Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. Today, as promised, we have part two in our series recounting tales of truly horrible restaurant customers. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
It was a slow Tuesday night shift. Nothing too exciting was happening. Overall it was a pretty smooth shift. Until this party of 8 walks in. (4 adults, 4 kids). Now my restaurant doesn't do automatic gratuity anymore, unfortunately. When a party comes in, us servers usually grit our teeth, pray to the Gods that they leave at least 12%. Sad, right? Because it was a slow night, a party like this was going to be the bulk of my tips for the evening. I walk over to the table, as perky and as entertaining as possible. "Hey guys! My name is Mary. Welcome to…" "Listen we don't have time for that. Could you just bring us waters, no ice. "Sure. No problem." I'm not taken back by this rudeness. I work at a chain restaurant and unfortunately, so this manner is to be expected sometimes. I return with the waters. One lady in a very inaudible voice asks me "What's this?" "Mam, that's one of our drink specials." I go on to explain what's in it. "So it has alcohol in it?" Yes mam." "Oh ok. I want that." "May I see your ID?" I ask. (I'm not sure what the issue is of why people get very offended when I ask for their ID. At my restaurant, we have to card anyone under 40. This woman was clearly in her 20's mind you.) "Why?!" She's very upset. I explain our policy and say that it's part of my job. "Well she's 21. I can vouch for her." The (apparent) mother replies. "Well, I can't serve her without ID. I apologize." "Well what if I order it and give it to her?" the mother asks. "I would still need to see her ID, mam." "Well, I wanna talk to your manager, RIGHT NOW! This is absurd." "Ok, no problem" I reply. I send my manager over, who says the exact same thing I did. I go back to the table and she whips out her ID. She's 21. I'm not sure why that was a big ordeal if she had her ID in the first place but WHATEVER. I place the drink order in and get some appetizers going.
I come back to table with appetizer plates, napkins, etc. "Where are our drinks? WHERE ARE OUR APPETIZERS?!" they angrily yelled at me. "I just placed the order. The appetizers should be up within 10 minutes and the drinks take a little bit to make." "Well, we want them now." Have they never been to a sit down restaurant before? "They'll be out as soon as they are ready." I head over to the service bar, get the drinks and bring them back. As I set them down, the mother yells, "Where is all the fruit?" "The drink you ordered only comes with a cherry," I answer. "Well I don't want this cherry." (She tosses it out of her drink across the table. Her kid picks it up and eats it, I KID YOU NOT). "The fruit. I want all the fruit for this drink. What do you have?" I think she means garnishes but I reply. "Limes, Lemons, Oranges, strawberries, pineapples, apples, etc. It's a full service bar." "Bring them to me, waitress." I blink a few times and turn around back to service bar. I load up on the fruit that we have, tell the bartender I need some pineapple and apples cut off for this weird table. He laughs.
I return with fruit and as I place it down, the GUY snaps his fingers, "This is not all the fruit we asked for. Where are the pineapples and apples? I know you're probably busy but you shouldn't have to make these many steps for something so simple." "Well, I wanted to bring you some to get it started. The bartender has to cut up the pineapple and apple so it is going to be a minute or so." The guy shakes his head and whispers loudly, "It's not that difficult. I don't understand." I return with the extra fruit and no joke, this woman shoved all the fruit into this small little drink. She takes a sip, makes a face and hands it to me. "Do you not like it, mam?" "There's no alcohol in here. Get it out of here." "Would you like something else instead?" "No. I am just so disgusted right now." I don't say anything and ask for their entrée orders. Their appetizers come out and they finally seemed pleased. Maybe they just needed food, I thought! Wrong. So wrong.
They decide to order from our famous (and cheap) 2 for 20 menu. The appetizers they got, mind you, were not on this list of appetizers for the 2 for 20 menu. They seemed to disagree. They continued to argue with me about how "they have done it before" and were confused as to why I just couldn't apply the discount on these appetizers. I told them, in simplest terms, that they the computer will not even allow me the coupon if the right food isn't ordered. They huff and puff but settle on their choices. Flash-forward. Food comes out. Everything seems great. I check up on them. "How is everything?" No reply. "Everything ok, guys?" I ask again. No reply. As I walk away, I hear, "Excuse me!!" "This lobster is too fishy." "These fries aren't crispy enough." (Ok, I can understand that.) "Why does the Bruschetta Chicken pasta have tomatoes in it?!" I give up at this point. My manager goes over and talks to them. They order completely new items. "How long is this going to take? We are very hungry." "Well I see that you decided to order a well-done steak. A well-done steak does take a little bit to cook." "Unbelievable," he whispers. New orders come out. They are eating and everything seems ok.
I bring them the updated check (Took the drink off, original orders, etc). The guy takes one look at it and says "Nope. Nope. Nope." This is not correct. I want to speak with your GENERAL MANAGER. He was there that night actually, so I send him over. I see them talking for a while. My GM comes over to me and shakes his head and says "I've never met a group of cheaper people in my life and that's saying something." He ends up cutting the bill in half, to satisfy them. The table, very loudly says to their group "I wonder how much food we can get food if we complain more!" Seriously. I drop the new check off. (The bill went from about $150 to around $46). They finally leave. They only left $40 and a nasty note saying "They'll never be back because of the incompetence and rudeness by the staff and management."
My manager gave me a free meal that night for dealing with them. Silver lining?
I was working at this five-generation long (and dying) old-fashioned seafood restaurant in Philadelphia. Our main customers were either tourists or the elderly, but we would get the odd function sometimes. We had a 'Professional Singles' night with a three course prix fixe meal, a John Gray-like speaker and a cash bar. There were two men and about twenty women and it was a pretty deflated looking crowd, but most were fine during their meals. One woman I will never forget was wearing her fur coat indoors and somehow managed to have it positioned to perfectly reveal her name tag bearing the name 'Conchita.' The Mexican busboys had a good laugh at that. (Editor's Note: "Conchita" is Mexican slang for...well, it's not a nice term, let's just say that. REALLY not a nice term)
'Conchita' was a malcontent for her entire meal. Her soup was not hot (our clientele is mostly elderly so our soup is so hot it has given servers second degree burns) but instead of asking for it to be heated, she wanted the salad option. Fine. Then, she ordered crab cakes and after eating most of them claimed they had shells in them (highly unlikely since the crab meat was canned and there was never a complaint) which was replaced by a filet of sole that was 'dry' and then she found another made-up reason to hate the lemon mousse so she had ice cream too. I patiently listened and offered reasonable solutions to all of these made-up problems and gave her the other options on the menu but she seemed happiest being miserable.
When the group went to see the speech, she had not paid her check but was still in the building. I patiently waited at the exit from the speech, check at the ready with the manager cowering behind me. I 'reminded' her that she needed to settle her bill and she replied that she was unhappy with the food and therefore should not have to pay. On the bill I had handwritten that the soup was replaced for a salad, the crab cakes for the fish and the lemon mousse for ice cream, so I showed her that she was being charged for only one meal when she had been served two (I did this thing where I smile while talking in a polite tone but blunt words, it's fun.) She insisted that she was not paying and then the bartender and her now 'date' were walking over looking for her. She had also not paid for her drinks (big surprise). I picked up the phone and said that we could discuss the matter with the police as we could not reach an agreement and she bolted down the street, leaving her now-'date' behind. Although it was a challenge, I did manage to reach the kitchen before laughing a long, evil laugh afterwards.
Years ago, when I was in undergrad, I waited tables and a mid-range steakhouse chain. I was vegetarian (still am), but in my Midwestern suburb, it was one of the better tipping server jobs you could find. I worked there summers & holidays, and probably my second or third summer there, I was closing a lunch shift, and was the only server left on the floor. It's mid afternoon when the hostess seats a table, walks up to me, & says "I'm so sorry." I look around, because I don't see the table from where I am, and she tells me she's seated 2 people in a table in a corner, where no one else in the restaurant could possibly see them.
As soon as I walk up to the table, I understand why. It's a woman and her son. She's bra-less and wearing only a white men's tank top (it's around Thanksgiving), and she has some sort of scaly, bumpy skin condition, and he's wearing a dirty t-shirt. Their smell is overwhelming.
"There you are!" she says. "You know, usually, we only go to [other mid-range chain steakhouse], but we were shopping at the mall over here and decided we'd let you try and impress us." While suppressing my gag reflex, and after the usual pleasantries and drink orders, I leave and return with their cokes (which they only ordered after I disappointed them with our lack of mountain dew).
So, I'm standing there, answering questions about the menu, trying to hurry this up so I can retreat for fresh air. Mid sentence, "How about this steak sandwich...," she unrolls her silverware, grabs the fork, and starts scratching. her. back. with. the. fork. I almost dropped my book, and am no longer sure if I was able to suppress a visible gag.
The lady orders the steak sandwich, and when I bring it out, she tells me to wait a minute. She then grabs a french fry, holds it up a couple inches from my face, and starts squeezing the fry at me. "I said I wanted these extra crispy! Bring me extra crispy fries!" And throws the french fry down onto my shoe.
I get her new fries, avoid them as much as possible until they're done, and didn't even care that they tipped me under a buck, because at least they took their smell and left.
I have never had a lower opinion of humanity than on this day.
During the summer before my senior year of college, in sudden, desperate need of a job, I found myself employed at a small, seasonal restaurant in a popular Southern California animal/theme park best known for being the only place where the guests sometimes get to watch apex predators never meant to be kept in swimming pools savagely maul the performers during shows. We served exclusively chicken strips, hot dogs, fries, and beer.
This is exactly as horrible as it sounds. Between the grease coating every imaginable surface, the pervasive dead fish smell, and the angry, confused drunk assholes, every day was lesson in hopelessness. Somehow, despite all this, I made it through that first summer mostly unscathed.
Unfortunately, at the end of the next year, having just graduated with a BS in neuroscience and preparing to enter pharmacy school in the fall, I found myself once again in need of money and too lazy to seek out a "real" job, I went back to a place that I knew would hire literally anyone, especially a seasoned vet.
About halfway through that summer, on a day I was particularly beginning to regret my decision not to get a "real" job (you have no idea how useless a solid foundation in neuroscience is when frying a batch of chicken sticks every three-and-a-half minutes), I met the undisputed King of the Dickwalruses.
It was an especially busy day, and the supervisor asked me if I could head out to empty the trash cans on the patio. Above being "too good" for anything, I headed out with the little wheeled dumpster and a fresh roll of trash bags. Halfway through this process, a man comes up to me and asks if I could come over and wipe down his family's table. "No problem!" I say and follow him over.
Arriving at the table, I pull out a towel and a squirt bottle and get to work. This is when it happens. As I'm dutifully wiping the table (probably thinking about neurons and receptor binding affinities or some such), where he's sitting with his wife and pre-adolescent son, he says it; he says perhaps the most presumptuous, asinine, Republican thing anyone has ever said.
He turns to his bright-eyed eight year old, sitting but two feet from me, and says, "You see son? This is why you should stay in school."(FFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU)
I dropped the towel on the table and walked off. Fuck him.
I work as a server at a high end fresh fish market/restaurant that has a very big local following. We get to know the local clientele pretty well and most are a pleasure to serve and chat with, but like any restaurant there are customers the wait staff, kitchen staff, and pretty much everyone that works there hates.
Our regional dickhead was nicknamed Cheeseburger Omelet Guy and Mr. 8%. He was named Cheeseburger Omelet Guy because he ordered that almost every time he and his wife came in. The problem with that is a Cheeseburger Omelet isn't on the menu, it never was on the menu, and god willing won't be on a menu anywhere in the world as long as I have a breath in my body. The chefs hated him just as much as the wait staff, mainly because they always seemed to make this special dish that wasn't on the menu "wrong." No matter what, he would eat 3/4, send it back with an excuse of "there isn't enough *meat *cheese *egg *vegetables *whatever the fuck in it."
Now if being an incredibly hard to please pain in the ass customer wasn't enough, I'll refer you to his second nickname: "Mr. 8%." This piece of shit was filthy rich, but no matter how good the service was, you could expect an 8% tip. If he had to wait for a refill on his Diet Pepsi even once, your tip just dropped a couple percentage points. He'd usually get around 6-8 refills a meal, I shit you not. The last straw with Cheeseburger 8 Fucking Percent Omelet Cockbreath was when he brought in his whole family in one night and proceeded to rack up a $400 tab while running me to death. I was hoping against hope that someone else at the table would offer to pick up the tab, as rich people often fight over who gets the credit of having the biggest cock (wallet).
Much to my chagrin, 8 Omelet Cheeseburger Face informed me he'd be paying the tab. I didn't know it then, but the whole kitchen and front of the house were silently waiting to see my reaction when I brought the check back to look at the tip. They knew what was coming, and so did I. $15. Fifteen dollars. FIFTEEN fucking dollars! Not even 4%. They said they were sure steam was about to come out of my ears ala Looney Toons.
Needless to say his next Cheeseburger Omelet had some extra "love" in it.
The summer after my freshman year of college I chose (foolishly) to live in Ithaca, NY with my now very-much-ex-boyfriend. I worked at a large chain pizza restaurant and, given I was only there for the summer, got all the worst shifts. One Sunday around 11 am, a woman and her two children came in to eat. The mother immediately made her delightful personality known to me by going into a full-on racist/xenophobic rant about an immigrant family she encountered in the parking lot. In my best waitress manner, I did not react (except for my fake smile which came in handy for customers like her) but instead gave her table menus and retreated to my hideout behind the soda dispenser.
When I returned to get their drink orders, I was perplexed to find she only wanted three cups of ice. I didn't press the matter (the customer knows best!) and proceeded to fill the cups. Being the inexperienced server I was, I miscalculated the weight of a liquid-free glass so when I put the glasses on my tray along with some filled ones, the whole mess promptly toppled over onto the floor. Joy, rapture.
After securing the perimeter of the spill and refilling the ice cups, I went over to the table. Naturally, I inquired if I could get them any water for their ice (something I probably should have done earlier). Before the mother could respond, her five-year-old daughter beamed at me, pulling a bottle of Pepsi from her mother's purse as she assured me, "Nope! We got soda!"
Bad move on the girl's part. Her mother snatched the bottle and purse and hissed at her to shutthefuckuprightnow before turning to me and saying, through gritted teeth, "We're fine, thank you." I was about the say something about company policy and no outside beverages yada yada but honestly I needed the tip money from their order.
I served them with little incident for the remainder of the meal. I was cordial, warm even given the awfulness of this woman. When it came time for the check she quickly threw down her cash and scurried out with her family, unbeknownst to me — always a bad sign when they flee like that. I went over to count up her cash only to find that on a 40 dollar plus meal my tip was a whole 15 cents.
Moral of the story...there is none. Some people are just inconsiderate assholes.
Craig van Panhuis:
I was a waiter at a fancy steakhouse near Madison Square Garden for a year or so in the 1990's. Lots of money in and out those doors and it was always jamming when the Rangers or Knicks were in town. Even lunches were good except for two weeks a year — The Westminster Dog Show.
They even opened up the banquet rooms for lunch during these weeks, so I thought we were going to make extra cash. I was kind of puzzled when all of the veteran staffers started getting rid of their shifts, which I happily took.
I realized my mistake two minutes into the first day. Suddenly, there were 300 midwesterners at every table like it was an all you can eat buffet at Denny's. Men in Christmas sweater vests who were "married" to women who treated their dogs like children and actual people like rodents. Gaunt librarian types who could not make eye contact with humans. Weird Jesus freaks who were one broken tail light away from being the next Ted Bundy. The majority were awful rich women who smelled of diarrhea with southern drawls and fake pearls. It was Nancy Grace x 150.
One thing they all had in common, along with a misplaced understanding of what a dog wants in life, was that they were all incredibly cheap. I suppose this was because they spent every last dollar on dog torture, and then used coupons or S&H greenstamps or something to fund this annual trip to NYC. So of course when they came to the Steakhouse, they were all aghast at the prices.
Now, there's nothing wrong with that. You walk in, notice that the price of steak is roughly the same as leasing a mid-sized BMW, and you leave and go to Wendy's. But no. These people, who sat in parties of 8 and 15, would try to negotiate. These Jesus freak dog fuckers would try to split everything. "I'll have half a salad with her, and then split the soup with him. And if there is a charge to split something, just bring an extra bowl over here and do it here." Apparently, they thought they had figured out a way to game the system by having me put half their soup in another bowl at the table instead of in the kitchen.
And they all wanted separate checks. When I explained that we don't do that, and that the computer system couldn't do that for half a bowl of soup with person A and half a sandwich with person B, the lady said "oh come on now, computers are smart enough to do that!" Fucking fucks and their fucking dog kids.
When that didn't work, they'd ask for the least expensive thing on the menu and a glass of water and then sit there for 2.5 hours and tip nothing. One guy actually said "here's a tip: you need to lower your prices to be more reasonable like in Kansas..." He wasn't kidding, he left us nothing. Another time, instead of a tip, they left me a little card with a picture of boy smelling a flower and the words "Isn't it nice that Jesus loves you?" on it. Jesus doesn't pay my fucking rent, lady.
Do you have a crazy restaurant story you'd like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens? Please e-mail WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Behind Closed Ovens" in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!
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