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 stories of the best and most hilarious restaurant bosses—both chefs and managers—out there. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
I told you guys I’d give you a happy one after last week. Enjoy.
I worked at an Irish Bar/Restaurant in the Buffalo NY area. The owner grew this place from a small 20 seat dining room/bar into a large respectable place. He was amazingly fair with us as employees, a shrewd businessman, and great with the customers when it came to resolving problems. Whenever a customer had an issue, he would take care of the problem, never throw the staff under the bus in front of the customer, and carry on. This was great for his business, but one too many regulars who had things “fixed” over the years lead to some very entitled feelings.
One guy we had in particular would ALWAYS find something wrong with his food. He would order everything as take out, and then once he got the food home would call and complain that something wasn’t right or something was missing. Now there were times that things would go out missing something small (a pickle, chips, fries), but this guy would always order at the busiest dinner rush time. The owner made it a point after a while to personally check every container going out to this guy in front of him to make sure everything was perfect. This customer couldn’t call and complain then, so this of course made him get creative. He would call and ask for the owner, and if the owner wasn’t in, he’d say he wanted to place an order and low and behold call back after picking it up to complain about something being wrong so he could be comp’d next time.
Fast forward to St. Patrick’s Day. This is our absolute busiest time of the year. A week straight of Irish music, Guinness, rubens, and corned beef and cabbage dinners. We would have a line of people waiting for us to open at 1030am just about every day and continue until we closed at 11pm. The day of the big parade in the city was our busiest day of that week because of the busloads of people that would go to the parade, get shitfaced, then come back to the restaurant and want food. This is where the asshole on the phone thought he was going to make his biggest score.
The phone complainer called and asked if the owner was in, he wasn’t. He then proceeded to order several reubens and corned beef and cabbage dinners, all with special instructions that this shithead could complain about. Working behind the line several times when this guy called in I immediately recognised the name. I took the ticket and told the other cooks that I would handle this one personally. I made sure that this order was perfect, from the extra potatoes, extra chips, no pickle...I made sure this fucking order was spot on.
Order goes out to the guy, we carry on. Bus from the parade comes back. Everyone is drunk and happy in revelry. The owner is quite hammered and having a good time. He checks on us in the kitchen and heads up to his office to change and check up on a few things...thats when the phone call came in from the complainer, saying everything had been wrong. The owner comes down stairs and immediately starts asking questions about the order. I grab the ticket and show him what was order, and all the specialty stuff. The owner, being a bit drunk, started getting angry with us, because “we know this guy is picky and there is a lot of food on this order, and he’s saying there were a lot of things wrong with it.” I I immediately jump to the point that I personally made that entire order and verified it myself.
“You personally made this order?”
“Yes, because I know this guy is a fucking asshole.”
My boss grabs the nearest phone, takes the guy off hold and, in a joyfully drunk businessman voice, says, “My cook said he made sure that your order was 100% right, because he said you are a fucking asshole. I believe him and not you, fuck you, don’t ever order from my restaurant again you piece of shit.”
The owner hung up the phone and everyone of us was speechless. It was so unlike him to talk like that to a customer (to their face) that our jaws were on the floor. Someone started laughing and someone started cheering (a waitress or dish dog), and then we all started clapping. My boss started laughing a bit, then snapped back a bit and said, “I trust you guys, otherwise I wouldn’t have done that.”
I have some stories to tell about a famous chef who has since left us for the Great Break Room In The Sky. Let’s call him Chef Mac.
I began working for him a bit tangentially, as sous chef at something of a high-end deli which he owned and frequented for his nightly dinners. One of my first introductions to him was as he got out of his Jaguar with a homeless man, held the front door open for him, handed him a basket, and told him to fill it up, on the house.
Pretty awesome of him, right? When they left, one of my managers came by and I mentioned that I’d always heard he was a hardass. He laughed and told me the following story: on his first night working at Chef Mac’s restaurant, he was in a kitchen working on setting up for service with a number of other employees. Eventually the others left, leaving him alone in a room with a roll of plastic wrap on the counter. Chef Mac walked in, said, “Oh, we just leave plastic wrap laying anywhere now, huh?” My manager stammered a response, which was unsatisfactory. Chef then said, “follow me.” He took the roll of plastic wrap, they walked to the back alley, and my manager watched as Chef proceeded to hurl the roll of plastic wrap somewhere into a fenced-in backyard nearby. “Now we’re leaving the plastic wrap there. Make sure you tell your co-workers where it is when they go looking for it later.”
It wasn’t long before I was working in the restaurant myself, serving tables and helping prep before service. The kitchen was beautiful, had a Chef’s table about ten feet from expo, and Chef took great pleasure in leading tours through the room, meaning there were always about a dozen customers in the kitchen at any given time. I distinctly remember marveling at how quietly everyone worked one night as I walked a stack of plates to the dishwasher station, right next to the Chef’s table. As I went to walk back through to wait for the next course to go out, I found Chef blocking my path, holding two plates. I reached out for them, thinking to put them with the stack I’d just set down, but he looked me in the eye and silently shook his head. I grinned and shrugged slightly, then stepped back and out of the way so he could pass.
SMASH. SMASH. I look back to see him throwing the plates he was holding on the ground. The kitchen went silent. He looked down, picked up the biggest remaining piece, and threw that one too. SMASH. “You wanna make some fuckin’ noise,” he yelled, “now we’re making some fuckin’ noise!” He glared at the two dishwashers as he said it, then looked back at me...with a barely hidden smile and a wicked gleam in his eye, at which point I realized he was mostly just playing the part of the crazy chef for the customers in the room.
That night after closing, the staff made their way around the corner to their usual bar, and I found myself chatting with our pastry chef about our boss. He asked what the deal with the plates was, I told him, and he laughed. “That’s nothing,” he said, then told me that one night Chef had spent ten minutes “angrily” throwing his bread at him from across the kitchen as he ducked and dodged the bite-sized pieces. Chef screamed bloody murder at him—they were about two minutes overcooked, apparently—but both admitted to each other afterwards that they’d had a hell of a time to keep from laughing.
Kinja user kat:
I work at an ________________ (Editor’s Note: I redacted this one, because kat still works there, and even though she gave me the name of the place, I’m not going to chance it). Fast casual chain, so much like Panera that there are multiple people every week who literally think they’re in Panera until I tell them I can’t take their Panera card. Actually a pretty decent place to work. Money isn’t great and there are no benefits, but I’ve never had trouble getting time off when I need it, I’ve never gotten in trouble for calling out sick, and the bosses are pretty darn nice, if a little micromanage-y.
One time, I was training on prep work with my manager. We were singing and bopping along to Celine Dion because my manager is the kind of man who unabashedly loves 80s and 90s pop (I once came in to open the bakery and he was BLASTING Girls Just Wanna Have fun as loud as the speakers would go at 5:30 in the morning). He had to close the door a few times to block out the music so he could work, but we were having a good time. All of the sudden, all three of our front of house coworkers round the corner, laughing their asses off (we’re slow as balls this time of late afternoon so it wasn’t a huge deal for them to abandon the front for a minute).
One of my coworkers, we’ll call him Mark, had just received a phone call. This customer had wanted to know how late we were open. Pretty standard. It got un-standard quickly. He launched into an EIGHT MINUTE monologue about how lonely he was and how he didn’t know if he would be able to make it to the restaurant before we closed (which was in about 5 hours) and if he did come in would Mark give him a hug? It was kind of sad, but also funny for sheer amount of time it took. Again, we’re slow this time of day. We can afford to laugh at an 8 minute phone call.
So we laughed and then went back to work. And then he called back. Again, he talked for a long time. Unfortunately I don’t have all the details, since I didn’t take the call, but he only wanted to talk to Mark and there was something about wanting to meet Mark in the bathroom for more hugging. Obviously customer calls like this can be really creepy, but Mark is the kind of guy who doesn’t get creeped out easily, so we were all still laughing. The 3rd time this guy called back, they started debating which of Mark’s friends was screwing with him.
We finally started prep training and were up to elbows in deli turkey (metaphorically, it would be really unsanitary to literally have turkey up to our elbows) when Mark came back again. He had received another call a few minutes prior. The man hadn’t said anything that time. He just breathed. Heavily. Mark and our other coworkers were literally in tears they were laughing so hard at this point. After a few minutes of debating some more which of Mark’s friends must be messing with him, our manager shooed them back up front.
Then he turned, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “You know, the really funny part is, I’m the one fucking with him.” Every time he closed the office door so he “wouldn’t get distracted by the music” while doing “office work,” it was so they wouldn’t hear when he prank called them.
They never figured it out. One of our coworkers walked in on him making another prank call later and they still didn’t figure it out. The effort it took to keep a straight face...I almost didn’t make it.
A friend of mine worked for years as a manager at McDonald’s. One night, while he’s managing away in the tiny office out back, these dudes come by the drive-thru, absolutely stoned out of their minds. They’ve obviously been hotboxing the car and smoke is billowing out the open window. The car had a pink sticker on it, showing that it had failed a vehicle safety test and it should not be on the road under any circumstances.
The dudes order about $100 worth of McDonald’s, as stoners are wont to do. All this would’ve been one of those “yeah, well, it’s McDonald’s in the middle of the night, what do you expect,” situations, but the stoners go ahead and start insulting the staff, throwing racist slurs out for good measure. As you can imagine, the atmosphere went from vaguely amusing to deeply unpleasant.
The staff were worried about the douchebags turning violent (Editor’s Note: Are we sure this was weed? Because that really does not sound like weed. “Violent stoner” is not really a thing) so they get my friend, Mr. Manager, out to handle the situation. He’s been informed about what’s been happening and what the asswipes had been saying. He walks up to them and tells them that since they ordered so much food, it’s going to take a while, so why don’t they park out in the parking lot and he’ll bring it out when it’s all ready?
The stoners happily comply. As soon as they’ve parked up in the lot, my friend calls the police and tells them that he has a bunch of dudes high on drugs who are not only driving, but driving an unsafe vehicle, in his parking lot. The police responds that they’ll send the nearest squad car over. My friend hangs up the phone and says, “Nobody says racist shit to my staff.”
The stoned dildochuggers never got their meal, of course.
I worked at a regional chain of ice cream stores in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m scheduled to work 8am-2pm. It’s now 4:00 PM and my replacement hasn’t arrived, and we’re slammed. Because I like my manager, I’m still there, dipping ice cream for the people. Mom, Dad, and one approximately 8 year old boy enter the line. The boy orders a German Chocolate Shake, which is every soda jerk’s nightmare because German Chocolate ice cream is full of nut chunks, which the blender will catch and use as an excuse to split the paper cup. But the customer gets what the customer wants, and I have the backup cup at the ready for when the inevitable happens. Which it does. I slap the 2nd cup home over the split one in a hurry, but not before the 8-year-old precious angel sees a little dribble of German Chocolate goodness seep out the split. Which prompts him to loudly exclaim to everyone in the store, “THAT ASSHOLE SPILLED MY SHAKE! IT’S RUINED!” The parents think there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with their child’s method of expression. I stop mixing that shake and set it aside, turn, and say through clenched teeth, “I’ll make you another one.”
I took a lot of pride in making very thick shakes—shakes you knew were a shake, dammit. If a customer asked for one “extra thick”, I’d take it off the blender spindle and turn the cup upside-down to show them it was as not a drop would spill from it.
But not this kid. This kid got the runniest, barely-enough-ice-cream-in-it-to-call-it-a-shake German Chocolate shake I’ve ever made. So little ice cream I snuck a shot of chocolate syrup into it to make sure it was sufficiently brown. (Editor’s Note: This is actually how my mother orders shakes) Slapped a lid on it, set it down in front of him, and cheerfully said “Here’s your shake. I hope Santa brings you some manners and some parental discipline for Christmas” then went in the back and stood in the walk-in cooler for 15 minutes to cool off. The manager, who had been summoned by another employee after the kid’s outburst, took in the scene of the kid sucking away at the shittiest shake I’d ever inflicted on a customer, the blinking parents wondering what the hell had just happened, and me dashing to the walk-in, and came and joined me in the walk-in with the split-cup original shake and a straw.
Mgr: “You’ll need this.”
Me: “Thanks. Sorry, had to cool off.”
Mgr: “Oh, no, [other employee] told me what happened. You showed remarkable restraint.”
Me: “So I’m not fired?”
Mgr: “Not even remotely.”
Me: “That kid got the worst shake I’ve ever made. It’s an abomination. It’s barely a shake. But he earned it. I’m still sorry.”
Mgr: “Don’t be.”
This isn’t a story that involves me, as I’ve never worked in the restaurant business, but my boyfriend makes his daily bread flippin’ burgers at a pretty-fancy-looking-but-still-kind-of-touristy bar close to the beach. They have sort of a mixed menu ranging from tapas to nachos, but still the burgers are of the gourmet variety and actually some of the best burgers I’ve ever had.
One night only my boyfriend and one of his bosses are working. It’s a slow night, basically empty, and they have just closed up the kitchen when two guys come in and demand to eat burgers. My boyfriend decides to be a good guy and cook for them, even though he will be forced to re-clean the grill afterwards.
Now, I’m not exaggerating when I say he cooks burgers to absolute perfection, juicy and never overcooked. So naturally, one of the guys takes one bite, throws his plate up on the bar and says in the rudest way possible that he wants it more well-done and the bread more toasted. Let me remind you that my boyfriend was already getting ready to leave when he decided to re-open the kitchen for this guy, after a double shift (13 hours without a break). He takes the burger, with his hand, and throws the same patty, that the guy already took a bite of, down on the grill, then he closes the grill hard to make the patty bone-dry, leaves the bread to toast in the oven until it’s rock-hard and black. This whole time, his boss is just silently watching him, shaking his head and smiling.
The guy devoured his burger without complaint and left a huge tip.
My best friend and I were troubled teens working at a weirdly upscale pizza delivery joint. Our manager was a “polo tucked into his khakis” type in his early thirties who seemed uptight but was actually pretty chill.
On day he and I are working alone when my best friend straight up bursts through the back door screaming, “THEY’RE AFTER ME!” and some less coherent things about being in a car chase with the cops. She is obviously high. Without missing a beat, our manager sternly demands, “Give me your keys!” She does, he disappears through the back door while yelling, “Call 911 and report the car stolen right now!”
She does. She’s already hysterical, so that helped. She gets of the phone and while we wait for him to get back/the police to arrive, she tells me that she was smoking a joint in the car and a cop saw her and tried to pull her over, and she decided to make a run for it. After losing them through the back roads, she realized that he obviously had her plate number and she didn’t know what to do, so she came to the pizza joint.
Manager returns after parking car on the side of a nearby embankment. Police came, took a report, car was found, no repercussions for anyone. I know not everyone will find this story heartwarming, and some might think my friend deserved jail time for her reckless shitshow. But a drug conviction in Texas (where this story took place) will straight up ruin your life, and we are eternally grateful that our manager went to great personal risk to give us a totally unwarranted get out of jail free card. She’s now a responsible adult and manager of a weirdly upscale grocery store.
(Editor’s Note: If you think she deserved to have her life ruined on account of some weed, do us all a favor and go fuck yourself)
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!
Note: I do not want poop/vomit stories. Please stop sending me poop/vomit stories.
Image via Linda Parton/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.