Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. Today, we bring you restaurant customers upon whom vengeance was well-served. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
Years ago I was working as a server in one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurants. Jean-Georges is...well...amazing. The food was perfection.
One night this guy came in with his date and acted like he owned the place, immediately berated me for our wine list, and then proceeded to order our cheapest wine for himself and his date. Anyone who has ever served knows the customer I'm talking about. He's the guy who's been places and knows good food, yet orders the worst wine and wants his meat cooked well-done. He was very clearly trying to show off for his date at my expense. When he's finally ready to order, he tells me he wants the shrimp salad to start, "but with ranch dressing, none of that berry-blank stuff" berry-blank stuff, referring to the white white beurre blanc sauce that came on the salad. The salad was something like $18, and the reason why it was so good was the beurre blanc.
I figured our chef would be rightly horrified by this, but wasn't in the mood to argue with this guy at the moment. I go back, put in the order in our POS, and within a few minutes I hear our head chef yell "AMY GET BACK HERE RIGHT NOW." I went back to the kitchen, ready to be eviscerated. "I'm not subbing ranch dressing," he said, while glaring at me. At this point, I was debating going back to the table to tell them, but the two salads were ready and waiting, so I grabbed them, went back to the table, and said apologetically, "I'm so sorry, sir, but we cannot substitute the beurre blanc." As I could have expected, he freaked the fuck out, and while I don't remember his exact tirade, it included things like, "I AM A PAYING CUSTOMER AND I WANT MY FOOD MADE HOW I WANT IT," and the usual "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I WORK FOR [REDACTED] AND I PROMISE YOU NO ONE IN MY COMPANY WILL EAT HERE AGAIN AFTER THIS." etc etc etc. His date was blushing and actually attempting to hide her face while this was happening, and he kept going on and on so I just grabbed his plate from in front of him and walked back to the kitchen.
The chef looked at me and I just said, "I'm sorry, he yelled at me. He won't have the salad unless it has ranch dressing." Chef said, "He yelled at you?" I said, "Yeah. A lot." He said, "Okay, lead the way." and grabbed the plate out of my hand. I took him to the offending table, and he sat the plate down in front of the man and said, "Sir, your salad. If you prefer ranch dressing, I recommend TGIFridays, as they also have excellent mozzarella sticks to suit your palate. Do not raise your voice to my staff again." And then promptly walked away. It was glorious.
I am a lawyer now, but in my many many years before becoming a lawyer, I worked as a server and bartender. Mostly, I worked in high end restaurants that often served lawyers. Unbeknownst to my clientele, my father was a judge on our state's highest court.
See my dad had come from very humble beginnings, his father was a truck driver, and thus my father's philosophy was that I needed to work in order to learn the value of a dollar. When I turned 14 and could legally work, my papa drove me down to his high school friend's restaurant and got me a job bussing tables. After having been there for about two years I had convinced management that I was able to serve. That summer I ended up with a table of eight men, all lawyers, all very prominent, all knew my father, none knew I was his daughter. The evening of service started off without much to remark upon, they ordered apps, dinner, and drink after drink after drink.
Then when I was delivering their lobsters and prime rib one of these respected lawyers decided to put his hand up my skirt, grab my ass and tell me I was a "good girl." I poured his jus in his lap, grabbed his hand, pulled it up and asked in the sweetest most condescending voice I could muster "do you know judge X of the highest court in Y state?" He replied, somewhat caught off guard, "uh, yeah..." To which I responded, "he's my father, motherfucker...enjoy your dinner!" The entire table turned insanely red.
I told my boss what happened so that I didn't have to go back to the table, and they left me a 100% tip. Flash forward years later and I see this hack in court often, to this day he runs the other direction when he sees me.
OK, fair warning: this next story is a Navy story, and thus it is legitimately gross. It's one of the grosser stories I've put in a BCO, to be honest with you. If you think that's a bit much for you, skip ahead to Jesse Layton's story, which is a little gross, but at least it doesn't involve any ballsacks. Consider yourself warned.
I was working the breakfast shift on one of the last wooden-hulled ships in the Navy that had an operating galley. We had fed the small crew and I was cleaning up with a cook we will call "Bics." For a little background information, Bics was your average sailor, so he didn't give two shits about the Navy.
Anyway, while I was cleaning, Bics was prepping for lunch. I had just finished cleaning the flattop when the XO (executive officer) burst into the galley, still half-drunk from the night before. He looked at me and screamed that he wanted breakfast with toast, bacon, and runny eggs. I proceeded to explain to him that breakfast had been secured a hour ago and we were getting ready for lunch. This did not sit well with the XO and after about five minutes of drunken screaming threats against myself, my family, my deceased relations, my cultural background, and my lack of zeal for the greatest nation on earth, I was ready to beat the piss out of this guy.
Bics, on the other hand, was cool as a cucumber. He stepped in front of me and told the XO he would have his breakfast ready for him in fifteen minutes. The XO pointed his finger at Bics and told me that Bics embodied the Navy core values of honor, courage, and commitment.
After he left, I gave Bics a WTF look, only to see him smile. The breakfast that Bics prepared for him was feat of unbridled quiet rage that had been building in him for quite some time. As the flattop was heating, Bics proceeded to reheat a couple of strips of bacon between his ass cheeks, which left his hands free to massage butter all over his balls while the bread was toasting. Bics then cracked two eggs on the flattop and worked up a large loogie to drop on them. While the loogie was hanging halfway between the eggs and Bics' lips the door opened to the galley and the other lunch cook arrived for his shift only to be greeted by a major culinary no-no.
The other cook, whom we will call "Loner," immediately asked for an explanation. While relating the story Loner he put his hand up and said stop, what he really wanted to know was why we were using loogies and not straight snot, because loogies "just steam off on the flattop, while snot holds its shape and texture better" (Loner was a consummate professional). Loner then ran the rim of the XO's plate through his ass cheeks and began to plate the XO's breakfast. If I hadn't seen what they did to the food I would have never known — in Loner's words, people eat with their eyes first, so always make your food look presentable.
The plate was then handed to me to be delivered. I knocked on the officers mess room door while trying to keep a straight face only to be told by the XO to wait a minute, I could hear the sound of a porno coming from the other side of the door. I was given permission to enter and placed the food in front of the XO, who began yelling at me over the sound of slapping skin in the background. I never heard a word he said as he shoveled the food into his mouth and I stood there in silence as he wiped up the last of the runny egg from the rim of his plate with a piece of toast.
When I returned to the galley, the cooks had cleaned the flattop for me and were working on getting lunch ready. When I showed them the plate, they just shrugged their shoulders and went back to work like it was nothing. I learned a valuable lesson that day: don't fuck with the people that cook your food.
I used to work at "Rolling Stones song" as a short-order cook. Mainly the evening-close shift and all the usual shenanigans that the dinner rush brought were happening left and right. The main cook in the evening was "Bill", a tall, Chris Elliot look-alike who loved prog rock and cheap beer and had the wry observational ability that comes with working that kinda job for almost two decades. And he had a fairly defined threshold for the amount of BS he could take in one night, which meant fun times for the rest of the cooking staff!
So one night, right before the main rush, a regular comes in and orders her usual teriyaki chicken and Bill had gotten used to her inane requests over time. Lately, the teriyaki chicken had to have grill marks on one side (in the x-formation) but NO grill marks on the other side. Well, being an expert on making crazy people happy, he sends it out. We move on and ten minutes later, voila, it comes back through the window.
"She says she can't see the grill marks on the one side."
We looked at it and Bill had done it correctly (as per her cuckoo order), albeit the grill marks were not as engraved and blackened as usual. The dinner rush started to crank up, tickets stacking up on the wheel.
Bill — "I ain't got time for this shit." He threw it on the grill with a metal container on top for a minute for each angle and then put it back on the plate. The waiter rushed it back out. Two minutes later....
"She says that it's too messy on that side now- too many grill marks. Can we get a new one going ASAP?"
I dared not look at Bill. As affable as he could be, he also had the explosive temper that must be prerequisite for hiring a cook in chain restaurants. I saw a glimpse of the beet-red, sweaty face as I made potato skins or some shit, and I braced for the eruption.
"Oh yeah? I'll give her GRILL MARKS." Bill took another chicken that was already cooking into his tongs, flipped the chicken up into the grill hood grease trap, swished it around for a few long seconds, and then slammed it on the grill. He flipped the chicken after thirty seconds to get the desired grill markage and the whole time the grill is lighting up like Pompeii with all the grease drippings. Not even ninety seconds later, that chicken was on the plate and out to her table. Ten minutes later...
"Bill, she loved it! Thanks!" Bill smiled at me and I laughed.
I worked at a catering outfit in college that did jobs for FBO's (private jets, etc), and this one client kept my boss pissed of all the time. Always complaining about the price, the quality, whatever, the guy had to complain.
So this one time, he calls up with an emergency order, pizzas for a G-5 coming in immediately. The boss tells him it's extra because of the rush, and the guy says fine. We drop everything and jam out the pizzas, but the boss is working on a separate pizza and keeping to himself.
We (me and the boss) race to the airport where the guy is waiting just as the G pulls up. The guy says he's not paying the extra, thinking he's got us over a barrel. What are we going to do, throw out the pizzas, not get paid? My boss glares at him and reaches into the van for the pies and hands them over. We get a check from the clown.
As we're pulling out the boss has a big smile on his face, and I know he did something. I ask, and he tells me he'd had enough of that guy's crap and he had switched one of the pies with his special. He'd made a pie with some five year old white chocolate that he'd shaved like mozzarella. He cashed the check on the way back.
Now, that first story might not seem to be some huge righteous vengeance, but you have to understand what it's like to be a server. I used to fantasize at night about telling customers "no," let alone pointing out what shitty human beings they were. The fact that the chef basically did that? That's fantastic.
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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