Hello, and welcome to the first-ever Bitter Empire version of Off The Menu, a series you may recall from its time on Wonkette and Thrillist (but certainly not from before that, when it did not have a different name that rhymed with “Rewind Those Covens,” no sirree). This week, we’re going back to the classic subject: the worst customers who have ever graced (NOPE) a restaurant with their collectively corrupt presence. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
While in High School, I worked at an Ice Cream store (they usually had 31 flavors).
One hot summer day, a lady came in and ordered a banana split. The woman tried multiple samples before choosing her perfect three scoops of ice cream and three toppings. I sliced that banana perfectly, handed her the banana split, and she was on her way.
Or so I thought. Upon leaving the store (the front was all glass), I saw her stand in the parking lot for a while talking to her friend. Fast-forward about ten minutes and she came back into the store. She asked for a new banana split. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “It melted.”
I proceeded to explain to her that cream tends to melt in July, but she was having none of it. I was adamant about not making her another one (mainly because 1. she was crazy. and 2. I did not feel like slicing another banana). She seemed to calm down once she realized I was not replacing her melted ice cream.
I was very wrong. As she started to walk out of the store, she launched her melted banana split against the front window.
After that, I told all future customers we were out of bananas.
My first ever job in was at Winchell’s Donuts, and for the most part it was a pretty great first job. I liked my boss, an amiable Arab fellow who would say “Yes ma’am!” whenever I did something right, and who would give me a ride home from work so I was safe. I was 16 and I usually worked the morning shift with the owner, but sometimes I’d cover the afternoon shift if one of the other employees couldn’t do it. You’re always alone on the afternoon shift; it’s pretty dead.
There was a dude who lived in a trailer in the parking lot between the Winchell’s and the Denny’s. He was about 50 but looked older, always wore a stained white tank top over his beer belly and had long greasy gray hair. He’d come in and try to flirt with me, but the manager was around and he’d very subtly shut that down and protect me from greasy trailer dude.
One afternoon, however, I was alone and greasy trailer dude must have had some sort of sixth sense because of course he came in, and then proceeded to tell me about all the sexual things he wanted to do to me, most of them involving food. My favorite? He wanted to lick guacamole out of my navel. I didn’t even like guacamole (at the time, I have since seen the light). I had to pretend I had dishes to do in the back to get him to leave me alone.
I worked in a country-themed venue and our drink options reflected this. You want some obscure brand of whiskey in your Lynchburg Lemonade? I got ya. You want a martini? Well…
We were relatively busy and I was the only bartender. Nothing I couldn’t handle, as long as I kept moving. One of our staff came up to me and informed me that a woman standing at the end of the bar had asked her for a martini. I asked if she had told her that we don’t have the ingredients for a martini (seriously, our bar did not carry vermouth) and she responded that the lady told her it “wouldn’t be a problem” and that she wanted to speak to me. I finished up the drinks I was working on and headed over.
Turns out this woman wanted an Appletini. I told her I could make it, but I didn’t have the appropriate glass to pour it in. She insisted that it was fine, and I went ahead and poured it.
I brought it to her in a large cocktail glass, which obviously her drink did not fill. “Six dollars, please!” I said as I handed it over.
She stared at me incredulously, picked up the drink, held it up to eye level, insected it, and asked “You want me to pay SIX DOLLARS? For THIS?”
“How do you think that this is worth six dollars? This isn’t even a drink!”
“Ma’am, Grey Goose is six dollars a shot. I only charged you for one shot of vodka, even though you’re actually getting a bit more than a shot, plus liqueurs.”
“This isn’t a drink. I wanted something I could sip on. This is going to be gone in a few seconds! I shouldn’t have to pay six dollars for something that only fills half the glass!”
“I poured you what you ordered. A martini is three ounces, and I told you I didn’t have a martini glass to pour it in so yes, it looks a little small. Would you like me to add some Sprite to your drink? It will last longer that way.”
“No. Can’t you just fill it up more? Pour some more Goose in until it gets up to about here,” she said, indicating a spot near the top of the glass.
“Of course. That will be eighteen dollars then.”
“EXCUSE ME?!? I ain’t paying EIGHTEEN DOLLARS so I can get a drink! I’m just trying to get what I paid for!”
“Ma’am, you haven’t paid yet, and I already explained to you that you are ONLY paying for the vodka right now, and six dollars is a very reasonable price for a shot of Grey Goose. You are already getting more than your money’s worth. However, if you want me to add two more shots of vodka then you will need to pay for the additional liquor.”
She grumbled and forked over the six bucks, and I went about playing catch up since she had taken quite a bit of my time already. I managed one lap around the bar when I saw her waving me over again.
“This just looks REALLY small. I can’t sip this.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. I already explained that a martini is three ounces, and that is what I served you. I cannot pour anything extra into your drink unless you’re willing to pay for it.”
“You’re telling me that this drink is three ounces?”
“How much is in a shot?”
“One ounce, but our shot glasses are actually slightly larger than that.”
“Go bring me a shot glass.”
At first I thought this lady was really going to try and measure her frigging drink, but she just held the shot glass in front of my face and asked “You’re trying to tell me that there are three of these in my drink? Doesn’t look like it.”
“Yes ma’am. If you were to pour it out your drink would fill three shot glasses.”
She holds both glasses up and eyeballs them, muttering “Hmmmm” while she compares them. I began to walk away when she snaps “Don’t go anywhere! You’re telling me there’s three of these in here?”
I am completely done with this woman. I have other people waiting for drinks. “You know what? Let me go grab two more shot glasses and I’ll prove it to you. I will make sure your drink is three ounces EXACTLY, no more no less.”
As I turned to get more shot glasses she quickly said “No, no, that’s fine!” and walked away with her drink. Good riddance. No tip, of course.
I found out at the end of the night she went prowling around the establishment harassing the rest of the staff, trying to get them to admit I had shortchanged her and to sneak behind the bar and fill up her glass for free. They told her the same thing that I did. Miraculously, she did seem to “sip on her drink,” as she swept by the bar every once in awhile to glare at me, drink in hand, for the rest of the night.
I worked for a trade magazine, and I made the mistake of hiring a terrible writer based on his amazing (and probably fictional) resume. He originally aspired to be an on-air journalist, and on the surface, he had the distinguished, polished manner of a network anchorman. Beneath this facade of stoic professionalism, though, was a very weird personality. He could not go a single day without doing or saying something bizarre, and he could not pick up on the most basic social cues from the people around him. For instance, in his own mind, the word “mouse” was a euphemism for “vagina,” and any time a female employee would refer to her computer’s mouse, he would burst into laughter. Then, he’d go on a long, unfunny, inappropriate double entendre about her “mouse,” a joke that made sense only to himself. In these situations, no matter what look of disgust, discomfort, or anger he received, it would go right over his head. When I would confront him about his behavior (as his boss), he would never have the slightest idea what I was talking about.
So skip to a conference we’re covering in Las Vegas. We’re having lunch at celebrity chef’s restaurant in the hotel that was hosting the conference. We’re ordering sandwiches. He proceeds to ask a hundred questions about a chicken sandwich and inquires about a substitution for literally every single ingredient on the sandwich. The busy waitress had to go to the kitchen to verify at least a few of his inquiries. Like the waitress, I keep thinking each sandwich question MUST be the last one, and we’re both staring daggers at him, which is a waste of time. So after asking about a million questions about a chicken sandwich and successfully negotiating for about 15 changes, he says “Super. I’ll have the cheeseburger.”
The waitress has had enough. She asks, “Are you the spotter? Because I don’t give a shit if you are the spotter, you asshole. I don’t need this shit!” and storms off. For all I know, she quit. He looks at me in disbelief. He has no idea where this outburst came from, and asks me, “What’s a spotter?” I tell him, “It’s a person hired by the restaurant to evaluate the quality of the service, and sometimes to act like a complete jerk to see how the staff reacts.” He shakes his head and asks me, “Why would she think you’re a spotter?”
I worked for a high end Newbury Street restaurant for about a year in college. It was the type of place that considered itself fancy because the burgers and steaks were served au poivre and our clientele were either Boston tourists or Beacon Hill old money. Either way, it meant getting run off your ass for a miserable tip.
Brunch shifts were the worst, as any server can attest. Every omelette was personalized with about 37 different ingredients, each order of steak and eggs had a different meat temp and a different style of eggs [Editor’s Note: “What do you mean, how do you want ‘em cooked? Just cook ‘em up!” I will never get tired of the Egg Wars.], and you spent the whole time refilling coffee and OJ and running muffins to the table. Brunch entrees were cheaper than the rest of the menu, so checks were lower even though your workload had tripled. My restaurant had the bright idea of offering a complimentary cocktail with every brunch entree — either a screwdriver, a mimosa, or a Bloody Mary. Running off your feet bringing people free drinks was bad enough, but waiting for bartenders in the weeds to hand-squeeze juice for every free drink and prolonging the misery of brunch made it an unending nightmare.
To add insult to already pretty flagrant injury, the state of Massachusetts decided to enforce some horrible old Puritan law on the books and prohibit the sale of alcohol before noon on Sundays. All of a sudden, working on the holy day went from miserable to straight-up hell. Corporate decreed that we could offer free fresh squeezed orange juice in place of the cocktail for orders before noon. To say this change went over poorly with the old money regulars would be to describe the Atlantic Ocean as “somewhat moist.” Thanks to laws set down by buckle-wearing yahoos in the 1660’s, I was berated, screamed at, and missed out on plenty of already-meager tips.
The absolute kicker came one lovely spring Sunday, when my entire section was seated with an enormous party the moment we opened. I offered to get drinks started for them as they decided on their infinite combinations of omelette toppings, and the first person ordered a Bloody Mary. Knowing exactly where this was going, I pitched my voice high enough for the entire table to hear and informed them all that due to state law, we were unable to serve alcohol for another three hours, but I’d be happy to offer them complimentary fresh-squeezed orange juice. I then proceeded to repeat my spiel to each of the umpteen guests in this party, as they all ordered an alcoholic beverage after the last guy had been told no. They all opted for coffee rather than the free juice, and we got on to the soul-crushing process that was taking brunch orders (it involves diagrams, countless memory exercises, and deep urges to chug well vodka at 9 AM). We made it through the meal, and at last the last plate had been bussed and the last coffee cup topped off. I asked the self-elected leader if there was anything else I could get them, only to be met with absolute bafflement.
“Honey, we’re still waiting for our complimentary cocktails,” she tells me. My polite server mask failed me as I struggled to comprehend what she was saying. Then it dawned on me: this group had taken over my section for over an hour, and then they were planning to wait around for another two hours for a rocks glass of hastily squeezed orange juice and what basically amounted to rubbing alcohol.
I ducked out in the guise of getting more coffee and went straight to my manager over the Guests Who Wouldn’t Leave. While the usual corporate edict regarding tables on a busy Sunday brunch was turn ’em and burn ’em, the manager chose the coward’s way out and left me to deal with the campers. They kept me running coffee and muffins for two hours until the clock finally struck twelve and I flooded the bar with a couple dozen drink tickets, upon which the bartenders justifiably threatened me with creative murder involving swizzle sticks.
After approximately three years of my life, the campers were finally served their seriously substandard cocktails and were ready to begin the time-honored process of dividing the bill. Everyone got a cheap brunch entree and a free cocktail, so my entire morning’s work was worth roughly the amount of an Ikea end table. Since their party was so large, I was guaranteed a 15% auto-gratuity for my hours of dedicated service, and I wasn’t holding out hope that this table would appreciate my forced adherence to the same law book that still allows you to pasture your sheep on the Boston Commons. Sure enough, the tip fields were blank, and my only consolation was that it was after 12 and I could buy my own bottle of cheap vodka on the way home.
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.