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’re back to one of the classics: terrible restaurant customers and the eateries they maliciously haunt. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
I work in a restaurant where they have peanuts on the table as a snack. We have empty buckets for the customers to discard their shells, but most people just throw them on the floor. As a result, the entire restaurant is coated in a fine layer of peanut dust that will never fully be clean. We also have giant signs outside the restaurant and on each set of double doors that say something like “Peanuts are ubiquitous here, if you have a peanut allergy, TURN BACK NOW!”
A few months ago I had a table of six women, all of which were fairly rude in that “never worked a day of foodservice or retail in my life” way, but one of them was especially sour. I approached the table to greet them and she interrupts me to say “excuse me, I have a peanut allergy!” to which I responded “well, ma’am, peanuts are literally all over this restaurant. You should probably leave if you have an allergy.”
This did not go over well. First, she insisted that she would be fine, as long as I cleaned the table (which was already clean as fuck when she sat down). I tried to explain to her again that peanut dust was all over everything, and that breathing it in was probably risky, and pointed out to her the signs, AND the fact that she was sitting next to our giant barrel of nuts.
She didn’t care. “No, just wipe the table, and make sure no peanuts touch my food.”
Concerned, I told her again, “ma’am, it’s highly advisable that you do not eat here if you have a peanut allergy. There is no way of making sure food in this restaurant does not come in contact with peanuts.”
She didn’t care, nor did her friends. She said again “JUST WIPE THE TABLE, AND MAKE SURE NO NUTS TOUCH MY FOOD!”
First, I told the manager that she was being not only a dickbag, but also a potential liability. He went out to talk to her, and she gave him the same response. He suggested she leave, but used an extreme amount of grace. Her friends continued to laugh at how dumb I was for trying to make sure she didn’t go into fucking anaphylactic shock.
Since she won’t budge, I go on taking their order. Regular stuff, grilled chicken salads with “light” ranch, blah blah, until I get to the Allergy Lady: “I’ll have the asian chicken salad, well done, with no nuts.”
First of all, my brain broke at “chicken, well done” but that isn’t what this story is about. Our asian chicken salad comes with chopped peanuts on top, and peanut bits are in the dressing, which comes prepackaged from corporate. Without the dressing, our asian chicken salad is basically a grilled chicken salad with mandarin oranges. I prepared myself. “Ma’am, what dressing would you like? The dressing it comes with has peanuts in it.”
“I want the asian dressing, with no nuts. And you still need to clean this table.”
OH MY GOD. I went on, AGAIN, about how that is literally the only salad on the menu that has peanuts in it, and how she should consider the regular salad with a different dressing. She says to me, “I WANT THE ASIAN SALAD WITH NO NUTS, AND THAT IS WHAT I WANT.”
So, fuck it. I sent the bus boy over there to clean the table, which he did with probably the filthiest rag of all time, which is also undoubtedly covered in peanut dust. Then I rang in her order, no nuts, and when I brought it out to her, I brought her a regular vinaigrette on the side, as well as the asian vinaigrette, to show her that it already had peanut bits in it.
She takes her fork, scoops out the little peanut pieces, DROPS THEM ON THE FLOOR WITH THE FORK, and says to me “No nuts. Was that so hard?!”
She ate the whole salad with the de-peanutted dressing except for the oranges, camped at the table for nearly half an hour after they finished, and did not go into anaphylactic shock because she was a lying McLiarson who wanted to feel special. Also, obviously they barely tipped me anything on six split checks, because people are awful.
I used to work at a café on a college campus. One night, I was working the pasta/pizza section, which is normally a very nice shift—not too busy, but not terribly boring either. This couple comes in very late, about an hour before closing, and heads straight for my section. I greet them, and ask what they want to order. The boyfriend tries to speak, but his better half interrupts and says “We’ll have a gluten-free pizza.” So, I ask “Oh, are either of you allergic to gluten?” “No, we just want the biggest pizza, and the gluten-free ones are largest.”
Warning bells are going off in my mind. The gluten-free pizzas were somewhat larger diameter-wise than a regular pizza we served, but were only half as thick. I tried to explain this to her, and the fact that they take twice as long to make since we have to get the pie out of the back, but she cuts me off and says “Please hurry up, we can’t wait very long.”
So, I resign myself to making their gluten-free pizza, which I prepared and then sent through the oven. 5-10 minutes later it came out. I fit it into a box, handing it to the scowling, impatient girl (the guy has been looking anxious this entire time). They leave and I think that’s the last I’ve seen of them.
...until she comes back, boyfriend in tow, claiming I screwed up her order. I ask her what’s wrong with it. She states that I forgot her toppings, even though she never mentioned any. Trying to simply resolve the problem, I ask for her choice of toppings.
“What kind of peppers?”
“The red ones, idiot!”
Yeah, sure. Whatever. I put a new gluten-free pizza in, with olives and red peppers on it, and prayed that she would never come back. About 10 minutes later, the pizza is done and I bring it out. But this time: “You screwed it up! I wanted banana peppers!”
Her boyfriend tried (very ineffectually) to calm her down, but she throws the pizza on the floor, and storms out, yelling “You ruined my pizza TWICE, and now I’m LATE and HUNGRY! You better make it RIGHT when I come back after class!” Her probably-soon-not-to-be boyfriend follows her, silently mouthing “I’m so sorry” as they left.
I don’t know if they showed up after their class, but there is no way they got a pizza from a closed store, and I’d like to know where she had found red banana peppers.
We were having drinks and snacks at a local chain that is known for beers and burgers. Nothing fancy. It’s essentially a sports bar that started in a nearby college town and built so much goodwill with alums that they’ve started opening branches nearby.
Anyway, we’re out on the deck enjoying drinks on a sunny night, and in walks this young woman and a couple of dudes. I estimate they were maybe 23 or 24 years old. As she sits down, she tells her server “Can you please bring us some chips and dip?” The server asks what she means by chips and dip and she essentially refuses to tell him. “Just bring us some chips and dip. It’s not that difficult.” He really wants to get her what she wants and she just keeps saying, “We just want some chips and dip. Would you please bring us some chips and dip?” Finally he says “absolutely,” and leaves.
Shortly thereafter he returns and he has brought them tortilla chips and their house dip, which is a white cheese and spinach queso kind of thing. “Oh, she says. That’s not what I want. Can’t you just bring us some regular chips and dip? It’s not that hard. Just some regular chips and dip. I don’t understand why you won’t just bring us some chips and dip.”
By now it’s becoming a thing. The server is doing a really good job of keeping his shit together but I am personally about to come unglued and start yelling at this chick. “What is it?! WHAT DO YOU WANT? THEY HAVE BLUE CHEESE WING DIP! THEY HAVE HUMMUS! THEY HAVE BLUE CHEESE DRESSING AND POTATO CHIPS! QUIT SAYING ‘CHIPS AND DIP’ YOU FUCKING MORON!”
But I don’t have to. At that exact moment, another server walks by carrying a tray for another table with an order of tortilla chips and salsa and she points at it and says “THAT’S WHAT I WANT! THAT IS CHIPS AND DIP! WHY CAN’T YOU BRING ME THAT?”
Now, I live in Kansas, no one here calls “salsa” dip, but does anyone anywhere?
I was working as a server in an upscale restaurant whose clientele tended to have plenty of money, and plenty of entitlement to go along with it. I was damn good at what I did. We had an extensive wine list, so bottle service was a large part of my job.
For the uninitiated, bottle service goes basically like this: 1. Present the unopened bottle to the table. 2. Open that shit without breaking the cork. 3. Pour a taste to whichever customer ordered/chose it. 4. Once they approve it, pour for the table, ladies first and taster last. The really fancy places will probably pour clockwise, I think, but we weren’t Michelin starred or anything. Not rocket science; I could pretty much do it in my sleep at this point.
This particular 4-top ordered a bottle of red, but the man who ordered it asked very specifically that I let it “aerate” before pouring. Kind of weird phrasing since actually aerating the wine would require an actual wine aerator; we didn’t have one, but I assured him I’d let it breathe.
So I bring the wine over and present it, but they ignore me so I proceed to step 2. I pour Aeration Man a taste and he’s cool with it. I place the bottle on the table without pouring, as per his request, quickly take their food order and go off to enter it into the computer, intending to return in a couple minutes to pour.
Not 10 seconds after I walked away, I turned around and saw them pouring the wine for themselves. OK, no biggie, guess they decided they couldn’t wait.
The rest of their meal went fine, and they were perfectly pleasant. As they finished up, Aeration Man got up to use the facilities and came across me in the entryway, perusing the reservation book.
He approached me. I smiled pleasantly, thinking he was going to thank me for my thoughtful and attentive service. Ha ha ha, I should know better by now.
“Let me educate you about wine,” he said.
My smile quickly went from genuine to “Lord, beer me strength.”
(Editor’s Note: I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating for those who might’ve missed it: NEVER, EVER DO THIS. EVER. DON’T. FUCK YOU FOR EVEN CONSIDERING IT.
This has been your official Kitchenette Public Service Announcement.)
The Great Aerator proceeded to patronizingly explain the steps of bottle service to me. “You should always present the bottle to the guests.” (BITCH I DID, NONE OF YOU ACKNOWLEDGED ME) “And you should always pour the wine for the guests. We had to pour it ourselves. It’s ok this time, but for future reference, you should know the proper way to do it.” (You TOLD me to leave it open before pouring what is this I don’t even)
I can’t remember his whole spiel, because my brain was filled with the enraged screams of my primal warrior ancestors and I was battling to keep a pleasant expression on my face. But I do know that it was chock full of prissy little tips about how to properly present a $30 bottle of cabernet that probably retails for $9.99 at Jim Bob’s Discount Liquors... and delivered in the most self-satisfied, condescending, “aren’t I a saint for helping this poor dumb plebeian to better serve my elite peers” tone of voice you can possibly imagine.
When he was done, I booked in into the kitchen, where I think I may have kicked the ice cream freezer and cried a little. Then the bartender started feeding me sympathy shots of Jameson and I can’t remember much else about that night.
I waited tables for about 6 months at Bonefish Grill in Grand Rapids, MI while finishing my licensing classes for my career (for those who don’t know, it’s a national chain seafood restaurant a step or two above Applebee’s) and the clientele was generally excellent, tipped 20-30% on the regular, and knew what they liked. I of course got the occasional mildly rude customer, but there was one who stood out. I call her Lobster Lady.
The first time I saw her, I was working the weekend lunch shift, where we didn’t have assigned sections but just rotated through the list of servers. Lobster Lady is in her early 50’s, and her eyes pointed outward away from each other. She was sat back in the corner, but almost immediately asked to be moved as “there was a cool draft.” Okay, we were slow, so whatever. I told her she could pick her table as there were over 20 open, so she moved herself to table 301—the worst possible choice for me, as it was the first table you encountered after walking out of the kitchen.
Thus began the predictable 10,000 questions about the menu, asking for a coffee, a diet coke and an ice water with lemon, taking over 30 minutes to decide her entree, etc. I was running to nearly all four corners of the restaurant taking care of my other tables, and every time I went to walk in or out of the kitchen, she felt the need to stop me to ask a question. She finally settled on our two lobster tail special. It goes out to her, and she is fine for the next few minutes as she eats. At the food check where I ask if everything is to her satisfaction, she tells me the lobster is absolutely delicious, but that she thought the presentation was bad. Our lobster was served with the meat pulled out and flipped on top of the tail shell. She thought it needed paprika all over it. Whatever, I let it roll off my back and told her I would inform the kitchen manager of her suggestion.
A few minutes later, I stop to refill her water and ask if she would like to see the desert menu, and she informs me that “I already know what I want. Gimme that berry cream brulee.” I confirm, “You want the Vanilla crème brulée with blueberries, right?” “Yeah, whatever one has berries.” It is a traditional crème brulée with a dollop of handmade whipped cream, a mint sprig and 4 or 5 blueberries as a garnish. After it goes out, she stops me and asks why there aren’t berries all over it. “Cuz when it says on the menu, ‘Berry Cream Brulee,’ I’m expecting to get more than 2.” In the back of my head, I was wondering how she read that when I never even showed her a menu—nowhere did it say “Berry Creme Brulee” (or “Cream Brulee,” either). But, fine, she wanted berries, so I filled a soup cup half full of blueberries for her. It comes time for the bill, and all of a sudden the coupons and gift cards appear. Her then $60 check was suddenly reduced to $8. She left me a $10 bill and said thank you, have a nice day.
Fast forward about 3 months, and the head chef at corporate decided to try seasoning our lobster tails with “Poseidon Spice,” a mildly smoky blend that looked sort of like paprika. That same week Lobster Lady came in again, this time with her friends during dinner. Fortunately, she was sat at a different server’s table. We did the whole “Team Service” thing where if we saw a low water glass, we filled it if we had a free second and I stopped at her table to top them off. She recognized me and said hello, and I briefly informed her that because I knew she enjoyed our lobster tails but thought they needed a different presentation that she would be pleased to find we now served them with spices on top.
Ten minutes later, the server from her table came wide eyed into the kitchen and told my manager that Lobster Lady was demanding to be paid royalties for suggesting that we put paprika on our lobster tails. She was not joking.
During university, I worked at a popular café/bakery. It was your typical soup/salad/sandwich place, with counter service and a bakery selling breads and baked goods. My co-workers were some of the best people I’ve ever met and we had a lot of very loyal, lovely customers who had been patronizing the place for years. We also had customers who were so terrible I often felt like I was on a hidden camera show.
One in particular was a middle-aged man we had nicknamed Skeletor. He usually wore an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and a necklace covered in what looked like chicken bones, which stood out perfectly against his sparsely haired cream cheese coloured chest. His hair was long, grey, and greasy, except for a huge, perfectly-round bald spot on top of his head. He would come in early in the morning when we weren’t busy, order a coffee and then proceed to stand at the counter and be creepy as fuck. He was also cheap as shit, and would do everything to avoid paying for a (reduced price) refill. He would basically take one sip of his coffee and then come back up to the counter and ask for it to be “warmed up” and then for us to top it off, which we couldn’t legitimately charge him for. Trying to charge him after several attempts was pointless because he would just get mad and it wasn’t worth the $1.25. It got to the point where I would notice him coming, pour his coffee, leave it on the counter, and then pretend to be busy so he wouldn’t try to engage me in conversation. This, unfortunately, did not work and prompted the following conversation:
Him: “Oh, I see you have my coffee ready, you know what I like in the morning, don’t you?”
Me: “Yes, a medium coffee.”
Him: “No, you know what I like in the morning.”
Me: “You like coffee in the morning.”
Him: “I like lots of things in the morning.”
Me: “I hope you drop your coffee in your lap and get third-degree burns on your shriveled dick.” (how I wish I had actually said this)
After that, I basically refused to serve him. He would go out of his way to avoid being served by the guys who worked there, he never tipped us, and was just generally a piece of shit. However, he did eventually do something so terrible, he was banned from the restaurant forever.
Two of the dishwashers had both worked at the restaurant for a long time, were exceptionally hard working, super sassy, and most of the customers knew them by name and loved them. No one fucked with them. One day, after getting tired of leering at us and making laps back and forth from the counter to get teaspoons of coffee, Skeletor left his almost empty coffee cup on a table and went to the bathroom. He didn’t leave any indication he was returning or even still in the restaurant–nothing else on the table, no jacket on a chair, nothing. So, when one of the women came out to clear the dining room, she took his coffee cup off the table and moved on. When he got back to his table, he noticed his cup gone and immediately stormed up to my coworker, GRABBED HER ARMS and started forcibly shaking her and screaming in her face about how she was a fucking idiot for taking his coffee. This prompted this other guy I worked with, who was basically a six-foot tall devoutly Christian golden retriever, to leap over the counter and force him out of the restaurant, telling him if he ever came back we would call the police and have him arrested. He never did come back, but I did see him a few times after that, skulking around the neighborhood at odd hours, probably looking for bones to add to his necklace.
It was my first year as a solo wedding coordinator. We served reception meals buffet style, with honestly the best wedding food you’ve had in your life. First wedding of the season, an absolute dream couple, and they asked us to make sure we had a separate meal for the kids under 10 attending.
Fast forward to the wedding day, which had gone off perfectly until this point. As I was releasing the tables to go up to the buffet, I’m approached by the Mother of the Groom in an absolute fury. Apparently a couple of older kids had been counted as part of the regular buffet count and don’t have a plated kid’s meal—these 11 and 13 year old gems refused to eat the Chicken Saltimbocca, Steak, and Gorgonzola Penne that were on the buffet and absolutely insisted on chicken nuggets. By this point, the kiddie meals had all been distributed to the under 10’s, the under 10’s were happily gnawing on said nuggets, and there is no way to get the catering staff back up the hill to the kitchen to make more, as they are kind of busy serving. Gem 1 and Gem 2 don’t eat ANYTHING but chicken nuggets and french fries, the MOG insists, and now their mother is adamant on leaving since her children have been culinarily snubbed. Never mind that they had driven an hour and a half to reach our remote mountain venue to see their childhood friend get married and were turning their nose up at some truly amazing food because it wasn’t nugget-shaped.
MOG is livid and asks me what I am going to do to make up for it. I detail the appetizers still available, the multitudes of food served at the buffet, and the fact that we have cake and dessert yet to come. But no, the Gem’s mother accuses me of making her children wait through the entire ceremony and cocktail hour only to starve them at dinner and insists on leaving. I asked our poor, harried chef, who is currently overseeing buffet service for 200 happy guests, if there is anything we can do but he is unable to produce anything remotely nugget-like this late in the game. Last I saw him, he’s chasing the indignant parents of Gem 1 and Gem 2, shouting, “wait, I have duck!”
I’m new enough to the wedding racket that I’m sweating bullets over the anger of the MOG, so when the bride asks how things are going, I apologize profusely over the fact that I couldn’t find anything suitable for 2 pre-teens to eat at her wonderfully catered wedding. The bride, a favorite of mine to this day, laughs and blames the parents for encouraging their kids’ single-minded appetites. She cracks a joke about duck nuggets and I’m so relieved I bless her firstborn child.
(Editor’s Note: This the most difficult to file story I’ve ever had. It’s also the only instance I’d ever expect to see where a story could fit into Worst Customers—the Mother-of-the-Groom—or Best Customers—the Bride. Fun story, though.)
Kinja user NightCheeze:
Before I had kids, I managed a franchise that specialized in subs (it’s Subway. I worked at a Subway. SUBWAY.) (Editor’s Note: I like you, NightCheeze) for about a decade. At my last location, we had an older gentleman come in, at least three times a week. He always tried to be funny, but not in a friendly way; it was more sneering and “I’m better than you, but I can get down on your level!” Obviously, I always smiled and gave him a halfhearted chuckle, while sighing every time he walked in the door.
My location is situated in the middle of a bunch of businesses and a couple of factories, and also had a drive-thru. Our lunches were always very busy, with lines to the door and several cars in the drive-thru. He comes in one day, in the middle of the rush, with a coupon that offers a certain amount of money off of a meal deal. I ring him out (while running back and forth between both registers), he sits down, lunch drags on. Towards the end of the rush,he comes back up very angrily, saying that we didn’t give him enough money back. I take the time to check his receipt (it was rung out correctly) and count my drawer down (I was not short). He will not let it go, and I eventually figure out that the coupon was just ringing out incorrectly. Instead of discounting from the meal price, it was discounting from the total price of the individual meal items.The difference? Thirteen cents. THIRTEEN FUCKING CENTS.
I have no power to change how a coupon rings out in the POS, so I just apologize and offer him thirteen cents. That is not good enough. He refuses to accept my explanation of the coupon button just being wrong. He gets a piece of paper and does the math, over and over, showing me how much it should have cost him.
My General Manager/Owner happened to be there. He was a very nice, well-meaning guy, but was generally clueless about day-to-day operations. So of course, he decides to jump in and solve this problem. For 45 minutes, they sat there trying to solve it. Every five minutes or so, I’d remind them that I already know what the problem is, to no response whatsoever, and exasperatedly offer him the thirteen fucking cents he was owed. We get maybe one of those coupons a week, the thirteen cents was not going to break the bank.
They finally accept that it is a coupon error (go fucking figure), and the man goes to leave, but offers one final piece of wisdom: “I know it’s only thirteen cents, but these owners are using this stolen money to build their million-dollar mansions!”
In approximately 128k years, maybe I’ll get my own mansion!
When I was working in an office full time and a pizza joint part time, I went out to lunch with my new coworkers and my boss. During the meal, one of the ladies at our table announces to the rest of us that “if we complain about the food or the service, they have to give it to us free!” She was deadly serious.
I incredulously asked her how many times she had used this clever trick, only to have my heart crushed with her response: “Almost every time I go out. It works most of the time!” When I happily told her that this was an awful thing to do, and it gets the server in trouble unfairly, not to mention it’s dishonest, she just shrugged. Our boss just sat there gape-mouthed at this awful human she willingly employed AS A CUSTOMER SERVICE SPECIALIST.
My sister and I served tables together for a while at a small, casual pub. Working together was kind of a novelty and we generally had a lot of fun on our shifts. One night, just as we were closing up, a table of six walks in. They were pretty rude right off the bat, reorganizing tables and moving chairs even though there was already a table large enough to accommodate them. After taking forever with the menus, they finally decided on a pitcher of beer and a plate of nachos. For the whole table.
Since they were the only customers left in the pub, my sister and I were both dealing with them in an effort to try and get them out asap. Well, our over-attentiveness resulted in them being warned twice (god forbid!) that the tin plate (between the nachos and the actual plate) the nachos came on was really hot. I guess they spent more energy bitching about us both telling them than actually heeding our warning, because two of them burned themselves.
“Ouch! I fucking burnt myself!” squealed the first manbaby.
“Me too!” Same as above.
The table then proceeded to argue with us for 15 minutes about why they should get their bill comped.
“But sir, we warned you that the plate would be hot.”
“But you didn’t say it would be THAT hot.” Ugh.
I’d touched nacho plates by accident a few times and while they were hot enough to hurt, they were never hot enough to leave a mark. This wasn’t McDonald’s coffee levels of hot. They finally ended up begrudgingly paying their bill (which was something like $3.50 each), not tipping a penny and leaving an enormous mess. Lovely.
I worked as a hostess/phone operator at a Giordano’s in Chicago. For some reason, the restaurant was set up so that customers had to bring their bills up to the hosts so that we could process them. On busy nights, this resulted in long lines of people waiting to pay. I was trying to move as quickly as possible, as the line this night was almost out the door. I was just finishing up with a customer, and I handed him a to-go bag and turned towards the next person in line. This woman also asked for a to-go bag for her leftovers, which I handed to her after I processed her bill. Normal, right?
No. She gave me the nastiest look, and hissed “you should have put this in the bag for me.” Startled, and in the middle of already helping the next person in this (very, very long) line, I apologized and explained that while I normally would love to do so, we were incredibly busy and I was trying to move the line along as quickly as possible for everyone’s sake.
This, apparently, was as offensive as if I’d told her to shove the bag up her ass, and she hurled the bag and her food container at my face (it missed me, happily), then yelled “PUT. IT. IN. THE. BAG.” I stared at her in shock, and asked if she’d like to see the manager. She crossed her arms and declared that she would not leave until I personally put her food in the bag.
At this point my manager showed up, and asked what the problem was. This lady demanded that she specifically see me put the food in the bag (I had moved on to helping the next customer, because once you throw something at me, I am done with you, crazy). He looked at her, looked at me, looked at the food, and neatly placed her food in the bag, folded it up all pretty-like, handed it to her, and with the tone of an adult speaking to a slow-minded toddler, asked, “Are you happy now?”
She couldn’t seem to decide whether she had won or was being insulted, and ended up just leaving.
Years ago I was working as an assistant manager during high school at a chain pizza place that starts with “P” and ends with “apa John’s” (seriously, why do people do this?), and we would often have to turn people away asking for things like salads or individual slices, etc. But every once in a while we would get people coming in and asking if we sold the separate ingredients for them to take home and cook themselves. I had no idea this was a thing, but people swore that this was somewhat common on the East Coast (I’m in San Diego). Most people were pretty understanding about the fact that we could not in fact sell them raw food, but this one couple refused to accept this.
They came in nice, and seemed excited to have a fun little project for dinner, so I kind of felt bad in telling them that we don’t do that, but I expected them to take it well. The woman gets very serious and tells me that she has done it many times before at other Papa Johns, and refuses to believe me. She starts calling me a lazy teen for not wanting to help them, to which I respond that actually, making their pizza is a hell of a lot more work than just handing over raw dough, but she isn’t having it.
Eventually she looks to her husband as if to say, “do something, damn it!” and he gets very stern with me. He tells me that I should just ring up their order as if I actually cooked it and just hand over the ingredients. I tell him that I legally cannot sell him raw, uncooked food as we do not have permits to do so. He tells me that this is bullshit, and that the Albertsons next door sells nothing but raw food, so we should be able to as well. I tell him that he should just go next door then and buy the ingredients there, but they look at me like I’m an idiot. The phone is ringing this entire time; I put someone on hold and more are calling.
Of course, then they tell me they want to speak with the manager, to which I took great pleasure in replying that I was in fact the manager, and pointed to the title on my name badge. This is when they get really huffy with me. The wife starts a tirade about how there is a federal age limit for who can be a manager and I’m not supposed to have that name badge and tells me I need to get the real manager out from the back right now. I tell her that I am literally the only person in the store right now, and they both get a shocked look of disbelief.
Wife: “How can they leave a child alone to run an entire business?!?!”
Me: “One, 17 years old is hardly a child...” (Side note: I was easily 6’3” at this time) “And two, there are two drivers that open with me, but they are out on deliveries.”
Husband: “Well then who the hell makes the pizzas while the drivers are out? You just wait around for them?”
At this point I’m getting very confused. I was docking out a pizza when they came in and my apron was covered in flour from making pizzas all day.
Me: “No, I make all of the pizzas. The drivers are pretty much in and out all day.”
They both look at each other in ridiculous disbelief.
Wife: “You mean to tell me that you handle the money and touch the raw food with your hands??? That’s it, we’re leaving.” Note: we have a handwashing station right next to the makeline.
Husband: “Give me the number to your corporate office right now and your full employee number.”
Me: “Here’s our corporate office number, and you can write down my name. There is only one of me here, they’ll know who you’re talking about.”
Husband: “Typical lazy fucking...” He mutters as he walks out, taking my pen with him.
I’m brought back to reality from the temporal idiocy field that just walked out the door by the phone ringing again, and look back to see a big list of online orders that piled up while I was talking to the irate couple. The next day my boss hands me a three page complaint fax from corporate (they automatically send all complaints to the store). I start to explain, but he just laughs and then crumples it up and throws it away.
For eight months, I worked as a barista at a small chain coffee place in west LA.
One day, this pair of ladies who seem like they’re in their early 50’s come in. At first, everything seems fine, they wait patiently in line, but when they get to the register they instantly turn into that special kind of indecisive that every barista knows and dreads, the kind of customer who doesn’t know what’s in any of the drinks, and also simultaneously has really strong opinions about how coffee should be prepared. They go back and forth on their drink orders for three or four minutes, but finally the first orders some kind of latte and the second orders a Cafe Vanilla (brewed coffee, vanilla sweetener, topped off with steamed milk), but she wants it made with the flavored vanilla coffee instead of the regular stuff. This wasn’t a big deal, but our standard practice with brewed coffee was to keep batches of flavored coffee on hand until noon, after which it had to be specially requested. They had come in around two in the afternoon, and I told her the order would take an extra five minutes so we could brew the coffee.
She makes a big huff, but decides to wait the extra time instead of changing her order again. They pay and go to wait for their drinks while I start the vanilla coffee brewing. Cafe Vanilla lady comes back to check whether the coffee is done about once a minute, but in fairly short order they get their drinks and go sit at a table outside. Over and done, right?
Wrong. About two minutes later Cafe Vanilla lady storms back in and walks the entire length of the line telling each individual customer that her drink was the grossest thing she had ever tasted. In those exact words. When she gets to the counter she shoves her way in front of the register, looks down her nose at me with the hauteur of a Tsarist Russian aristocrat and barks “This coffee tastes too FRESH!”
I ask her what exactly was the matter with it, and she explains that it tastes too bitter, and did we put espresso in it? We hadn’t, but she absolutely doesn’t believe it. She’s convinced the reason her freshly brewed vanilla coffee tastes so freshly brewed was that we had dumped espresso in there. So the barista remakes it with the now incrementally older coffee, Cafe Vanilla lady watching her like a hawk the whole time. When the barista hands the drink out, Cafe Vanilla lady instantly tastes it. She sips the coffee, looks at the barista like the dust beneath her shoes, says “Good, you made it right this time,” and huffs out.
I once overheard an acquaintance of mine bragging to one of his friends about how he convinced McDonald’s to give him a singular french fry for free. Apparently, he argued with them for a half an hour, before some poor soul working there handed him a singular potato slice. His friend seemed to think this was a great deal and suggested that they go back to that McDonald’s and try to get another free fry.
I considered telling him that they probably only gave him the french fry so that he would leave them the hell alone, but I don’t know the guy real well, and didn’t feel like starting an argument with a guy who begged for a french fry for a full 30 minutes.
Yesterday, at my second job I recently got at a restaurant to help supplement my income for a few months, I was serving a Muslim couple. They were very friendly, and they appreciated it when I changed my gloves without being asked. This is usually a bother for my coworkers, but I’d grown up with Muslim family members, so I know how seriously halal is often taken.
Anyway, when I rang their food out, I told them, “Salaam alaykum.” As usually happens when I do this, they got a look of pleasant surprise and responded with the reciprocation of “Alaykum salaam” before leaving. I might be misspelling the greeting, but you get the point.
This white lady in her 50’s, in line behind them, looked disturbed by my actions and, once the couple had left, asked, “What was that?”
Me: “Oh, that? I was just wishing them a good day.”
Her: “Well, it’s 9/11. You shouldn’t do that.”
Me: “I’m sorry if it bothered you, ma’am.”
Her: “It was very inappropriate. Is your manager around?”
Me: “No, she’s not. Would you like me to leave her a message?”
Her: “No, that’s fine. When will your manager be in?”
Me: “She’s usually here in the mornings on weekdays.”
Her: “So, I can come in on Monday to let her know that what you said was very inappropriate. Especially today.”
Me: “I was just wishing them a good day—”
Her: “Then say that! Don’t say it like how you did.”
Me: “I wasn’t aware saying hi in another language was a bad thing.”
Her: “Don’t get smart with me. Just do your job. Do your job, and I will let your manager know on Monday. I’ll let her know on Monday.”
Me: “Very well, ma’am. My manager will be in at ten. Would you like a drink with your item?”
I expected the lady to be back on Monday, and she didn’t show up. Neither did she show up the next day or the next day. I asked my manager, and she said no one had put in a complaint about me.
(Editor’s Note: I know I say this a lot, but fuck this customer in particular. In a less openly aggressive way, this is one of the worst fucking human beings ever featured on BCO.)
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 Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.