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 restaurant employees who were just unmitigated disasters. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
My sophomore year of high school through my sophomore year of college, I worked summers at a local old-school 50’s style drive-in. The staff was almost entirely high school kids or recent graduates who were attending the local community college. No one older than 20.
One employee in particular seemed destined for an early grave. We’ll call him Jacob.
During closeup one night, Jacob was tasked with sweeping and mopping the kitchen. Basic KP duty. I was mixing a batch of root beer in the back room when my lungs began to itch. Seconds later, the entire kitchen staff came barreling around the corner doing their best impression of Han Solo running from the Imperial shield bunker on Endor.
Seems Jacob thought it would be clever to mix up some extra-powerful cleaner to make his job easier. He’d mixed a half-gallon of bleach with a half-gallon of ammonia in the mop bucket. For reference, this is the equivalent of crossing the streams. We recovered, and Jacob was educated on WWI chemical warfare. (Editor’s Note: I am in love with these entire last two paragraphs.)
Next. We made our own cole slaw. Toss three heads of cabbage, 10 carrots, a bowl of dressing, a bit of salt and pepper into this ancient chopping mechanism, give it a few passes, and voila. Jacob was assigned the job. Again, how hard could it be?
About half an hour later and Jacob was still hard at work on a job that should have taken, at most, 10 minutes. The kitchen manager walks to the back to investigate. “Jesus Christ, Jacob, what the hell is this?”
“Cole slaw, duh.” You could hear his eyes roll.
“Jacob, have you ever eaten cole slaw?”
“Did it fucking look like pudding?!”
I had to see. Jacob had made a slaw smoothie. It was literally liquified. I still don’t know how.
(Editor’s Note: Goddamit, Jacob.)
My place of work happens to be very close to a Subway, so I often grab a quick sandwich from there for lunch, and over the past year I’ve gotten to know the people who work there. I recently went in and found a new employee working behind the counter, wearing the trainee badge and all. She made my sandwich, and being a trainee, it took a little longer than usual. I’m not here to judge her for lack of sandwich perfection, she was new to it. However, I will judge her for something else.
When we got to the condiment section, I requested mustard. She took the bottle out and squeezed, and I noticed that rather than mustard coming out of the bottom as is normally the case, a little bit of mustard oozed out of the top. No big deal, she had grabbed the bottle upside-down.
However, she hadn’t noticed her mistake, and became determined to get the mustard out. She squeezed the bottle significantly harder, and this time mustard shot out of the top of the bottle and smeared all over her hand and arm (she was wearing short sleeves).
She still did not notice her mistake, despite her arm dripping with mustard. Her brow furrowed in frustration and she now used two hands to squeeze the bottle with the force of a thousand suns, thus creating what future historians will call The Great Mustard Geyser of ‘15. It shot out of the top and splattered all over her arm, her hand, the counter, the sandwich next to mine, the vegetables, it was a mess. There was more mustard in the room than there was oxygen.
And the most insane thing is that she was so razor-focused on getting the mustard on the sandwich that she STILL HAD NOT NOTICED. She reared up for another go at it and started to squeeze.This time I stepped in and muttered “Um, I think it’s upside-down.” She finally, finally looked at the mustard apocalypse that she had created...and just shrugged, flipped the bottle over, and applied the mustard. When she was done she went to the next customer, completely ignoring the mess that her mustard adventure had created.
Strangely enough, not a single drop of mustard got on my sandwich before she flipped the bottle.
In the early 1990’s, I worked as a line cook at a one-step-above-pub-style restaurant in Worcester, MA (Editor’s Note: WOOOOOOOOOOOOO-STAAAAAAAAHHHHHH sorry I have no idea what just happened). It was a Saturday morning, and I arrived at about 10 AM for the long day, began lunch set up and prep for the night. Then the owner, a little loud Napoleonic fella, burst into the kitchen and announced to the Chef and I that one of the servers had committed suicide overnight. She had been there a while and was one of the better servers. We cooks liked her.
The owner genuinely shaken up; he had just gotten a call from her sister, but didn’t know anything else. I had gone to school with the sister, so I offered to call the house to see how we could help. The owner was going to close the restaurant for the day, he offered to cater the wake, send food for the family. More generous than I expected from the shifty bastard.
I called the house and her younger sister answered. I reintroduce myself, expressed my condolences...and she asked what the hell am I talking about. Her mother had just spoken to the “dead” sister a moment ago, and person I was talking to certainly had made no call to the restaurant that morning. We talked another minute and the only only conclusion we could reach is that the server had called in dead to work.
She. Called. In. Dead.
I spent a good twelve years of my life working for Fazoli’s. Now, for those who haven’t heard of it, Fazoli’s is essentially the fast food variant of Olive Garden. Crappy Italian food, served by underpaid, overworked, underappreciated people. The original goal of Fazoli’s was to provide “upscale quality Italian food at fast food speed and prices”—which it actually did when Kuni Toyoda was still in charge, until Sun Capital bought it out and proceeded to try to turn it into Italian McDonald’s, only without wanting to spend all the money McDonald’s has to make it the way it is. (Editor’s Note: If you guys remember Dustin Hucks’ Breadsticks story, that was at a Fazoli’s, though he never explicitly stated such)
The first GM I worked with had quit, and it was the first week of our brand new GM (I will refer to him as “Charles”). Now, we had another gentleman who worked there (who I will refer to as “Buddy”). Buddy was a really nice guy, but he was rather...unbalanced. As such, he was on medication to control his mood.
So, it’s a Friday night and we’re packed to the gills, I’m on the register, we’ve got a line to the door, and buddy is out delivering breadsticks to the tables. That’s when Buddy completely flips.
It turns out his new doctor had decided to tinker with his medication and the changes had a rather bad effect on him. Buddy starts screaming, throws his breadstick basket to the ground, and tries to shove over the soda machine. By the grace of god, he didn’t manage to tip it (although he almost managed to). So he grabs the lid off the soda machine, and, using it like a Frisbee, hurls it at some kids in a nearby booth. Charles, in what can only be described as luck granted to him by the Lady herself, manages to catch it in MID-AIR, right before it slammed into those kids.
Buddy still isn’t done, though. Still in a Hulk-like rampage, he plows into the line of people, grabbing these various decorative bottles that were glued to the shelves on the other side of the soda machines. He RIPS THE BOTTLES OFF THE SHELVES, before hurling them onto the floor. At this point, Charles and two other managers tackle him, trying to get him under control. He actually manages to throw them off of him, before running for the door, kicking it open (and shattering the glass in the process) and running off into the night (presumably to climb the nearest skyscraper and swat at planes).
Amazingly enough, they gave him another chance—only to fire him about a month later after another freakout. As for Charles? He stopped showing up to work a couple of weeks later. That probably should have been my clue that I should have done the same thing.
A friend of mine who was in the process of being tested for celiac disease wanted to go out for her birthday. She was being careful in what she ate during this time until the results were final. She picked a restaurant and when we were ordering, asked the waitress what the soup of the day was. She was told minestrone. My friend then asked if the soup had any wheat in it. The waitress goes “oh no, honey, it’s just vegetables, beans and noodles.”
The summer after my senior year of high school, I was dating a very good looking boy. He was very tall and broad shouldered and looked like he was in his 20’s, while I was very short and looked younger than 17 (this has benefited me in the 13 years since). We went out to dinner, a lot, because his parents gave him a huge allowance and were never home. It was great.
I mention that he was good looking because a lot of waitresses would flirt with him. Most would figure out relatively quickly that we were on a date; they’d notice us hold hands, or that I was wearing his class ring on a necklace, or maybe we’d say something; whatever it was, the flirting usually didn’t go past the drink orders.
One time, however, we were at a TGIFriday’s or some place like that and the waitress did not get the message. It was late, like 10:30 or so. We were waiting to order our food when our waitress came back with our drinks - we were holding hands, so obviously on a date, but she didn’t notice. She plopped my soda in front of me, then leaned over to place his soda near his left arm. She leaned in, as if she wanted to brush her breasts across his chiseled jaw. It was weird.
Then she took our order: she barely acknowledged me, but touched his arm when he ordered (meatballs) and giggled, like meatballs are the funniest word in the world. She actually winked at him as she walked to the back to put in our order. We were cracking up at this point, because we were obviously together.
She came back with our food a little later and after again, plopping mine down, she leaned over and gently placed his plate in front of him. “If you want more *meatballs*,” she said, channeling her inner Marilyn Monroe, “just ask. It’ll be...my...pleasure.” She winked again and walked away.
By now I was starting to get uncomfortable, so I decided to say something when she came back. But, when she did, she has 3 meatballs on a small plate, which she delicately added to my boyfriend’s food, WITH HER FINGERS. “I thought you might like some extra...meatballs.” she said.
At this point I was enraged and about to say something, but before I can my boyfriend said, “Excuse me, we’re on a date. And I don’t want your meatballs.”
WELL. She was in utter disbelief that he could be on a date with me (!!!) so laughed and said, “You’re shitting me, right? I thought she was your little sister!” then starts laughing maniacally, as if it’s the funniest thing in the world. My boyfriend asked for the check. She stopped laughing immediately and stomped off towards the server station. We just sat there in complete disbelief and try to ignore the patrons around us who have, at this point, all noticed what was going on.
She came back with the check, flung it down in front of me and says (no lie), “Well if you’re old enough to date HIM, you’re old enough to pay!” She then gave him the saddest puppy dog face and flounced off.
On the check was her phone number and a little heart.
In the 80’s, I worked in a fancy restaurant in Faneuil Hall. One of the servers was not the sharpest tool. For dinner, the chef prepared duchess potatoes, and we told the server it was pronounced douche potatoes—which he cheerily explained to every table that night.
Years ago I used to work in Human Resources. Our department was made up of about 6 women at the time, and we all got along pretty well. On Fridays we would often order in lunch and all eat together. The head of our department kept Kosher, but this wasn’t generally an issue, as long as she didn’t mix milk and meat, or eat non-Kosher cheese, she was happy to join in and eat with us.
One Friday we ordered from a catch-all kind of restaurant we’d ordered from before, one of those places who specialize in either pizza, fried chicken, or salads and sandwiches, depending on which delivery menu you happened to pick up. I wouldn’t bother hiding the name except I can’t remember it anyways, a local place, not a chain.
So we’ve got the guy on the phone and the rest of us give in our orders, and then we hand the phone to my boss. “Hi,” she says, “I’d like to order a tuna sub, no cheese.”
“No.” We can all hear it through the phone. “No substitutions.”
My boss looks up, confused. “No, no, I’m not asking for anything extra, I just don’t want the cheese.”
“No,” the guy repeats, “no extra, no substitutions.”
“I know,” my boss says again, “I don’t want you to substitute anything FOR the cheese. I just don’t want it. I can’t eat it. Leave everything else the way it is, a normal tuna sub. Just hold the cheese.”
Now we’re all looking at each other like we were being punked. My boss looks baffled and speaks slowly into the phone: “you can keep the cheese. Can’t you just make me a tuna sub and keep the cheese? Save it for someone else?”
Again the guy was adamant. No way was this crazy lady gonna talk him into making any substitutions on his menu.
At this point we were starting to fidget. If he wouldn’t fill her order, we’d have to all agree on a new place, and hurry to get the order in before it got too late, since we all had assorted meetings and things later in the afternoon. It had already taken us long enough just to agree on this place...
Suddenly my boss had an idea. “What if,” she asked into the phone, “you make me a tuna sub...and put the cheese...on the side?”
“No problem,” the man’s voice rang out, “Delivery will be about 40 minutes.”
There’s one restaurant experience that has led to a running gag in our family for about 10 years. We went to a mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant in DeKalb, IL, where my wife’s family is from. We’d never been there, so we didn’t know what was in their kitchen’s wheelhouse. We get the menu, and a special catches my wife’s eye. However, she also doesn’t like her food to be overly spicy, so she has this conversation with the definitely non-Mexican experienced waitress:
Wife: How spicy is it?
Waitress: Well, it has onions in it...
Now, anytime we eat anything that has onions in it—even a Big Mac—we say, “Watch out, it’s probably spicy.” Or, if something is spicy, we say, “It probably has onions in it.”
Kinja user Tza:
I worked at a Dip ‘n Dots in FL a few summers back. It was a successful set of two stores, and the secondary store was managed by the owners’ son. That store was smaller and had less employees, even on the busy night shift. One night it was me, the son, and a very religious young man about my age working. We’re between rushes but there’s still a few customers. While one group is being served, two black men with strong Jamaican accents come in.
The manager asked me to take care of them even though it should have been my coworker, but hey, no issue. I assumed that maybe the guy had trouble taking orders from people with strong accents or something, it happens. I serve the two men who are nice as can be. No trouble. They’re the last in line so I get to wiping the counter down as they’re rung out by the manager. I noticed that my manager and coworker seemed to be trying not to laugh and asked what was up.
“Girl, you didn’t even break a sweat! How’d you do that?” my manager asked.
I was very confused by then. I just had no clue what he meant at all. “Do what?”
It came out, using fairly offensive language, that they had been attempting to fluster me because they assumed the men were homosexual and therefore assumed that 1) I would assume the same and 2) this would somehow send me into a fit of womanly hysterics. They had asked me to serve those men as a prank or something.
My response was “Oh, why would them being gay have bothered me?” in my best you’re-silly voice and an attempt to go back to cleaning while desperately telling myself I only had a couple weeks left at the job.
Also, what my coworker took from that response was that I was a lesbian and that was why I had rejected him in the past. Sure it was, buddy. Sure it was.
Here’s what happened to me many years ago at a soup-and-sandwich shop in downtown Philadelphia.
ME: Hi! What’s your soup du jour?
GIRL BEHIND THE COUNTER: It’s the soup of the day.
ME: Yes, I know. But what is it?
GBTC: It’s a soup we make special—it’s different every day.
ME: Yes…and what is today’s special soup?
GBTC: Gestapo soup.
ME: I beg your pardon?
GBTC: Gestapo soup. You know, the cold stuff.
Judging from her sighs and eye-rolls, the girl behind the counter clearly thought I was an idiot.
When my husband and I first moved to town we used to frequent a local pizza place close to our townhome. A college-aged girl worked there and she was always really chatty. It was pretty obvious that she wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box, but she was cute and friendly so I always chatted with her whenever I came in.
One night I called to place an order for delivery and I recognized her voice taking my order. Everything went fine until she asked for the expiration date of my credit card. I told her “July 2017.” I hear her fumbling around for a minute, then she asked again, “What’s the expiration date on your card?” I answer, July 2017. More fumbling and she asks for the expiration date again. I thought maybe it was loud in the restaurant and she was having a hard time hearing me, so I answer again, “July 2017.” Then I heard her holler to someone else in the restaurant, “What number is July?”
I was attending a play at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston. There are several fully stocked cash bars set up in the lobby and during intermission I ordered what I assumed was a simple drink. It turns out I was wrong. I’d like to point out that these are professional bartenders and the guy in question was clearly in his thirties. The following conversation followed almost verbatim after I asked for a whiskey neat.
Him: “Do you mean whiskey with ice?”
Me: “No, neat.”
Him: “Like on the rocks?”
Me: “No, neat means no ice.”
Him: “So like, just whiskey?”
Me: “Yes, just whiskey.”
Him: “Like a shot of whiskey?”
Me: “Kind of, only in a regular glass, not a shot glass.”
Him: “With nothing else?”
Me (growing exasperated but trying not to sound condescending): “Nothing else. You just pour the whiskey in a glass and hand it to me.”
He picks up a bottle of Jim Beam and shows it to me.
Me: “No, that’s bourbon.”
He picks up a bottle of Johnny Walker and shows that to me.
Me: “No. (pause) Never mind, sure.”
He pours about four fingers of scotch into a highball glass and hands it to me like it’s a glass full of warm spit.
Him: “Is that what you want?”
Me: “It’s close enough. “
The best part was that the elderly couple who was standing next to me was so amused by the exchange that they paid for my drink and covered the tip as well. The lady said it was funnier than the show.
Kinja user RTSLightning:
I was 17 just out of high school working as a server at an IHOP on weeknights.
A South Asian family of seven came in and my coworker sat them. She dropped their stack of menus on the table and hurried back to the server station where I was watching from. I was surprised, because she appeared very flustered. Before I could ask, she said “Can you serve them for me? I just can’t serve those people. Not after 9/11.”
(Editor’s Note: Apex idiot right here. Or it would be, if not for the next story.)
Years ago I worked in a hotel in a sleazy seaside town that hosted every kind of shitty event, from disappointing weddings to soul-numbing trade shows. One time, we hosted a meeting for a notorious animal testing company who’d been exposed a few years before for horrific animal abuse, including vivisection.
The guy responsible for making the coffee for this event was the most clueless, unhygienic piece of crap I’ve ever worked with (outside of academia). The coffee goes out and straightaway our manager gets a call complaining that the milk is bad. He goes to check it out, and sure enough, the milk’s turning into cottage cheese in the coffee. Because the coffee isn’t coffee.
Turns out dumb co-worker ignored a whole bunch of massive red barriers and yellow DO NOT USE warning signs, and made coffee from the water boilers that were being de-scaled with industrial-strength hydrochloric acid. The manager ran back to the meeting room in a panic and pretty much grabbed the cups out of people’s hands, then destroyed the evidence before anybody twigged what was going on. And that’s how [Hotel Chain] nearly killed the entire senior management of [Evil Company].
(Editor’s Note: And somehow, improbably, there’s still a better story this week.)
During my junior year at Tennessee, I worked at a place in Knoxville called the “Silver Spoon Café.” Silver Spoon’s allure was Five-fold: Sunday Brunch, a boursin butter so addicting I often saw customers “covertly” emptying ramekins into plastic bags under the table, Baked Pastas (that always came double-bowled and with the warning “Careful, that top bowl’s hot”), a peanut-butter pie which could’ve held over the Donner party, and, oddly enough, the $3 margarita.
Now, I’ll remind you that this is not a Mexican restaurant, so apparently the $3 margarita was the perfect gambit to get Knoxvillians who wanted to eat incredibly unhealthy food, but also get their drink on to the white-trash-tune of a $3 18oz margarita. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for us to stand scratching our heads as multiple $3 margaritas stacked up on a table that had just eaten enough food to feed a small country.
(Editor’s Note: Stick with this one. Trust me)
One particularly busy night, we were all slammed and margaritas kept flying out of the bar faster than normal. Manager calls a quick team meeting to tell us all how good of a job we were doing and realizes one of my co-workers is bouncing around to his tables still. He finally shows up from a table with the most odd request of the night: “Hey...so table X wants to know if we can make a “Kid’s Margarita...”
We all were laughing our asses off thinking they wanted a kid-sized margarita as if $3 wasn’t cheap enough, but apparently the kid was throwing a fit because both of his parents were drinking margaritas and he felt left out. Our bartender, the quick-thinker she was, said “sure, i’ll just throw some margarita mix in some sprite.” Drink made, taken to table, happy kid, crisis averted.
But it stuck in our heads: “Kid Margarita”...
For the rest of the night, the running joke was to come into the bar, and yell out “kid” drink orders...
- “I need a KID SCREWDRIVER”
- “Hey can we get a Kid Mudslide?
- “We need 4 Kid Pina Coladas”
- “Where are we on that Kid’s Martini?’
- “I need a Kid’s Bloody Mary!”
Duplicates got punches, so you had to pay attention. It was a riot, and helped bust-up the craziness of the shift...until the moment I was ringing-in an order at the bar POS when one co-worker had to put in a drink order and shouted it at the top of his lungs:
“HEY, CAN I GET A KID BLOW-JOB?!”
(Editor’s Note: Told you)
To make matters worse, our bar was full of regulars who, seeing the wait times, had opted to sit in the bar instead of waiting for a table in the main dining room. When I looked over my shoulder, one such regular; a sweet 60-something-year-old lady and her husband looked as mortified to hear those words as if the act itself was taking place in front of them.
I’d never seen my manager comp a meal faster in my life. If we hadn’t been so busy, I’m sure we’d have ended up with one less coworker, too. He kept his job, but also an unfortunate nickname: BJ, which customers who were there that shift continued to call him for as long as I could remember.
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.
Also, note that for this subject in particular, the employee really has to have screwed up in a unique and interesting way for anyone to have a reason to care about the story. If you specifically requested a sandwich with no mayo, and a server then brought you a sandwich with mayo on it, well, I’m very sad for you, but that is not an interesting story.
Image via Seqoya/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.