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’re back to an old favorite: horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad restaurant customers. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
There is a man who comes to my Starbucks every single day and orders the most horrible drink in an infuriating way. He purchased 365 Starbucks cards and registered every one of them online with a different birthday so that he gets a “free birthday drink” EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR. Even though I know exactly how he “beat the system” there, he pretends that his app is just malfunctioning and it magically gives him the same free birthday drink every day. If he was a nice guy, I might not be so irritated. But he’s not a nice guy. Here is a sample of our exchange when he orders (when you imagine his voice, it should be pompous and creepy):
Me, scowling on the inside: “Hello.”
Him: “I need a Venti cup and a marker.”
Me: “Oooooohkaaaay. Here ya go.”
I reluctantly give him the cup and marker. He draws lines and arrows and writes all over the cup while telling me: “Two pumps of white mocha here, then add five pumps of vanilla. That should take us to this line here where you’re gonna add cold heavy cream up to this ridge here...it should be halfway between this line and this line. Make sure to add the heavy whipping cream before the espresso, it changes the taste if you do it out of order. Then add your four shots, three regular and one long shot. That long shot is important, since you guys reformulated your machines, it’s been Hell trying to get my drink right. That long shot helps balance it. Then stir it for me, Mister Brad. Now do me a favor and add ice to the top there and it’ll be easy as pie. I’m not picky so don’t worry about shaking it or anything like that.”
Me: “OK. Easy as pie.”
Him: “Now they ring it up for me like this: one quad espresso, add white mocha, sub vanilla, sub heavy cream.”
[He wants it rung up that way so he just has to pay $3.00 for a drink that really should be around $6.50 if it was rung up correctly as an Iced Quad Venti Vanilla White Mocha with heavy cream instead of milk.]
Him: “Now I’m going to use my free birthday reward to pay. Did I tell you about my birthday reward app malfunction? The app is screwed up and it’s been giving me the same free birthday drink for twelve days now! I mean, I’m not going to complain or anything. Maybe I should check my mail at my old house and see if I’ve won free Starbucks for life! Ha ha ha!”
[he tastes his drink & frowns]
Him: “Mister Brad, why don’t you pour a decaf shot on top of this for me? It’ll be perfect then. It’s just a hair too sweet.”
[I pour one decaf shot on top of his drink]
Me, and my skin is crawling at this point: “Thanks! Have a great day. Oh yeah, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY.”
(Editor’s Note: I guarantee you this motherfucker brags to his friends that he’s figured out a “great Starbucks menu hack.”)
All through grad school, I worked at a P.F. Chang’s in Colorado. I genuinely enjoyed working there—I credit waiting tables to helping me learn not to be so painfully shy, but I have many memories of just...the rudest, nastiest people. I never did understand the people who came in on the prowl for shit to complain about (not that there is really anything to understand).
Maybe a month after I got my graduate degree, I was working a closing section on a Friday or Saturday night and had a six top seated. It was a middle-aged couple and their teenage kids. It was the husband’s birthday, and they had a great table for the night. The back of our restaurant had these huge picture windows that looked right out into the mountains, and it was really a hard view to beat.
The wife, however, never even looked. She sat down, back to the windows, scowling, and immediately ordered waters and several appetizers. I bring out a few orders of lettuce wraps a few minutes later, short one order because it didn’t fit on the tray. As I dropped the first round and turned to go back to the kitchen to get the last plate, she loudly says “EXCUSE ME. EXCUSE ME. WE ORDERED FIVE OF THESE. WHY AREN’T THERE FIVE OF THESE.” I calmly explained that I was headed back to grab the fifth, and she rolled her eyes and began shoving chicken and rice stix into her mouth. Her husband and kids had a definite “oh great, here were go” look on their faces. I came back with the plate and took their orders, and after I put them in, came back to check on drinks. They had ordered beers and, of course, hers was too warm. Then I didn’t bring the replacement beer back quickly enough. Then the appetizers weren’t prepared correctly.
The entrees hit, and everything was wrong there, too. They’d ordered family style, and the rest of the family seemed perfectly content with their Mongolian Beef and Chang’s Spicy Chicken, but she took a couple of bites and threw her napkin on the table and wildly starts waving me over. I was mid-drink order at another table, so I finished taking their orders and headed over to her. In the most unbelievably disgusted voice, she said, “I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to get a goddamn order correct. You haven’t done a single thing right all night long. Waitresses are just the stupidest people ever.”
Keep in mind, she never did say what was allegedly wrong with her order, and the rest of the table just kept their heads down and pretended it wasn’t happening. She got up and stormed over to my manager and started talking and gesturing with great animation. My face was bright red and I was trying to adequately take care of my other tables, but when the time came to drop the check, my manager told me he’d comped most of their meal. I took the paltry bill over to them and she quickly grabbed it and stuck a card in there. As I ran the card, her husband and kids got up and started to shuffle out, and sure enough, when I picked up the receipt a few minutes later, she’d written a large ‘ZERO’ in the gratuity blank.
The cherry on top was walking back out after I locked my shit down and the woman’s husband was standing sheepishly at the hostess stand. He handed me a $50 bill and shook his head, saying, “I’m so sorry.”
One time I was serving a middle-aged couple on a Friday night at the old Humperdink’s knock-off brewpub where I worked in high school. Both ordered steaks, and I could tell had high expectations. I delivered their plates promptly and with a smile, and they couldn’t have been nicer and more appreciative. I came back to check on the food about a minute later, and immediately noticed a change of attitude. Neither had touched their food, and the wife was wearing a fierce scowl.
“There’s a hair on my steak,” the blonde wife exclaimed, holding it up as if it were radioactive waste. Of course I apologized profusely, removed her plate, and hurried back to the kitchen for a replacement. I showed the hair to my manager, who quickly scanned the kitchen and pointed out that we had no long-haired blondes on the clock that night. We simply rearranged the food on her plate, sat it under a heat lamp for a minute or two, and returned it to her table.
She smiled with a smug sense of victory, and did not tip.
The year was 2011 and I was working on a fight night; it was Pacquiao vs. Larry Someonewhosenameicantremember. I worked at a Champ’s (Editor’s Note: Holy shit, someone used an actual restaurant’s name!) in Addison,TX at the time and the restaurant was showing the fight with a $20 cover at the door that the customers were not pleased with. So each table that walked in and paid the cover was already upset when they sat down. Great way to start the night.
The place was PACKED. I mean wall-to-wall, standing room only and we were probably well beyond capacity for the building. The managers did not care; all they saw were $$$$$ signs. We were understaffed since the more veteran servers had taken the night off or called in, so we were running 8-10 table sections.
My section had an 8-top, some 4-tops and the dreaded booth/chair combo, which accounted for 4 tables, varying between 2-tops and 4-tops. Since the fight started at a certain time, we got slammed all at once. My entire section filled up, my booth/chair tables became a party of 15, and everyone was anxious to get food and drinks ASAP, so nearly all of tables ordered at one time, both drinks and food. The bar was SLAMMED with all of the servers putting in their tables’ orders at once and the guests at the bar ordering everything at nearly the same time. Needless to say, it was a fucking shit show—I’m talking over 600 people ordering everything all at once. There isn’t a kitchen or a bar I’ve ever worked at or been to that can handle all of those tickets coming in at one time.
Food orders were taking well over a hour at this point, drinks were taking 20ish minutes and there wasn’t a single table that hadn’t been told that whatever they ordered was going to take a crapload longer than normal. I was getting hauled all over my section by tables wondering where their food is, where their drinks were, why things were taking so long, and none of them were accepting my obvious answer of “we are really really really busy right now,” after which I would kind of look across the restaurant with a “don’t you see what the fuck we are dealing with right now” look on my face.
Then the main fight starts up and things kicked into overdrive for the tables. People were ordering two drinks each, they weren’t happy with the food, they weren’t happy with the entire thing. Neither was I. No one was happy in the entire restaurant. FINALLY the fight ended and people started asking for tabs and whatnot so they could go home. The only table that I didn’t have asking for their check was the 15-top; they were content to sit and drink the three drinks per person that were sitting in front of them. It was like 1:30am at this point and I just KNEW this table was going to sit and drink until they were done.
That’s exactly what happened. The rest of the restaurant emptied out, servers were checking out and making plans to get as drunk as they could in 30 minutes. I was getting asked if I would make it and if I wanted them to order anything for me when I got there (this bar was like 45 seconds away from the restaurant). I told them I’d be okay and would see them soon, which was my mistake. The 15-top sat there till 2:15am, which was the last second you could have booze in front of you in Texas, and then got angry when I started pulling drinks. My managers were busy in the back dealing with pissed off cooks who didn’t get a chance to start breaking things down until 2 am. I went and got my manager and asked him to tell this table they had to go, which he tried to do.
This group of 15 adults screamed at my manager that they should not have to leave. He dropped their checks and told them that they had to pay or he would call the police. That got their attention, so they agreed and started to pull out cards and cash. My manager asked me to help him in the back with the kitchen guys for a few minutes while they paid out. After about 5 minutes, I went back to the table and they were all gone. Most of the tabs were paid with cash but no tip. About five of the tabs had nothing in them at all. The total was somewhere around $300 for the whole table and I ended up getting my manager to comp the unpaid tabs, and walked out the building around 2:45 am with around $100 in my pocket on nearly $1,200 in sales.
Worst night ever.
When I was 16, I was working as a counter girl at a local pizza chain restaurant that was better than average, if fairly overpriced. My location was take out-only and located just off the highway in an upper-class suburban area. The dinner rush was largely full of rich stay at home moms getting pizza and salads to go.
One evening when I had been there maybe a month, we were particularly busy, and our wait times were approaching an hour and a half. A woman came in who had not ordered ahead of time. Before she ordered, I told her we were really busy and that the wait would be longer than usual. She was not happy about this, but ordered a salad and a hummus plate to go. Our hummus plate includes a made-to-order flatbread, which is actually just a small pizza rolled out super thin and drizzled with olive oil and crushed garlic. Because it was made-to-order, the flat bread took around 20 minutes to cook, and increased the normal wait time for a salad to go from 15 minutes to 25 minutes.
About 10 minutes after she ordered, she came back to the counter (after cutting the line of 5 people or so) and asked me why her food wasn’t ready. I explained politely that the hummus plate included a made-to-order flat bread which had just gone in the oven, and it would be another 15 minutes before it was done. Without even pausing, she started screaming in my face about how incompetent I and my co-workers were, how completely absurd it was that something as simple as a salad and hummus plate would take longer than 10 minutes, etc etc. This went on for awhile as I stood in stunned silence, not quite believing that this adult middle-aged woman was screaming her head off at me. In my entire life, I had never been screamed at like this by a non-family member.
Standing right behind the screaming woman in line was a mom who was waiting with her 8 or 9 year old daughter. This little girl looks up at her mom and says “Mommy, why is that lady yelling?” This entitled housewife looks back at her impressionable child and calmly says “She is yelling because that girl deserves it, the service is terrible every time we come here.” And then she looked me straight in the eyes.
If I had been a few years older, I might have asked her why she keeps coming back if she thought it was so awful, but I was 16, so instead I ran to the back to cry it out.
I work at a local craft burger joint. This last Tuesday was Cinco de Mayo, and on Cinco de Mayo Americans love their first born children almost as much as they love their half priced strawberry margs. I naively assumed that as a burger place we wouldn’t be off the walls slammed since this year’s holiday was a bit of a double whammy for those Mexican style restaurants that also host “Taco Tuesday.”
Friends—I was wrong.
Only three servers, two hosts, and one bartender were scheduled to be on in this 145 seat indoor/outdoor restaurant because my boss has excellent foresight 100% of the time and is great at making the schedule. Of course, we got slammed. People saw our empty patio and decided to forego the 1 hour wait across the way for us.
I was incredibly stressed, but I was making it. I had six tables inside and three outside and at one point I actually started laughed hysterically and totally inappropriately at one of my customers who was otherwise incredibly pleasant because he was being indecisive in order to avoid bursting into tears/strangling him.
A couple of my tables were checking out so I was feeling relieved until I had to deal with one particular couple who was demanding to sit outside. They had originally come for strawberry margs, cheap tacos and fake Jimmy Buffett across the street but couldn’t get into the Mexican style place located directly across from us. The problem was, our patio was full. But oh NO PROBLEM AT ALL ACTUALLY, because they brought their own lawn chairs for the show.
They set up their lawn chairs outside of our patio perimeter, halfway between our restaurant and the Mexican style place and my boss essentially demanded that I serve them even though that breaks like, all of the liquor and open container laws ever and I could have lost my job and the restaurant could have been fined/closed for a period of time/all of the above. He dutifully put their half priced strawberry margs into to-go cups and handed them to me.
The scumbags dined and ditched and I was left to pick up their dirty plates off of the literal sidewalk as I contemplated the choices I have made so far in my 20 years that got me to the aforementioned place.
One fine evening my husband and I decided to trek out to our local Japanese restaurant for some delicious eats. We are sitting at a table, my husband facing me, with a small family at another table at my back. We’ve placed our order and we’re minding our own business when my husband starts giggling. He’s staring past me at the family seated behind me. I ask him what’s so funny, he says, “listen!” I bend my ear and my eyeballs as much as I can without being obvious and creepy.
Dad: “That’s what I said! He wants your grilled chicken teriyaki, but doesn’t want any lines!” Young son sits there nodding his head like his dad makes complete sense to him.
Server: “You want grilled chicken...without the grill marks.”
Dad: “YES. Just grill his chicken, WITHOUT the lines. We’ve already told you, he doesn’t want the lines. He doesn’t like the lines.” Dad’s getting testy.
Server: “Those lines come from the chicken being on the grill. If we grill the chicken on the grill it’s going to have grill marks. Can I suggest baked chicken? Boiled chicken? Broiled chicken?”
I think she’s not trying to be condescending at all. I got the distinct feeling that she ‘spake as to a child’ just because she thought maybe he had the intelligence of a child. I agreed with her.
Dad: “NO! He wants GRILLED CHICKEN. NO LINES. How hard is that to understand?!”
At this point their understandably baffled server offers to talk to the cook. She does, then returns to say, “Our cook has offered to cut the ‘lines’ off of the grilled chicken.”
This seemed to satisfy dad-of-the-year and his marginally less intelligent preschool-age son well enough, which frankly disappointed me, because I’m viewing this epic drama for the cost of a bowl of beef udon. In 3D no less.
To this day when I’m firing up the grill at home my husband will gleefully ask me to please grill his chicken, hotdog, or hamburger “without any of those pesky lines.”
(Editor’s Note: The very first place I worked, we had two regulars who would do this literally every time they came in. We had a “no grill lines” button for them and everything; I’m pretty sure the kitchen was pan-frying their chicken.
Never, ever fucking do this.)
Kinja user LeyanaLey:
My second job ever was at a McDonald’s. On one particular day, I’m doing the drive-through. It’s the middle of winter, and this is Michigan, so for all of y’all that have never seen a snowflake, just imagine Hoth from Star Wars and you’re pretty close. It’s cold enough that working in the drive through means you have to wear a coat, so I’ve got on this big white furry parka.
This woman drives up. She had ordered an enormous quantity of food, complete with a bunch of super sized drinks, and is talking on her cell phone. I start to hand the drinks out in a carrier, and then I pause with my arms out of the window. I have the feeling that with her inattention, this is going to go poorly.
“Ma’am,” I say, in my best meek 15 year old voice. “This is very heavy, so you’re going to want to be careful.”
She grabs the drinks out of my hand, but with her head tipped to the side to hold up her phone, her perception of what would constitute a level horizontal is off. The drinks immediately all tip over into her lap, and some of the lids pop off. She screams and drops her phone. I am horrified. Each of those drinks is the largest size we have, so there’s over a gallon of like fluid and ice just leaking all over the place.
Apparently, this entire ordeal is my fault, as the very next thing she does is pick up one of the drinks that is not empty and chuck it through the window at me. It hits me full in the face and explodes all over me, staining my white coat, soaking my hair, the whole nine yards. My mouth fills with orange pop.
I immediately back up from the window, peel off my my headset and throw it across the room, yell, “I quit,” and storm out the door.
In my older age, I wonder if I would have been calmer, but fifteen year old me had just been assaulted and was too busy crying and freezing my ass off to care.
From the time I was 16 until I graduated high school, I worked at a pizza restaurant in my hometown. We were a pretty popular place, and along with the dine in seating we also had a carry out counter. I liked working the carry out counter because people were pretty generous with the tip jar.
One busy evening I was working carry out, and I had a pretty steady stream of customers for most of the night. Towards the end of the night when things had slowed down, I was off in back filling portion cups with ranch or some such business. I go check the carry out counter and there’s a man standing there. I apologize for his wait and pull up his order and tell him the total. He looks in his wallet and tells me that he needs to run out to the car to get more money. I say okay, but his pizza has to stay with me. He agrees and comes back in a few minutes later, pays for his food, and leaves.
The next customer comes in a few minutes later. I take care of her, and then she goes, “I wanted to tip you a few dollars, but where is your tip jar?” I point to empty air. My tip jar was gone.
After reviewing the security tapes, we found out that the man had stolen my tip jar before I walked up to the counter THEN USED THE MONEY TO PAY FOR HIS GODDAMN PIZZA.
After that we super glued the tip jars to the counter.
Kinja user RO37:
One day, I was working the early morning shift. Generally people didn’t order a milkshake at 10AM sharp, so after having cleaned the shake-machine, we’d pour in the goopy milkshake mix into the machine, and it’d be ready by 10:30 or so. But it just so happened that day, pretty much right after we opened, this old lady rolls up to the drive-thru window and orders a shake.
I apologize and explain that the shake machine is still working, and we won’t be able to serve her a shake until the machine is done. I hear muffled yelling in my headset and I can’t understand, and I stammer I’m having trouble understanding her, but I’d be happy to take her order.
Lady guns her engine and pulls up to the window, and begins full on screaming at me, as I try to explain to her that the milkshake she wants is currently still being made, and I’d be happy to provide her with any other item on the menu, or to bring it to her in the parking lot after it finishes if she’d like to wait.
Meanwhile, multiple other cars are piling up behind her in the drive thru, and I can’t take their order until I can persuade crazy lady to pull into the parking lot to wait for her shake. After what felt like an eternity of her yelling at me borderline incoherently, she pulls her car into an empty spot next to the door to wait for her milkshake.
10 minutes or so later, the machine buzzes indicating the milkshake is done. There weren’t any customers waiting in the drive-thru line, so I grab a spoon, a napkin, and a straw and run out towards the car to give her the milk shake. Lady rolls down her window, so I apologize for her having to wait and I try to hand her the milkshake. The lady WILL NOT TAKE IT FROM MY HANDS. She just stares at me angrily and expectantly. I am literally at a loss for what to do, so I just stand there in the same position holding the milkshake out to her wondering what the hell she’s waiting for. After a full 10 second pause or so, she screams “PUT IT IN A BAG.” I resist the strong temptation to open the milk shake and toss it in her face, and I go back to grab a bag to put a cup filled with milkshake in it.
To this day, I have no clue why the hell someone would want their milkshake placed inside a bag, let alone why someone would think their desire to have it served in such a manner should be self-evident.
Do you have a crazy restaurant or other food-industry 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!
Note: I do not want poop/vomit stories. Please stop sending me poop/vomit stories. Also, if your stories are not food-related in some way, I am unable to do anything with them. Sorry.
Edit: As many people have noted, the Starbucks story has gone a bit viral and been picked up in numerous outlets. This isn’t unprecedented. What is, however, is the fact that Eater contacted Starbucks itself, which issued the following quote:
“We are aware of this customer’s misuse of the Starbucks Card program. We are investigating this matter as our card program terms prohibit such schemes.”
Karma is beautiful sometimes.
Image via tomertu/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.