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 more stories of horrible restaurant customers. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
Another story from Crustacean:
A large proportion of the customers at this restaurant did not tip. I don't mean tipped a small amount. I mean DID NOT TIP. Popular items were so expensive that the waitstaff continued to make decent money, because most customers did tip and check averages were high. Despite that, we of course complained over and over and over about the horrible tippers. Management parroted the company line that customers "tip for service," implying that we, the waitstaff, were falling short if tips were bad.
One night, a regular came in. I was slammed. I was in the weeds so deep, I needed a machete to see the sun. This regular was the kind of guy who always dressed in a gaudy suit and made sure everyone knew that it was his expensive car specially parked in front of the valet stand downstairs. He was, unsurprisingly, with a much younger trophy date.
He never tipped. Never.
The manager assigned to the part of the restaurant where I was working was chuckling when the regular was sat in my section. The manager was one of the guys who held the company line: "people tip for service."
I told the manager that I couldn't take the table. I seriously just couldn't. He smiled and said that he'd take it and ring it under my number. I was shocked, but I correctly assumed that the manager was taking the table to prove the company maxim. I didn't care. I was BUSY.
The regular was sat at a table next to the service station that was behind a curtain. We could hear everything that people sitting at the table said. Service continued, and I forgot about the regular.
Later, the manager told me he was dropping the check. They were super happy with service, he said, grinning. The next round, I came back to the service station, and the manager was there with me. This is what we heard:
"Wow. That's a lot of money, [regular's name]! How much are you going to tip?"
"You're supposed to tip 15%, but we ain't rich! Hahaha."
I looked at the manager and grinned.
"People tip for service."
In early the 2000's, I worked at a pizza place in the Midwest that also served pasta, sandwiches, and salads. We used to get a lot of calls from someone we came to know as "Marinara Sandwich Guy" who would immediately say that he would like the regular please, with no further explanation or identification of who he even was. Now, we're talking about a small pizza place in the Midwest 15 years ago; we didn't have an internet connection, nor did we have a database that stored peoples' order history. All that data mining stuff is fairly recent; back then we thought we were high tech because the orders would print to each individual station depending on what was ordered.
This customer must have been from the future, because he always got really mad every time we didn't know who he was right away. He really expected us to know from the sound of his voice what his order was. To top the whole thing off, his order wasn't even something simple to remember: he wanted a roast beef sandwich, but no Au Jus (he would get mad if you send him the side of Au Jus that came standard), with marinara sauce, two cucumber slices from the salad bar, and various other salad bar toppings. Over the several years that I worked there, I took his order about half a dozen times, every time he would get upset that I didn't know what constituted the usual.
One time I managed to recognize his address after he gave it to us, and remembered his order, I happily said "Oh, you want the usual, roast beef sandwich with marinara sauce and some cucumbers..." Cutting me off, he informed me that I was wrong and he didn't want the cucumbers this time, sounding even more angry than all the times I didn't know what he wanted. From then on, I just made him spell out the details of his sandwich on every call.
I was (and unfortunately still am) a server at a "family" restaurant with a giant smiling cookie as their mascot and a theme song that played after every episode of Mister Roger's Neighborhood. During the summer, all of the restaurants within the company celebrate Smiley's Birthday Party, complete with a visit from the cookie himself.
Many moons ago, it was my first summer serving, and I was unfortunately placed on the dinner shift on the day Smiley came to our particular restaurant (in one of the largest, most kid-friendly sections. Sink or swim, eh?). My first table of the evening was a mother, father, and their young child. The kid was about 5 or so, and he decided to order from our soup-and-salad bar, so I instructed the father to help the kid out whenever he's ready.
When I stop back around, I see the father also got a plate for himself, so I politely inform him I'll have to charge him for the salad bar, and he started freaking out. "You told me to help himself. I'm not paying for any of it!" as he continued screaming and calling me terrible names. Keep in mind: giant smiley cookie mascot and a restaurant full of kids!
I got my manager, had him talk to the father, and they got everything all figured out. Something about replacing a side with the salad bar so that it was cheaper…I don't know. I dropped off the rest of their food and continued tending to other tables, but the father started complaining again about having to pay for the salad bar. I get the manager; they hash things out again.
As my manager walks away, I'm strolling up with food for a deuce sitting next to the family. I walk past the family in question, the father grabs my (thankfully, non-tray) arm and proceeds to tell me, "You're just a dumb b*tch. You f*cked up my order, and I'm not paying for anything." He dropped some more f- and c-bombs, leaving me in tears as I dropped off the food for the table next to them, which is a couple just staring at each other in awkward silence as this is all happening.
It escalated to the point that the cops had to be called, because this guy was now yelling about not paying for anything, he had touched a server, and was just causing an overall ruckus. The cops and manager were trying to figure out what to do with the table, and they ended up bringing me into the conversation as I'm trying to handle my full section. I told them I just wanted the table gone–I didn't care if they paid, I didn't care if any charges were pressed or what…I did not care at all, I just wanted the table out of my hair.
The family finally left after sitting there for another half an hour (the cops did so well listening to my pleas of help…), along with the couple next to them. Of course the family didn't tip me, but the worst part is, the couple who witnessed everything also stiffed me.
I worked at various Subway restaurants after college. I was a terrible food service employee for many reasons. One was that a technique I would use to garner sympathy from otherwise assholeish customers was to cry a little. Just a little. It usually embarrassed them into submission.
So this one time, a lady was forcing me to pile as many pickles as physics would allow onto her Philly cheese steak. A Subway Footlong is supposed to come with six pickle slices on the whole thing. This lady had me put six HANDFULS on, and still wanted more. She said she'd pay and I believed her, but it was already such an unreasonable amount of fucking pickles. I said, "There's no way you're going to want to pay for this many extra pickles," (this store charged something like $0.50 for each instance of extra veggies and they were pretty serious about inventory). She bellowed, "YES I DO. PUT MORE ON OR I WILL LEAVE." I didn't want to be the reason we ran out of pickles in the middle of a busy weekend, so I squeezed out a few crocodile tears and said, as meekly as I could, "I just can't give you more. We only have so much on hand and at this rate, we will run out. I'm sorry."
It did not work. This lady was serious about her pickle mound and my tears only fueled the fire. Her husband, on the other hand, was extremely embarrassed for her. When she would not stop screaming at me for more pickles, he calmly pushed her aside, apologized, and paid for the sandwich at its existing volume. I can't remember how much it ended up costing as my tears at that point had become real. She went on and on, berating both him and me, screaming that he better not pay for it and she would not eat it and so on until they were out the door with the sandwich.
I probably ended that marriage.
I used to work at a restaurant that had a large outdoor deck. I mean huge, it had it's own large bar, more seating than the inside of the restaurant, and a stage for live entertainment. There was also a pitiful little playground area with two swings and a slide. One day a server noticed that three kids roughly 5-7 years old had been playing on the swingset for over an hour without any adults. She alerted the manager, who scurried on over and asked the kids where their parents were.
The children had no idea. They were under strict instructions not to leave the swingset until their parents returned. An announcement was made, but the parents weren't in the restaurant. The police were called, and the parents were eventually located. At a different restaurant. All the way across town. Unbeknownst to us, two couples had been dropping their kids off at our deck twice a month so they could go bar hopping without having to hire a sitter.
I worked in a small "Greek" restaurant while I was in college. (I use the term "Greek" lightly because we served cheese fries and fried mashed potatoes with our gyros. It's the south, what did you expect?) One afternoon towards the end of my lunch shift, a woman and her three young children come into the restaurant, and before I can even introduce myself, the two oldest children (presumable 5ish and 3ish) begin opening sugar packets from the table. They dump the Splenda ON THE TABLE and start LICKING sugar off of the table. Without missing a beat, the mother interrupts my "Hey how's it going, what can I get you to drink?" speech with "UGH. Can you just get them some bread or something? They are obviously hungry." Obviously.
So I go grab the kids some pita bread, and take it back to the table that is now covered in children's mouth juice. The third child, a baby, is sitting in the mother's lap eating Cheerios. I say eating—really he was just throwing Cheerios on the floor I just cleaned since I thought my shift was over. At this point, they are the only table in the restaurant, and the older children have made a game out of stomping on the Cheerios on the floor. Do you know how hard it is to sweep up crushed Cheerios off an uneven floor?!
The mother insists that I tell the "head chef" (a guy affectionately named "Big D") to hurry up and bring the kids' food out five minutes before hers arrives (side note: A lot of parents requested this actually. Is that a thing? Like do other restaurants offer this? I'd honestly love to know) (Editor's Note: Yes? It's pretty common to ask to have the kids' food brought out first. That's the only part of this story that isn't batshit crazy). So I bring out the kids' chicken strips and french fries, and they dive in headfirst. The mother takes the bottle of ketchup on the table and doesn't squirt it on the plate of food I just set down...or the additional sharing plates that I brought with their appetizer...or even on a napkin. No. She squirts it DIRECTLY ON THE TABLE. The kids proceed to finger-paint the entire table with their chicken strips, ketchup, and Splenda concoction.
She didn't leave a tip, but she did leave a pretty sick (literally) piece of ketchup art for me to clean up. That day, I learned that I don't hate kids. I hate parents.
So I was 17 and the lead host at the suburban white-washed fusion hellscape known as PF Chang's. It was a Friday night around 7-8ish, so exactly when most people go out to dinner. Being smack dab in the middle of a populated suburban area, PF Chang's was quite a popular, treat yo'self family/date/large party place you go to pretend you're fancy, especially on a Friday night. We took reservations. We regularly had a wait of up to an hour on weekend nights. This particular Friday night, we had a full foyer of folks waiting for their tables like normal human beings, when a woman walks in with her litter of about 8 children. I think maybe there was one other adult hiding in there somewhere. She walks up to me at the host stand and barks at me to get them sat. She's surrounded by other patrons whom she apparently assumes are her welcoming party or something and not actually there waiting for tables themselves, or maybe it's that she knows none of them sell monogrammed thermoses...who knows?
Despite her immediate hostility, I greet her with a warm smile, ignoring her tone and explain that I'd be happy to put her on the list and that is a bit of a wait at the moment. She looks at me like I've just offered to deep fry her smallest rugrat as an appetizer. After not receiving a response, I ask if she had called in a reservation. She proceeds to tell me that no she did not, and demands to know when the table will be ready. I repeat that there will be a wait of approximately 40-50 minutes, at which point she interrupts me to question why so long. At this point, she's nowhere near the worst person I had dealt with, so I calmly explain that it's a busy night for us and we usually suggest parties over 7 call in ahead, but thankfully another large party had just recently cancelled, so I was actually able to cut down her wait time considerably from what it would have been. She harumphs and pouts and sigh loudly, but seemingly submits and takes the pager/buzzer from my hand and begrudgingly moves off to the side.
Not even 10 minutes later she's at my host stand again, asking why the table isn't ready yet. I look at her, look at the clock, and do some math for her. "Well ma'am, you came in about ten minutes ago and I quoted you 40-50 minutes so it should be another 30-40. I really appreciate your patience, if you or your children are particularly hungry, I'd be happy to show you to the bar where you could order an appetizer to hold you over." She scowls at me, ignores my suggestion/math/time and space, and says it's been much longer than that and then demands to know why I'm seating a couple that just walked in instead of her party. This couple she's referring to is standing directly next to me, visibly aghast. I explain that they had a reservation and wave over another host to show them to their table as she says "Well that's just not fair. they came later than us." Again, completely ignoring the words that are coming out of my mouth.
Every 5 minutes from then on out, she came up to me demanding to know why her table wasn't ready. Every time, I calmly did the math for her plus a new suggestion to quell her anger. The first time she walked around and came back with a report on how many open tables there were, and I AGAIN explained that those tables were going to those who came before her on the list/reservations. At one point she came up and told me that her children were starving (I repeated my spiel about ordering an app from the bar, which she, surprise surprise, ignored...) and that there was another open table she was willing to sit at. A four-top — for her party of 9. I explained it wasn't enough space. She said some of the kids could sit under the table since they were pretty small.
I'LL REPEAT THAT. SHE OFFERED TO SHOVE HER SURPRISINGLY DELIGHTFUL SPAWN UNDER THE TABLE FOR DINNER. I'm not sure I could control my face at that point, and just slightly stunned, I explain that it would be a hazard and against our regulations. Besides which, it wouldn't be comfortable for them to dine that way. She muttered "under her breath" that I was useless and shuffled her ass back to her gaggle of children.
The last time she comes up is about 20 minutes into her wait. It's about the fifth time she's approached me in total. And it was my last attempt to provide good service to a shitty person. I offered to take down her number and call her when the table was ready if she wanted to take her kids across the plaza to Borders the bookstore. This is what i would suggest to most families that were concerned their kids couldn't behave for the duration of their wait time, though in this instance her children were far more behaved than she could ever hope to be.
Apparently she found this wildly offensive and started yelling loudly, "YOU'RE A FUCKING IDIOT WHO DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO DO THE EASIEST FUCKING JOB. JUST GET ME MY FUCKING TABLE YOU INCOMPETENT BITCH." The entire foyer of people, including her children all under the age of 10, are now staring at us. I take a deep breath and explain that I've been patient with her from the beginning and I've giving her what is an accurate wait time for such a large party without a reservation then finally offered to get my manager. She scoffs at me, yells, "FUCK YOU BITCH WHORE" and I'm not shitting you THROWS THE PAGER ACROSS THE HOST STAND AT MY FACE FROM TWO FEET AWAY. Thankfully her aim was as deplorable as her attitude and it went flying past my head, past the head of the host standing behind me, and hit the bar with a loud crack. My blood boiled, though I knew even at 17 that managers in restaurants like mine would fire me if I realized the fantasy that flashed before my eyes at that point: to grab her by the back of her barrette-riddled bun and slam her troll-fucking face into my host stand between 1 and 4 times. Instead, I turned around, told my other host to go get the manager, and that I was going to step outside before I get sent to jail.
I quietly raged in the parking lot for a few minutes, before walking back inside to see that my idiot GM had not only apologized to her but SAT the woman and her table at a reserved table then proceeded to berate me for letting her make a scene. When i mentioned that she nearly assaulted me, he said, but it didn't even hit you so suck it up. Thank fuck that the party he just decided to blindly replace ended up being a no-show.
The only plus side to that night was that an adorable elderly couple came up to me afterward and congratulated me on how i handled that situation and they wanted me to know that I did nothing wrong and shouldn't feel bad about my professionalism at all. They were very sweet. And clearly could see that I was just a near-tears kid putting on a brave face. She gave me a hug and he slipped me a twenty.
I have to flip an obligatory fuck you bird every time I drive by a PF Chang's to this very day.
Do you have a crazy restaurant story you'd like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens (on ANY subject, not just this one)? Please e-mail WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Behind Closed Ovens" in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!
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