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 (due in large part to the fact that I plan to be well on my way to drunk at 11 AM Saturday when this posts), we’ve got stories of pretty whackboots religious customers. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
Amazingly, not every single one of these stories is about Christians! I know; I’m shocked, too. There will also be another BCO at its reguarly-scheduled time on Monday, in addition to this shorter version.
I was working at a very upscale and busy restaurant on Hilton Head, SC in the late 1990’s. We had a couple that were on vacation for the week and must have really liked the food and service at our place. But it might have been the extra care I took with the guest they brought in with them every night.
All week long, they would come in and ask for a table for three. They would order dinner for three including soup, salad, a non-alcoholic beverage and dessert. Again, there were only two human beings in this party.
Their “guest,” though, was a three-foot-tall statue of Jesus. They never took a doggie bag home and they never touched Golem Jesus’s meal. Needless to say, I was the only server in the building that would wait on them.
Every server knows that one of the worst things you can do to your servers is offer a CRAZY CHEAP DEAL that gives people the same amount of food they would normally order, with the same amount of work required from a server, but for like, half the price.
When I worked at a seafood restaurant (similar to Joe’s Crab Shack), they sent out birthday coupons to “club members” that offered them this massive bucket of seafood with an unlimited salad, rice, beans, drawn butter, and tortillas for ten bucks - and the worst part was there was no expiration date, no code, no nothin’—just a printable e-mail that basically said, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY! ENJOY RUINING YOUR SERVER’S DAY.” When I worked lunches, there was a priest (clerical collar and all) who would come in twice a week with a 3-ring binder into which he’d printed dozens and dozens of these coupons. I would spend 2 hours running back and forth delivering him more salad, more rice, more beans, and more Diet Coke whenever he needed; which he indicated by clearing his throat and holding up whatever item he needed more of. He was also one of those special kinds of nightmares who would ask for a refill on one item, and then wait till I returned with said item to ask for something new. Consolidate your requests, people.
He’d always leave me two bucks and some change — which might not seem like a terrible tip when your bill is 12 bucks, but that meal would normally cost at least $30, and I’d been his miserable gopher for the past two hours.
One day, after about six months of this happening, I saw him walk in with his binder of coupons and just about broke down in tears. I was the only server during the day and the thought of him shaking his 6th Diet Coke at me as I walked by was just too much. I told my manager that I couldn’t do it—please, PLEASE don’t make me take this table—and he told me to give the guy a break; he’s a man of God, after all.
I didn’t last much longer at that restaurant after that.
When I was in college, I worked as a bartender at a chain restaurant in North Carolina. The place wasn’t busy through the week and during some morning shifts it was a ghost town. One particularly slow morning, I was standing behind the bar reading a book when a man who looked like frat boy Jeffrey Dahmer came in and took a seat.
Before I could say a word, he blurts out, “Son, I’m going to be the best customer you’ve ever had,” which is customer speak for “I am an unquenchable nightmare.” He proceeds to order a strawberry daiquiri and a shot of bourbon—it was about 11 a.m.—and his food. After placing his order I made the mistake of trying to make small talk to help kill the boredom since he was the only customer I had. I asked where he worked—he sold portable storage units—and he somehow turned that answer into a tirade about the illegality of federal income taxes and the forthcoming second American revolution. Luckily, his phone rang a few minutes in, and I got away before he could recite to me the new national anthem Ted Nugent was going to write.
After I got him squared away, I went back to reading my book. He spots the book and asks what it’s about. I give him a quick synopsis and he reacts the way a dog might if you gave it a synopsis of a book: vacant eyes, furrowed brow, slight head tilt.
After a few seconds he says, “Sounds faggy.” At this, I guess, the person on the other end of the phone call asked what I had said. “Here, tell my buddy what you just told me,” he said and starts to hand me his phone. But before giving it to me he pulls back and asks “You’re not a faggot, right?”
This question caught me so off guard I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I couldn’t even begin to piece together an angry reply, and I just stammered out a no. He lets out a huge sigh of relief, then thrusts the phone at me. I refused it and made some excuse to leave. But since I was the only bartender on duty, I eventually had to go back.
When he finally, mercifully paid the tab and got up to leave, he stopped and said ‘Hey, man, you did a really great job’ and left a $2 tip on a $30 bill. But the last insult was hidden inside the receipt wallet. Inside the sleeve, he slipped a pamphlet on Christianity that had a drawing of Jesus on the cross with a personalized message scribbled at the top. He wrote: “You earned your tip, but have you earned salvation for your soul? Think about it.”
I had bad customers before and after this guy, but no one else ever brought in their own fucking props.
In the 90’s, I was dating a girl who tended bar at a Cajun place near the sports bar where I worked. Her least favorite shift was this restaurant’s Sunday Champagne Brunch. While the brunch was always busy, given the place’s location near two Southern mega-churches, the bulk of the patrons were the after church crowd who chose the no-champagne brunch option and left my girlfriend twiddling her thumbs most of the day. As such, she invited me and a friend up on occasion to sit at the bar, have brunch, eat off our hangovers before football, and keep her company.
Now, while these folks (or the “bible beating brunchers” as the staff came to call them) were usually polite, the servers weren’t keen on them either, as they could be very demanding (the guy who asked the manager to turn down the house music so his family could pray before their meal and the lady who always wanted to give her testimony to her server stick out) and they could get a server in the weeds real quick. However, what made these holy-rollers a living hell was the fact that, while they had no qualms about running some poor server’s ass off to take care of their brunch, they also seemed to think that tithing was more important than tipping, so most of the staff considered themselves blessed if they got a 10% tip from this bunch (religious tracts were also common in lieu of reasonable tips).
Given that, the most egregious sin these polyester-clad proselytizers committed was their refusal to leave. Their table might be ready to turn in 45 minutes or an hour, but this bunch seemed to think this restaurant was their own personal parish hall and it was nothing to see the bibles being broken out and serious discussions being had across tables, well after their meal was finished and their tickets delivered.This was all the more annoying to the wait staff when, as was often the case, there were people waiting for tables who did drink and tip.
I tell all this a prelude to that one Sunday in December, when another group of 30 made brunch reservations for a Christmas party. The group? Employees of a nearby gentleman’s club.
While the party was relegated to one side of the restaurant, the high ceilings and stone floors of this place managed to carry their, ummm, bubbly ambiance around quite well. And, other than the terrified glances cast their way by the church folks for fear that their children might be exposed to the sight of some barely concealed breasts, no one seemed to mind the strip club party, though the bibles were getting an extra workout.
That is, until it was time for the gift exchange. It seemed that, as each gift was opened, the tipsy squeals of the ladies got a bit louder and a few more heads turned. This reached its peak when one of the ladies with some serious silicone enhancement stood up, let loose an orgasmic squeal and held up her Christmas gift for all in the restaurant to see; a pair of handcuffs.
At the sight of that, the bible-beaters cleared out of the restaurant en masse like the Israelites as Moses parted the Red Sea (I’m pretty sure I felt a breeze as they blasted out the door), many of them never to return. I’m also pretty sure the gentleman’s club party had their bar tab comped that day.
In high school, I worked at a tiny B&B in mid-coastal Maine. One morning a new guest announced that she was strictly kosher and could not eat anything that had ever had bacon on it. I assured her that our bacon was baked in the oven, not fried, so she could have eggs or pancakes. She didn’t believe me and was really angry that we did not have a separate set of kosher cooking equipment. Why she would expect this in a little town in Maine was beyond me. She eventually settled on toast but complained loudly the whole time.
I was a good little worker, so that afternoon I went out and bought a new pan, implements, etc. to use to cook her breakfast the next day. That night, I went for dinner at a local restaurant and saw her happily devouring lobster.
I returned my new pans and served her toast for the rest of her stay.
I worked at a small independently owned pizza restaurant in a suburb of Kansas City, MO during college about 25 years ago. One bad incident does stand out, even after all of these years.
It was a late weeknight and we rarely had eat-in customers. Most of our business was delivery or takeout. Due to this, and it being a quiet time, there were only two of us in the place this night. Me, working as kind of cook/wait staff/manager, and my coworker—a woman newly-hired who was learning from me in the kitchen and would make a delivery if we needed.
Our only eat-in at the moment was a group of four adults (middle aged men and women). I took their order and was working with the new hire in the kitchen to start the pizzas.
The kitchen was visible and easily accessible from the dining area. A fairly small galley type of kitchen, there was just enough room for the long conveyor belt pizza oven, and across from that, the long table where we would assemble the pizzas (the sinks, storage, dough mixer, etc were in the back room).
Suddenly, my co-worker drops to the floor in a violent seizure of some sort. In the small kitchen, she was dangerously close to the hot oven on one side, and the metal prep table on the other. The floor was hard brick-something-type-of-flooring. I had no medical training but my instinct was that I needed to #1 protect her head and #2 try and her flailing limbs away from sharp and hot things.
The phone was out of reach for me—remember, 25 years ago, no cell phones!—it was up on the wall at the height for someone standing up,and was kind of around the corner behind the cash register. I was on the floor placing my hand under her head, and I had positioned my body between her and the oven. I was trying to somewhat protect her flailing arms as well (again, a cramped, kitchen with lots of metal etc). I felt like I needed a couple more arms to get the job done.
Imagine how relieved I was when the four customers, who had been able to see what was going on, immediately came over to us. “Call 911!” I said, pointing up at the phone. “And can someone help me hold the back of her head?” My knuckles were taking a beating from coming between her head and the floor, and I thought that another person on the other side of her would help ensure she didn’t hit her limbs on the hard prep table legs.
“No” the lead man of the group said “We will pray.” Then the four of them stood there, NOT CALLING 911 and NOT HELPING IN ANY WAY other than to pray. ALL FOUR OF THEM.
I could not believe it and I kept pleading and yelling “Please, someone call 911, there’s the phone!” and “Someone put your hand here behind her head so I can call for help!” I kid you not, they stood there praying and doing nothing else.
Although this was only a few minutes, it felt like an eternity and I didn’t know anything about seizures and didn’t know how long this would last or how fast she needed help. I made what felt like an agonizing decision to leave her for a second so that I could stand up and dial 911 (I was able to dial and then stretch the cord to the floor and hold it in my shoulder so I could talk to 911 while trying to cushion her head.)
The group of four customers stood over us doing nothing but praying. I don’t remember everything they prayed about, but I do remember that there was a very judgmental attitude in their prayers, and something was mentioned about the woman having the seizure as a sinner of some sort (“forgive her” and that kind of thing).
To my relief, she came out of her seizure within a few minutes, about when the ambulance arrived. Obviously she was unable to finish her shift and so I apologized to the group of four customers that without kitchen staff I would have to close early. There was no way in HELL (Editor’s Note: HAR! I don’t even think this was intentional) I was going to make a delicious pizza for them after that. I didn’t actually close early, I got someone who lived nearby to come in and finish the night shift with me.
Epilogue: The woman was OK. Turns out she was epileptic and prone to seizures (though this was unknown to any of us) and recovered from that seizure with no major physical damage to her head or limbs.
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 Bochkarev Photography/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.