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 stories of restaurant employees who found the fields where they grow their fucks barren. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
When I was in school, I waited tables at Red Lobster (Editor's Note: Regular readers will know this as the Blue Spider-Crab). A family of four was seated at my table, and the husband/father told me that he had seen our ad on tv, and he would be having the all-you-can-eat lobster. I politely told him that we did not offer an all-you-can-eat lobster promotion and that, to the best of my knowledge, Red Lobster had never offered such a promotion. He got mad.
I then suggested that he might have seen one of our ads for endless shrimp, a beloved tradition that had sadly come to an end several weeks before his visit. He insisted that it was endless lobster, and that I was trying to cheat him. I displayed the menu items where he could purchase a live lobster at market price, or where he could purchase Maine lobster tails or rock lobster tails for a set price. I went through the promotional menu, pointing out those promotional dishes that involved lobster. It didn't help. He was adamant that I was lying to him.
I told him that, if he could bring in proof that a commercial had run offering endless lobster, I was certain that our restaurant would honor that offer. He called me something unpleasant, and asked how he was supposed to be able to find our commercial. I admitted that I was not sure.
I told him that, if we could remove their rubber bands first, I would be glad to personally subsidize an all-you-can-catch lobster deal for him. That's when I had to get the manager. The kids looked like they were enjoying themselves, anyway.
I worked at a very popular restaurant in Oakland, CA during my college years. On a quiet night I had a couple that appeared to be on a first or second date come in for dinner. When I came to take their drink orders and tell them about the specials, the man demanded to know if our pints of beer were real pints. I assured him that they were. He asked again, saying that restaurants (one) in San Francisco had gotten caught selling 12oz beers as pints. I assured him that we most certainly would not do that to our customers. He asked again if I was SURE that our glasses were 16oz. I offered to bring him a glass and pour 16oz of water into it to ease his mind. No, he said, that was not necessary. They ordered wine.
I returned with their drinks and asked if they were ready to order. The man asked about the preparation of a steak and then asked if our ($18) salmon dish was wild caught, because "you know what they feed farmed fish." An $18 wild salmon entree? Really? I did go to the chef however to find out exactly what our salmon was fed. Having been the Executive Chef at some of the very finest restaurants in San Francisco, I knew all of our ingredients were top notch. Our salmon came from a highly regarded salmon farm and was fed only spirulina. I returned to the table to explain this to the man who quietly snorted when I finished talking (I don't remember the woman saying one word this whole time). He looked at the menu for another minute and then said he'd have the chicken. I looked him in the eye and said, "It's not a wild chicken."
Back several years ago, I had the misfortune of working at a Pizza Hut for a year. This was in the South, and the start of my year coincided almost perfectly with the release of Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus. Our Pizza Hut had a jukebox, and of course this song was in it. And let me tell you, the only thing our customers liked more than crappy pizza and bad beer was to play this song over, and over, and over, and over, and over...
Needless to say, everyone who worked there hated the song. It was so bad, I'm pretty sure I have PTSD from the experience. I tend to run off screaming whenever I hear the song play nowadays. So one weekend when the store manager was out of town, some of the workers decided to get a bit of revenge. Using the key we had to the jukebox, they opened it up after all the customers were gone and swapped a couple of records. Now Achy Breaky Heart would no longer play when you selected it. Instead customers got a different song, one that magnificently described our feelings about the people who insisted on playing it ad nauseum: Hey Stoopid by Alice Cooper.
The fun only lasted till Monday, when the store manager got back to a boatload of complaints about the jukebox. The records were swapped back, we lost access to the key, and customers continued to torment us with a maddening song over their crappy food. But for one glorious weekend, we had our revenge.
I worked as a bartender at a diner/nightclub in downtown Atlanta for one summer between college and grad school. I had served before, but this was my first bar gig and it was generally fun and I made relatively good money. The only downsides were that my manager would text us as we were cleaning up that night (i.e. around 3:30 AM or 4 AM) whether we'd have to be in for the next shift later that day (5 PM/6 PM) and wouldn't let us switch or plan ahead, and that sometimes we had to work in the diner.
So when you walked into the place from street level, you basically walked into a karaoke bar — big, neon, people dancing and singing, with an oval bar in the middle with 3 bartenders. If you went up the stairs, rather than turning towards the bar, you were met by a hostess on the 2nd floor mezzanine and were seated in the 24 hour diner on the 3rd floor. It wasn't often, but on nights when the diner was especially busy for whatever reason (usually sorority/fraternity conventions or Comic Con or what have you), when us bartenders were done cleaning up the bar we'd have to go upstairs and help, usually at the host stand because she would have been sent home already on account of costing too much per hour, until we were given the go ahead to leave. The latest I worked these technically unpaid hours was until 8 AM. The worst was the night of the Baptist convention.
I was working as host at around 4 AM and, as such, was responsible for taking to-go orders and payment. There was a huge line going all the way down the stairs to the door and the atmosphere was a little hectic. A few older women and men in what I would've considered house clothes came up to order chicken wings. I explained the wings orders (like 7, 12, 20 etc, w/ w/o fries, whatever) to her and told her the price. I reached my hand out to take her money and turned to my left to put it into the cash register. Before I knew what was happening, she had grabbed my hand and ripped the money out of it, claiming that I had "snatched" her money from her and that she wouldn't take me being rude. I had not done that, of course, but thinking she might feel tense or hurried from the crowd behind her, I apologized profusely and let her place her money all the way in my hand before turning toward the cash register again. This time, she grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back to her so hard that she ripped my shirt and put a hole in it with her fake nails, claiming that she wasn't going to let me to be "bitch" and to "disrespect her." I was so shocked, I had no idea what to do. I looked at her silently as she yelled at me before finally throwing her money in her face and storming into the kitchen to cry for two hours. To this day, throwing money in someones face is the most aggressive thing I've ever done and I'm still not proud of it, but she attacked me so what are you gonna do.
My manager kicked her and her party out, sans wings, but then yelled at me for leaving my station to go cry. The owner came in the next day, though, and after watching the footage got onto my manager for 1) being nowhere to be seen as this was going down and 2) not calling the cops and having her arrested for assault. I put in my two weeks a month later.
Back in culinary school, several of the Chef instructors would ask for volunteers to assist them with gigs they booked outside of school. It was essentially a free labor racket for their private catering jobs, but hey, who wouldn't do it if they had access to a hundred bright-eyed and bushy-tailed idiots that had never been in a real kitchen before? More often than not, these events were at some palatial house full of old guys and their mistresses. We would work for 6-8 hours, clean up, and then get blasted with the FOH on $250/btl champagne. I mention this because the following event was nothing like any of these, not remotely.
I and three other classmates agree to an event for our current course Chef. I assumed that it would be one of the aforementioned events because it was Houston and in the middle of goddamn August. Sadly, no. Outdoors in some god-forsaken swamp an hour from nowhere with mosquitos that could have eaten small children. It was a birthday party for one of Chef's friends out at their "lake house." 50 ppl, 6 courses, full bar, wait staff and us with their outdoor kitchen. Residential gas grill, nice 6 burner stove, and about 2 feet of work space. We get lost on our way out there so were already weeded out when we show up. After a 10 minute ass chewing from Chef we get to work. About 2 hours into prep one of my classmates cuts her arm. The knife was sitting under a 40# box of cucumbers and she sliced her arm from about 1" above the wrist to about 2" below the elbow, so a good 5-6" long and 1/4" deep. We all immediately flip our shit as there is blood pouring out of her arm. Like I said were an hour from nowhere and probably 2 to the nearest hospital. So, what does she do? She tourniquets her arm at the elbow with an ice pick and towel, washes the blood off, puts the offending knife onto the gas fire, heats it to a nice brick red and...wait for it...cauterizes her own arm.
At this point my dick is fully retreated into my stomach and my nuts were following close behind.
She then washed the "burn" with lemon juice (it works, I don't know why, but it does) sprayed some vegalene on it, covered it with plas wrap, cleaned up her station and WENT BACK TO WORK. Everything after that went fine. It all happened in probably less time than it has taken me to write this. I don't know what happened to her after culinary school, probably teaching the IDF how not to be sissies or something.
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!
Image via Svetlana Foote/Shutterstock. For anyone about to say something like "EW LOBSTERS ARE UNDERSEA INSECTS EW" just stop. Stop talking. Forever. No one cares.