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 customers who defy all logic and reason. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
Kinja user Shop-Teacher:
I delivered for a chain sandwich place during college. It was actually at the “corporate flagship” location. The store itself was tiny and nothing special, but the owner’s personal office was next door. At the time, at least, it was the busiest location of them all.
I usually delivered from 10pm-3am, and I got a delivery to the non-campus part of town on a relatively slow night. The order was for a sandwich and a fountain drink. Before I go any further, you should know that the owner was a notorious cheapskate. We weren’t allowed to have a take-a-penny-leave-a-penny tray, for example. If somebody left a penny, it went in the cash drawer. We also were not allowed to bring straws for the fountain drinks unless a customer specifically asked for a straw when they placed their order.
So I make my delivery, and the customer is a very attractive woman about my age who tipped me quite well. She was about to go inside, when she asked me if the straw was in the bag. I sheepishly explained the asinine straw policy. She shrugged and said, “Well, that’s bullshit.” I agreed with her that it was, and apologized. I went and made another delivery, and returned to the shop.
When I returned, my manager asked me if I had made a delivery to *insert normal forgotten name here.*
I told him, “I don’t know, I never remember their names.”
“Something about a straw?”
“Oh yeah she called. She screamed my ear off for three or four minutes about it.” I was really surprised, because she did not seem upset when I delivered the food, but we all went back to work.
A couple minutes later, she showed up at the store. She marched up to the counter with her drink. One of the girls behind the counter ducked down, because she thought the drink was about to get tossed on her. The other guy at the counter managed to squeak out, “Can I help you?” Myself and the manager were simply frozen in place, mouth agape.
She screamed, “I WANTED A FUCKING STRAWWWW!!!!!!!!!” Then she grabbed a huge handful of straws, marched back out of the store, and sat in the car staring us down as she drank her drink, one huge gulp-full after the next. I can still vividly see her cheeks pulsating as she sucked that thing dry.
We all just stood there in stunned silence, which my manager broke by saying, “Oh god, I just hope she doesn’t have a gun.” Fortunately, she left after she finished her drink.
I began ignoring the straw policy after that, and the manager dutifully ignored my ignoring of said policy.
It was later in the evening and I had only one table in my section. The man looked about 35 and the woman looked about 25; he was a bit socially awkward and she spoke limited English. I think they were married based on their wedding rings, but who knows. Everything was pretty normal, including the husband’s lame jokes <insert fake laugh>, until I dropped off their starter—honey-garlic chicken wings. When I went to go make sure they were enjoying their wings, I was half way through “how are the....” when I stopped. I stood there gawking. I literally had no idea how to respond.
The chicken wings were EVERYWHERE. I mean everywhere—there was chicken wing sauce on the table, the table next to theirs, the seats, all over the booth, and covering the woman. It looked like the wings had exploded. I later found some on one of the light fixtures over the table.
The woman proceeded to grab the chicken wings closest to her (on her lap I think) and hurl them at the man’s face. She then stood up and stormed off to the bathroom. I continued to stand there with my mouth gaping. The man, acting as if nothing odd had happened, politely asked for their food to be boxed up and for the bill. I boxed up the food and he paid the bill. When the woman left the restroom, they walked out as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
Throughout this whole ordeal, the guy never thought to wipe his face. While he was paying I offered him a napkin or a wet-nap and he declined. He was still covered in honey-garlic sauce when they left.
I’m passing the story along from my wife, who owns and manages a small family restaurant in a strip mall that serves breakfast and lunch. One of her regular customers is the type of person who blindly follows any healthy eating advice that the internet provides. Lately, her big thing has been eating gluten-free and she is convinced that she has undiagnosed severe celiac syndrome. This is despite the fact that she has freely consumed toast and other gluten-filled foods in the past with no known side effects.
So she starts ordering gluten-free bread as toast with breakfast—which is fine, that’s something the restaurant offers. After a couple months of this, one time she tells the waitstaff that there is an issue and to get the manager. My wife comes over and proceeds to ask her what is wrong. She asks my wife if they have a special toaster for only gluten-free bread. My wife informs her that there is only one toaster, and that it is used for both kinds of bread. The lady asks if the restaurant could get a toaster in the kitchen solely for the purpose of toasting gluten-free bread. My wife tells her that unfortunately, due to the small space, that there is no place to put one (not to mention a complete other kitchen if you want to prevent cross-contamination anyway). The customer complains some more, but eats her toast anyway and leaves.
The next time the customer comes in, she is seated and then asks for my wife again. She asks my wife if she was able to get a toaster. My wife proceeds to tell her no, for the same reasons she stated before. The customer says “OK,” then orders breakfast with gluten-free bread “not toasted.” As the normal server is busy with another table, my wife puts in her order and gets her drink. While she is dropping off the drink, she notices the customer under the table looking for something. She asks if she can help her find whatever she had dropped. The customer proceeds to tell her that she is looking for an outlet to plug in her toaster that she had brought from home!
My shocked wife informs her that she could not do that due to fire regulations. The customer objects, but grudgingly puts away her toaster and eats her breakfast.
I was a server in college at a very busy restaurant in Arizona.
One woman asked what type of plating we did for our vegetable soup. I sort of stared at her because usually soup comes in a bowl or something bowl-like. She said she really wanted vegetable soup but we needed to serve it in a “French platter,” which I had never heard of. I had a manager go over and we figured out that a “French platter” is just a plate that sort of has a rim around it to hold liquids or sauces. Basically, it is a plate, but a little deeper than a flat plate. After she got her vegetable soup on a plate (and a much smaller serving size, because it wasn’t not a bowl) she ate her five spoonfuls of veggies in broth and explained to me that she was “afraid of deep things,” so she couldn’t partake in bowls.
I work with a guy in his 50’s, who is a nice enough guy, but he has issues with social and communication skills, and the ability to pronounce common words.
Some days, we go out for lunch as an office. Today was one of those days. He said wanted to go to Chippewa to get a burrito on a tor-tilla with Guatemala. Having worked with him long enough, I know he means he wants to go to Chipotle to get a burrito with guacamole on it.
So, we are in line at Chipotle, the employees asking what type of rice, etc he wants. When it comes to meat, he literally reaches over the counter, over the sneeze guard and puts his finger on the chicken saying that he wants that. The employee behind the counter tells him that by doing that, he is violating the county food code, and please do not reach behind the counter again. He quietly mutters an apology.
So when it gets to salsa, boom, finger in the fresh tomato. The employee again chastises him, “Sir, please do not place your finger beyond the sneeze guard, it is violation of the health code.” He responds with a sheepish, “Oh, okay.”
When it’s time for the Guatemala, I mean guacamole, BOOM, finger in the guac. The guy, really miffed by this point, says, “Sir, if you reach beyond this again, I will have to ask you to leave.” Another sheepish apology, and then a NON-touching point at the lettuce, still over the guard. The guy just sighs while the rest of us from the office who were behind him act like we don’t know him.
He wasn’t doing this for a rise, he just couldn’t communicate outside of pointing at what he wants. For what it is worth, this guy is a lawyer.
My friend worked at a local pizza place/sports bar in Florida (because of course this happened in Florida—why do you do this to me home state?). I was sitting at her bar one night, and there is a guy sitting across from me, directly in front of her serving well/ bar fruit tray. I notice the guy eating the cherries out of the container. My friend behind the bar politely asks him to not do that, because they were needed to make drinks and also...gross.
Well, Cherry Guy continues to pick cherries out of the container and eat them. Barehanded, so he is slopping thick cherry juice over everything he touches. It’s running down his face, shirt, etc. At this point, he runs out of cherries and is visibly annoyed. He asks my friend to refill the cherries, which she declines, citing various reasons, several of which had to do with health codes. At this point everyone is watching...and after we think the fun has ended, Cherry Guy steps his game up. He offers her $20 for cherries, holding out a $20 bill as proof of his resolve. My friend is so annoyed that even handing over cherries for money isn’t worth it, so she declines.
Cherry Guy proceeds to take the $20 bill, fold it up into a kind of “scoop” and begins SCOOPING CHERRY JUICE ONTO HIS $20 BILL AND SUCKING IT OFF. He proceeds to clean out the entire tray of juice, using his $20 bill to sop up the juice. Once he sees that there is nothing left to scoop, he does what any normal person would and eats it. As in, he puts the cherry juice/drunk spit covered money in his mouth, chews it, and swallows it. He then pays and leaves like it was a completely normal dining experience.
We still talk about him to this day.
About a decade ago, my parents were running a fledgling small-town pizza delivery place in Northwest Montana, with an ‘Old West Stagecoach’ theme. The town had only one thousand people and about a dozen places to eat, but we were the first delivery place that the town had ever seen, so we stayed modestly busy in that regard.
My parents made me work there from when I was 15 because a) responsibility and b) 99.9% of the high schoolers in our town who were old enough to work had at least one or two DUIs to their name. Montana needs to work on that. So I started delivering pies as soon as I could drive since, at the time, we didn’t know the rule that drivers needed to be 18. Like I said, delivery was new in our town.
Pizza delivery in general is like Russian roulette, but it takes on a special flavor in backwood small towns, or just outside of them. While ‘redneck’ isn’t a fair description of many inhabitants in our own piece of Nowhere, there were enough to make Jeff Foxworthy proud, and maybe some that even he would disown. Our delivery range extended out into forested, anti-government strongholds that believed they had firepower enough to challenge ‘the Feds.’ It was a delivery to one such area in the late fall that made me realize, in retrospect, the youthfulness of our drivers was a bad idea.
Around the time I turned 17, I was driving my parents’ poop-colored Volvo down a bumpy dirt road I hadn’t been on before. It wasn’t very late, but it was already ridiculously dark because Montana is located near the North Pole in the winter months and on the Equator during the summer. GPS wasn’t prevalent/reliable back then, and about halfway there my cell service was mythical - like Bigfoot or payphones. So I was at the mercy of the handwritten directions I’d been given. I followed them until the road turned off near a campground and headed deep into the woods where, according to said directions, I would be turning “left at the big boulder.” Since addresses might give away their location to the government, some folks liked to think they didn’t have one. So we got directions like “turn left after the cemetery, right at the old barn, and then it’s the house with the brown dog that’s usually outside.” I wish I was exaggerating.
I began to get a bad feeling about the whole situation when I found the boulder and turned onto a darker, bumpier yet driveway. When I saw a small trailer, I figured this was it and pulled up a little ways off. I got out and headed towards the trailer when I heard something rustling in the in woods to my right. I looked over just as I heard a voice saying, “Hey kid, not there. Over here! That there’s my brother’s place.”
Squinting into the dark, I could just barely make out an even smaller camper trailer hidden in the woods. From it had emerged the orange light of a lit cigarette, and that cigarette moved up and down as the man smoking it avoided tree branches to get to me. I waited for him to come to me because HAVE YOU READ THE STORY SO FAR?
Eventually he got close enough that my headlights gave me a good look at him. He was a tall, sinewy old man—late fifties or early sixties—wearing a wifebeater shirt and greasy jeans. It was a fairly standard interaction, until the end. He had paid, gotten his pizza, and had just turned away from me while I headed back towards my car...when he suddenly said, “Hey kid, wait a second...”
I turned back. “Yes, sir?”
He gave me an odd look, eyed me up and down
my lithe, youthful bodyand then intensely at my acne-encrusted face. Then, like he was only slightly curious, he asked, “Say, how old are you?”
My pedo-senses had been tingling before, but now they were blaring. “Uh...17?”
“Damnit!” He said it quite loudly, and I jumped a bit. I was already uncomfortable. But it wasn’t over: “When will you be 18?”
“Damnit!” He said again, like a growl, before looking off into the darkness as if deep in thought.
I was confused and a little worried as to why my age was so disappointing, and I felt a fight-or-flight reflex building up inside. Mostly flight. Yet I tried to look like I was NOT panicking, and I decided his answer to my coming question was very important.
He looked back at me, with a smolder in his eye, and took a deep drag on that cigarette. Then, as he blew the smoke out slowly—I kid you not—he said with a deep voice, dramatic pauses, and his best attempt at Clint Eastwoodesque gravitas:
“Tell me, son. Have you ever considered becoming...a bounty hunter?”
That’s the punchline, but if you want, here’s the epilogue. I said, “No...not really.” And he went on to explain he was looking for someone to “mentor” and “train up”...to help with with some bounties, of course. And they needed to be 18 to
not press statutory rape chargescarry a gun.
My aversion to the idea was fairly clear, though, and he eventually changed subjects and asked me some random personal questions before letting me escape.
I work at a local surf and turf place in a small corner of a big city. We have a big sailing clientele and get a lot of older couples or salty single guys. This is why is was particularly odd that I had a single female customer in my section one Saturday night.
It was a busy night and I walked up to her and gave her my usual friendly waitress greeting and asked her if she wanted something to drink. This is when I realized there was something not right about this woman. She just stared at me blankly and then slightly shook her head no. I asked if she wanted water. Another blank stare, but a slight nod yes. I brought her the water and asked what she would like to have for dinner. She vaguely gestures at several items on the menu. I apologize and ask her again what she would like to eat. Again, she just gestures at the menu. Finally after some more specific gestures I deduce that she wants our hamburger. All I can think is “oh god, I have to ask her questions, how long is that going to take?” Surprisingly, she tells me how she wants it cooked and what she wants for her sides fairly easily.
It’s all downhill from here. While waiting for her burger she starts doing some kind of weird spiritual arm dance at the table as though she is trying to cleanse the table of past dining demons. Everyone is looking. My coworkers are dying laughing. When I went to set her plate down, she now loudly calls me by name: “Katie, I’m going to need a whole new plate!” Of course I asked if everything was okay and she starts telling me how some French fries “fell down” and she needs new ones. I offered to get her fresh fries and she could keep her burger if she wanted. Her response: “No, this is a very special meal for me and I need a whole new everything.” I couldn’t even argue, I just picked up her burger plate and asked the kitchen for a new one. While waiting for her new burger she walks up to the line (we have an exposed kitchen) and calls me over. “Katie, come here. Come here Katie. Do you see this? Do you see this?” She is pointing to the place where the cooks put plates for us to pick up. Apparently, a few French fries fell off a plate and onto the line, and she saw the cook put them back on the plate, which is why she made such a fuss. Whatever lady, I already ordered your new burger, just sit down.
It keeps going downhill. After she sits down she calls me over again. “Katie! I need a new basket of bread. A. Hot. One.” I reach for her current bread basket and she picks it up, moving it to the other side of the table and declares that she is keeping this one as well. Fine. Whatever. I bring her a ~hot~ bread basket and her burger. Then she requests a spoon (what for, I’m not sure). I bring her a spoon. Then she requests a steak knife. I bring her the knife and try to walk away without having to get a third thing. “Katie! I also need ranch.” I get the ranch and leave her be. She proceeds to do another karmic cleansing over her cheeseburger and fries for several minutes before eating it.
At this point another customer from a neighboring table gets up and asks this woman if she is okay. The woman gestures for her to go away without a word.
Finally, she finishes her burger and asks for three to go boxes. One for her burger, another for her fries and the third for her cold bread. I bring her the boxes and the check. She wraps up her food and then closes the check presenter and places it on the edge of the table. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows this is a clear signal. I go over to pick it up, but she isn’t ready. I have to go back two more times before she is. After I close her out, it’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
The next day, my co-worker sees her outside a nearby grocery store doing what could only be described as a sort of yogic rain dance. I can only hope she hated me or the food enough to never come back. Fingers crossed.
I work the graveyard shift at a 24 hour diner. I get my share of drunks and tweakers, because we are one of the only places open all night, but mostly my customers are people who work graveyard like me and are on their lunch break, or people who have just left the local hospital ER after a long night of waiting. I also serve a lot of bartenders, servers and strippers who get off work after 2:00 am. Because of this and my regulars, I earn great money but have to deal with strange night crawlers as well.
Last night, a woman came in at 3:00 am and ordered a chocolate cream pie to go. I rang her up and gave her the total. She paused and asked, “That’s for a whole chocolate cream pie, right?” I assured her that was the price and began boxing up her pie. As I am putting it in the box, she yells, “Is THAT a chocolate cream pie!?” I assure her this is our famous chocolate cream pie, show her the pie, and hand her the box. She asks for a plastic fork and then sits down at the counter, opens her pie box and begins shoveling huge bites of the pie into her mouth. After the third bite she screams at me, “Are you SURE this is the chocolate cream pie?” and I assure her again that she has the pie she asked for. She tries to yell something again, but her mouth is so full that bits of cream and chocolate pudding are flying out of her mouth. Finally she swallows and yells again, “I don’t think this is chocolate cream! You gave me the wrong pie!” Another huge forkful goes into her mouth. I am in no mood for this shit, so I walked around to her and said, “Ma’am, is there someone I can call for you? You seem to be having a difficult time with reality right now.”
She stops mid bite, leans over her pie and spits a glop of brown saliva and pie crust in the middle of her pie and starts laughing. Then she tells me that she is on a thyroid medication that makes her act crazy sometimes. She closes the lid of her box, tucked the pie sideways to her chest like I was going to rip it from her arms and runs out the door.
I didn’t know they were treating thyroid issues with meth now.
As a barista, I had my fair share of encounters with “interesting” customers. But no one compared to Tess.
Tess would come around every few weeks—she was often dressed rather shabbily and her hair resembled a bird’s nest that had been put in a wind tunnel. I’m pretty sure her shoes didn’t always match. She was usually quite docile, would order a cup of water, and then would go sit quietly in a corner for a few minutes before she left. She always came during our slower hours, so we let her be even though she never bought anything.
One time, I was working the register and bent down to grab another roll of receipt paper. When I looked up, Tess was standing at the register with this bizarre look on her face. I asked if she’d like anything, her usual water perhaps, and she just stared at me with a bemused expression. I tried a few more times to make contact, but there were more customers behind her so I told her I’d have to help them while she decided what she wanted. I turned away to grab a drip coffee for someone behind her, and right as I turned back I heard her scream something that sounded like “oooooooooooooooppppp!” and I immediately dodged a heavy-looking projectile coming straight for my thighs. To this day, I have no idea how I kept from spilling hot coffee all over my hands. I took a moment to process what just happened, handed the customer his drink, and then bent down to inspect whatever the hell she’d thrown at me.
It was a can of soup. A can of Campbell’s Chunky soup, to be exact—and that shit is DENSE. Not your garden variety baby-can of condensed chicken noodle, oh no, it was the football-offensive-lineman sized can. I realized she must have yelled “SOUUUUPPPP!” before chucking the can at me and then booking it out of the store.
She never came in again for the remaining months I worked there.
I worked at a hippie vegetarian place in the ‘90s. We had a regular who selected every single item of every meal she ordered, including salad dressings and drinks, by dangling a crystal pendulum over every single item on the entire menu and waiting for it to swing in a way that indicated a “yes” response (it’s been many years, but I believe up and down was “yes” and left to right was “no”).
Then, when her food came, she would dangle the pendulum over her plate and glass (if it was a raw juice) or cup (if it was kukicha tea) to double-check. The crystal never changed its mind, but our famously tolerant host-manager would probably have let her send her whole order back if it had.
The worst was when she would go through the whole menu and then hand off her pendulum to her friends to get the Universe to tell them what to order, too. We would just walk away and tell them to flag us down when they were ready.
Kinja user srirachachips:
I used to work in a supermarket. One afternoon, I was stocking a shelf near the prepared food area and I witnessed the following encounter. A man walked up to the pizza counter and requested one small slice of plain pizza, “with kale on it.” My colleague behind the counter apologized and said that we didn’t have any kale pizza, and explained his other options. But no, he didn’t want kale pizza, he wanted kale ON his pizza. Extra kale. My coworker apologized again, and explained that she didn’t have any kale to use as a topping at her pizza station. Then he leaned over the counter and asked if she could go steal some from the produce section and put it on his pizza to “get one past whitey.” She said no, and he became increasingly irate. Finally, amid the ruckus, someone else in the prepared food section came over with some kale to put on his pizza. This seemed to pacify him. A few minutes later, she gave him the cooked slice in a to-go box. He started to walk towards the registers, then turned around to ask, “Is the kale organic?” My coworker hesitated, then said, “Let me check.”
The man then threw the pizza box onto the ground and stomped on it, shouting “FUCK YOU! I DON’T WANT NONE OF YOUR ILLUMINATI KALE!” before running out of the store.
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.
Image via shutterdandan/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.