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 the dumbest human beings restaurants have ever witnessed. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
My friend worked at a bar in close proximity to a church a few years back, so they got a decent amount of the church crowd coming in to grab a few drinks, especially wedding guests killing time or people slipping away during funerals. One busy Saturday night, a crowd of about 20-30 people suddenly came in. My friend thought one of his coworkers was kidding when he said a woman in a wedding dress was among them. Then he looked up, and sure enough, there’s a woman in a wedding dress, a groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and a bunch of well-dressed people. Yep, it was a wedding party.
Needless to say, the bar was crowded and all the seats taken. Somehow, the wedding party seemed surprised by this, and one older man (father of the bride, maybe) came to complain to the manager, basically telling him he should make some of the customers move so that they could get enough tables for the wedding party. The manager refused, saying he could not/would not make paying customers move, and asked why the wedding party hadn’t made a reservation. The guy’s response? “Who makes a reservation at a bar?!”
Of course by now the whole place was staring at the wedding party in disbelief and amusement. Some of the men in the wedding party headed over to some of the tables in what my friend guessed was an effort to guilt them into moving, which failed, as most of the tables proceeded to order rounds of drinks or more food.
Up next comes the angry bride, who demanded to know why they were still serving “those people” when it was her wedding day. The manager explained that they are paying customers, and he would not force them to move. The bride then accused the staff of “ruining her wedding.” The manager again asked about why they didn’t make a reservation. The bride started crying, saying that “it’s not fair,” yadda yadda yadda.
Finally, the groom walked her away and they left to find another place to eat, but not before one of the bridesmaids stormed over and snapped at the staff that she didn’t know how we could sleep at night after what we did. Of course by then half the bar was laughing at them.
I worked a good 6+ years at a family owned Italian bakery in the heart of Surrey (BC, Canada). I was working front of staff on a slightly less than busy Friday afternoon when the precious came in. She was looking at our display trying to pick out a cake for a dinner party and pointed to one of the cakes (a cheesecake). I took the cake out and got my notebook ready for what she wanted written on it, when she scrunched up her face and makes a face like she’d just discovered the cake was made of calories or something.
She sidled up to me next to our counter and asks me in a very conspiratorial tone “What is cheesecake?” I give her the spark notes on it (cream cheese, eggs, sugar, flavor, Graham crackers, baked). “Oh, ok, but is there any dairy in that?”
I looked at her, then at my manager who was stifling a laugh. I turned back to her and said, “Ma’am, as I said it’s a cheese...cake. It’s made of cheese...which is a dairy product.”
She made the most disgusted face and said, “Eww, why would you make a cake taste like cheese and crackers?! Besides, I can’t have dairy.”
Then she bought a cream puff cake that had “real whipping cream” signage.
I bartend at a burger bar on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The bar carries more than 50 American craft beers (draft/bottles/cans), and is generally more well known for their beer/whiskey than any cocktails—although we do have a cocktail menu and the majority of our bartenders are fairly knowledgeable of the full scope of bartending.
During one particular dinner rush, I had a ticket come in from a server for a dirty vodka martini. OK, fair enough. A few minutes, later the server returned to the side station with martini in hand saying the customer sent it back. I asked why, a little taken aback—which is when I was informed that it had been sent back because the drink was “too cold.” For those who may not be bar savvy, this would be the equivalent of sending a bowl of soup back to the kitchen for being too hot.
I looked at the server, rubbed my hands together for a few seconds, then placed them around the glass and said, “send it back.” The server didn’t think I was serious, so I told her to go take care of another table and come back a few minutes later and just bring back the same drink.
The drink did not come back a second time.
I work at a bar that is inside an old theatre. We show movies, have concerts, comedy, private events, and are open for big sports games. We have a full menu and do kitchen service from the concessions in the front. They also serve popcorn, pastries that we make in house, and fountain drinks.
One day during a football game, a woman walked down the ramp holding a brownie on a plate, paused and asked me “There isn’t anything...special...in this brownie, is there?”
“Uh, no.” Yes, we totally sell brownies with illegal drugs in them unmarked, and often to children, and yet are not shut down. Definitely.
For four summers I worked waiting a little seafood shack on a small New England island, pretty much your idyllic teenage summer experience. Early one Tuesday evening, when we were all standing around dead slow, this dude comes in, grabs a menu on his own, then saunters into our smoking section, and sits alone. After a minute, he waves me over and says with an oily grin, “Dude, you take care of me today, and I’ll take care of you.”
No customer who says “I’m going to take care of you” ever takes care of you. The very fact that they think it means they’ll get something extra instantly proves that their view of the world is cracked.
Anyway, the guy has his entire order ready: “Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do. See this chef’s side salad you have? Yeah, to start I want two of those and I want you to mix them together in a big bowl and I want you to just DROWN them in ranch dressing.” He did say “drown.” “And then for my main course I want the surf and turf.”
We don’t have surf and turf. It’s not on the menu. We have good steaks, we have large lobsters alive in tanks ready to go, but we’re not Long John Silver or Olive Garden, and we don’t have surf and turf. I tell him I’m sorry, but we don’t have surf and turf.
“And here I thought we were getting along!” he says. “I don’t care what you call it, I want that 2-pound lobster you show there, and I want that piece of filet mignon you have there, and I want you to bring me them both at the same time. POW! Surf and turf!” I’m remembering him with a Matthew McConaughey drawl, but I’m 90% sure that’s because he had one. He also orders his second dirty martini, rocks, extra olives.
I go back into the kitchen and put the order through and tell the cooks to just go with it. I take the already-prepped chef’s side salads, dump them into a punchbowl, pour about a pint of ranch on them, toss them, and bring them out to Not-McConaughey.
“Now see, this is what I’m talking about!” he says with a grin. He digs in, and five minutes later he orders his third dirty martini. His check is now over $165. Two-pound lobsters are freaking enormous, and not cheap.
His lobster and steak is ready about twenty minutes later, when he’s kicking off martini number four. I bring out the food and he’s again over the moon. I start wondering if maybe I actually like the guy, at least a little.
The restaurant starts filling up. Eventually, I head back to High Roller’s table.
And it’s empty. He’s destroyed the lobster, steak, and fourth martini; remnants of the carnage are strewn across the table. Thinking he’s in the bathroom, I start to walk away, but then notice a torn scrap of paper stuck under his steak plate. I pull it out and there’s also two $20 bills there. Unfolding the paper, I read “Please charge to Dave Simski. Keep the tip, guy.”
Dave Simski is a local islander who owns a landscaping business and two takeaway restaurants. I run for the shift manager, who’s also the owner, who calls the cops. The local sergeant on duty comes down and I tell the story. He phones Dave Simski, talks to him for a minute, nods, chats with the owner for a minute, and leaves.
Turns out High-Roller had worked for Dave Simski for all the previous month mowing lawns and painting, and had just been fired earlier that day for doing absolutely no work and being permanently stoned. After walking out on us, he then walked directly across the parking lot to get on the one-hour ferry back to the mainland.
One hour was more than enough time for the island police to call the state police, and then plenty of time for the state police to come down to the dock and wait for the ferry to arrive and arrest High Roller as he strolled off the boat.
The owner let me keep the tip.
When I was in college, I worked in a local pizza shop that did gourmet pizzas by the pie and by the slice. We had a lot of cool gourmet pizzas and also did a lot of custom pizzas, so I was used to taking down a lot of weird requests about toppings.
One afternoon, a particularly rushed and rude sounded woman called the restaurant to order our Philly cheesesteak pizza, with “no mayonnaise.” We never, EVER put mayonnaise on any of our pizzas, and didn’t even have any in stock, so I assured her that mayo wouldn’t be a problem.
SIDE NOTE: Most of our white pizzas (including the Philly cheesesteak) had a crème fraîche and cheese sauce instead of the classic tomato. It was delicious and we used to make it fresh in the back.
(Editor’s Note: To everyone who sees where this is headed and is about to make some dumb comment about “why didn’t she just tell the lady the pizza didn’t have mayo on it,” I hate you more deeply than I am able to express in mere human language.
...but still not quite as much as I hate the people about to smugly, snobbishly insist “ANY PIZZA THAT DOESN’T HAVE TOMATO SAUCE IS AN ABOMINATION AND IS NOT PIZZA, LOOK AT ME I’M SO CLEVER AND IMPORTANT WITH MY TERRIBLE PIZZA OPINIONS.”)
This lady’s boyfriend or husband or whatever comes to pick the pizza up, and is super nice and leaves a tip in the tip jar (maybe he was aware of what a harpy this lady was on the phone). I go about my business of folding pizza boxes and watching daytime television. About 20 minutes later, this red-faced, Oompa Loompa-looking woman storms through the door shrieking about mayonnaise.
I tried to reason with this lady, and explain that the white stuff she is having a coronary about is crème fraîche, not mayo, but the spit flecks kept flying as she got in my face telling me how stupid I am and how she “ASKED FOR NO FUCKING MAYONNAISE, DON’T YOU KNOW HOW DISGUSTING THAT IS.” I even showed her the goddamned menu that listed all of the toppings, but she wouldn’t budge. She just kept telling me how gross it was that we put mayo on pizza and how dare we put something unhealthy on her pizza that she specifically asked us not to include, didn’t I know she was trying to lose weight? Why would she want mayo on her pizza?
I calmly looked at her and told her that pizza wasn’t a good choice if she was trying to eat healthy, and if she would like her pizza replaced with a salad, it would be no problem.
I worked as a bartender/server while in college. One night, I was serving on the floor and waited on a table of two older gentlemen. They were nice at first, but as the night went on, they got progressively drunker and more difficult to control. It was getting towards the end of the night and I was bussing nearby tables, clearing off the piles of empty beer bottles. While doing this, one of the men called me over to their table and began to slur their next beer order at me. Since my hands were full, I put down one of the beer bottles to pull out my notepad (just to be clear, I put the bottle pretty far away from him, close to the end of the table and myself).
Well, the other gentleman thought I had brought it for him and reached for the bottle. At the same time I realized what was happening and, realizing that the bottle was half full of old beer with a ton of used cigarette butts in it, reached for the bottle as well. I told him it wasn’t his beer, it was garbage, and we both grabbed it at the same time. He had the top end and was trying to put it to his mouth, and I had the back end trying to stop him from making a terrible mistake of drinking cigarette butts. We proceeded to play tug of war with the bottle while I tried to explain to his intoxicated self that it was not his beer, it was garbage, you don’t want to drink this.
Finally, I realized he was an asshole and I’d done my due diligence to prevent him from drinking it, and let go. He took a big chug out of the bottle, realized something was wrong and spat it all over himself. Then looked at me and said, “what did you do to my beer?” Then the bouncer came over after seeing the tug of war and kicked the guy out.
I worked at a high end ice cream store. One day, this lady comes in asking for a vanilla ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles. Before I can finish placing her order, she asks what color they are. I’m a little confused, but I told her different colors, like blue, red, pink, green. She says, “Oooh, I don’t like those colors,” and leaves.
This is still better than the teen who asked me if chocolate chip ice cream had chocolate chips inside it.
I worked at one of “New York City’s Hottest New Restaurants!” for awhile last year, and it was a pretty legit gig. Well-known chef, restauranteur-mogul owner, and “California-Italian Fusion cuisine designed for sharing” (translation: “Whatever the fuck Chef thinks tastes good and wants to cook”). Being that the restaurant was part of a Corporate AF restaurant group, they took allergies REALLY SERIOUSLY, GUYS. I’ve never punched in more convoluted fucking orders than at this restaurant. This situation was encouraged by the fact that the question “are there any allergies or dietary restrictions we should be aware of?” was part of our required server spiel when taking an order.
This one night I was assigned to turn-and-burn “vacation station,” a section of eight two-tops at the front of the restaurant. One of my first tables is a Very Jersey Couple, the female half of which is wearing a dress that only barely counts as “clothing” along with eight thousand Gold Jangly Things on her neck and wrists. They seem friendly enough, though, so okay. We chat for a few minutes and I get to the allergen part of my spiel, at which point the woman interrupts me—
“I have very serious dietary restrictions. It’s a diet I’ve been on for a week and a half, but I’m SUPER committed to it.”
“Okay, great, we’re more than happy to accommodate whatever you need. What are your dietary restrictions?”
“Well. I don’t eat meat, gluten, dairy, or ‘fish that swim.’” When she says the “fish that swim” part, she makes a motion with her hand indicating the swimming pattern of a dolphin—like a fish that leaps up and down in and out of the water. I stare at her and blink furiously, hoping that somehow using my face muscles in this way will prevent me from snort-laughing at this comment or, at minimum, inquire as to why she is dining at a restaurant where they serve Food, usually containing the aforementioned in some combination.
I remark that her diet is admirably strict and ask her to clarify what constitutes “fish that swim.”
“I mean, like, shrimp and crabs and lobster and stuff...that’s fine. They, like, walk on the ocean floor, right? Or swim like this?” [makes swimming motion with hand]
“So...shellfish are okay? Mollusks—like, mussels and clams—they’re fine?”
“Oh, totally! Just no fish that swim!” [repeats swimming hand motion]
I thanked them and bolted from the table to the barista station in the back as quickly as I could to die of laughter. We ended up serving her some uber-shellfished version of our bouillabaisse, removing all the “fish that swim” [makes swimming hand motion]. CRISIS AVERTED.
Stopping at a Subway on our way home from vacation, I overhear the following conversation from the couple in line in front of us:
Couple walks up to the counter and is staring at the menu for at least two minutes. As if in deep thought, the lady asks the sandwich maker, in all seriousness, “What’s the difference between the chicken and the turkey?”
The sandwich maker immediately deadpans, “Well, one is made of turkey...”
The lady, pauses a beat to consider that statement, and then replies with, “Oh, OK. I’ll have the chicken, then.”
I always wonder what response would have made her choose the turkey.
I work at a build-your-own taco place in Cleveland, Ohio. We specialize in whiskey and tequila as well and offer a great craft beer selection. Here are my favorite dumb customer tendencies:
1. Even though it says tacos on the door, we always have people that ask for burritos. When you tell people that we only do tacos, most will continue with their order. Most of those people will still be confused when they get a taco and not a burrito.
2. Customer: “What’s this pineapple guac?”
Me: “It has fresh pineapple and peppers and a Chipotle honey sauce drizzled over our homemade guac.”
Customer: “Does it have avocado in it?”
3. Customer: “I would like an IPA.”
Me: “We have this amazing brew kettle white rajah IPA.”
Customer: “But is it an IPA?”
I assume most people in the food industry know that tax season for a restaurant can be a magical time. One may only hear the tales of turds come to life and taking human form, but I’m here to say: it’s true! It occurs naturally. Just sprinkle tax return money on top of some turds and soon entire families of them will wobble alive, arise from the dark assholes they live in, and quickly blow every dollar they’ve received because turds can’t have extra money laying around. They fear what they do not understand.
Clearly, I am a scientist.
Anyway. A family, two parents and two kids, come in and get seated in my section. At first sight, yes, they looked like people who’d go out of their way to behold a cow carved from butter at a State Fair. But, whatever, the city was surrounded by a lot of rural areas—poorer folks were a part of the landscape, no big deal. Despite my facetiousness thus far, I recognize that plenty of people who don’t have a lot of money deserve to treat themselves when they can afford to, even at some mid-tier chain. But in this story we’re talking about turds, not people.
Things start off well enough. The dad was doing most of the “talking”, giving very short, vowel-sound answers in happy tones or unhappy tones. I bring their drinks and he then orders our chips and queso.
Shortly thereafter, I bring out the queso and the entire family gawks at it as if I’ve murdered their dog with farts and served it to them; The horror, the confusion. No one was immediately saying anything so I walked away, figuring I’d give it about 10-15 seconds before I headed back. Long enough for queso shock to wear off, as any expert will tell you. Upon my return, I’m greeted with baffled anger vowel noises. I ask if there is anything wrong with the queso.
“What is this shit?”
“Chips and queso, sir.”
“NO. This GREEN shit!”
“Those are tiny bits of spinach.”
The look on his face was as if I’d answered, “Those are your mother.”
“NO! No. Nuh-huh.” He shook his head in that out of control way a toddler would. “No. That won’t do. No. Bullshit.”
“If you’re unhappy with the appetizer, I can take it away.”
“TAKE IT AWAY! That shit is NOT queso.” He looked at his wife (who had said nothing so far), giving a dismissive laugh.
The cook sees me walk into back with untouched queso and is giving me the universal look for “Really?” I inform him: “It’s not queso. Apparently.”
I go back out to take their order. The turd man informs me that he doesn’t know what the fuck it is I’m trying to pull.
He explains that all queso, everywhere, is white. Our shit is yellow. Queso is white, he says. Queso has never been yellow, ever. It’s impossible to be yellow because it’s made from mozzarella cheese. He knows this because he used to wash dishes in a Mexican restaurant. We are liars. We’re full of shit. That green shit is stupid. The restaurant is a joke.
He was too clever for us. He figured out our whole faux queso scam almost immediately. A truly seasoned queso detective.
“I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it.”
The queso issue was then abruptly tabled and they ordered burgers all around. Okay.
Food comes out, they start eating like a family of Kirbys, inhaling everything in sight (Editor’s Note: THIS SENTENCE.). Not long after, I get flagged over and turd dad is furious that there’s a tomato on his wife’s burger, insisting that they’d said no tomato. Of course, they had not at any point said anything about tomatoes, just lots of interesting things about cheese dip. I look down at her 3/4 eaten burger (tomato and all) and her French fries drowning in ketchup. He assures me she’s DEATHLY allergic to them. Substantial proof that you can’t kill a turd, only flush them off to the next person.
Anyway, they get a new burger minus tomato, because chain restaurant corporate stupidity mandates such things. She eats it, too. All the while turd dad makes a demonstration of how upset he is or laughs dismissively anytime I come by.
The bill comes, he insists they shouldn’t have to pay anything. We lied to them about queso. We tomato’d their burger. I pointed out I did not charge them for the queso, and we remade the burger to their liking. Turd Turdington erupts into such a fit, grabbing his hat, fidgeting, slamming his fists, grunting but not really saying anything. It was the angriest, most violent quantum leap I’ve ever seen.
Dude got a one free burger, but had to pay the rest. The only tip I received was the knowledge that true queso is a marriage of Italian and Mexican cultures, and that spinach is some stupid bullshit.
Turds have shit for brains.
It was a busy lunch at the Mom and Pop restaurant I worked at, and I walked over to a new four top. After introducing myself, my usual line went something like, “Can I get you folks started with something to drink? Water, pop, iced tea, or coffee?”
I got 3 of the lady’s drink orders, then looked at the last woman of the 4, waiting for her beverage choice. After several beats, I suggested “Just water?” She looks back at me mortified, and says in a panicked tone, “DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT FISH DO IN WATER?!” like I’m going to bring her water that has fish excrement/bits in it. Stunned, I look to the other women for confirmation of what she just said, but they are all sheepishly looking down at the table or out the window. Keeping a smile on my face, I suggest one of our other beverage options. She ended up asking for a root beer.
I wanted to say, “You know there is water in root beer, right?” I still wonder what she would have said.
I was out with some friends and my long-suffering boyfriend. The night was winding down, so we thought we’d grab a bite at the all night diner. We all got seated and discussed what we were having. Grilled cheese is what I settled on, with fries. The waitress asked me for my order and then asked me what type of bread I’d like. I’m generally super health conscious, so I said “no bread, thanks.” She replied, without skipping a beat, “that would be a puddle of cheese, and we don’t do that.”
I ordered pumpernickel.
I work in a diner-style restaurant very similar to Denny’s or IHOP. I’ve dealt with my share of idiotic, unnecessarily needy, and downright annoying tables that will complain about anything and everything possible, and plenty of tables that—despite being in a diner-style restaurant—have absolutely no understanding of even the most basic of foods.
One night, near the end of a double shift, my final table of the night consisted of two ladies. Without trying to sound like a judgmental douche, they were basically white-trash; their white tank tops both looked dirty, one wasn’t wearing a bra and they had that overly bleached blonde look to them. Whatever. It’s well within our normal range of customers.
So, I approach the table, “Ladies, can I start the two of you off with a Coke or coffee?” One of them asks, “Do you have Mountain Dew?” I suppose it’s a fair question; some people colloquially call all soda “coke” despite it being an actual type and brand of soda. (Editor’s Note: These people are terrible, and you should never trust them.) “No, I’m sorry, we only have Coke products.”
“I’ll take a Pepsi,” she says.
I pause for a second. “So, is Coke OK, then?”
She looks at me, confused. “No, a Pepsi.”
“Ma’am, we have Coke products. Coke and Pepsi are competitors.” It finally dawns on her, so she takes the Coke. A moment later, I bring their beverages out and ask them if they are ready to order. Miss I-want-a-Pepsi asks another question I simply wasn’t prepared for, “What are the fish and chips?”
I had thought it was a fair assumption that the vast majority of people knew what fish and chips where, but I was very clearly wrong here. After a brief pause, I explain it in detail: “It’s three panko breaded cod filets that are deep-fried and served with french fries and a side salad.” She seems quite confused by this, and asks about the portion size which I clarify in detail, “Well, there are three filets, each of them breaded and fried, probably about two to three ounces each, with a side of fries and a garden salad.”
“So, it’s not real fish?” ...what?
“The type of fish is cod.”
“But, you don’t have any, like, fish, though?”
At this point, I don’t quite follow and reiterate that it is indeed fish. I then explain that we also offer grilled Salmon and Tilapia if she’d prefer either of those, which she shakes her head at quite quickly and goes back to the fish and chips, “And instead of the chips, can I get, like, fries or something?”
“... the chips are fries.” I tell her, feeling slightly at a loss for words, since I had just described this in detail twice.
“Oh. Duh,” she says, echoing my thoughts entirely, “Okay, I’ll take the crispy chicken salad with extra extra ranch” she concludes out of nowhere. Her friend—who had been laughing at her partner’s inability to comprehend that chips are fries and that we do not have Pepsi—then proceeds to order the fish and chips.
Free from the table, I go put their order in trying to process if all of that had actually happened. I promptly went back to the kitchen to do precisely what all waitstaff do: make fun of them. My coworkers laugh a bit and it’s work as usual. About ten minutes later, their food comes up and I take it out to them, naming each entree as I place it in front of the ladies. I ask how everything looks, “Good,” they say, and if they need anything else, and make my way through the rest of my section. About a minute later, I do the standard check-up to ensure they’re satisfied. I can tell that confusion has overtaken them.
“What sort of fish is this?” the lady asks.
“It’s cod,” I say. “Is there something wrong?”
“I thought you had real fish.” Now, Pepsi-girl is fingering her friends fish and picking it apart with a look of a deer in headlights in her eyes.
“Miss, it is real fish—it is cod, a type of fish, battered and deep fried.” I get a hesitant “okay” from them and quickly disappear to the kitchen where, yes, I begin making fun of them again because I’m just blown away by their inability to comprehend fish and chips.
About five minutes later, a coworker who said I had been exaggerating everything comes up to me, “So, your table stopped me and asked what kind of fish they had was because they thought you were lying to them; I told them it was cod and they asked why we didn’t have real fish.”
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 Africa Studio/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.