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 Part 2 of back-to-back weeks on terrible, horrible, no good, very bad restaurant customers. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
Back in the halcyon days of about 1994 I was a delivery driver for Pizza Hut in Vacaville, CA. I was in college and and smoking a lot of weed, so this is an ideal job, until it all came crashing down one slow weeknight.
About a minute before the store closed for the night the phone rings. I yell out to the manager to not answer it, so we can just get out of here. He says, “sorry, but we have to take it”, answers the phone, and takes the order.
Warning number one: two large Supreme pizzas. No one orders this. A Supreme and something else, maybe, but not two. It’s a garbage dump of a pizza.
The pizzas get thrown together and shoved in the oven. A few minutes later I’m bagging the order and glance at the delivery slip, where I find warning number two: it was headed to the shitty apartment complex that pretends it’s safe because it has a locking gate. Every pizza driver, meth dealer, and all sorts of assorted disreputable folk in between have this gate code. So no, not so safe.
I drive out to the complex, punch the code, and park in the red zone nearest where the apartment number should be (I was a twenty year old pothead pizza delivery driver, I had entitlement issues).
Warning number three: A young woman was sitting at the base of some stairs, and a guy was walking around behind the stairs.
I didn’t care much for the setup, but I was tired, high, and wanted to get my night over with. I walked past her and the stairs, and as I was about to pass the guy, I asked him if he knew where 17 was just to make him aware that I was aware of him. He said no, and I continued on about ten feet to the apartment.
Warning number four: Apartment 17 is empty. I didn’t have much time to act on that information, but at least the blow to the back of my head was not a surprise.
I dropped from the force of the blow, then laced my fingers up and placed them over the back of my head and upper neck (I’d had brain surgery about five years prior to this and I didn’t want to have it again). I endured the two swift kicks to the ribs, and then had to deal with the fact that I had to instruct this asshole on how to fucking rob me.
He went for my wallet, which had no money but all the other stuff you don’t want to lose, so I went ahead and told him the money was in the bag at my waist. He then went for the discarded pizza bag, and I had to correct him again to the fanny pack. I had to endure this crap as the car was to far away for me to run to while the woozy/fear/adrenaline was happening, and he was armed with something heavy and blunt, while I had naught but a Pizza Hut hat and my keys.
He finally got the fanny pack off of me, had the temerity to say “I’m sorry” and the two of them ran off. This being the ancient times before we all had cell phones, I got up, grabbed the pizzas for some reason, walked to my car, and drove back to the Hut. I stormed in the door, announcing loudly that “I just got fucking robbed.” The manager did not screw around with questions and called the police, who were there pretty fast and took my statement.
I quit shortly after this. I didn’t feel safe in the job anymore, and being hit in the back of the head by a moron really took the fun out the perpetually high pizza delivery experience.
It turns out that I was but the first victim of this crime duo’s many pizza delivery related crimes. They wound up committing a string of robberies, about six, all with the same MO. When the cops finally caught them, I picked him, but not her out of a photo lineup, which wound up being irrelevant as they both wound up serving prison time after a plea bargain.
The most Vacaville aspect of the whole thing is the reason given for the crime spree: He had been fired from his job and didn’t want to tell his father, so to cover up the money aspect he started his pizza crime spree with his girlfriend.
When I was in high school, I was a waitress at a Denny’s. I worked during the week, so it was pretty slow and the majority of customers were regulars.
One day, this regular came in and was seated in my manager’s section (since it was slow the manager was also taking tables). My manager immediately let me take the table, and I was happy because I had no idea what was to come. This woman always came in with her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. She always sat at the same table, and she always ordered a dinner, which comes with two sides. I took their order, and brought out their food without too much trouble.
I came back to check on the table, and the woman immediately began complaining.
“My mashed potatoes are cold.”
A simple enough fix, I took them to the kitchen, mixed them up a little bit, and microwaved them. I brought them back, refilled their drinks and walked away to take care of other customers. When I went back again, the woman was still complaining.
“These mashed potatoes are STILL cold!”
I tried to pacify the situation and offered her a different side. She shook her head disgustedly, then proceeded to scoop up the mashed potatoes and toss them off of her plate and onto the table. I had no idea how to react, so I just apologized and walked away. She didn’t say anything.
Later, I was bringing the check when I saw her lift herself out of her chair and audibly fart. She farted. In a restaurant. Where people are eating like five feet away from her. She was not in the least bit discreet about it. The daughter and her boyfriend were not fazed, leading me to believe this was not a one time thing. Trying not to gag, I brought her the bill and got out of there as fast as I could.
Needless to say, she did not tip, and when I told my manager she laughed and said she comes in all the time and pulls the exact same act every time.
When I was in college, I worked at a very busy restaurant famous for it’s cheesecake located in New Orleans. It’s a weekday night and I got a section of 3 booths that often get combined into one table. My section gets sat with a group of about 17 people. I think they came from a play or maybe a church service, but there was definitely one woman running the show. I go to the table and take their drink orders all at once. So far so good. While I am getting all their drinks together someone in the group must have noticed our auto-gratuity policy printed on the menu. When I come back, they have pulled the tables slightly apart. I mentally note it, but don’t say anything because I know where this is going. It appeared that many people in this group had never eaten out before. They had many many many questions about our novel length menu. When it is time to order, the ringleader lady orders for everyone, but makes a point of saying “That table will have x, y, z. This table will have a, b, c.”
Shortly after I put their order in, several people start asking for things that we just don’t have in the restaurant. Specifically asking for individual wrapped slices of butter. I explain we don’t have that, but deliver glops of butter in a ramekin that one of the line cooks handed me. They run me around and are a pain in the ass, but as things go, they could be worse.
Then they got way worse very quickly. It comes time to deliver the check and the ringleader says she is treating all the tables. OK. I bring her the bill and gratuity is included, as per our policy printed on the menu. She is not happy. So they change their mind and ask for separate checks. So I oblige. This doesn’t change the gratuity, btw. Most people in the group give me cash and are expecting change. They are angry. One guy threatens to kick my ass. Another threatens to call the cops. The ringleader is over talking to one of my managers, who comes and asks me if I told them that we don’t have any butter in the kitchen. That would be a ridiculous assertion, since most of our entrees contained at least an entire stick of butter. My manager goes back and they are still angry—20 minutes of discussion goes by while I just stand back. Meanwhile, I have about $500 cash that they have paid towards the bill and I’m just waiting to give change.
My manager finally comes over and informs me that she is removing the gratuity from the bill. This was my only table of the night. They took my whole shift. So I look her in the eye and nod. Then I walked right out the front door, got in my car, and never came back.
I used to work at an upscale casual restaurant in a burgeoning area of Brooklyn. The restaurant is locally and somewhat NYC famous for its American/Korean cuisine. It’s cozy and welcoming.
This was Valentine’s Day a few years ago. The restaurant offered a prix-fixe menu for the holiday, recommending reservations made in advance. On the night of, however, some couples inevitably don’t end up showing up and we have vacancies for parties of two. I should mention that the restaurant had been rearranged to accommodate couples, with flowers on each table.
I’m having a fairly good night, as most people are overjoyed to be there and deeply in love with one another. The lights are particularly low and the general vibe in the restaurant is warm, happy. Then a slightly older couple from Staten Island enter.
They don’t have reservations, but they are in luck! We’ve had some cancellations and they can sit at one of the best tables in the house. My section, naturally. Not having anything to fear, I bring them their menus and make an introduction. I walk away.
When I return, (and as I’ve mentioned, this night has a prix fixe menu), they immediately complain that what they want is not on the menu. I explain the special Valentine’s menu and tell them I’ll give them another minute to look over the menu and decide (bear in mind that I’m otherwise slammed). I return a few minutes later to a chagrined order from the both of them and I’m off.
Each course is served with a wine pairing and I return with the wine fairly promptly. When they receive their first course, they’re appalled by how little wine they have left. I offer to bring them the next course’s wine and they decline. I return when they are finished and they immediately demand their next glasses of wine. So I bring them.
This goes on for two more courses, through desert, which they “hate.” In fact, they don’t like anything and yet every dish is miraculously clean. When they are finally finished, and believe me, they’re one of the last couples in the joint, they protest that I have somehow rushed them through their entire meal. I explain that I can’t control the speed of the food and only tried to bring them each course as it was ready. They demand to see my manager and say they won’t pay for the wine pairings. My manager, who is the actual best, comes out, talks to them, returns to me, and says, “they’re not mad.” So I drop the check, which was well over one hundred dollars, and they tip me approximately 5%. And of course, they act like I was ridiculous for getting the manager.
Kinja user printersanonymous:
After several years of working under sociopaths at restaurants and bars which were owned by and/or catered to cocaine addicts (and/or traffickers), I decided that it was in the best interest of my mental and physical health to work as a banquet server/ bartender.
The day before Christmas Eve, 2004, I was remarkably hung over, as I had my first night off in two weeks and decided that it was my only opportunity to get wasted in between my booked schedule of sloppy Holiday parties, Hanukkah themed Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s, and weddings/baby showers timed around Posada. I walked in at 5am (probably still drunk) and helped seven other servers prepare the space for a 700 seat prayer breakfast for the women of a local evangelical mega-church. This prayer breakfast included a fashion show (I should probably mention they practiced “prosperity gospel,” which is exactly what it sounds like).
It was a fucking nightmare. I was in charge of 100 clients. It lasted until 2pm. And every single one of these women was a princess who demanded the utmost attention from the staff. I have never, in the ten plus years I worked in the service industry, felt as personally humiliated as this day, where tens of women complained openly to the manager about my inability to refresh their butter before it melted or the slightly-below-boiling temperature of their carafed coffee/ lukewarm cream.
Let me remind you: this Church chose to only hire 8 servers for a 700 person function. This was, I should also mention, a $12/ plate banquet as opposed to the $80/plate average. I also had the singular pleasure of these women trying to evangelize me while on the job. But the real clincher was being pulled aside by the reverend’s wife to act as a wardrobe mistress for the fashion show participants’ benefit after answering, “Yes, I know how to sew.”
I used to work at Whataburger. One night, some time after the dinner rush, two women with a few children come into the place. Other than my regular late dinner customer, these are the only people in my store and my drive-thru was very slow, one car every 10 to 15 minutes or so.
Both of the women order hamburger combo meals for themselves and hamburger kids meals for each of the children. They receive their meals no problem and everything seems to be fine. They check their burgers and start eating with no complaints.
Maybe 10 minutes later, one of the women comes to the counter with a half eaten burger in her hands. She tells me her burger wasn’t cooked all the way through and proceeds to show me a non-existent spot of pink in the meat. She then asks me to make her another burger. Because “The customer is always right,” I agree to make another.
Generally, at that point, I would take the unacceptable burger, trash it, and make a new one. I went to reach out for the burger in her hand so I could do just that but she quickly pulled it away from me and went back to her table. At this point in the day, I had already been to three classes and was about to finish a 10 hour shift, so I was too tired to fight her on getting this burger back.
My cook made up the new burger and I took it out to her. Just as I get back to the counter, the second woman in the group walked up and pulled the same crap. She showed me a non-existent pink spot in her half-eaten burger and asked me to make her a new one without handing over the original.
Again, too tired to fight it, I make her a new burger and bring it out to her. Then they do the exact same thing with one of their kid’s meals. Finally they leave and I’m just happy to see them go.
A few minutes after the group left, my regular customer got up to leave. On his way out the door, he let me know that he watched the two women wrap up all three of the half-eaten burgers and put them in the kid’s meal bags. They also split one of the remakes between them and put the other two remakes in the bags with the half eaten burgers. They then walked out of my store with all of it.
I was scammed out of three burgers because “The customer is always right.”
I was in my early 20’s and working at a rodent-themed amusement park in Florida (because OF COURSE this happened in Florida) when this happened. The setup we had was five registers outside, then guests would walk past them and wait at the windows behind said registers for drinks and their food.
On this particular day I was the drink girl, meaning I was the only person allowed to turn my back to the insane tourists. My favorite position. So it took me a minute of eavesdropping to hear this intimidating woman with a Midwestern accent, essentially being ridiculous.
My coworker that brought the woman her food was from another country. I do not remember where, because honestly she barely had any accent at all. So she brought the food to the window, read off the order and said “all of our condiments and utensils are on the bar behind you,” giving the two finger point we were taught to use.
The woman says in response “I need something to put on my rice.” She had ordered chicken with rice and beans, skip the beans, extra rice.
My coworker replies “everything we have is on the condiment bar just behind you.”
The woman proceeds to get louder and slower, implying with her tone that she thinks my perfectly fluent coworker can’t understand her. “I. NEED. SOMETHING. TO. PUT. ON. MY. RICE.”
This goes on back and forth maybe two more times and I’m fed up. I figured since I’ve got the Minnesota accent and pasty skin, maybe this woman will listen to me, so, rolling my eyes at my coworker, I turn around, repeating verbatim what she already had told the woman 3 or 4 times. “Ma’am, everything we have is going to be right on those condiment bars behind you. Thanks!” I say, shooting her a huge smile and shrugging at her now-embarrassed family behind her.
She shoots me the evil eye and marches away in a huff. Not 2 minutes later she is back, slams her tray of food down on the counter hard enough that the rice jumps, and shouts “I NEED BUTTER!!”
At this point she is loud enough that the people at the other end of the serving windows is stopping to listen, about 20-25 feet away. I turn and smile, “I’m sorry, what do you need?”
“I need butter! FOR MY RICE!” She’s red in the face at this point.
“I’m so sorry ma’am, but we don’t have any butter.” Thank god I’m good at faking cheerfulness.
“You don’t have any butter in this WHOLE BUILDING?!”
“No ma’am, I’m sorry, we don’t.”
“How do you not have butter? I need butter!” I blink at her, not entirely sure what to even say. She glares at me, thinking I’m lying as she asks, “well then how do you make the rice?!”
“We use water with a dash of vegetable oil, ma’am.”
“Oh.” She is clearly thinking of what she can demand from me next.
“Well, then I need beans to go with my rice.” Beans which she had specifically requested to NOT have in her meal.
I smile, gleefully sticking to company policy and telling her that she can return to the register and pay for a side of beans. She is livid but at this point I think she realizes that people are staring. Her teenaged daughter is tugging on her arm. She finally marches away, again in a huff. And from the crowd of guests comes a yell, “YOU DON’T NEED ANY BUTTER, LADY!”
I had to step into the kitchen for a moment because I could not stop laughing.
I return to pouring beverages and go to deliver a beer, which happened to go to the guy who shouted at the woman. I smile at him gratefully and he takes the beer, grins at me and says “can I have some butter?”
For a couple of years, I worked as a bartender at a Tex-Mex place that had all kinds of margaritas, the largest of which was a whopping 22 ounces.They were really popular during happy hour, when each size was $1 off. Not, as one particular dude-bro believed, that each size only COST $1. After sucking down about 8 of them himself and ordering round after round for his equally dude-bro buddies, he asked for the check and his eyes about fell out of his head when he saw the total.
Dude-bro: “What the fuck is this??”
Me: “That’s your check, sir, and I’ll have to ask you not to use that kind of language.”
Dude-bro: “I’m not fucking paying this! You said each drink was only a dollar! This is BULLSHIT!”
Me: “Sir, once again, I’m going to ask you not to use that kind of language. And it’s clearly marked on the signs”—which were on the walls, on the bar itself and even printed on the top of each check—”that house margaritas are a dollar off during happy hour.”
Dude-bro (I am not making this up, a total stranger actually uttered these words to me): “BULLSHIT. YOU FUCKING LIED TO ME, YOU CUNT. YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO SUCK MY DICK TO MAKE ME GIVE YOU THIS MUCH MONEY.”
At this point, I was so furious that I was literally seeing this guy through a haze of red. All I said was, “I’ll get my manager,” and returned with her (and two of our most enormous line cooks, just in case). Dude-bro was no happier and kept screaming that he wouldn’t pay, and when our manager told him to forget paying the goddamn bill and that he better leave before she called the cops, he picked up SOMEONE ELSE’S FULL MARGARITA AND THREW IT IN MY FACE. LITERALLY INTO MY FACE. One of our enormous line cooks bounded over the bar like a gazelle, god bless him, and threw him out like you see it in the cartoons—he grabbed the back of his shirt and the seat of his pants and heaved him out the door, where he landed in a heap right in front of the cop who had just arrived to arrest him.
It made up for the fact that, since I was wearing contacts instead of glasses that night, I got an infection in both eyes from having 22 ounces of tequila and fruit juice splashed into them—that, and virtually every other person sitting at the bar practically threw money at me for what I had gone through.
When I first moved to New York City after college, I worked as a server at an upscale restaurant and bakery in Tribeca. The restaurant specialized in weekend brunch and served predominantly wealthy yuppie families and the occasional celebrity: the kind of place that serves a seven dollar glass of juice that originated from a carton.
On one very busy weekend, swamped with a series of high-maintenance customers, I took the order from a table of two couples and their respective infants. One of the women ordered our fruit bowl, but demanded it be supplemented with blueberries. For whatever reason, our restaurant didn’t carry blueberries. When I explained the entire establishment’s lack of blueberries, she insisted I go to the kitchen and ask our chef if he could get some for her or send one of the kitchen staff to go buy some for her.
Already knowing the answer, I humored the customer by going into the kitchen and asking if anyone happened to have blueberries that day. No one did.
When the food runner dropped off her fruit bowl, she immediately started yelling. When I went over to see why she was screaming, she reached into her fruit bowl and pulled out a blackberry.
“Is this a blueberry? No, it’s a blackberry! It’s black!” As she’s screaming, she pinches the berry and it bursts right in my face. “Blueberries are blue! B-L-U-E. Do you even know what a blueberry is? Are you an IDIOT?!”
I dropped their check and walked away, because that is what someone who is not an idiot would do.
I waitressed at an especially douchey, mildly racist themed DC bar, and the only reason I stayed on as long as I did was that I loved the people working there. Tips were shitty for servers (my last shift was 6 hours and I left with a $5 bill from my single table) and my best day’s take-home was far below the worst nights for the bartenders. Weekend mornings were especially slow and awful for staff who had been closing up the restaurant 6 hours before. In a city of mimosa brunches that need reservations a month in advance, we were consistently empty for brunch. This is especially weird because our brunch menu was way tastier than our dinner menu. But whatevs, people are missing out on some darn good chilaquiles.
The one exception to the “brunches suck” rule was that we would sometimes get big groups to watch sports events on the roofdeck. One Saturday, a family of four came in to watch the Redskins game. Since I was fairly certain they would be my only table, I took extra care of them, making around 10 shirley temples for the kid (all free refills) over the course of brunch. After they had ordered, several friends joined them and all ordered as well. I offered to open tabs for everyone since it seemed like they would all be paying separately, but the ring leader mom said that she would take the charge and they would all pay her back. Sweet, right? She was guzzling down bottomless mimosas and would absolutely be in a great tipping mood at the end.
Over the course of 4 hours, their group fluctuated from between 4 and 15 members with people coming and going, and everyone ordering lots. When they were finally getting ready to leave, the ringleader mom looked very confused when I brought over the full check, and said that there is no way she can pay the bill that is well over $350. I explained that if she would like to split up the bill, she and the other 6 people still there can write their credit card numbers next to the amount they would like on the card on the back of the bill. After a few minutes of her arguing that she shouldn’t have to pay for people who were no longer there (is this drunk logic or just shady cheapness?) (Editor’s Note: I would say “cheapness,” except with where this goes next I’m going to go with “unbelievable dumbfuckery.”), they finally split the bill six ways. Of course they don’t factor in the tax, so they’re still quite a bit short. I explain it to the lady who is now belligerent, and she accuses me of adding extra things to her bill. She continually points to the before tax total and would not even consider that the lines below mattered at all.
My manager got involved and tried to explain to her repeatedly that taxes, in fact, do exist on restaurant food and must be paid in full. One of her friends finally agreed to put the tax on her card, much to ringleader mom’s distress. The last thing I heard was her telling her friends that no one is allowed to tip me, because I’m trying to cheat them all (she adds into this speech a heavy helping of racial slurs that she knew I could hear) (Editor’s Note: A ‘Skins fan is a racist?! WELL I NEVER!). The only tip I got was a comment to my manager that I should be fired immediately. He gave me shots of our nicer stuff instead.
(Editor’s Note: Seriously, who the fuck doesn’t understand the entire concept of how sales tax works?)
In college I worked at a chain restaurant in an upscale suburb of Los Angeles. The restaurant was extremely popular with tourists and was always busy. One Saturday night, we were on a 45+minute wait I had a section near the front where it was loud and in plain view from the lobby. As I was walking swiftly from table to table, a man tapped me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me. Do you think it would be possible to get me and my family sat a bit faster? And in your section? By the window,” he said as he flashed me a rolled up bill in his hand. Now, I COULD have done it. I could have easily walked up to the hostess and told her that this guy needed to be sat quicker and I’d split the bill with her. But I didn’t know how much he was offering (could’ve been a five for all I knew), and quite frankly, I was slammed. I told him I couldn’t accept per company policy and that I wasn’t in a position to even make that happen because we were so busy. He walked away quickly and he didn’t bother me again about it.
I don’t know how much time had passed, but next thing I know he and his wife, their young daughter, and another woman are seated at one of my tables. The hostess walked by me and said the man had requested to be sat in my section.
When I got to the table the mans said, “Do you think we could sit at one of your booths by the window? That one just opened—can we sit there?” gesturing to a tiny two-top booth in the corner. I couldn’t believe he really thought that I would move four people to a table with literally space for only two people.
“Sorry, that is a small table for two and I just don’t know how it could possibly work. If you want to wait for another booth, I can tell the hostess and she can arrange that but you’ll probably have to wait a bit longer,” I said. He insisted that they could fit and while I tried to explain again why they couldn’t sit there, his small daughter ran over to the dirty table, climbed up on the seat and started banging on the window like a fucking chimpanzee. I just kept saying, “Sorry, you need to talk to the front if you want a booth.” He finally walked up to the front, his wife and other woman still standing in the path of the other servers, while I went back to the kitchen. I was relieved a bit because I thought I had gotten rid of them.
But of course not. I come back from the kitchen and they are all seated at the original table they had been given.
Before I get to the most ridiculous part of the meal, here are a few highlights:
- The daughter having a meltdown because she was too big for the high chair. She ended up switching between the high chair and a booster seat the entire meal.
- Ordering a bottle of wine and insisting that the bartender come to their table to open it and pour the first glass. (I honestly don’t even know why they wanted that. I had a manager do it for them in the end.)
- Taking FOREVER to decide what they wanted to eat. The menu of this place is notoriously large (Editor’s Note: Wait, hold on: this is Cheesecake Factory, isn’t it?) and they asked about every cocktail, appetizer, dish, side, etc. on the goddamn menu. I came back three times asking if they were ready to order, which took like thirty minutes alone.
- The wife telling me that she needed a different side that wasn’t vegetables because she was allergic to all vegetables.
- After the million questions, the second woman ordered a grilled chicken breast (not cooked in/with any fats) with a side of broccoli, sliced tomatoes, and a big plate of lemon wedges, of course!
Toward the end of the meal, before I could even offer a dessert presentation, they said they wanted dessert, but they needed to see their options first (this place has a “bakery” near the lobby with dozens of desserts on display. All together, they got up and walked over to the bakery and started looking at everything. After 15 minutes, I was flat out annoyed. They had already been there for nearly two hours.
When they get back to their seats, the wife declares that since they had such large meals, that they were going to share a slice of cheesecake. Easy enough, I put in their order and it took all of 2 minutes to get to their table. I had seen a different server deliver the dessert from the server station and thought I’d have a minute or two before I had to check on them. Wrong. Cue the screaming child.
She was not having any of it. Not only was she screaming because she wanted her own piece of cheesecake, and not that kind but a different one, she stood up on the highchair and started stomping. Her dad picked her up and put her on his lap, so she started kicking and screaming even harder and finally broke free from him. As she jerked away from him, she turned around, grabbed the piece of cheesecake and THREW IT ON THE GROUND.
You could honestly hear a collective gasp from all the surrounding tables. I walked over to the table right as this was happening and said I’d get them another piece of cheesecake and asked if I could get them (her) anything else. The mom looked at me panicked and said, “I think we’re going to get another piece of cheesecake,” and proceeded to ask the little girl what she wanted. She ended up ordering a slice of chocolate cake for her darling angel. It took less than a minute to get to the table and as soon as it was there, the child stopped crying and started eating.
But here is the kicker: while the three adults ate a tiny cheesecake slice, the brat ate the ENTIRE slice of chocolate cake (think Matilda-sized cake) and would scream if anyone tried to eat any of it. As soon as they were done, parents of the year promptly asked for the check and tipped me a healthy 5 percent.
About ten years ago I was a manager at a major retail department chain which had an in-store photo studio. Naturally, we did not provide food service in the store it was immediately adjacent to the food court. One busy Saturday, I was the manager on duty and I got a call for a manager at the photo studio, an unusual request, since the photo studio had their own manager. When I approached, I saw about a dozen people waiting in the studio’s vestibule (designed for 4 or so people) and a red-faced woman holding two 5 or 6 year old boys by the hands next to the photo studio manager looking apologetic, so I knew this was going to be unpleasant. I introduced myself and asked how I could help.
“The wait for our pictures is intolerable!” the woman told me.
“I am so sorry to hear that, how can I help?” I replied while eyeing the photo studio manager, as there was nothing I could do about this.
“My children need food. Now! We can smell it. It’s right there! But if we leave, we’ll lose our place in line!” the woman replies.
“Is it possible to reschedule your appointment for a half hour or an hour from now, so that you can have some time to eat and return?” I ask.
The photo manager intervenes, “Unfortunately, [Ms. Customer] did not have an appointment and we are fully booked today. To be fair to our other walk-in customers, she would need to wait here for the next available photographer or lose her place in line.”
“I see,” I reply. I still don’t understand why they needed me to resolve this. “Did you want to make an appointment for another day?” I offer. “I can give you a 25% discount on your return trip as our apology for not being able to accommodate you.”
“NO!” the woman replies. “GO GET US SOME FOOD.”
I stand there, not really sure how to react, and the woman exasperatedly releases her poor children’s hands and begins rooting around in her purse for cash. She takes out a greasy napkin, scribbles an order, and hands it to me with a $20 bill. It’s for two children’s meals and a Big Mac combo. I look at the photo studio manager, and I now think I understand why she had to call me.
“I’m sorry ma’am, but there is no McDonald’s located in the food court.”
She gives me a look like I’m a child she has to explain simple facts to.
“I know. This one *points at the photo manager* told me that. I want you to go out of the mall and get it.”
There is no way in hell I can leave the mall on a busy Saturday. Even as we’ve had this conversation I’ve had at least one other manager call over the walkie talkie. “I’m sorry ma’am, but I am not able to leave the store while it’s open for business, and our employee policy does not permit me sending someone out of the store while they are on the clock. I am happy to go to Burger King or Wendy’s, as it’s within the building and I can still be reached if there was an emergency.”
“That’s ridiculous! The place isn’t going to burn down while you’re gone for 5 minutes.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but the nearest McDonald’s is in Carol Stream (about 20 minutes away). Even if I could go that far, it’s likely you would be done with your photos by then.”
For a minute, I worry she’s going to ask for the store manager, but after her face grows a little more red, she grumbles and agrees to Burger King. I leave and obtain the food, brought it and her change back to her, and she and her children proceeded to eat under the “No Food or Drink Allowed” sign in the photo studio. I had noticed that one of the little boys did the classic “holding himself because he has to pee” maneuver, so I casually mentioned that if they needed to wash their hands when they were done, the bathrooms were right over there.
Apparently, the woman didn’t catch on, because the photo studio called for a janitor about 15 minutes after I left.
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.