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've got stories of some of the worst restaurant bosses I've ever heard of. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
In 2003 I worked as a server at a restaurant/cocktail lounge in Boston, where the schtick was jazz-club-meets-Rat-Pack-meets-Vegas-meets-anything – reminiscent of the movie "Swingers." You know, the kind of place where the (extremely overpriced) featured cocktails included Sidecars, Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds, and the walls were padded in red tufted vinyl. 14 hour shifts. Calling out sick meant automatic termination. Sitting down was forbidden. So yeah, I didn't love my job. Still, I stuck around because the hours worked with my university schedule, and I'm apparently a masochist. (Editor's Note: Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt)
On Friday and Saturday nights, they opened up the main dining room to a small stage, and hired a jazz band to play loudly enough that it made taking cocktail orders nearly impossible. I hated working these nights especially, because the band was partially paid in unlimited free cocktails, which they usually ordered through me. I had to treat them like normal, paying customers, although they didn't pay, and they didn't tip. The 60-something lead singer was usually shaz-hammered by the end of the first set and would spend the rest of the show slurring Sinatra lyrics and leering at me (yeah, I was also the only female server there). Just being in the same room as him made me want to shower.
One Saturday night in February found me stuck delivering his seventh or eighth dirty martini between sets. As I placed it next to him, he sneered, "thanks, honey. I like your red hair." I muttered a quick thanks and began my retreat back to the bar. His voice followed me: "…do the curtains match the drapes?" The rest of the band laughed, and I pretty much spontaneously combusted in shock and embarrassment.
Once I got myself under control, I reported it to my manager, who said he'd "take care of it." He approved my request to be first cut, because duh. As the other (remember – all male) servers cashed out with him at the end of the night, he told all of them what happened, expressing his admiration for the giant nutsack he deemed that the singer must have, and then instigated a lengthy discussion about whether my "carpet did indeed match the drapes," or not. How did I know about this? I had just started secretly dating the bar back, who had to leave the room after a few minutes so he wouldn't punch our boss as he waxed poetic about my snoodge.
When my boyfriend told me about it, there was literally no amount of money that could make me walk through those doors again. I didn't even bother to let them know I quit; I just never came back. (Editor's Note: Done that, too! That was how I quit Applebee's) I kept my damn uniform, too.
Oh and karma? She's kind of a bitch. A few weeks after I noped out of there, the cops busted the place and arrested the manager for selling cocaine out of the bar office. And a couple months after that, the place shut its doors for good. I only regret that I didn't stick around long enough to see my douchefraggle boss led out in handcuffs.
When I was 23, I had a short-lived bartending job at a local chain sports grill in Ohio. The restaurant was semi-upscale as far as sports bars go, and I was surprised when they hired me because I'm very edgy-looking (tattoos, purple hair), and didn't quite fit in with their crowd.
Soon I found out why — the (married and twice my age) owner had gotten my number off of my application and started texting me. It started innocently enough, asking how my shift was and if I liked my job. It progressed to messages like "so, have you heard of suicide girls?" "I bet girls like you get really freaky" and the like. I never replied to anything that wasn't completely work-related, but the messages kept coming. After getting an unsolicited message stating "I wanna break your vagina," I replied with "I wanna break your face with my fist."
Next day, I went in to the restaurant with the intention to quit. I discovered that I had already been removed from the schedule and my manager fired me because I "was in violation of the dress code" by having the tattoos that they hired me with.
We have a strict policy against working while sick at Breadstix R Us, and it has a special clause for pinkeye.
Recently one of the managers showed up for his closing shift with a bloodshot eye. When asked he said, "Oh, I think it's pinkeye. I found some old antibiotics from the last time and put the drops in, just in case."
He then proceeded to touch servers, hosts, the host stand, and plates of food that were being brought out to guests for the rest of the night. His tagline?
"If I can work with pinkeye, you can handle the sniffles."
I used to work in a retail shop that served gelato in the little plastic cups with all of the ridges around the outside. These cups were not flimsy, but they were pretty obviously disposable.
My boss was such a cheap ass that he would go around and pull them out of the trash and make me wash them so we could reuse them. We were small enough that we did our dishes by hand without an industrial washer, so really who knows if they got heated enough to sterilize them anyways? We used a sterilizer bath, but I didn't put much stock in it. This in and of itself made me feel like shit and I'd leave them on the drying rack to make sure they were "Extra dry, so they don't stick together when we go to use them" whenever he would comment on how I was only putting the actual utensils away and as soon as he'd leave for the night, I'd dump those disgusting suckers in the trash. He would really make no secret of reusing them either.
I remember one time he remarked on their reuseable-ness to a lady as he handed her a cup and she looked at him in disbelief and lectured him on the fact that because they weren't made to be reused they weren't very stable and if there were any scratches from the spoons, they'd probably start breeding bacteria. He looked at her and SHRUGGED.
Another time he actually went to the garbage in front of the gelato case and proceeded to take them out, exclaiming to the horrified look of one lady that they were too nice to throw away and he would reuse them when he wanted some gelato all them time.
This was also the man that had to call me from an event where he was promoting the business to ask me how much we charged for a half pound of chocolate.
I was working behind the counter of a fancy bakery in New York City one summer, and we had just gotten a new manager. My co-worker accidentally spilled half a tray of cookies on the floor when we were cleaning, and started to sweep them up to throw them away (they were a little old anyway, truth be told). The manager came storming in, screaming "What are you doing?! Stop right now!" She then made my coworker pick the cookies out of the dustpan, bag them up with ribbons, and display them with a sign saying "special promotion."
I told the owner about the incident, only to find my hours cut from 30 a week down to 12.
Kinja user Afternoon Delight:
I was a server in one of those super cheap sushi-conveyor belt restaurants. The GM was a Japanese guy who would nickel and dime us and played favorites with the servers, many of whom were cute minors, whom he of course got creepy with. Often I depended on caffeine to get through a double shift (two 5 hour shifts with a 1 hour break in the middle), and I'd buy a $2.50 Red Bull from the restaurant's bar with my boss's permission. Out of nowhere one day, he told me if I wanted to buy a Red Bull again, it would cost me $5 because of a "restocking fee" which didn't apply to any customers or even other servers. Just me.
He also took an equal cut of our tips, which were pooled among the servers. He was a salaried employee. This is NOT LEGAL.
But the best story is the time I got violent food poisoning during my shift. I actually didn't feel sick until about an hour in, by which time he'd already let a teenage server go home because she had a cocaine hangover, the symptoms of which only appeared to make her tired and whiny. Once I started vomiting, he told me since he was already short staffed by one, he couldn't lose me. I spent about three hours taking orders and delivering food and drinks while secretly running to the bathroom to puke violently twice an hour (ALSO VERY ILLEGAL). I begged him to let me go home. By the time he finally relented and let me leave early, I'd upchucked no less than 6 times. He told me I could go home, but ONLY if I went and apologized to every other server for "making them work harder in my absence." Oh, and in case it's not clear that I was very sick, I didn't make it the 6-block walk back to my apartment without puking in a gutter. Grade: ILLEGAL AS FUCK.
In high school, I worked at a NY style pizza place and bar in suburban South Carolina. Their pizza is the best I have ever had outside of New York and a must-have on my trips home. It is owned by three people, a husband and wife and a male friend of theirs who had worked together, as touring musicians and in restaurants, in NY, moved south, and opened it together. The two male owners were very hands-on, working the line every weekend and managing the back of house. They both had tempers, but were generally good bosses who ran a good business and helped their employees (most of whom worked there for 5+ years) make a lot of (legitimate) money. It was a family, the matriarch of which was the female owner, who was a complete fucking nightmare, was ostensibly in charge of the front of the house.
As is probably common in any pizza delivery situation, there were A LOT of drugs. The weed-dealing delivery guys, the waiter trafficking pounds into town, the bartender who sold coke, the bartender who smoked meth out back, etc. A general wholesome work environment for a 15-year-old girl.
The wife stayed home taking care of the couple's two little boys and didn't really have anything to do with running the restaurant. But, HO-BOY, did she love some cocaine. The only time she came in was when the coke dealer bartender was working, and she would sit at the bar and chain smoke while yelling orders at the servers for enough time to be deemed "work" and then take her coke and go home.
One slammed Friday night, during a construction period where we only had one unisex single toilet bathroom for the entire 150 seat restaurant, she came in to hang out because the band we had that night was especially good. She got so coked out of her gourd that she was screaming at other patrons, spilling drinks all over the place, openly sniffing out of her little vial, falling off her stool, just being the worst. Her husband was home with the kids, so the other owner came out to tell her to calm the fuck down and offered to have a driver take her home.
As cokeheads are wont to do, she freaked the fuck out. After screaming at him for a while, she runs to the bathroom, cuts in front of the line and runs in as someone is coming out. The people waiting in line are pissed, but someone apologizes and says she was getting sick. They leave her in there for a few minutes and then start knocking on the door to get her to come out. She is screaming that we "can't take her away" and refuses to come out. When the other owner fishes the key out of the office and tries to open the door, she rages and slams the door back on his fingers as he tries to push it open, breaking 2 of them.
We had to pay the Chinese restaurant next door to let patrons use their bathroom, because people are drunk and have to pee. She refuses to come out all night. We close, her husband has to come in (with sleepy toddlers in tow) to try to coax her out. Right as I am finished with my closing duties and am about to leave (at 3AM), she finally calmly opens the door, and walks out and gets in the car. She had destroyed the bathroom (shit on the walls, TP dispensers ripped out of the wall, broken sink) and it required another contractor to fix ASAP so that the place had a working bathroom. She came in the next week as usual and never acknowledged the event ever happened.
Bonus story: One night she called in for her husband freaking out, because the kids had knocked down a picture frame she had her stash taped to the back of and the dog ate it. So they have to rush the dog to the vet to get the 8-ball pumped out of his stomach. Her main concern was that the vet pump it in a way that wouldn't break the bag open and ruin the coke.
She is a real gem.
I can't overstate the cult following that came with the diner I worked at in Maryland. They had car shows, drive in movies, and all the greasy food you could ever want to punish your asshole with. The owner and her sweaty husband usually did nothing but play video strip poker in the "break room," which was the size of a bathroom stall and consisted of a small table, two chairs, and an ashtray. And of course about three large video strip poker arcade games.
One weekend during the summer, we have some popular movies showing at the drive in. Hundreds of people are there, the place is just packed. The movie starts, so things slow down and it gives us time to recoup for intermission. I'm cleaning up the counters when I walk between the grill and soda machine and nearly bust my ass on the floor. I look down and see this black oil slick. Someone must have spilled grease and tracked dirt in it. I clean it up and go about my business. A little while later I see the same black goo all over the floor in the same place. This is very strange. I call the owner's attention to the floor and explain how this oil slick keeps magically forming on the floor. She doesn't know what it is but can't be bothered to worry about anyone's safety so who-the-fuck-cares? She had video strip poker to attend to.
The same strange substance kept appearing on the floor right in the same spot for weeks on end. We slipped, we fell, we dropped food, we spilled drinks, all because she couldn't be bothered. After hearing enough complaints, she called someone in to inspect the situation. Apparently, she did not know when she inherited the restaurant that the underground grease traps not only needed to be cleaned regularly, THEY HAD NOT BEEN CLEANED SINCE THE RESTAURANT OPENED IN 1952. The grease traps were filled to the brim in rancid, black oil and it was beginning to seep up through the tiles. If I remember correctly, the traps needed to be replaced because grease was literally being absorbed into the ground and foundation of the restaurant. It makes sense though. You couldn't even be within 20 feet of that building without going home smelling like a stale french fry.
I worked in a small French restaurant/bar in the UK for a little under a year. By day, we were a French restaurant — hugely popular, hugely pretentious, but the managers were French, at least, so it was also pretty much the genuine article. By night, we were a restaurant-cum-rowdy-wine-bar. I'd say about 75% of our clientele was French, and I was the cute little English girl who'd studied French for 12 years. I thought I'd love it. I actually found that it was The Job From Hell. I'd worked in a hotel restaurant for about nine months at this time, and thought I knew what I was doing, but I was constantly reprimanded by the French bosses and constantly afraid I would lose my job. I was also saving up to move to the US to marry my fiancee.
Now, in the UK, restaurant staff make the same minimum wage as everyone else. I KNOW. WHAT IS THIS MADNESS. As a result, while people still tip, it's not so much expected as it is in the US. At this particular restaurant, all the tips went into the collective jar. Full time, salaried staff were promised $50/week in tips, on top of their $200/week wage. Part-time, hourly workers received $25/week tips. The owners took the rest. It was strictly enforced that everyone had to put their tips in the jar, even if a customer said "keep this for yourself." (Editor's Note: I should clarify that Amelia wanted me to make clear that she meant to type pounds instead of dollars, but "this inherently oppressive and anti-British keyboard is lacking them." Or maybe the keyboard is just embarrassed because UK money looks like something out of a Fisher Price catalogue, OHHHHH BRITISH CURRENCY BURN)
One day, I was working 10-6, which was actually a great shift. If you worked 10-6, you closed the restaurant for a few hours so you could clean and rearrange the restaurant for evening service. Naturally, you sometimes had people rattling the doors and demanding to know why you weren't letting them in (not grasping the concept that just because one person is working, it doesn't mean they can come in and get a meal), but other than that it was great. This particular day, however, my manager's friends, who had come in for lunch and been drinking heavily ever since, were allowed to stay behind while we were closed. And oh. Oh.
Naturally, they'd taken a table upstairs. There were about a dozen of them, and I was waiting on them, alone, while trying to also rearrange tables (to be clear: we're talking moving furniture around) and clean floors and restock the bar. They couldn't be sensible and all order their drinks at once, oh no; they had to treat it like a relay. They had me running up and down the stairs for a few hours. They wanted to eat, but I explained that the kitchen was closed. They then wanted snacks, which I prepared for them. All of this, coupled with the fact that it was a new job and these were my boss's friends. My boss was not present, and the friends were very leery, AND I was locked in the restaurant alone with them. Add that to my existing money woes and hatred of my job, and I was VERY stressed.
Finally, it's around 5:45, and time to open up the doors again. I go back to their table to explain that I'm about to have to open up downstairs, and they're welcome to stay but they do just need to be aware that I may be serving other people downstairs as well. Trying to be the Best Waitress Ever for my boss's buddies, I wanted to give them an opportunity to order any more drinks before they were forgotten. One of the dudes says yes, they ALL want drinks, and he insists on following me downstairs to help with the tray.
Once we get downstairs, he sticks a 50-pound note in my hand. He tells me that he knows they've all been rowdy and awful all day, and he's sorry, and would I please take that just for myself. He then leaves with the tray of drinks, leaving me standing there, alone by the bar, crying. 50 is a lot of money to me at this point. All I can think about is how much of the stuff on my "New Life with my Husband" wishlist that will buy; how much gas it will put in my tank in the meantime...just, really, how much help that extra 50 pounds (about 73 dollars... I was very poor) will give me. I wrestle with my conscience and eventually decide to put the money in the communal tip jar.
Fast forward to the next time I'm working with Boss. He tells me that his friends spoke very highly of me, and he thanks me for taking such good care of them. Then, nonchalant as fuck, he says to me "I hear [redacted French Dude] gave you a nice tip, eh?" and my eyes widen in horror, thinking he's about to accuse me of pocketing it. Then he laughs. "Don't worry. I know you put it in the jar. He does that with all my new staff. Always a $50 note. If it's not in the tip jar, I fire them."
I was on a road trip driving through Tampa, Florida and I stopped at a pizza place. There were three employees working and an older plasticy woman behind the counter who seemed to be the owner. I ordered a pizza and a beer, then sat down with my friend.
The owner then left the pizza counter for the back of the restaurant and came out with a bag of wonder-bread, a jar of mayonnaise, a can of chunk-pineapple. She sat down at the bar and told the staff, "I decided to make you all my special sandwiches tonight."
So I was waiting for a pizza and I smell this woman constructing these mayonnaise-globbed chunk-pineapple on wonder-bread sandwiches. One employee runs out of the building to go smoke and clearly hide. She handed the two indoor employees these sandwiches and watched eagerly, encouraging them to dive in..."It's good, am I right?" They looked terrified and nodded. She clearly had some kind of authority or they would have spit that shit out right in front of her face. The guy who escaped outside ended up being brought out a pineapple mayonnaise mash sandwich and was stared down by her while he ate it, clearly in fear. As she stood outside force feeding him, the employees inside spit that shit out in the garbage and hid it with some napkins.
The pizza was delicious. Fucking Florida.
Do you have a crazy restaurant story you'd like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens (on ANY subject, not just this one)? 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!
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