Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. Because human beings are the absolute worst, I will apparently never, ever run out of Terrible Customer stories. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
Back when I was a teen, I worked at an ice cream chain that rhymes with “Mary...uh...Queen” (Editor’s Note: *sigh*) back in my hometown during the summer. We generally had really nice clientele, but every once in awhile you got a real humdinger. Anyway, one afternoon I had just come off my lunch break and hadn’t been back behind the counter for 10 minutes before I notice this woman storming towards the door holding a giant paper bag with our logo on it. Alarm bells start blaring in my head (because it’s an ice cream shop. Who returns ice cream? No one, until now) and I brace myself for what’s coming.
Unfortunately, as I’m about to learn, there’s no way to prep yourself for this moment. Also, just to set the scene a little bit more, I’m behind the counter with my supervisor (who is only in her early 20’s) and one really new girl who’s only been working there for a few weeks, along with two customers who are looking at cakes in the display case.
Anyway, Angry Lady SLAMS the bag down on the counter and yells, “WHO WAS WORKING IN DRIVE-THRU?!” Since I had just come off my break, I had no idea who had been on headset, so I looked over at my supervisor to see if she could clarify before I became covered in more of this person’s spit. “WHO WAS IT? WAS IT YOU?” she bellowed.
“I’m sorry ma’am, but I just came upstairs, bu-...” Before I can even finish, she leans over the counter and fixes her eyes on my poor, tiny (as in 5-foot-nothing in height) new coworker who’s cleaning a counter quietly. “YOU,” she screams, jabbing a finger at her, “YOU WERE WORKING IN DRIVE-THRU.” The whole place is literally silent at this point, minus the screaming woman. New Coworker cowers back from the woman, who is now screaming about the horrible service she received almost incoherently. The supervisor finally gets her attention and goes, “Ma’am, what is the problem?!”
Angry lady rears back and goes, “I ORDERED 10 SUNDAES AND I GOT NO STRAWS” forever cementing her place as “Most Unexpected Answer to a Simple Question” winner for life.
The supervisor stares at her and goes, “...no straws?”
Suddenly Angry Lady goes from Angry to ANGRYAGRJHGRHGRKEJH2389@($&()*213 and grabs the large paper bag supposedly filled with sundaes and just starts slamming the shit out of it on the counter in front of me. “I [WHAM] GOT [WHAM] NO [WHAM] FUCKING [WHAM] STRAWS.” At this point, I’m ducking melted ice cream that’s shooting out of the now ruined bag and the other customers in the room are probably considering fleeing for their lives. We’re trying to clarify to her that straws are not required for sundaes (I don’t know why we just didn’t tell her to fuck right off, I think we were all in shock at this insane outburst) and she is yelling and smacking that bag and there’s ice cream all over the counter and finally she just fucking storms out going, “I COME HERE ALL THE TIME YOU ARE THE WORST YOU LITTLE SHITS I’M CALLING THE MANAGER THEY KNOW ME BLAH BLAH BLAH YELLING.”
We’re all left standing there in the silence, aside from the sound of melted soft serve dripping onto the ground. What we then realized was that the bag was full of milkshakes (NOTE: in case you’re wondering about why there was a bag full of milkshakes, sometimes when people came through drive-thru and got a large milkshake order it was just easier to pack them all into a flat-bottom bag so they could put it on the seat beside them) that, for some reason, she had kept calling sundaes. What had happened was that the new girl had been in drive-thru and had handed out the bag with the shakes, but before she could hand out the separate bag filled with napkins and straws, the lady had driven off. But this didn’t matter, nothing mattered now. We had all experienced Angry Milkshake Lady, and this had changed something fundamental inside all of us. My supervisor stood there in silence. The new girl burst into tears. I just laughed and laughed because sometimes, if you don’t laugh, what else can you do?
I was working at a Central Florida deli a few years back. Not the Cadillac (or even the really nice Dodge) of delis, but we did our best to provide good service to go along with the just-above-acceptable meats and sandwiches.
One day an older woman walked up to the counter and asked to try the corned beef. I obliged her, and she ate about half of the slice before getting a strange look of confusion on her face. I asked her if she would like anything else, and she said, “Why doesn’t this taste like the corned beef I had in New York twenty-five years ago?” I replied, “I honestly don’t know, Ma’am. What seems different?” She looked at me like I was lower than something scraped off of a shoe, and demanded to speak to my manager.
When the manager came, the lady again demanded, “Why doesn’t this taste like the corned beef I had in New York twenty-five years ago?!” The manager said as kindly as she could, “I don’t have any idea. I wasn’t there twenty-five years ago. I’ve never been to New York either. Are you sure it was corned beef you remember?”
The lady began throwing a fit, screaming that everyone in that deli was stupid, because if we hadn’t been to New York we couldn’t know the first thing about meat. She threw the last half of the beef slice at the manager and stalked out.
I worked at a Dunkin’ Donuts in high school. I like to think that I was always an extremely nice and accommodating cashier and drive through worker, although that didn’t stop people from being generally assholic. One morning (mornings were VERY busy, even at a tiny Dunkin’ Donuts attached to an EasyMoney in Alabama) I’m working the cash register, making coffee and lattes, grabbing donuts, and refilling donuts up front from the back of the store. So I’m basically doing every job except sandwich station (the line where sandwiches, bagels, and hash browns are toasted, sliced, etc.). I’m tending to the long ass line of people at my register so I can take all of the orders before making the coffees. I have just finished handing a receipt to a customer when the next man in line comes up and mumbles “iwannaeverythingbagelslicedandtoastedwithblueberrycreamcheeseandalargecoffeewith4creamsand8sugarsjfsangkvmSFDJGASHZNVNAFDSMVD.” Says his entire order under his breath in about a second. I start frantically selecting things on my register and continue to be Sally Fucking Sunshine, saying “Okay Sir, you had an everything bagel toasted and sliced with what kind of cream cheese?” I’d like to think I’m pretty amazing for picking up on that much of what he said, but he sighs and rolls his eyes like this is the greatest disservice he’s ever encountered.
He then has the audacity to repeat his order at me like I’m a fucking child who doesn’t know how to words yet. “I SAID I WOULD LIKE ONE, JUST ONE, EVERYTHING BAGEL. THAT’S AN E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G BAGEL, THE ONE WITH EVERYTHING ON IT.” He says his whole order like this. He gets his damn cream cheese and a coffee or something, and I’m still super duper nice to him because I was a pushover in high school (I’d like to think in this situation now I’d beat his ass but who knows).
He is the last customer in line, so I finish his order and go to make the coffees. I don’t know if every Dunkin is this way, but the coffee station was literally directly next to the register, so when this man steps 2 feet away from the register to wait on his food I am still completely in earshot as I’m TWO FEET AWAY. He turns to the lady who was in front of him in line—whom he DOES NOT KNOW—and says, “They have all these incompetent kids working at these places. They should lower the minimum wage to 2 dollars an hour.”
One summer during college, I worked at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Southeastern Connecticut. This particular Dunkin’ was inside a gas station right off the highway, so it was fairly busy, especially with people on their way to the Rhode Island beaches.
One afternoon, a sixty-something man came in who was clearly going to the beach, because he was only wearing swimming trunks and sandals. The person working the register of the gas station called to him, pointing to the No Shirts/Shoes/Service sign, but the man just looked at him, rolled his eyes, and proceeded to the counter. We repeated that we would not be able to serve him inside, because of this new thing called health code violations, but we would be able to assist him at the drive-through if he didn’t want to put on a shirt. And so he walked outside and went around to the drive-through window. By foot. Still insisting he be served.
At this point, actual cars in the drive-through, driven by customers who are more or less familiar with how food service has worked since the Eisenhower administration, were being held up by this man who, for whatever reason, did not know how to restaurant, and was grumpily waiting to be helped, car or no. In order to settle the situation, the manager’s boyfriend, who happened to be there at the time, offered to lend the man a shirt so he could come in, get his coffee and leave. He comes in, wearing a shirt that is clearly far too small, and orders his coffee. After I have made it, he insists that I put in too much sugar, and would not be placated when I apologized and offered to remake it.
At this point, the manager steps in, saying “Sir, you have been holding up our customers for over fifteen minutes now. We have tried to be accommodating. We have literally given you the shirt off our backs. Now either pay for your coffee and leave right now, or I am going to call the police.”
He left, still muttering and groaning and rolling his eyes, presumably on his way to insist he could swim on a private beach to avoid paying for parking at Watch Hill.
(Editor’s Note: Basil’s name is not a pseudonym. That’s his actual name. Just figured you’d all want to know)
With the recent economic boom in the Bay Area there is, of course, the prerequisite hipster enclave that has popped up in Oakland. It’s called Temescal, and it is a perfect place for wealthy white people to think they are hip. I work at a Mexican restaurant that has been there for 16 years and is a favorite of the white upper class residents of the Oakland and Berkeley hills. It’s a large lovely restaurant with an enclosed patio that is completely full on warm days. For some reason (entitlement), people are shocked when they walk in with no reservation at 7:00PM on a Saturday night and there is a wait. Heaven forbid if there is a wait over 15 minutes.
One such busy, warm Saturday night I was hosting and running around trying to make sure that the first seating of tables was up to make room for the second seating of reservations and, in turn, trying to get a good idea of wait times for people on the wait list. There was a two top who had been seated right at the start of service and had taken an hour just to order drinks, two hours in they had *just* ordered food. I didn’t have time to change their seating time in Opentable, but knew they would be there forever.
At 7:15, a family of four walked in: a heavily coiffed sweater-setted mother, a polo and khakis father, mid-twenties-blonde-in-kate-spade daughter, and a Marina-bro son. The mother asked for a table for four and I tell her that it will be an hour and a half wait. She was flabbergasted. She repeatedly asked, “Are you kidding me?” then proceeded to point to every single open table and ask if that one was available.
Side note: don’t do this. Just don’t ever do this. (Editor’s Note: Seriously, DON’T DO THIS)
Anyway, I tell them that they are welcome to grab a drink at the bar and I will come get them the minute a table is ready (what I tell every single person who has to wait for a table). The son immediately gets on OpenTable to get a reservation/ prove me wrong. The previously mentioned table of two who have *just* ordered their food have a table next to them that is almost done eating and where I was going to seat a two top from the waitlist. Because OpenTable is a program and not a human being (and isn’t taking the waitlist into account), it tells this family that there is a 7:30 reservation available. They immediately book it and then ask the bartender to get the manager.
The mother proceeds to tell my manager that I was extremely rude to them and that I lied to them about the wait time because I was “discriminating” (wat) against them. My manager says that if OpenTable says there is a reservation then we’ll figure something out, and that there was probably a last minute cancellation, so I wasn’t discriminating against them. Ultimately, we have to move these jackasses above the people on the waitlist who had been patiently waiting for 45 minutes, because assholes get what they want in this world.
The bartender later comes up to me to let me know that the horrible family is out celebrating the fact that they had closed on TWO condos they bought for each of their children in SOMA, San Francisco. So, you know...lovely people.
At 7:29 exactly, the daughter comes up and asks about the table. It’s not ready yet, and I tell her that the minute it’s ready I will come get them. She reminds me that they have a 7:30 reservation, and that we shouldn’t say that we have a table at 7:30 if we don’t actually have a table.
At 7:35, I seat them at their stolen table and the mother orders guacamole with me, because “they had to wait so long and they are STARVING.” I spend the rest of the evening running around and generally forgetting about these jerks when I notice that they have paid the check the mother is trying to get my attention. I know what’s coming...she wants to verbally chastise me. I pretend not to see her and duck into the back room till I think they will be gone. I go back out and the father, son and daughter have left but the mother is waiting for me at the host stand. My manager goes to deal with her and I was right, she did want to “give me advice on how to be a better host.” Apparently, she told my manager that I was losing the restaurant money and they should rethink my employment there.
(Editor’s Note: There exist absolutely no circumstances in which a customer should ever try to initiate a conversation with a restaurant employee about how they can do a better job. Ever. Even if they are terrible. Anyone who does this—without possible exception—is an asshole)
I worked as a food runner at a fine dining restaurant when I was in high school. It paid good money for a few hours’ work. One weekend, there were two of us running food in the afternoon, and seated at this bar booth was a couple in their late 50s. The guy orders some typical plate, perhaps ribs or something, and the wife orders a soup and salad.
It was always a gamble when to bring out the soup and salad and as food runners; we didn’t necessarily know what else was ordered, so the soup or salad might come out before the rest of the meal. Well, my comrade brings out the soup and doesn’t hear the husband make some request (it was pretty loud in there), probably that he wanted his wife’s food out with the meal.
So the guy follows him back to the open kitchen where I was standing and starts on a tirade. “HOW DARE YOU WALK AWAY FROM ME WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU? MY WIFE WANTED THE SALAD WITH THE SOUP. I KNOW THE OWNER PAUL—” (not his real name, but it was printed on the menu, so people said that a lot) “—AND HE WILL FIRE YOU FOR THIS.” He doesn’t see that the owner is standing five feet from him, expediting orders off the line. “Paul” makes eye contact with me and then shakes his head and walks away. I knew he just gave me license to handle the situation however I saw fit.
I immediately go up to the guy and tell him that I’m a manager (I definitely wasn’t) and I’d like to know what is going on. I get him calmed down and take him back at his table where his wife now looks upset because her husband was overreacting and left her alone at the table. I get her salad that goes with the soup, and things are settled for now. He is still grumbling and upset.
The bartender who was serving them was avoiding them like the plague after this. He finally did check up on them after this whole event and the guy launches off again about how rude the food runner was and how he just walked away. Always quick and with a great sense of humor, the bartender stops the customer in his tirade, “Oh...oh I’m so sorry. That’s Ishmael, he probably didn’t hear you. He’s actually deaf in one ear.” (he wasn’t deaf)
The guy fires back, “WELL MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T HIRE DEAF PEOPLE!”
I was having lunch with a friend at a wings and fries place and we couldn’t help but notice a nearby table of rowdy teenagers giving our waitress shit. They were complaining because one of their French fries (one single fry out of 6 plates of food) had a black spot. You know, the kind of black spot that makes an appearance at least once in EVERY basket of fries because potatoes get bruises. The waitress insisted that it was just burnt, but she got them fresh fries anyway. The loudest of the group decided that wasn’t good enough. She insisted the tab be comped completely because the fry wasn’t burnt, it was “moldy” and they had served her “a health hazard.” Then, she started in on how her father was in the restaurant business and she knew that the customer is always right.
The waitress (super nice and professional the entire time) got the manager, who had been listening to the whole thing. He agreed to comp the one meal, but not the entire table. Loud Girl wasn’t happy. She continued to berate the waitress and her friends basically hunkered down like they weren’t going to leave until they got what they wanted. At one point, they asked the waitress to bring back the black French fry. The waitress was now at her wit’s end, so she said “Why? Are you going to eat it?” To which Loud Girl said, “No, I’m going to feed it to you.” The waitress walked away and told her manager that she would not be returning to that table.
Shortly thereafter, the manager threatened to call the police, so they ended up paying the bill and of course left no tip. On the other hand, my friend and I left a huge tip and wrote her a nice note.
My first job was at a Dairy Queen. A rather woman came in with her slight, anemic-looking child and asked for a double-dipped cone. I told her that we couldn’t do that, as the ice cream hardened onto the hot chocolate topping instantly, and to dip it again would cause the whole thing to melt. She brushed this off and leaned over the counter as I prepared the cone, then dipped it, taking care to cover the entire ice cream part and some of the cone, figuring perhaps the extra chocolate would compensate.
I tried handing it across the counter to the child when the woman bellowed, loud enough for people in the back to hear, “I SAID I WANTED IT DOUBLE DIPPED!” Despite my protests, the 16-year-old manager (a few months older than I was) told me to do it. So I prepared a second cone, dipped it...and then, in full view of the customer, dipped it again. Just as I’d predicted, the entire chocolate coating slid off the ice cream, followed by the ice cream itself into the pot of chocolate. The manager then stepped in and, as I was apologizing for this failure of desired thermodynamics, made a regular, single-dipped cone and handed it to the woman.
The customer barely noticed that it hadn’t been double dipped, and of course screamed that she should have it for free. Of course, the manager obliged. The topping on this sundae? The woman didn’t order anything for her kid, but instead ate the treat greedily in front of him.
There’s a Starbucks near the high school that I stop into sometimes on my way to pick up my kid. One of the semi-regular customers I’ve seen there is “Ferrari Guy.” This guy comes in dressed head-to-toe in Ferrari logo gear: shirt, sweatpants, letterman’s jacket with embroidered logo AND lapel pin, baseball cap, and a Ferrari travel mug (I couldn’t tell you if it’s monogrammed, though).
Yes, he does actually drive a Ferrari, and that’s the best part. When it’s parked in the lot, there will be one of those novelty signs in the ground in front of it “Ferrari Parking Only. All others will be towed.” This sign isn’t part of the parking lot. He apparently carries it around in his trunk for the sole purpose of sticking it into parking-lot planters in front of his car. Lest anyone fail to notice that he has a Ferrari.
It was a hot summer day in Southern California, and I was ten minutes shy of finishing my shift at Starbucks and was super excited about my afternoon plans to see my boyfriend, who lived several hours away and was home for the first time in months. It had been a pleasant morning up until that point, lots of nice regulars, easy traffic, good co-workers, and I was feeling prettay, prettay, prettay good. I’d brought a cute outfit to change into and spent time fussing on my hair that morning, making sure I’d look good when he arrived to pick me up. It was dead at that point, so the manager taking over told me to wrap up early and head out.
And then she walked in.
This woman was an afternoon regular that I’d seen only a handful of times over the years I’d worked there, since I was usually the opening manager. But I knew exactly who she was and I *thought* I knew exactly what was coming. Only I had no idea how bad it was about to get for me. She usually ordered a Venti (I’m sorry, I know you hate that word) Caramel Frappuccino with two added shots of espresso, which elevated the drink from nasty to nasty plus smelling like dog farts. Sure enough, she ordered her regular drink and I start making it, barely even wrinkling my nose at the smell of the espresso hitting the Frap base.
“Make sure you put EXTRA CARAMEL in there,” she hissed, peering at me over the divider. Her eyes were small and darting, following my movements and nodding in agreement with the steps I was taking. I added an extra pump of the caramel syrup and readied the sauce bottle while the drink blended.
“I LOVE THE EXTRA CARAMEL!” she reminded me, literally four seconds later. “So make sure you put EXTRA CARAMEL IN THERE!”
I assured her I would and she responded by pressing against the plastic divider to get an even better view of her drink being made. Her smooshed up face looked like a eager slice of wet ham as she continued eyeballing me while I poured her drink into the cup.
“WAIT!” she shouted, as the cup was half full. “I want caramel in the cup.”
Not an uncommon request, but a gross one. I poured her drink back in the blender and did a generous swirl of caramel sauce around the cup.
“MORE!” she implored.
“Sure, but I added extra in the drink as well, so y’know, it’s gonna be real caramel-y,” I said. This set her the fuck off.
“That’s why I said extra caramel! That’s why I order the espresso! EXTRA CARAMEL EXTRA CARAMEL!” she chanted.
At this point, the inside of the cup was completely coated in caramel with at least a 1/4 inch of the sauce at the bottom. I poured her drink into the cup, did a nice little dollop of whipped cream and went to give it one last drizzle of sauce before she had another freak out. Except my caramel bottle was empty and now I had to fill a new one.
“Just a sec,” I told her, heading to the back to grab a bag of caramel sauce. I heard her say something to my co-worker like, “Can you make sure she puts caramel on top?” and I swear to god, I wanted to run back out there and choke her with the damn drink. Instead I grabbed the bag and headed back out.
At the time I worked there the caramel sauce came in these large slug-like bags. You’d snip the corner, jerk it off into a bottle, and yay, everyone is happy (except you because you now hate something as wonderful as caramel). So, I get the bottle full and the bag is about 1/4 full. I know, I KNOW that this nasty Caramel Golem is going to ask me about it. I am bracing myself for it as I snap the lid on her drink and place it on the bar. Even though I logically know where this is heading, I’m still shocked when she asks me for the bag.
“I can’t give that out, ma’am. Sorry! Have a good one.”
I headed to the back room to grab my stuff, leaving her standing there with her sick drink.I’d just finished changing my shirt and touching up my makeup when I heard a huge crash from the floor. I ran out and sure enough, she was trying to reach over the bar to grab the bag and ended up knocking over a stack of clean pitchers and supplies.Her arm was flailing and half of her body was sprawled out on the bar while my poor coworker was trying to do damage control.
“Ma’am, you are going to have to leave now. This behavior is not acceptable and you’re making us uncomfortable,” I explain to her.
“Just give me the fucking bag!”
“Ma’am, I am happy to add more caramel to your drink but I cannot give out our supplies. We have been very polite to you and now I need to ask that you GO.”
She pulled herself upright, drink in hand, and glared at me like I’d never been glared at before. “You. Fucking. BITCH!” she screamed, throwing her drink at me.
It hit me in the chest, exploded instantly and covered my whole torso and my hair in a repulsive, sticky mess. I was shocked, adrenaline coursing through my veins, and taking very, very deep breaths so that I wouldn’t leap over the bar and attack her. Before I could do anything, she turned around and ran out.
My boyfriend arrived a few minutes later and pitched in to help us clean up, but ughhh. I was just done at that point and wanted to go home and cry/eat pizza in the shower. The next day, my manager informed me that she got the woman’s information off her credit card and reported the whole thing to the police. I don’t know what, if anything, came of it but she never returned to that store again while I was working.
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.