Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. After two weeks of terrible customer stories, turnabout is fair play, and we’ve got stories of restaurant employees who just did not have their shit together. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
I worked at a pizza place chain in high school known for its cheapness (hint: pizza, pizza) (Editor’s Note: Why do you guys keep doing this?). They had strict rules on how much of each topping goes on a pizza (two pepperoni slices per piece, etc). They also had strict rules on their salads.
Certain amount of lettuce.
1 sliced beet, cut 4 ways.
6 garbanzo beans.
So I see a new employee trying to make a salad and it’s taking him forever...he’s holding a big kitchen knife and I can tell he’s starting to get frustrated. I walk over and ask him what is going on...”This is impossible...how the hell are we suppose to cut these beets into 1/4’s?”
I responded, “Well, that’s a garbanzo bean...”
My husband and I went to a local restaurant before an evening concert. The waitress promptly greeted us asking if we’d like something to drink and listed off all the Pepsi products they had. When we asked what beer she had on tap she immediately froze. “Oh...I don’t know...I don’t drink alcohol, so I don’t know anything about that.” She seemed kind of nervous, so we reassured her that was okay if she didn’t know, and that she could just bring us a drink menu instead. She then told us that a drink menu didn’t exist (we had been there before so we knew that wasn’t true) but she knew the bartender could make “a pink drink, or there’s this purple one...and the blue one seems pretty popular too.” My husband ends up going up to the bar and taking a look at the beer options himself.
We order our food, finally get our drinks, and the food takes FOREVER. We see people who had been seated after us getting their food, so we flag down our waitress, who clearly realizes she forgot to put in our order. But before she leaves, she points at our 1/4 filled pint glasses and says “can I top that off for you?” We ask her to clarify — get us another pint we pay for, or top it off with beer for free? Her response: “We do refills with pop at Village Inn all the time!” like we’re the weirdos who don’t understand the concept of free refills. We then let her know yes, yes we absolutely would like refills on our $8.00 beers.
Food eventually arrives, we’re three refills in on our beer at this point, and then she drops off the bill. We double check and yes, we were charged for only one beer each. We ask her if she’s sure about the beer charge and she gives us the same story about free refills at Village Inn, so my husband hands off the credit card and we wait. And wait. And wait. We flag her down again asking for the card back since the concert is starting soon, and she laughs, “Oh, well, I’ll let you know when I find it!” Husband tells her that losing his credit card is really not that funny and he would appreciate her focusing on finding it. We watch her wander around aimlessly checking under plates and napkins, and then returns to helping her other tables, so my husband goes up to the counter and starts looking for it himself. The waitress’s exasperated manager, the bartender and two bus boys join in the search and they eventually find it—at the bottom of a full pitcher of water.
I was on a road trip and stopped at a Steak & Shake off the interstate to grab some food. I had never been to a Steak & Shake before because they don’t have them where I live. While I’m ordering, I notice a big sign that says “Try one of our famous hand-dipped shakes!”
I was interested, so I ask the woman who was taking my order, “What’s a hand-dipped shake?”
Her response: “It’s a hand-dipped shake.”
My mom and my stepdad were having dinner at a popular chain restaurant that rhymes with “Crapplebees.” (Editor’s Note: Oh for fuck’s sake) My mom (who had the flu) had just been released from the hospital and was not exactly feeling or looking her best. She was starving, and this restaurant was close by. A young waiter seats them at a booth and takes their drink orders. My mom heads to the restroom to wash her hands.
Now, my stepdad is 50, but looks like he’s 30. My mom is also 50 and normally looks 30, but like I said, she just got out of the freaking hospital. The young waiter brings the drinks to the table (keep in mind, my mom is still in the restroom). The waiter says to my stepdad, “Oh, I saw that you’re having dinner with your mom. That’s great!”
My stepdad glares at him and says, “That’s my wife, not my mom. And she just got out of the hospital.”
The waiter laughs and says, “Oh, man! I totally thought she was your mom, since, you know, she looks so much older than you.” At this point my stepdad facepalms and tells him to please leave the table. My mom returns as my stepdad is encouraging the waiter to leave, and she asks what’s going on.
The waiter tells her, “I thought you were his mom! I mean, your dude looks super young. And let’s face it, women just don’t age as well as men, am I right, bro?” He looks at my stepdad and winks. My stepdad looks as if he’s going to punch the poor kid in the face. The waiter then goes on a long rant about how older women just wear their years harder than men, and that’s just a fact of life. My folks interrupt him mid-diatribe and ask to see a manager.
When the manager arrived, she was absolutely mortified. She comped their drinks and assured them the waiter would be “educated in appropriate small talk” with customers in the future.
I was the manager at an upscale sandwich shop and most of our employees were college students. While the vast majority of them were exceedingly competent young people, a couple of the sheltered ones made me a little nervous. There was a young man who had never seen “pink meat” before and refused to touch the pastrami because the well cooked deli meat looked raw and he was afraid of parasites. I spent a fair amount of time teaching adults how to sweep, mop and wash dishes for the first time in their lives. And it was always fun to watch someone take their first sip of espresso or kombucha.
My favorite though, was when I overheard a new employee who was prepping cucumbers and talking to the dish washer. She thought it was really dishonest that we said some of our sandwiches were vegetarian or vegan when they contained cucumber. The dishwasher was confused and said that cucumbers were vegetables. The first woman disagreed, “No, they’re animals. They live in the sea.” They argued this point for some time. I couldn’t add anything because I couldn’t breathe, I was laughing so hard.
All through high school and college I worked as a waiter at a country club. One of the other waiters, “Kevin,” was a great guy, but kind of a ditz.
We were setting up for a golf outing dinner buffet that was going to have a chafing dish full of whole lobsters, so the banquet manager sent Kevin downstairs to the storage room to get the lobster crackers. After about 15 minutes, we had everything set up upstairs, but Kevin hadn’t come back yet.
Finally he comes up, carrying a big box. He opens it up in front of all of us and tells the banquet manager that he looked all over and couldn’t find the lobster crackers, but he thinks that we could probably make do with the oyster crackers that he found.
We still make fun of him about it to this day.
Ordered a blizzard and dipped cone at a Dairy Queen drive thru in Jacksonville, FL. Pulled up to the window where we could watch the ice cream be prepared. One employee started on the blizzard while the other started on the cone. (Editor’s Note: Please feel free to imagine Yakety-Sax playing over the following)
The first attempt at making the cone caused all the ice cream to fall over onto the floor it was so lopsided.
Attempt two was so tall it fell over onto the floor again. You could see frustration setting in as blizzard guy is now laughing.
Attempt three made it to dipping station! Upon dipping the cone, the cone came out but all the ice cream stayed in the chocolate shell. Frustration is now turning to anger as blizzard guy is challenged to do better. He can’t, because he’s laughing so hard.
Attempt four makes it back to the dipping station only to slip out of the employee’s hands and completely submerge the entire cone into the bath of chocolate shell. I don’t know if something was said by blizzard guy but the entire tub of chocolate shell, two servings of soft serve and one cone was thrown across the prep area at blizzard guy while the dipper walked out, never to be seen again.
We got the blizzard and an undipped cone for free, but the show was the best part.
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! Also, you don’t need to hide the name of the place with some goofy pseudonym. You can just say it. It’s cool.
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