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 restaurant employees who could not count to potato. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I’m on a work trip in Abilene, Texas. It’s a relatively small town about 100 miles west of Fort Worth it’s a pretty rural area. However, it IS home to a very nice Chinese Restaurant.
So my work group of about eight takes a table, and looks over the menu. We all decided what we would like to eat. Everyone places their order, and when we get to the last two, they both want the General Tso’s chicken. They proceed to ask the waitress if it is made with white or dark meat chicken. The waitress pauses for a moment, and then says “Oh no, ma’am, I think that’s pork.”
We sit kind of stunned, and my coworkers repeat, we would like the General Tso’s CHICKEN, but would like to know if it is made with dark meat or white meat. Again the waitress looks right at them and with a straight face says, “No, ma’am, that’s made with pork.” Again my coworkers try: “So you’re saying the General Tso’s CHICKEN…is made with pork?”
They go back and forth a few times, and you can tell the waitress is getting frustrated, and we can tell all is lost. The food comes out, it is all outstanding, and the General Tso’s Chicken was, in fact, made with chicken.
Years ago I worked at a restaurant outside New Orleans that has long been shuttered by Hurricane Katrina. It was known for Cajun cuisine and steaks, and tried to be somewhat upscale but also cater to the people in the local community who weren’t necessarily into that sort of atmosphere. This meant they had fairly large wine collection, but also served hamburgers.
One night, I happened to be the senior person on the waitstaff, so I had the honor of training our new server, Tom. Tom was hired on the recommendation of his younger brother, who was a busboy at the same restaurant. After spending three minutes with Tom, it became obvious that this is the only thing that got him hired, since he didn’t quite grasp following instructions, arithmetic, or reading comprehension.
I had him follow me to a table while they placed their wine order. After bringing them the bottle, I did the usual wine presentation of showing the person the label, placing the cork next to him, and pouring him a small sample in the glass so he could swirl and taste it. He acknowledged it was good so I proceeded to fill the rest of his glass and that of his guest.
This display left Tom completely perplexed, and he asked me what had just happened. I explained to him why each step was taken; showing the label so the person would verify it’s what they ordered, giving them the cork, and sampling it so that they could make sure it was good and didn’t turn into vinegar. Tom acknowledged that he understood and we went on to other tables.
One of these other tables, a six-top, had also had wine and were about ready for their check, so I asked Tom if he could help me clear their table. While we were doing this, one of the customers had finished her wine and had left a tiny sip in her glass. She handed the glass to Tom to help clear the table. He took this as his opportunity to taste the wine and verify that it was good; he actually went through the process of smelling the aroma, swirling it in the glass, and ACTUALLY DRINKING IT OUT OF THE CUSTOMERS’ GLASS. I caught this out of the corner of my eye, and everyone at the table started to snicker at what had just happened. I didn’t know how else to salvage the situation, so I immediately grabbed the glass from Tom’s hand before he could hand it back to the customer, and tried to pretend that it didn’t happen.
When I was in my early twenties and in college, I worked as a foodservice sales rep for the summer. Basically, I covered territories for the regular sales reps that went on vacation and would travel to all their customer’s restaurants to take orders and keep their kitchens stocked.
I saw a lot of weird stuff going in and out of restaurant kitchens all day, every day, but I will never forget my visit to a little pizza shop on the outskirts of Cape Cod. I had just finished walking the back room and the walk-in with the owner and had taken his order. He had a payment due and left me in the kitchen while he went to his office to go write a check. While I was waiting, one of the kitchen staff started shooting the shit with me while he was crumbling week-old sub rolls to use as filler into a giant vat of canned tuna and mayo (note: this is not the bad part).
As he’s talking to me, he moves on to the next phase of tuna preparation. Dude rolls up his shirt sleeve, exposing a burly, fully tatted arm covered in thick, curly grey hair. He then proceeds to spark up a cigarette, all while still talking about God-knows-what. Then he plunges his bare arm all the way up to the bicep into the tuna — really getting in there — and starts mixing it all by hand. As he mixes, he keeps talking and smoking. And that cigarette bouncing around in his mouth? It starts to ash into the tuna. This guy could not care less and did not stop once to properly ash his cigarette. Needless to say, it just all gets mixed in along with the old sub rolls, tuna, mayo, and arm hair.
I wrapped up the order with the owner, took his check, and was walking back to the truck when I hear him calling out to me. I turned around, and there’s the owner extending a freshly wrapped sandwich, “Hey we just made a fresh batch of tuna; thought you might want one for the road!” Now, the rule in this business was to NEVER refuse an owner’s hospitality, so I happily took the sandwich and thanked him kindly.
That sandwich went straight into the trash the moment I drove away.
Growing up, occasionally my parents would reward my brother and I for not being tiny little pains in the asses at the mall with food court treats. Typically, we would both choose ice cream. There was one instance in which my brother tried to be different, and the result is still quoted in my family to this day.
Instead of going with the classic chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (every kid’s favorite), he decided to get an Icee. It was the late 90s, Icees were still the cool thing to get. So we go to the Icee stand and my brother steps up to order. The woman behind the counter opened with a warning: “Our machine isn’t working right, so there’s only one flavor.” My brother, being an indiscriminate consumer of Icees, said this was fine. The employee followed up with, “Well, it’s a little clumpy.” Again, my 10-year-old brother magnanimously overlooked this and said he still wanted an Icee. So the woman working grabbed a cup, headed to the machine, and began to pull the lever, when she gave one last warning: “Oh, and there’s no flavor.” At which point my brother decided he did not actually want a cup of clumpy frozen water, and we left.
My family still warns of an obvious change with “It’s a little clumpy…” before finally admitting “And there’s no flavor.”
I was at a breakfast place and had ordered some eggs, over easy. Unfortunately, when they arrived, I was missing a key ingredient.
“Um. We still don’t have any utensils. Could I get a fork, please?” I asked.
“No forks,” she replied.
Me: “Wait. What, now?”
“No forks. They’re all dirty,” she said, rolling her eyes. I was clearly one of those difficult patrons with all my unreasonable demands.
“How am I supposed to eat my eggs?” I asked
“I dunno. Spoon?” she said, exasperated with my absurd question.
“Aaaaaaand I’m done,” I replied, and I stood up and walked out.
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.