Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. We had so many stories of dumb restaurant customers (and you guys sent so many more in—so very, very, very many more) that we decided to do another week of them. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
I used to work at a coffee shop in South Lake Tahoe. During the summer, the town is overrun with tourist-types who come for gambling, boating, or just to get away from L.A..
One afternoon, we have a long line of people getting drinks and I’m on the register taking orders. A woman in her late-forties-to-early-fifties that looks like Paula Dean walks up in a turquoise jumpsuit and says in a cartoonish southern accent, “Do y’all have any Tupperwares?”
Obviously, I’m confused. I let her know that when we do to-go orders, they come in a paper cup. She continues, “Oh, I don’t need a drink. I’m looking for some Tupperwares to carry some of the lake in.”
Me: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
Turquoise Southern Belle: “My husband has a boat and we’ve been out on the lake a few times.” She gestures to her husband, a rotund man leaning against the wall wearing a cowboy hat and a bola tie with a wristwatch that cost more than my degree. He smiles and literally tips his hat. “I’m trying to get a sample of each color of the lake.”
After a few seconds of disbelief, I realize what she’s asking for. She wants to collect some green water, some blue water, and some indigo water of Lake Tahoe to bring home. Because she doesn’t realize that water gets “darker” as the lake deepens.
We gave her a handful of plastic baggies and wished her luck.
Twitter user @malewaitress:
I helped open a place and stayed there for 2.5 years. One of the clever dishes the owners created was a plate of smoked, fried buffalo chicken legs. They called the dish “Smokin’ Hot Legs.” So clever.
It began with the multiple-times-per-shift customer question of, “What kind of legs are these?”
After six months, I convinced management to alter the menu to say “Smokin’ Hot Chicken Legs.”
My victory was small. A new daily question arose: “Are these chicken legs wings?”
My answers to this question would vary as time progressed. One reply was, “it’s like the wing, but it’s the leg part of the chicken instead of the wing.”
One girl told me she’d never heard of eating chicken legs before. I brought her the dish, and she argued with me that the legs were wings. Finally I just told her, “I guess I agree with you, in the sense that you wear your shoes on your hands.”
2.5 years and when I quit, they just started selling chicken wings.
I was bartending at a restaurant in Manhattan with an open kitchen and chef’s bar that faced the cooks. This guy came in with his date for dinner and sits at the chef’s bar the first thing he asks is, “Hey, can you do me a special favor for me and my date tonight?”
“Well, what is it?”
“Its a big favor but it would be really really appreciated.”
“What is it?”
“Can you make us those delicious pancakes you guys serve for brunch?”
Okay, never mind that this asshole just asked for pancakes as a way to impress his date while we have 40 dollar steaks and things of that sort on the menu for dinner. It actually gets worse. Knowing that no way in hell the chef we would do that, I simply just pointed to the flat grill which he was sitting across from. On the grill there were about 8 fillets of fish on there sizzling away. To which I say: “See that grill with all the fish on it. That’s where we would have to cook those pancakes.”
The guy goes, “what’s the big deal?”
I politely explain it to him, and he finally understands that having fish-flavored pancakes probably isn’t the best idea. Then I smoothly transition into giving him the specials, one which was Tete de Cochon.
Excitedly he asks, “Oh were you guys one of New York Magazine’s top ten Brooklyn restaurants serving pig’s head?”
“Well, no sir, because the restaurant you currently find yourself in is actually in Manhattan.”
I manage a pub, and if we ever run out of a draft beer, we keep an old purple velvet bag from the Crown Royal bottles to cover the tap so people know it’s not available. One evening, a customer comes in and is browsing the selection of draft beer and says to me “You have Crown Royal on tap?”
I immediately say, “Yes, would you like a pint or a pitcher?”
The customer says “Let me ask my friends,” and turns to find her friends, who start laughing hysterically when she asks them if they would like a pint or pitcher worth of Crown Royal.
I spent two years in high school and four years in college working in restaurants. Although I have plenty of horror stories of my own, one of the most recent and mind-boggling happened while I was a guest at a restaurant in a north suburb of Chicago.
My boyfriend at the time and I were enjoying our dinner and casually talking when a woman and her husband, probably in their mid-40s, were sat next to us. The woman immediately started criticizing their menu and snapping at their waiter to come to their table despite the fact that he was clearly taking another table’s order at the time. The waiter eventually makes it over to the couple and the conversation between the woman and the waiter goes as follows:
Woman: “I don’t see any gluten-free options on this menu! Online it says you have a gluten-free menu available. Why is it not on my table?”
Waiter: “I apologize about that ma’am, I would be happy to get that for you right away.”
Woman: “GOOD! I go back and forth about being a vegetarian, so I need to order from the gluten-free menu to maintain my vegetarian diet.”
The waiter returns with the menu and after many questions, the woman orders the salmon and made sure to tell the waiter, “make sure there is NO gluten. I cannot eat gluten!” He responds that he understands and will make sure her meal is completely gluten-free.
After a few minutes, my boyfriend and I hear the woman complaining to her husband about their waiter not serving them any bread before the meal. Oh boy. Sure enough, the woman starts snapping her fingers again at their waiter who returns asking what he can do for them.
Woman: “Don’t you serve bread before the meal? It’s been almost five minutes and I’m hungry and want our bread!”
Waiter: “But ma’am...the bread has gluten in it, and you told me you could not eat gluten.”
Woman: “BUT I CAN EAT BREAD! I WANT TO SPEAK TO YOUR MANAGER IMMEDIATELY ABOUT THE BREAD THAT IS SUPPOSED TO COME WITH MY MEAL!”
Husband: “But it has gluten in it...”
At this point, my boyfriend and I were heading out the door and never found out how this story ended. I would like to think that this lady was schooled on the difference between gluten-free and vegetarian and proper manners in a restaurant by some annoyed manager/waiter/chef after we left.
(Editor’s Note: It had been far too long since we had a gluten-free doofus in one of these stories.)
Last week I was at Subway. I could tell immediately that the woman in front of me was a problem customer. A million questions—how much does each sandwich cost, what if she adds a soup, are the soups good, are the cookies good, etc. She finally selects her sandwich, and the employee prepares the bread and meat, then asks what kind of cheese she would like. She says “The white kind.”
The employee looks nonplussed, as they offer several types of cheese, all of which are white. He says they have provolone, swiss, american, etc, and she cuts him off and loudly says “THE WHITE ONE, JEEZ,” then she looks back to me and rolls her eyes in presumed solidarity and “whispers” loudly “Can you believe this guy?”
He uncertainly started putting a slice of each different cheese on the sandwich and she says really patronizingly, “Now, that wasn’t hard, was it?” What was hard: refraining from suggesting that “white” is not a type of cheese.
I had a customer once who ordered their steak “medium-rare, with no pink in it.” This led to a back and forth discussion about steak doneness that the server had to relay. The customer was informed that medium-rare involved the steak having quite a bit of pink meat and that perhaps they had a well-done or medium-well in mind. No, they always got medium rare with no pink in it, they would never eat steak medium-well or well-done, they wanted medium-rare with no pink in it.
Finally, we cooked them a well done steak which they pronounced to be “Just what [they] ordered. That wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
I worked as a barista for a coffee chain in the Midwest while I was in college. I worked the opening shift and since my coffee house was in the middle of a Christian suburb, it was always very busy, especially on Fridays.
One Friday morning, a woman in the drive-thru shouts that she wants a cappuccino with no foam. Since I was used to confused customers thanks to the fucked up nomenclature a la Starbucks, I explain to the woman that cappuccinos have a lot of foam in them and ask if she’d like a latte instead. She sighs at me and says no, she wants a cappuccino with no foam. I realize she’s not going to change her mind, so I charge her for a cappuccino and instead, make a latte. This happens a lot—people as for one thing, call it another, we make the thing they actually went, and the world keeps on turning. I give her the “cappuccino” and she leaves.
Two minutes later, the door opens to the lobby and she walks in with her cup. She butts ahead of the woman who was standing at the counter and asks to speak with me. As I approach the counter, she yells at me to grab a plate and a spoon. Dumbfounded, I do grab a plate and a spoon and bring them to her. She pops the lid off the cup and starts spooning the top of her drink onto the plate. As she’s spooning, she says “Now what is this?” and I say “The top of your drink?” and she looks up at me and growls, “No, this is FOAM!” At this point, she’s just dumping spoonfuls of milky espresso onto the plate while I’m standing there. I apologize and offer to make her another “cappuccino” and she barks back that if I couldn’t get a no-foam cappuccino right the first time, what makes me think I could do it right the second time.
I continue to apologize while I’m refunding her drink, while she continues to stand there and ladle out her drink onto a plate. The cars are backing up in the drive thru and I explain that I have to get back to my window, and she says, “No, you will wait here until I’ve gotten all the foam out of this drink.”
So I stand there and keep apologizing while she spoons out THE ENTIRE DRINK onto an overflowing plate. When the cup is empty, she flips the cup upside down on the counter and says “That seems to be all of the foam.” Then she grabs her refund from the counter and walks out.
I wonder if she’ll ever find a foam-free cappuccino.
I was working at a concession stand as a cashier at a baseball stadium close to where I live. It was a particularly busy day because there were fireworks after that game, and that always drew a larger crowd. Supplies started to wear thin later on in the day; we started running out of condiment cups, so throughout the day I would get my fair share of “What do you mean you’re out? Where am I supposed to put ketchup? In my hand?” Like they couldn’t fathom that there is only a finite amount of condiment cups at the stadium.
You wouldn’t believe how upset people get when they don’t get their condiment cups. Usually when this happened, we started handing out other things that the customers could put their condiments in. First we gave them “courtesy cups,” cups that were supposed to be for employees to grab some water. After those ran out, we would start giving them these flat brown boxes that were supposed to be used to hold a bunch of drinks. After that, then they were on their own.
A lady came up to my register and ordered fries. I got the fries, rang her up, and she walked over to the condiment stand, located a few steps from the window. She turned around and came right back up to me. Here it goes again, I thought. I inform her of the situation: we are out, and I explain to her that all the others things we give out are gone as well.
So she starts to get angry with me, asking me why I can’t give her one of the cups we use for drinks or the trays we use for chicken fingers. I explain, if I were to give her one of those, she would have to pay for it—the reason being, the cups are used to count how many drinks I sold, and if I were to give her one, that money would not be in my draw and I would be short. And I just got written up because my drawer was $10 short.
She didn’t seem to understand or care, and started to become more aggravated. I started to suggest other things like maybe she put the ketchup on a napkin, or maybe on top of the fries. There were other things she could do, but she wasn’t having any of it. She just kept telling me how ridiculous it is that I couldn’t give her the cup. Maybe it was, but that’s how it worked, and I didn’t want to get written up again, so I didn’t budge.
After about 10 minutes of this back and forth, she eventually agreed to pay the $3.50 for the drink cup so she could get ketchup. I rang up the drink, then handed her the empty cup and she said “What? You’re not going to put a drink in it?” A little confused, I asked her why she wanted the drink if she meant to put ketchup in the cup. She replied “I’m paying $3.50 for the cup! You might as well put something in it!” Whatever, lady. So I filled the cup up with Coke.
This lady walked away towards the condiment stand, opened the cup, poured the soda out all over the condiment stand, wiped the inside of the cup out with a napkin, then put ketchup in the cup. Then she looks back at me and walked away.
I just stood there and laughed. I didn’t have to clean it up, and she blew $3.50 + tax on a ketchup holder.
I don’t know about the States, but up in Canada we have a chain called Milestones (“my-uhl-stones”) which is decent as far as chain restaurants go. It’s dependable, and their wine list is reasonably priced.
My aunt—bless her—was in town and we were heading out for dinner. She exclaimed excitedly “We should try that new Italian fancy place! Mill-est-own-ies!” She was sure it had to be a fancy Italian family-owned place and now Milestones will forever be Millestoni’s, the hottest Italian restaurant in the country.
One restaurant where I worked was well known for its chicken wings, and for a short time we offered our guests the option of getting boneless wings for the same price as our regular wings. We also offered half-priced wings on Thursdays, which was a very popular promotion particularly during the summer. One Thursday, I’m seated a table of two girls in their early 20s during our lunch rush. I introduce myself and find out they’re there specifically to have some wings. I tell them they came on the perfect day for that and tell them about our wing special. The girls are really excited, so I ask them how many wings they’re looking to get, and what flavour(s). After they’ve made their decisions, I also tell them that they have the option of getting our regular or new boneless wings for the same price.
The first girl looks and me and—completely seriously—says, “Boneless wings? What’s the difference?”
Years ago, I worked at a TGI Friday’s as a bartender while I was in college. One night, a woman comes in by herself and sits at one of the high-top tables next to the bar. I greet her and she orders a chilled martini up, and instructs me to make it “ice cold”—a totally normal request, no problem. I make the drink, serve it to her, and let her know that I would check up on her in a bit. I start to walk away and get about five steps before I hear a loud “EXCUSE ME.”
I politely turn around and ask her what I can help her with. In the shittiest of tones she informs me that her “drink isn’t strong enough” and that it tastes “watered down.” I inform her that the process of making her martini “ice cold” required me to vigorously shake the un-chilled vodka in a tin with ice which causes the ice to break down and like magic the vodka turns from room temperature to ice cold. She tells me that she wants a new drink but asks that I don’t melt the ice this time when I shake it. Midway through explaining the ever so complicated process of making a chilled martini to her again, and explaining that keeping the ice from melting was absolutely impossible, she accuses me of ripping her off and asks for a manager. My manager comes out to speak with her and he explains the process just as I did to no avail, we’re just going in circles at this point and are now resigned to the fate that she’s not going to back down.
The woman continues to demand a stronger martini, I explain that not shaking the vodka with ice will make it taste stronger, but it will not be “ice cold.” However, I could put the martini into a chilled glass to help, she says that is what she wants. I go behind the bar and pour the vodka directly into a chilled martini glass pretty much right in front of where she was sitting. She sips it, asks why it isn’t cold, points out that the thin layer of ice on the frosted glass is melting, calls me an expletive, and storms out. I just stood there for a good 10 seconds in complete disbelief; I had never seen an able human being be confused by ice before.
A few weeks later, she filed a complaint with corporate trying to get me and the manager fired. I ended working there for two more years after the incident.
I was in line behind a woman ordering at Moe’s. If you’ve never been to Moe’s, the ordering system is fairly standard in that you can order any number of items (Burritos, Nachos, Quesadillas etc) and customize your item with different proteins, vegetables and sauces.
After much consternation, the woman ahead of me finally decides on a burrito. When asked what she’d like in it, she has no difficulty with the rice and beans, but then when the employee making her food asks her what type of protein she wanted, she replied, “I want the meat.” I watched him pause and look up at her, following up with “OK, we have Steak, Chicken, Carnitas—which are pork—and Ground Beef. Which meat would you like on your burrito today?”
The woman replied in an irritated tone: “No! I just want THE MEAT!”
The employee’s face took on a panicked appearance as if the customer had begun speaking to him in a language he couldn’t understand. He asked her again, this time employing the help of hand gestures. “Ok, but which meat?” He pointed to each of the pans in the steam table. He pointed at the steak but the woman huffed at him, “NO-THE MEAT!” He continued down his line of pans saying “OK, so you don’t want steak, or chicken, or pork…” but when he got to ground beef she seemed pleased and finally said “Yes. THAT ONE. THE MEAT!”
My sister and I went to a steakhouse years ago, and in front of our table was an older, middle aged couple. The wife spent a long time looking over the menu and asking her husband what he thought about the selection. There was one “mesquite barbecue” entree, and the wife says to him “OH, mesquite! That keeps the mosquitoes away.”
I’ve delivered pizzas in a wealthy suburb of Indianapolis for the past couple years while in high school and college. It’s actually a pretty decent gig if you don’t mind not having weekends off, or not seeing the sun for more than two hours during the winter months, or getting stiffed by extremely wealthy customers, or having brain-dead rich kids as coworkers or managers who spend more time smoking than working. So, y’know. Fun times. It’s a non-chain restaurant, so the drivers answer phones and help out in the kitchen too, which is why I was even involved in this clusterfuck to begin with.
This lady calls up a half-hour before close one night and wants to order a small pizza to go, with one-quarter of it being pepperoni and the rest cheese (which is weird because our small is a 6” personal pan, so one piece is like two bites). Simple enough; the only thing is, our small pizza is six slices, so any toppings would have to be in increments of one-sixth, or we could just cut the pizza into fourths, which I politely explained to the lady.
Instead of processing this information and making a decision based off of it like a rational human being, she just repeated the order in that teeth-grittingly sweet condescension that spoiled housewives are wont to do to those in the service industry, like I was some kind of simpleton who can’t grasp kindergarten-level math and she was trying to help me understand: “no dear, I’d like one-fourth pepperoni. One. Fourth.” It kind of devolved from there (“Ma’am, six slices aren’t divisible by four, do you want one slice pepperoni or two” “I. WANT. ONE-FOURTH. PEPPERONI”) until she finally flipped shit and screamed (like, loud enough the volume distorted the call quality) that she’d be there in fifteen minutes and her pizza had better be ready, and hung up.
Our cook was conveniently taking his usual half-hour-long bathroom break (I got a Words With Friends notification from him midway through making this lady’s order) so I threw together a pizza that was one-quarter pep and cut it into fourths once I pulled it, figuring that’d be the end of it and we could get around to closing duties.
A few moments after taking the carryout order up, one of the waitresses comes back looking like she’d just finished fighting Germans in the Ardennes Forest, saying the customer “wasn’t happy” about her order and wanted to talk to the cook who made it. Actual cook was still MIA, and since I looked oldest out of all the high-schoolers working there, I went to the front after waiting a few minutes to piss her off even more. She was going to yell at me anyways, might as well.
Our conversation was as unproductive as you’d imagine: her mindlessly repeating her order over and over again like a spoiled child; it was like her brain didn’t register anything I was saying. I ended up just giving her a napkin and telling her to draw the pizza she wanted and labeling each individual slice. She drew a six-piece pizza with two slices marked ‘p’.
“Ma’am, that’s one-third pepperoni, not one-fourth.”
“…Oh, well, that’s what I meant.” No apology, no sheepishness at berating a couple of teenagers for her own breathtakingly stupid mistake, just a snippy, entitled attitude like we should be able to read her mind. And the outrage she had when I mentioned I had asked multiple times over the phone how many pieces of pepperoni she wanted.
So I remade her stupid pizza and gave it to the waitress to run, telling her to just comp it and get that chick the hell out of the restaurant. In hindsight I should’ve gone up there myself, because I ended up having to give the poor waitress a hug and spend a few minutes talking her down because the lady was so rude to her the second time.
Of course Queen Bitch called in later the next day absolutely furious, demanding my head because of how rude I was. I only know because my boss mentioned it in passing a few weeks later, so you can guess how much came of that.
I was working at a pub in London—primarily a drinking place, but we also served food and had table service most of the time. This one family came in for lunch, a late-middle-aged woman and her two sons (I think), both about my age (I was 21 at the time). She had seemed a bit odd and fussy throughout the meal but nothing that weird. And then I came to take their dessert order. Her opener:
“Your honeycomb ice cream. What kind of an ice cream is that?”
I stared at this woman as a kind of gulf between my perception of reality and her perception of reality opened up in front of me. “Well...it’s a honeycomb ice-cream.”
“No, but before they put the honeycomb in.”
At this point I think I’ve spotted the problem, right. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that there were bits of honeycomb in the ice-cream, so I explain that the ice-cream is actually honey flavoured.
“Okay, but before they put the honeycomb FLAVOUR in. What kind of ice-cream is it then?”
I take a couple of seconds to readjust my face and then say that I’m not sure I understand her question - honeycomb is the only flavour in the ice cream.
“But what is it before?”
This is all getting a bit existential at this point, but I try once again to convey the idea that what I’m serving her is an ice cream flavoured with honeycomb, like, honeycomb is the flavour of the ice cream.
She interrupts: “So it’s a vanilla ice-cream with bits of honeycomb in?”
No, I say, honeycomb is a flavouring in the ice-cream. Her sons are looking increasingly embarrassed.
“So it’s a vanilla ice-cream with honeycomb FLAVOURING in?”
No, I say, steadily, because vanilla ice-cream has vanilla flavouring in, and this is a honeycomb ice-cream. She looks puzzled and I have the fatal instinct to try to explain.
“So, like, strawberry ice-cream isn’t ‘vanilla ice cream with strawberry in’. It’s just…strawberry ice-cream. It’s like that.”
“So, it’s a strawberry ice-cream with honeycomb in?”
“NO. No. It is just a honeycomb ice cream.”
“But before they put the - “
“BEFORE THEY PUT THE FLAVOURING IN THE ICE CREAM, THERE IS NO FLAVOUR IN THE ICE CREAM. It is a blank ice-cream. It is just very cold cream. Iced cream, if you will. It is a totally flavourless ice-cream.”
There is a silence during which I contemplate the fact that I have just spoken to a customer as if she were a small, tantrum-y child.
She says: “Why on earth would I order a completely flavourless ice-cream?”
I nearly punched her. The kids left me a hell of a tip though.
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!
Note: I do not want poop/vomit stories. Please stop sending me poop/vomit stories.
Image via Marie C Fields/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.