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 restaurant employees who completely ran out of fucks to give and let their inner smartass run wild. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
Marcus van Zant:
Last summer I was working for the company that owned 90% of the restaurants at the airport. The pay was decent and some coworkers were cool. So I usually worked in a food court, and usually did either the juices or the pizza. Pizza was cooked three-quarters of the way, then cut into slices which were finished when ordered. Life was good.
So one rather busy—we’re talking ten-man line—day a woman with her family gets in line, and we know she will be trouble. After complaining about the five minutes she had to wait before it was her turn, she first asks which of the pizza’s don’t contain pork.(hint it’s the ones that don’t have big ass pieces of ham). I list them off with the ingredients, and she points towards the Hawaiian and asks what it is. I explain it has pork on it and she replied with: “Oh that’s okay, back home they make it with chicken, so it doesn’t count. Give me two pairs of two of that.” There is so much wrong with that sentence that it took me a few seconds to figure out what she meant. I checked to be sure: she did, indeed, want 4 slices of something she wasn’t allowed to eat. But whatever, I threw her slices in the oven and moved on to the next.
Not even two minutes later she starts loudly shouting: “Excuse me! Excuse me! I want to change my order!” over another customer whose order I was trying to take. I excuse myself, knowing this woman won’t stop until she gets what she wants, and ask what she wants to change. She now wants “two sets of one.”
“So...just two then?” I carefully ask.
“Yes two sets of one, are you stupid in the head?” I stand there, silently contemplating whether I would go to prison or stay calm and finish the lady’s order.
I throw the two slices of pizza on plates and put them on the counter. Her husband, who has so far not made a sound, instantly goes for his plate and shoves the slice, which is now just north of ten seconds out of the oven, straight into his mouth. “OW, THIS IS TOO HOT!” the stupid piece of shit exclaims.
By now I can no longer hold back the snark: “Be careful, sir, the drinks we sell are also very wet.”
I used to have a gig at a small coffee shop. Most of our business was drive-thru. There was a woman who’d come in on most of my shifts and order an “extra dry cappuccino.” First time, I didn’t think anything of it, made the drink and handed it to her. She shook the cup and then made an exasperated face and said “Ugh, I guess you don’t know how to make a DRY cappuccino” and drove off. No tip, obviously.
Next time she comes, I remember that and make it EXTRA EXTRA DRY. She still makes a show of weighing the cup and declares it not dry enough. Time after that, I foam the milk all to hell and then just spoon the dryest, crustiest foam on top of her espresso. There is no liquid milk at all in this, I don’t even know how she’d drink it as you’d just pour the espresso out from underneath the foam...whatever. I have enough joy in my life that I don’t complain about the dryness of drive-thru espresso drinks. Same thing, still not dry enough—and keep in mind, all of this is decided without her ever trying the coffee. She’s just lifting the cup to see how heavy it is.
So the last time she comes in, I’m ready. I just put two shots of espresso in a cup, throw a lid on, and hand it to her. She picks it up, makes a face, declares it too heavy, and drives off. She never came back, so I’ll never know if she actually just wanted an empty cup or what.
In the late 60’s, I was a teen working at a Golden Arches near my home. In those days, McDonalds did not open early mornings and did not serve breakfast items at all. The menu was your basic burgers, fries, cokes, and shakes.
I was working the counter, taking orders and giving the customers their food. It was a typically very busy lunch rush, with lines of people at every cash register. A mid 30s woman came to my register and ordered a burger, fries, and a coke. Pretty standard order. I got her food, stuffed it into a sack, gave her the sack, and was making change while she looked into the sack that I had just handed to her.
She looked at me with this really confused expression and said, “Where is the fork?” I replied, “We do not have forks. This is McDonalds.” To which she said, quite seriously, “Then how am I going to eat the french fries?” And I, of course, stated the obvious, “With your fingers, lady.”
She snatched up the sack and huffed out the door, with a good round of laughter from the crowd of hungry folks waiting to get their McDonald’s fix.
A seemingly sweet old lady sits down with her equally old friend for lunch. After an intense round of questions about my heritage and wondering where I REALLY was from, she is happy to find out my family is Chinese. “The Chinese are [variety of racial stereotypes], and such hard working people...those railroads worked out pretty well.”
I smiled awkwardly and said: “I don’t think it worked out so well for the Chinese.” She didn’t appreciate my sarcasm and when she called my manager over to talk about it and repeated her statement, she was confused that he did not also agree that what she said was a compliment.
The first job I had when I moved from the Inland Empire to the beach was at Starbucks. This was the 90’s, so although Starbucks was big, it wasn’t the all encompassing giant it has become. I had never really drank coffee regularly before, but it’s amazing how quickly you develop a taste for it when you get up at 4:30 AM.
One morning I rolled in on my bike after a night of drinking and a few hours sleep. At the time, they drink sizes were short, tall, and grande (short was the original 8 oz small). We were amazed that the branding was so successful that people wouldn’t even call them small, medium, and large. Before we opened, I went in back and got a whiteboard and wrote down our “new” sizes- Pee-wee, Mean, and Gigantor. We opened the door and the first guy that walked in ordered a Pee-wee drip. I almost pissed my pants. Half of the first ten people used the new sizes and then my manager made me take it down.
I was not a very good employee.
(Editor’s Note: I have serious feels about “Tall” being the name for a fucking Small and “Grande” being a goddamned Medium. Fuck you, Starbucks, I will order a Large, not a Venti, and you will FUCKING LIKE IT)
Working at a Waffle House, we got a lot of drunk middle-aged men on Friday nights. For the most part, they were good customers; a little rowdy, but great tippers, so it was worth it.
One night, though, we had these three guys who were like small children in a grown men’s bodies. They messed with the condiments on the tables, had spitball fights, and of course talked way too loud. Just a nightmare table.
The other thing we had going on that night was a major clean of the whole restaurant, because a supervisor was coming in the morning. I blame that for making me dumb enough to assume those guys would settle down when they had their food, and I’d be safe taking my eyes off them for a second.
So, our light fixtures were beach-ball-sized glass globes over a bulb and I had taken them down to clean out the dead bugs. About a minute after they got their food, I heard one of the drunks yell “I’m a spaceman!”
They had put the globes on their heads and were running around the restaurant. I didn’t think, I just opened my mouth and my dad came out, telling them to put those down and get their asses in their seats unless they wanted them to get a beatin’. It worked and they left pretty quickly after that.
A few years back, I returned to my hometown in northern Canada to tend bar. American tourists had overtaken the hotel where I worked, where they would spend a couple days prepping and getting to know each other before heading out onto the land to hunt. Most were pleasant enough, although they had the off-putting tendency to loudly rail against Canada’s “socialist” politics while drinking.
One in particular, an older fella from Louisiana, preferred to sit at the bar and talk at me, as opposed to mingling with the other hunters. He gave me the ol’ “If you’re not a liberal in your 20s you got no heart, if you’re not a conservative by your 40s you got no brains” speech more than once. He seemed to sense and enjoy my discomfort while he talked his shit. I tried to turn the conversation away from politics, to sports, to which he responded, “I used to pay attention to LSU basketball, you know, before the spooks took over.”
After returning from the hunt, he sidled up to the bar and greeted me with, “So, Obama paint the White House black yet?” completely unaware that while he was away the Joe McGinniss biography of Sarah Palin had come out. I replied, “No, but apparently Sarah Palin loves the blow and banged Glen Rice from the Miami Heat!”
He didn’t sit at the bar after that.
I had been working as a delivery driver for Pizza Hut for only a few months, but with a relatively high turnover, I was already at about the middle of the driver seniority pecking order. You’d think it’s ridiculous for there to be a seniority pecking order for pizza delivery drivers, but at least at the place I worked at, it was important. Guys (it was all guys) who’d been there a while knew all the regular customers, knew who was generous with tips and who was stingy, and would quietly shuffle the delivery orders around so that they got the good ones and newer guys got stuck with the bad tippers. I never did this, for the record, and I thought it was a sort of an abhorrent practice, but I never fussed about it because I didn’t want to make myself a target for anything.
There was this new guy who had just started. It was his very first day, and, like they always did, the “top” drivers were fucking with him pretty good. He was getting all the bad tippers, the dangerous neighborhoods (drivers get carjacked and robbed), and he’d had his scheduled lunch break bumped a few times in the process of all the delivery order shuffling. I felt bad for him, but I was pretty much just a spectator to the whole thing.About halfway through his shift, he seemed to start to wise up to the fact that what was happening to him was actually willful and orchestrated.
He had just returned from yet another shitty delivery when a customer called us to complain that they were dissatisfied with how long their pizza was taking to arrive. A quick glance at the timestamps showed that their order had only just been placed about ten minutes earlier—pizza orders are input directly into the electronic system with the customer still on the phone, and appear on a screen in front of the cooks immediately, so there’s no way one can sit around for a while and be input later. Also, being a typical American fast food franchise, our cooking process was a well-oiled assembly line machine. Toss the dough, ladle on the sauce, throw on the cheese and toppings, and then shove the thing into an oven that is also literally a conveyer belt. It comes out the other side done in just a few minutes. The complaining customer’s order was just at that moment emerging from the oven at the exact time that any properly-made pizza would and should have been emerging.
This customer was a regular, and a known scammer. Our manager had a generous habit of comping any and all complaints (and frankly this policy did make it much less stressful on us, too), but there were a few customers who had caught onto this and abused it. The boss just considered it an acceptable cost of doing business. This particular scammer had a history of getting pizzas from us for free, and of course not tipping drivers for the trouble.
The new guy had no way of knowing all of this, but he did overhear what we all overheard. The volume of the phone was high enough that everyone could generally hear the customers’ voices when they were placing their orders (helpful since you usually just have the phone pushed half-against your ear with your shoulder to keep your hands free), and this person was shouting on top of that. The angry scamming customer said, “And don’t even think the driver’s going to get a tip after this much of a delay,” and sounded quite pleased to say it.
The guy who’d answered the call, a driver who’d been there for a long time, assured the customer their order was on the way, then hung up, shoved the pizza into its box and handed it to the new guy. “This delivery’s yours,” he said. It was a stunningly shitty move, and I still don’t know if he was intentionally fucking with the guy that nakedly, or if it didn’t occur to him that the guy had heard the phone call. Incidentally, this long-time driver was a 20-year-old studying to become a cop. (Editor’s Note: COLOR ME SHOCKED)
The new guy took the pizza, poker-faced, making perfect eye contact with the long-time driver. “Okay,” he said. Then, with all of us watching in stunned silence, he opened the box and ate three slices without comment, all the while staring at the guy who’d just given it to him. Then he closed it back up, put it in a warmer bag, walked out the door, and delivered it.
Naturally, we remade the order right away and braced for the angry phone call. They were going to make him drive out the new (of course now completely free) order to the house again, but I was so impressed by his boldness that I volunteered to take the delivery in his place, which of course meant I had to have a red-faced middle-aged man scream at me from the entrance to his house while I handed it over. But it was completely worth it, partially just because I really wanted to see the look on his face.
I expected the dude to already be fired by the time I got back to the restaurant, but he was not. Not then, and not by the time I quit a few months later.
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!
Image via pullia/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.