Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. As a special Weekend BCO, we’ve got stories of celebrities in restaurants—the good, the bad, and the Colonel Sanders. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
I was working at a pretty popular family restaurant near Hollywood around ten years ago. It was a slow Monday night, fifteen minutes from closing, when a celebrity came into the completely empty place with his wife and their young daughter. Well, shit. I put on a happy face, sat them down, and did that thing where you try to combine serving a table with closing procedures. I should never have bothered, because of course I couldn’t do 99% of that stuff until all the customers were gone. The star and his wife were very friendly, and their daughter, who was four or five, was a delight. I couldn’t bring myself to bitch too much, because their check was about $35 and he left a 100% tip. Seriously: exactly 100%. I don’t remember the exact amount, but if it was $35.77, he left $71.54 in cash and change. And they finally got up to leave.
Then, before the door could close behind him, his hand thrust back in to hold it open. He came storming back.
“You guys close at 10?”
“What time did we get here?”
“Jesus. No wonder this place was empty the whole time.” He was genuinely, sincerely upset. I mean it: his hands were shaking a tiny bit and he was talking unreasonably fast. “Look. I have the life I have today because I won the lottery in a way. I’m no more or less deserving of anything than anybody, and I always promised myself I’d never pull entitled bullshit like this.”
Well, it wasn’t like you did it on purpose.
“Yeah, but there’s still something to be said for being considerate enough to look at the hours on the door. How many people are still here?”
Myself, a cook, an assistant manager, and a busboy.
“Okay. You can tell that being diplomatic with me isn’t going to work, right? I swear I’ll be extremely fast, but don’t bother with the ‘don’t worry about it, sir’ crap. I want to talk to all four of you right now because I will make this right.”
I don’t know what it was, but I absolutely knew in that moment that truer words had never been spoken. I went to the back where my three co-workers were and I said, basically, that the guy who just left came back and wanted to talk to all of us, and I REALLY think we should go up there. Somehow, they too knew that this was serious shit. We quickly walked to the front.
“Like I told C.J. here, I’m really, honestly upset with myself for delaying you guys. I don’t want you guys to go home angry at me or angry at your job for forcing you to deal with dumbasses like me. Another thing I told C.J. was that there’s no point in arguing, because I won’t let this go. Are there any questions at all?”
There were none, and he handed us each one of the four piles of one thousand fucking dollars in cash he’d neatly made on the register counter.
So, Kevin Smith is a good dude.
(Editor’s Note: Say whatever you want about him and his work, this story jibes very strongly with everything I’ve heard about Kevin Smith as a customer—and I’ve heard a surprising amount about him, probably exactly for this reason.)
I worked in the “hamburger deck” of a very good restaurant in the Hamptons that sat on a marina. The Hamburger Deck was much more casual and the fine dining area was on the interior, with a wall of windows to watch the sunset behind the yachts. The busing station was situation at a corner of the Hamburger Deck with prime seats in the fine dining section overlooking it.
I was a busser on the Hamburger Deck. One evening, another busser said something to me that really pissed me off. I took the wet rag I was using to clean a table and I *hurled* it at him with all the strength of a softball catcher (the distance was maybe 10 feet). He ducked and the wet rag hit the fine dining window loudly. The gentleman who was sitting at that table HIT THE DECK. He was on the floor so fast it was as though he’d been practicing in case someone tried to whack him.
Turns out, that’s exactly why he was so fast. Salman Rushdie, I’m SO sorry.
I was working at Christmastime at Greggs, a fast-food type bakery, in an out-of-town shopping centre. The shopping centre I worked at was the second biggest in Scotland, and always had stuff going on—international markets/win a car/celebrities—and this day they had some famous American basketball players (sorry, I don’t know who they were). (Editor’s Note: After some discussion, Kim and I figured out this was actually members of the Harlem Globetrotters.)
Anyway, at one point, they had a break and came along to Greggs, for some crazy reason. As it was Christmastime, we had loads of free samples of our Christmas seasonal sandwiches, pasties, and cakes out, and were told to push them onto every customer. So that’s what I did. And they tried a bit of everything, seemed to really enjoy it, and kept trying to compliment me on them. They were so nice! And after they had bought everything they wanted, they tried to give me a £20 tip. That’s HUGE.
Unfortunately, I had to tell them we weren’t allowed to take tips, but I could put it in the charity bucket if they wanted. So they gave me even MORE money to put in it. And THEN they bought some raffle tickets! And even after all that, they wanted to speak to my supervisor to tell her how nice and helpful I was. Best customers I’ve ever had.
In the early 90s I worked as a host at Legal Seafoods in Boston, the flagship location in the Park Plaza Hotel. It was insanely busy; I’m not sure we ever had a slow night. Legal’s was still one of “the” places to go, and being smack in the middle of the middle of the theater district, we had some pretty big names come in over the year or so I was there: Charlton Heston, Dr. Dre, Hakeem Olajuwon and the rest of the Houston Rockets, Stephen King, the New Kids on the Block—you get the idea. It was a point of pride for everyone working there not to get starstruck, and we didn’t; they were treated the same as every other customer. Usually.
Unless the hotel called ahead for a special guest, we didn’t take reservations, and wait times on weekends could be up to three hours. Early one Friday night, I took a call from someone calling himself Mr. Anderson asking if there was a wait for a table for three and if he could hold a table. I politely explained that we didn’t take reservations, but that there currently was not a wait. He said that was fine, no problem, and they’d be in shortly.
About a half an hour later, we were up to a 45 minute wait, and Steven Tyler walked in with his wife and a young child (not Liv). He came up to the host stand, straight to me, and said, “Hi, are you Jenna? I called earlier about a table for three.” I explained that yes, I remembered, but there was now a wait. His companion started to look annoyed, but he was smiling and polite. I told him to give me a few minutes and I’d see what I could do; because despite not getting starstruck, management tended not to let famous people stew in the bar if it could be avoided. I called my manager over and said, “Jon, Steven Tyler is here with his wife and daughter; I told him we could probably seat him right away.” My manager’s eyes got really wide and he started looking around all crazy, “Where is he? Where is Steven Tyler?”
Mind you, Mr. Tyler looked exactly the way you’d think he would; he was wearing more makeup than I was, had a scarf wrapped around his rock star hair, and was wearing jeans, a flashy shirt, and a long olive duster, practically screaming rock star. In other words, he was hard to miss. I showed the manager where he was waiting, calmly and patiently, and he bustled over to take care of him. On his way by the host stand, Mr. Tyler thanked me for my help, and proceeded to be a dream customer in every way; making sure his little girl didn’t scream, run around, or make a mess, treating the staff nicely, and tipping well. It’s still my favorite story about my time at Legal’s, and about celebrities in general. They definitely weren’t all that nice.
I was working a busy lunch at a nice pizzeria with a full bar and lots of non-pizza options on the menu. It was one of the few sit-down pizza options in the Watertown area with lots of office parks and not many restaurants. Some sports training facilities were located in the suburbs so we would get the occasional athlete at a table about once or twice a month.
On one particularly busy lunch, I got a table with 4 people. One super tall 20-ish guy in mismatched basketball gear, one 50-ish guy in an extremely nice suit, and two amazingly beautiful women in skimpy nightclub outfits sat down in my section.
I went over to take the drink order. Everything seemed normal until the tall guy mumbled out “sra memenay.” I apologized for not hearing him over the chatter and got the same mumbled “sra memenay.”
The man in the suit eloquently said “He would like a strawberry lemonade.” I apologized again and promised to come right back with their drinks.
After dropping off the drinks, I started taking their food orders. This time, the tall guy mumbles out something like “spino mist.” I was torn between asking if he wanted a “sierra mist” or a “spinach pizza.” I guess I didn’t hide my worry about the conversational disaster approaching in 5 seconds because the suit immediately said “he would like the chicken spinach broccoli pasta.” I thanked them all and quickly rushed away from the table so I wouldn’t make the situation more uncomfortable.
After a few minutes with other tables, my manager comes to me in the back and asks “how is table 18?”
I said “ I can’t understand that tall guy at all. I think he’s a summer camp special kid or something. He can’t really talk...or dress himself. He mumbled his orders and the guy in the suit had to tell me what he wanted. But those women are SO hot!”
My manager bursts out laughing and says “A summer camp special kid? Hahaha! That’s Delonte West. He’s on the Celtics...and that’s gotta be his agent and...uh...very expensive prostitutes.”
Back in the 70’s, Mom was putting herself through college by working at Kentucky Fried Chicken. One day, just before the lunch rush, Colonel Sanders shows up. He had sold the franchise years ago, but still did promotional tours.
He was greeting staff and customers alike, when he went to stand next to my mother and put his hand on her back. Then the hand dropped and he just casually rested it on her ass like no big deal.
Taking that same hand he had just used to sexually harass my mother, he goes over to the vat of mashed potatoes and scoops up a fistful. Then he goes to the gravy vat, dips his bare-handed potato fist in there, and licks it all up. One napkin later and the visit was over.
(Editor’s Note: WELL, THEN!)
Do you have a crazy restaurant or other food-industry 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!
Note: I do not want poop/vomit stories. Please stop sending me poop/vomit stories. Also, if your stories are not food-related in some way, I am unable to do anything with them. Sorry.
Image via qanatstudio/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.