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 a bevy of stories about servers getting their sweet revenge on deserving customers. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
T'was the summer of 2006. I was a server at the Olive Garden. (Editor's Note: Thank you for actually calling the place by its name) Those were dark times.
The strange thing about The Olive Garden is that it has this subset of regular customers who think that they are royalty simply because they are regular customers. They walk in at any given time and expect the staff to drop everything and stand at attention, attending to their every whim. The problem is that the Olive Garden caters to this nonsense and convinces these people that they are, in fact, royalty, and deserve nothing less.
There was one particular couple who would come in every Saturday night, blow a fit because there was a two hour wait, and then harangue the managers and hostesses until they gave up and secretly bumped them to the front of the list. Then they would sit down and demand that the table be re-wiped, ask that bread sticks be brought out even before the menu was opened, and go about treating their server like garbage for 3 hours.
I used to actually give our hostesses 5 bucks not to seat them in my section because they would immediately ruin your evening. The amount of attention they required in combination with their attitude meant that your tips from other tables were immediately going down as you got flustered and behind in your service. And they knew they were being obnoxious because they had smirks on their faces while they systematically degraded you.
One evening I was too busy to bribe the hostess and went back to my section after serving some guy his 8th bowl of pasta (a typical Olive Garden practice: gorging yourself until you rupture your stomach). And there they were.
"Waiter! Bread sticks! And there's a small fleck of cheese on this table. Have it cleaned. Chop chop!"
Needless to say, the evening went downhill from there.
After work, I met up with my friends to get drunk. We went to 7-11 to get some chips or something. And then fate took a spectacular turn.
As I was paying, I looked over and saw one of the night-ruining asshole customers perusing the magazine section and bitching about how he would actually buy the magazines if they weren't so expensive. No. Fucking. Way. I looked my buddies in the eye.
"Go out to the car. Don't ask any questions. Just do it."
They sensed that something awesome was about to happen and scurried out the door. I did a b-line to the coolers in the back and bought 2 dozen eggs.
The King of the Olive Garden hadn't seen me, so I paid for the eggs and ran out to the car.
"Guys, that dick reading the magazines in there is the biggest cock on the planet. We're fucking up his car."
Then my friends and I hurled 24 eggs at his ugly brown Buick. It was a marvelous sight. When we were done the car looked like it had been driven through bukkake pornography.
What made everything so much sweeter was that after we threw the last egg, we jumped in my buddy's car and peeled out as fast as we could. And then went and parked across the street so we could watch the bastard flip out.
Boy, was it a sight to behold. He was in the stupid 7-11 for another 20 minutes (like, who goes to a 7-11 at 2AM on a Saturday night to read magazines?). Then he came out and we got to bear witness to perhaps one of humanity's greatest displays of rage.
The King was bobbing and weaving, flapping his arms and running around in circles as he inspected our handiwork. We were giggling hysterically. At some point he must have figured out that the eggs had been sold at 7-11 because he ran back in and we could see him having a heated argument with the guy working there. Then he came storming back out and kicked the door and then went into the pizza joint next door. We figured he was hoping to find a witness.
Then we watched him drive his car over to a gas station and painstakingly clean the car from top to bottom with a squeegee, despite the fact that the gas station had a car wash. Royalty in action.
When I was fresh out of high school, I worked at my local Tim Horton's in one of Canada's larger cities. The store was in an area with a pretty high immigrant population, so we had several Indian women on our staff. I LOVED these ladies! They were so sweet and generous, and even brought in butter chicken and sweets for me. Many of them were very new to Canada, and I imagine were very stressed out to move here with their families, learn that their education didn't transfer well to Canada, that our real estate in this city is fucking insane, and took minimum-wage jobs at places like Timmy's to make ends meet. And yet, they were always so great to work with, encouraging, and friendly to customers despite it being a shit job. Like I said, I loved those ladies!
I had been working there six months or so and was usually scheduled to work the sandwich bar because I was pretty fast at it and could handle the busy lunch shifts when nobody else was working with me. One day, we had a customer come in who clearly didn't see (or care) that we have signs on the doors and stickers on the tills letting everyone know that the store only took Visa, not Mastercard. A new girl was working till - poor thing, because it was a crazy day! Till is the worst, even when customers are nice.
So this guy finally makes it up to the front of the line and puts in his order for a soup and sandwich. When he goes to pay by credit, she informs him that we don't accept Mastercard. This dude FREAKED at her! He argued about it for several minutes, even though the long line of customers behind him told him he was wrong, she couldn't do anything about it, etc. After calling her every name in the book, he started in on the racial slurs before finally paying with cash. The girl was so shocked, but kept herself so composed until he left and then ran to the back (probably to cry!).
So then he comes up to me and immediately asks why his food isn't done (I'm making the food for drive-thru and store front, and have about 8 pending orders that are CLEARLY ON THE COMPUTER SCREEN which is visible to him), and then makes some snide remark about how I wouldn't be working there if I had gone to college. I hated this job and decided it wasn't worth putting up with his shit, so I looked him in the eye (holding my knife, haha), told him I was working on my first of two degrees, that I was already smarter than he would ever be, and told him he was a terrible human being and that they didn't pay me enough to serve racist assholes that treated other people like dirt, and sent him back to the till so someone could refund him because his money wasn't worth my time. Another guy waiting for his food even applauded.
Somehow, I didn't get fired!
(Editor's Note: Man, talk about breaking stereotypes about Canadians. You go, Glen Toronto!)
Several years ago I managed a chain wing restaurant in a college town. Tuesdays were cheap wing night and the crowd would get a little crazy. The bar and lounge area was packed and one of the bartenders was out taking an order at a table when a woman at the table next to her started snapping her fingers in an attempt to get the bartender's attention. The bartender glanced at the woman and held up her finger in the universal gesture of 'give me a moment' and focused back on the table she was at. I started out from behind the bar to see what the woman wanted and she started smacking the table. The bartender said 'Excuse me one minute' to the table that was ordering and turned to the woman so desperate for attention.
"I need another Long Island. And make this one goooood. I couldn't taste any alcohol in the last one," she told her.
The bartender, with much more friendliness and courtesy than I could have mustered simply smiled, wrote down the order and said okay. She turned back to the original table and said, "I'm sorry about that, what can I get for you?"
The rude, finger snapping, table thumping lady lost it. "Oh, no, bitch! You don't have to apologize to them because you can't do your fucking job!"
I almost ran to the table and told her, very courteously, that I was the manager and to please not talk to my employees like that. Her response was "I didn't curse." Lady, I just heard you shout fuck across the bar to one of my employees. When I pointed this out to her, she tried to claim that "fuck" isn't a curse word. I'm not kidding.
I then asked her that regardless, I needed her to please not engage in that behavior again. Her response:
"I don't see what the big deal is Mr. (Name of the restaurant). If you would just train your people better there wouldn't be a problem."
At this point I had just about had it, and told her verbatim: "You seem to think we are having a discussion. We are not. Do. Not. Curse. At. My. Staff. Clear?"
"Who the fuck are you to talk to me like that? You don't own this shit hole. You don't tell me what I can and can't do!"
Did I mention that Tuesdays were crazy? Crazy enough that our security were off-duty police officers in their uniforms. The woman was loud enough that one of the officers came back from his usual post at the front door to see what the commotion was. Since she was facing away from the front she didn't see the officer approach. I did.
She continued. "You gonna throw me out? I don't think I want to go and your company won't like it if you touch me. What you gonna do?"
I look to the officer that is now standing at her left shoulder, "That would be trespassing, right?"
He flashes a quick smile before replacing it with his poker face, "Yep."
The woman looks over her shoulder to see the cop and she sags a bit and her voice is immediately softer. "I guess I will be leaving."
I smile a tight little smile and say, "I will be right back with your bill."
Her eyes widen, "You are throwing me out and expect me to pay? Fuck you. I'm not paying for shit."
I look back to the cop, "Theft?"
"Depends. Could be larceny. I'll just arrest her now and let the lawyers figure it out in the morning."
She paid and left real quick.
This story comes courtesy of my father, in San Antonio in 1972. Dad is a waiter at a Mexican place on the Riverwalk. It is his penultimate night as a waiter at this place. In two days he is packing up and moving to Austin for grad school. This restaurant was managed by a man named Mr. Hicks, and Mr. Hicks was fucking immaculate in his dress. Suit, tie, starched cuffs in the withering heat every day.
Anyway, it is late August, very hot, very busy. A large family shows up and is seated in his outdoor section. This table is basically right in front of the host's station. It's probably eight or nine people: an old couple, a middle-aged couple, a gang of kids. In charge of this outing is granddad, who sits down at the head of the table, orders drinks, and instantly begins to complain about everything: they've waited too long for a table (it's late summer at an extremely popular restaurant with a large tourist crowd), the service is too slow, the ice in the iced tea is melting (it's 95 degrees), get more tea, are you ever going to take our order, etc., etc. As Dad tells it, he didn't quit hopping for this man for 2+ hours. Nothing was good enough, everything had to be redone. Finally, they leave. Dad approaches to pick up the bill and finds his tip as well: roughly $.35 worth of change which has been shoved into the mess of uneaten beans and rice and enchilada grease on the plate of the paterfamilias.
Dad exchanges a look of resignation with the host, Albert, who tells him to wait there, he (Albert) will be right back. Very quickly, Albert appears with Mr. Hicks in tow.
Mr. Hicks: Is this your table?
Mr. Hicks: And is this your tip?
Dad : Yes, sir.
Mr. Hicks: Okay. Could you point out to me the customer who paid the bill here?
Dad: They're all just leaving. He's the old man under the archway.
Manager then proceeds to scoop up the whole nasty mess of bean-rice-chili-grease-encrusted change with one immaculate hand. He strides out of the restaurant with this handful of slop and follows the party until he is maybe ten feet from the granddad. Then he says "HEY! HEY YOU! HEY!!!" until the man finally turns around.
"YOU FORGOT SOMETHING!"
And he just hurled that handful of waste. It went all over that asshole.
I work for a stellar restaurant on Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota.
It was not an unusual Saturday evening in August several summers ago. I was still mainly hosting for the restaurant, having not yet worked my way into a serving position. It isn't uncommon for us to have a 1 1/2 to 2 hour wait for a table on a Friday or Saturday night anywhere between Memorial Day and when school resumes at the end of summer. Some customers don't seem to mind the wait; they generally take a walk or grab a beer or glass of wine and enjoy our spot on Lake Superior. Some customers, on the other hand, brood. We generally ignore the latter group as there is little we can do for them. That being said, a 2 hour wait can send some patrons to their table with a bit of an attitude. My coworker was sat just such a table.
It was a family of four and it was clear at the outset that the mother and father were not impressed with how long it took them to get to a table. As the host, I apologized for the wait, reminded them that when we met I did inform them that they were "about two hours out from a seat," and told them that their server would be over shortly. She arrived promptly, introduced herself, and took their order. Upon bringing their drinks, she went about attending to her other tables.
In fairness, a substantial amount of time passed and their food had not arrived. They flagged their waitress down and informed her of their dissatisfaction with the length of time they had been waiting for their dinners. She checked with the cooks and learned that she had sent their order to the kitchen at exactly the time when they were changing the paper ribbon on their printer. Generally, they're very good about announcing this to the waitstaff so that we don't send orders at that time, but occasionally it doesn't get across. The waitress returned to the table and informed her customers of her "missed connection." They were not at all sympathetic to an otherwise understandable situation. They demanded to see a manager immediately.
This happened to be my fellow co-host. It being a busy evening, she did what she could to calm them, explaining that it was an honest mistake on the part of our waitress, and that their orders would be given priority. This, according to our disgruntled customers, wouldn't be enough. I think we may have offered to pay for their drinks and/or appetizers as an attempt to "amend" the situation. Again, it wasn't enough. They grew increasingly impatient and demanded the home phone number of the owners. In certain circumstances, we're given permission to release that information. We provided them with the phone number and they left, threatening to call our employers immediately. We shrugged it off and otherwise went about the evening normally.
Within a few days, the owners got a call from the mother of the family. She felt as though her waitress had, in fact, laughed at her family at one point in the midst of the misunderstanding (nope). She also felt as though management did nothing to turn the situation around (nope again). Finally, she made two demands of the owners: first, she wanted a free dinner for her family, everything included. Furthermore, she wanted $100 for the inconvenience. That's right: she wanted the owners to pay her a sort of "fine" for our simple mishap.
The owner, keeping her composure, replied "Sure, just give me your mailing address and I'll send off a check right away!" The customer seemed pleased or vindicated or whatever and hung up. What she finally got in the mail, however, probably came as quite a shock. My boss sent the family a gift certificate for arguably the worst restaurant in town along with a letter indicating that they simply weren't the type of clientele we cared to conduct business with but they would probably fit right in at [fill in the blank]. Justice!
I worked at a hotel restaurant in Nebraska, lovingly known as "the beef state." We like meat there.
So this hotel hosted plenty of groups for functions around the city, and one weekend we had a group of teenagers from the panhandle — like, fucking nowhereville in farm country — come into town for debate team championships of the world or whatever. These kids knew they were smart, and they knew there was NO SCENARIO in which they'd ever have to serve somebody food as a job, because they were bright little stars with the whole world waiting for them. They were some snobby little hicks.
One kid in a loud sweater vest and bowtie ordered a burger. I asked how he wanted it cooked. Legitimate question for everyone everywhere, but one in particular that nebraskan children are taught how to answer as soon as they can chew beef. Bowtie stares at me, as though I was THE DUMBEST person he'd ever encountered and he was wondering how I managed to get as far as using whole sentences and dressing myself with an IQ so low. With exquisite disdain, touched with the slightest sense of pity, he answered "On a grill."
Smartypants bowtie requested that I cook his hamburger with the appliance used to cook hamburgers all around the world. "On. A. Grill."
I had the cook charbroil that sucker. It was barely edible. He was too young to know he could send bad food back (even though he was practically a genius!), and the party had auto-gratuity so idgaf. I watched him try to drown it in ketchup and then pick apart the bun for dinner, and I laughed and laughed and laughed…
Back in my college days, I was a delivery driver for a local chicken place. Simple dishes of rice, beans, and chicken pieces that customers would douse in all the variety of sauce flavors. Real cheap college food, but pretty good.
Well we had one customer during my year there that was infamous for being rude and a horrible tipper. He would always order the same thing and round up to the next dollar for tip (which was 16 cents). He was so well known by the drivers that his order was passed up to the next driver repeatedly. It got to the point that only when the manager told us to deliver would we do it.
I delivered to this guy at least twice a week so I was so familiar with his attitude. When we would eventually deliver his meal, he'd complain about why it took so long and tell us we were worthless. The tipping point came finally when on a delivery he berated me again and told me that I would never be anything better than a delivery driver and asked for his change — 16 fucking cents. When I told the other drivers about this last bit, they all agreed that he said the same thing to them and now was demanding his change at every delivery. So we hatched a plan.
Every time this guy ordered we would ask the line cooks to give him the oldest, skin and bone, burnt out piece of chicken in the bin. That was step one. Step two was to douse his rice in salt. I carried around a salt shaker in my car just for this asshole. Then we would make it all nice and neat, deliver it to the jerk with a smile, and give his 16 cents back to him.
We did this for about two weeks until one day this guy just stopped ordering from us. It took us awhile, but once we realized he wasn't ordering from us, the drivers all went out for drinks one night to celebrate. Excelsior!
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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