Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. This week, we bring you an assortment of truly absurd restaurant stories — the third of which is probably one of my all-time favorites for this series. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
"This happened back in the '70s in the West Village in NYC. We went to a small local place. Not a lot of tables and, I think, two waiters.
At the table next to ours was a middle-aged woman, apparently a minor actress of some sort, accompanied by three guys who must have been dancers or in the chorus of some show or other.
All night long she carried on incessantly about her own importance, annoying all the other diners. Finally, their waiter, a very handsome man, asked them if they'd like some coffee. She leaned back in her chair, looked him up and down and said in a loud voice, "Yes, and I like my coffee like I like my men." The waiter, without changing his expression said, "I'm very sorry, madam, but we don't have any gay coffee."
Other diners actually applauded."
"I work at a major university in the HR Office for our culinary department. Over the summers, the dorms and dining halls get rented out to conferences and the like. One year, we had a massive world-wide creative-thinking competition for youth come to campus. The guests were generally pleasant, but two weeks of feeding and housing kids – many of whom you have no way of communicating with — gets a little tiresome. The HR office backs up to the kitchen in one of our halls and the entrance shares a landing with the entrance to the dining room. Due to the cacophonous din of ten hundred boisterous kids all yelling in different languages, we usually had the doors locked up tight during mealtimes. Although I occasionally worked the register or hotline to pick up extra bucks, I rarely came into contact with our guests.
That is, until one day, when someone starts banging on our doors during lunch. I open them up, expecting some sort of emergency, only to have two lanky Polish teenagers bust through the doors. They begin babbling and gesturing to a notepad they're holding. Suddenly, a fabulous sketch of a broken egg emerges, and they point to the shell while repeating what I assume is the Polish word for 'egg'. I'm very exasperated at this point, as I assumed that the disturbance to my lunch break was in some way related to my job, but I give them the word they're looking for with my 'customer service face' anyway.
Teenager: Eggshells. We need eggshells.
Me: I'm sorry, but we're an HR Office. We don't have any eggshells.
Teenager: Let us into the kitchen.
Me: Sorry, I can't let you into the kitchen.
Teenager: We must have eggshells. We'll take them from the bin.
Me: That'd be a health and safety issue. Sorry, I can't do that.
This whole time, the two are side-eyeing each other and whispering translations to one another as they piece together the above in very poor, very accented English (no hate to non-English speakers; I'm sure you've had Americans/ English-speakers butcher your native language too). They begin fiddling with their phones and suddenly Google Translate is repeating "Please give us eggshells" and just plain "eggshells". I pull the whole "let me talk to my manager" thing, hoping that he'll come up and deal with them. But he just chuckles and shakes his head.
I give them a very final, concrete "No, I cannot give you eggshells", and take a seat back at my desk. And despite the apparent language barrier and translation issues, the teenagers' parting blow to me is "C*NT.""
"When I was 15, I had my first job, bussing tables at a classy little BYOB cafe in South Jersey. This was around 1996, so "classy" meant decent food, white tablecloths and folded napkins, and nice music. My duties as a busboy were to clear tables, fill water, and try not to annoy the waiters and waitresses who were several years older than me.
So we had this rehearsal dinner on a Saturday night that took up a whole room, and they were Russians. While most people brought wine, these guys started tearing into the Smirnoff like it was going out of style. And everyone — Mom, Dad, Grandma, the kids — all proceeded to get belligerently drunk.
Now, just keep in mind that it was 1996, not long after the fall of Iron Curtain, so some of these guys still remembered waiting in line all day for bread. Someone managed to nudge the bread basket into one of the fancy-schmancy tea lights, and — poof — the polyester napkin catches on fire. This is what I imagine happened, but really, I just turned around to see a flaming bread basket. Everyone — the wait staff and the whole drunken party — stops and watches in awe as Dad grabbed the basket, threw it on the floor, and stomped out the flame. He then reached down, picked up the loaf, held it high like it was the sword in the stone, and with everyone's eyes glued to him, he told them, "I save bread!"
Well, they lost their shit harder than anyone I've ever seen. Howls of laughter. The rest of the night, they can't get over it. "He save bread," they keep telling each other.
Such is the great Melting Pot of the USA."
Pretty sure every time I hold a piece of bread now I'm going to be thinking "HE SAVE BREAD!"
Do you have a crazy restaurant story you'd like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens? Please e-mail WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Behind Closed Ovens" in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!
Image via ilolab/Shutterstock.