at McD’s, my first job waiting tables was at an Amish restaurant. For those of you not in the Midwest, these are located in rural areas of OH, PA, MI, and IN and purport to have real Amish food made by real Amish people. It’s mostly steam table crap that has a negligible food cost that the owners can upcharge the hell out of because it’s served by women in Amish costume. Our pies were indeed homemade, but by a retired Navy cook, not the Amish.
My restaurant was owned by a real Amish guy who also happened to be an asshole. His wife cooked on the line, his two daughters served, and his father ran the dishwasher. Grandpa was about 75 years old and looked stereotypically Amish, with full beard and everything. My friend and I (both about 18) used to talk to Grandpa a lot on breaks and the like.
Grandpa had a cottage up on Lake Erie and offered to take me and my friend fishing in his boat one summer day if we could get up there. It took us two hours of driving and a ferry ride, but we finally made it. Had a great time, caught a few fish, all was well. His elderly wife was milking the cows and otherwise tending the farm, btw. Until… he took us to the ferry dock. The last ferry was loading. My friend leaps out of Grandpa’s pickup truck and he grabs me and jams his tongue down my throat. I could feel his dentures. I was so stunned, I could barely move, but I did manage to work my way out of his pickup and run like hell.
The next morning I got a call around 7 AM. It was Grandpa, telling me what nice tits I had. I hung up on him and wondered how the hell I was going to continue to work among these people. Rent had to be paid, so I managed to keep from shoving Grandpa’s head into the dishrack and slamming down the door, but just barely.
I was in college, waiting tables at an upscale hotel restaurant in a college town (so, you know, classy — no football pennants on the walls) when they asked me to be an assistant manager for banquets. I jumped at the chance for the better hours and the bigger, set paycheck. Plus, I could still wait tables if I wanted.
My first banquet as Assistant Manager was a wedding, and I was fully in charge. The groom and the father of the bride approached me early on and explained that there was a 25% gratuity bump for the whole staff if everything went as they wanted, and the groom would randomly poll five guests that night, ask if they were treated well, and if so, we’d get the tip. It would have increased our gratuity by $1500. [Editor’s Note: In all honesty, this is kind of a dick move on their part, but whatever.]
I informed the staff (of which there was myself and 8 servers, 2 busboys) of the bonus to be earned and everyone was stoked. We served the hell out of that party. Champagne topped off, grandma got 5 glasses of chilled water with no ice, kids got PB&J if they cried about the food. Dinner ended and wedding reception formalities ensued, our job was almost done. I was informed that the groom and the bride’s father were very pleased and that we’d be getting the bonus.
And then it came time to cut the cake. After the bride and groom did their ceremonial cutting, my staff and I took the cake back to fully cut for guests to eat/take home. Out of nowhere, the regional manager of banquets appeared. I had no experience with her, but she was brash and pushy, and since I was new, I had to defer to her. Although she hadn’t been there all night, she took the knife from my hand and told me that because I was new, I could not handle the rest of the night. Then she literally shoved herself between me and the cake. There we were in the bleachy smelling back hall of a banquet center in a college town hotel and I was physically shoved away from the cake. AND THEN she proceeded to cut the cake, starting with the cake top. I gasped and screeched “STOP IT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
She looked at me with fury and I yelled, “That’s bad luck! You can’t cut the cake top! The bride and groom have to take the cake top home and eat it on their 1st anniversary!”
Everyone in the back had stopped what they are doing and were looking at me, pale as ghosts. She told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and proceeded to cut the cake top all into pieces, AND THEN didn’t cut the cake so there were enough pieces for all guests.
Then she left. She fucking left.
I’ll never forget the look on that bride’s face when I had to tell her we accidentally cut the cake top. I offered to personally have a new one made and sent to her, but she told me it was bad luck, which I already knew. I know it seems silly, but at the time, it felt like I ruined her day. We did not get the bonus.
I quit banquets within a month. I still think about that poor bride. Her entire day was probably lovely, but do you know the story that probably still goes around? “Remember when those fucknuts at ABC Hotel cut our wedding cake top?”
While I was at university, I worked at a private “members only” club located in a research park on my university’s campus. It was a truly bizarre place. It was not at all run like any other restaurant I worked at before or since. Its management staff consisted of the head of the research park (a businessman with zero restaurant experience), a marketing manager (who had a marketing degree and, again, zero restaurant experience), and a FOH manager (who actually did have restaurant experience, but wasn’t allowed to make any actual decisions on his own). Since the only people allowed in were employees of the companies who rented space in the research park, it was almost all regulars, and it was rare to have a table of people I’d never seen before.
One St. Patrick’s Day, a new table arrived. They were all co-workers being taken out for drinks by their new boss, and they were drinking heavily. The tab at the end of the night was around $300, which the boss picked up. He tipped me 100%, which had never happened to me on such a large bill. I was obviously very happy.
St. Paddy’s man and his staff became regulars and they were obviously favorites. The boss always picked up the cheque for the whole table and tipped well — sometimes it would be just a round or two and he would tip 20-30%, but every once in awhile (maybe once every three months or so) they would really tie one on, and the tip would go up to 100%. The servers would rotate who got to serve him, regardless of whose section he happened to sit in, because we all liked each other and wanted to share the good fortune.
Eventually our FOH manager caught wind of this guy, and, for some reason, the management team became VERY CONCERNED. The only reason we could all think of was that they maybe thought he was being creepy or inappropriate with us by giving us so much money. We all assured the FOH manager that we never felt like this guy was a creep, and he had never done anything inappropriate. Our serving staff was about 50% male/50% female, and he tipped this way with both. And besides, this was generally not the type of place where customers would hit on serving staff, as they were usually with their bosses and therefore on good behaviour. However, this did nothing to stop management’s obsession with this guy. If FOH manager heard that he had come in, he would review our credit card slips to see if we had received any overly-generous tips. Meetings were had with management about what to do. Seriously. Management ultimately told the servers we were no longer to accept tips from him if they were too big.
So, one night I was working and I was serving him. He left me about $250 on a bill that was maybe $350. I wasn’t sure what to do, and the FOH manager wasn’t there. So I went back to his table and told him that I couldn’t accept the tip, as management was not comfortable with the amount he tipped. He said that’s ridiculous. He told me he was the CEO of a successful company. He was not married and did not have kids, nor was he planning on either. He had a fancy car and a nice condo and he got to travel often. He said he literally had more money than he knew what to do with, and he got a lot of joy out of being able to make a server’s night with a generous tip. He wasn’t doing it to hit on me or the other servers. He didn’t expect anything in exchange, except for good service, which he obviously got. So, I mean…what was I supposed to do? I told him that it was really nice of him and we all appreciated it a lot, being students trying to pay our way through university.
The next day I talked to my FOH manager and told him what the guy told me, that he wanted me to have the tip. The FOH manager went into the POS system, found the receipt, and refunded the guy’s credit card the amount of the tip. Management then called this guy at his office, asked him to come in and meet with them, and told him not to tip so much. Obviously, he was pissed off, and he never came in again.
And that’s the story of how management chased away our best customer.
My first restaurant job was at a place called The Pizza Barrel. The Pizza Barrel had been around for decades, probably due in no small part to the fact that it was one of only 2 bars in our little town…but then the place grew quite a bit, and by the time I got a job there, it had suffered the results of having to actually compete with a dozen other options. Combine the need to scrimp and save with another feature of many small independent restaurants, the batshit-crazy owner (in this case a Sofia-sized Italian woman, complete with accent), and you get the ultimate lesson in what some dining establishments are actually willing to serve their customers in order to save a penny.
In my position as hostess/dishwasher/backup server, I was responsible for putting away the salad bar at night. During my second shift, I noticed a fruit fly in the ranch dressing, so I took a spoon and managed to skim it out while only taking about 3 or 4 drops of dressing with it, just as my boss turns the corner…Busted! She starts yelling at me:
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
I, naive little flower that I am, think that she is upset I didn’t pitch the whole thing, until she continues with:
“Stir it in! Stir it in! It will just look like pepper, you’re wasting the dressing!”
I instantly realize that my new employer holds the capacity for logic akin to that of my classmates who come to math period high on acid, and decide to apologize instead of point out that stirring it in would have coated the spoon, thus wasting more dressing.
Fast forward about a month. By now I have learned that the thick blue stuff we put into the glass washer is so corrosive, that even the queen of penny-pinching insists that we wear industrial rubber gloves and a mask when refilling the tank. As I am rolling the trolley full of salad makings to the walk-in, I hit a bump, and the cucumbers fall onto the floor, 4 slices of which land right into a puddle of blue goo that one of my coworkers had just accidentally spilled. We both look to see who saw, and she quickly picks up the cucumbers with her gloves and tosses them in the garbage…and guess who walks around the corner at that exact moment!
“What are you doing? Those vegetables cost money!”
We showed her that it was only 4 slices, and they were covered in blue poison.
“Just rinse them off and put them back in the container!”
We proceeded to begin rinsing them off, and as soon as she left, we buried them as deep in the garbage as we could.
The best thing she did was on my last night there (after 7 whole weeks — it wasn’t hard to find a better job). Our fire alarm went off, and when the fire department got there, they noticed quite a few violations in addition to the dead battery that caused the outdated smoke alarm to be triggered, so they decided to look around a bit. She followed them like a starstruck teenager worshiping her idol, trying to talk up the restaurant, and telling them to each bring in their whole family free of charge, and they laughed and asked how long the inside release latch for the walk-in had been broken…it was quite enjoyable to watch.
Now, before they even got there, she knew she would be in trouble, so she had the kitchen start making some free food for them. Unfortunately, about 5 minutes before it was ready, a call came in over the radio that there was a six-car pileup on the freeway, including a truck that was on fire, and they needed the jaws of life. I will never forget the scene of those firefighters trying to get out the door with a not-quite-5-foot dried up old Italian lady physically hanging off one of them, crying, “But you can’t leave until your pizzas are done!” as they threatened to have her charged with interfering with an emergency rescue operation.
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.