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 bring you the best BCO submissions of 2015. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
This will be the last Behind Closed Ovens to appear on Kitchenette. It will not, however, be the last Behind Closed Ovens. Starting next Monday, November 30, the series will continue on Wonkette. If you’d like to read more crazy restaurant stories in the future, feel free to tune in over there at your regularly-scheduled BCO day and time.
30. Liza Cartwright:
One morning my partner and I went out for an early lunch (okay, maybe it was brunch) at a local diner franchise.
The restaurant’s menu had always been standard diner food: lots of grease and eggs and french fries. However, they were in the midst of phasing in a new menu with “local fare” and “healthy options”, things like bison burgers made from grass fed bison and whole grain buns. We had mostly picked the restaurant because we could hear ourselves think, but it was nice to have a food option other than “grease and carbs with a side of extra grease.”
We had just been seated when a trio of older people were seated at the table next to us. Immediately, one of the men started complaining about the new menu. Apparently, when he goes out to eat he always orders one thing, which is a shrimp cocktail. The new menu did not have a shrimp cocktail.
That meal, all we heard about was fucking shrimp cocktails, and also cocktail sauce.
First, he complained to his fellow diners about the lack of shrimp cocktails and the new menu. Then, he complained to the wait staff and the manager. Apparently not enough people ordered the shrimp cocktail to keep it on the menu (why did the manager tell him this as a reason, why?), which was inconceivable to the dude who apparently lives for shrimp cocktails.
Finally, when they told him that they did not have the ingredients to make a shrimp cocktail (even if they had the time), he decided to order fish and chips because at least it was still fish. However, he still wanted cocktail sauce.
Both the server and the manager explained to him that since the restaurant no longer served shrimp cocktails, they did not have cocktail sauce. I think it took about ten minutes of them repeating this for him to believe that they did not have a hidden bottle of cocktail sauce in their kitchen, hoarded for the end of days.
Then, he wanted the kitchen to make cocktail sauce especially for his meal. He even offered to teach them how to make cocktail sauce, which he said was quite easy. He kept repeating the recipe and they kept interrupting him to tell him that is not how restaurants work. Apparently, cocktail sauce is really his thing, since he has taught chefs in other restaurants how to make cocktail sauce and they were very grateful! At a restaurant in Chicago, and maybe some other places too. I was trying to tune him out. Honestly, I felt like an angry Bubba from Forrest Gump was sitting at the next table, and every other phrase from his mouth was “cocktail sauce” instead of “shrimp.”
When his fish and chips came, I think he ate about two bites and pushed it away because it would have been better with cocktail sauce, and also shrimp cocktail is apparently the best damn meal on the planet. He told the staff they should change the menu back, because no one was going to want to order bison burgers when they could have had shrimp cocktail or at least cocktail sauce (which is very easy to make, did you know that? Now everyone knows that!). I wanted to stab my eardrums with a fork to make it stop.
My partner and I left a really nice tip, and also filled out the comment card on the table saying we really liked the new menu and would be coming more often because of it. We also complimented the server and the rest of the staff, in case he wrote something nasty about them that left some kind of black mark on their record with corporate.
Being half-British myself, I think if pushed I could probably be equally annoying about tea if presented with a bag of Lipton’s and lukewarm water in a styrofoam cup during a tea emergency.* Fortunately, I know that US tea is not up to my expectations, so I try not to put myself in a situation where I will go on a tea rant to someone just trying to get through their shift.
* Tea emergencies can include but are not limited to: something bad happened; something good happened; something might happen soon but I’m waiting to see; it is the afternoon; it is the morning; something reminded me of tea; there is a social gathering that requires tea.
This is a good story, but if we’re being honest, it snuck in here based on the strength of that footnote, which is one of the better paragraphs anyone has sent me in my time curating BCO.
29. Kinja user applejuice:
As a student, I occasionally helped out as server at a small, family-owned restaurant (it wasn’t my regular job).
On one occasion I was beckoned over by an elderly lady (imagine Driving Miss Daisy) who said there was a mess under her table I needed to ‘see to’. I knew it was clean before she sat down, but I smiled and looked underneath and saw about 15 perfect yellow rose petals underneath. I smiled, probably made small talk, cleaned it up and then buzzed off to refill drinks.
Two minutes later she called me over again and said I had missed some of the mess, this time there were several pink rose petals carefully spread equidistant under the table. The first time I thought maybe someone had a bouquet that had fallen or something but this time it was clear this lady was spreading flower petals on the ground JUST FOR ME TO CLEAN UP! The third time the petals were red and the fourth white. I never accused her or anything (I was just there helping a friend and didn’t want to make to trouble) but just smiled and cleaned them up. At the end of her meal she gave me a very condescending “good job dear” and a lousy 50 cent tip.
After that, the owner kept calling me and saying an elderly lady was requesting me, saying I was clearly smarter than the ‘normal sort’ he had (because I could clean up rose petals?) and could I work regularly? I declined the kind offer and kept my office job. I could smile through that as a one-off, but no way could I deal with stuff like that all the time.
Man, you guys loved this story way more than I expected. To be fair, it does win points for being some of the strangest customer behavior of which I’ve ever heard.
28. Norman Minear:
I work in a diner-style restaurant very similar to Denny’s or IHOP. I’ve dealt with my share of idiotic, unnecessarily needy, and downright annoying tables that will complain about anything and everything possible, and plenty of tables that—despite being in a diner-style restaurant—have absolutely no understanding of even the most basic of foods.
One night, near the end of a double shift, my final table of the night consisted of two ladies. Without trying to sound like a judgmental douche, they were basically white-trash; their white tank tops both looked dirty, one wasn’t wearing a bra and they had that overly bleached blonde look to them. Whatever. It’s well within our normal range of customers.
So, I approach the table, “Ladies, can I start the two of you off with a Coke or coffee?” One of them asks, “Do you have Mountain Dew?” I suppose it’s a fair question; some people colloquially call all soda “coke” despite it being an actual type and brand of soda. (Editor’s Note: These people are terrible, and you should never trust them.) “No, I’m sorry, we only have Coke products.”
“I’ll take a Pepsi,” she says.
I pause for a second. “So, is Coke OK, then?”
She looks at me, confused. “No, a Pepsi.”
“Ma’am, we have Coke products. Coke and Pepsi are competitors.” It finally dawns on her, so she takes the Coke. A moment later, I bring their beverages out and ask them if they are ready to order. Miss I-want-a-Pepsi asks another question I simply wasn’t prepared for, “What are the fish and chips?”
I had thought it was a fair assumption that the vast majority of people knew what fish and chips where, but I was very clearly wrong here. After a brief pause, I explain it in detail: “It’s three panko breaded cod filets that are deep-fried and served with french fries and a side salad.” She seems quite confused by this, and asks about the portion size which I clarify in detail, “Well, there are three filets, each of them breaded and fried, probably about two to three ounces each, with a side of fries and a garden salad.”
“So, it’s not real fish?” ...what?
“The type of fish is cod.”
“But, you don’t have any, like, fish, though?”
At this point, I don’t quite follow and reiterate that it is indeed fish. I then explain that we also offer grilled Salmon and Tilapia if she’d prefer either of those, which she shakes her head at quite quickly and goes back to the fish and chips, “And instead of the chips, can I get, like, fries or something?”
“... the chips are fries.” I tell her, feeling slightly at a loss for words, since I had just described this in detail twice.
“Oh. Duh,” she says, echoing my thoughts entirely, “Okay, I’ll take the crispy chicken salad with extra extra ranch” she concludes out of nowhere. Her friend—who had been laughing at her partner’s inability to comprehend that chips are fries and that we do not have Pepsi—then proceeds to order the fish and chips.
Free from the table, I go put their order in trying to process if all of that had actually happened. I promptly went back to the kitchen to do precisely what all waitstaff do: make fun of them. My coworkers laugh a bit and it’s work as usual. About ten minutes later, their food comes up and I take it out to them, naming each entree as I place it in front of the ladies. I ask how everything looks, “Good,” they say, and if they need anything else, and make my way through the rest of my section. About a minute later, I do the standard check-up to ensure they’re satisfied. I can tell that confusion has overtaken them.
“What sort of fish is this?” the lady asks.
“It’s cod,” I say. “Is there something wrong?”
“I thought you had real fish.” Now, Pepsi-girl is fingering her friends fish and picking it apart with a look of a deer in headlights in her eyes.
“Miss, it is real fish—it is cod, a type of fish, battered and deep fried.” I get a hesitant “okay” from them and quickly disappear to the kitchen where, yes, I begin making fun of them again because I’m just blown away by their inability to comprehend fish and chips.
About five minutes later, a coworker who said I had been exaggerating everything comes up to me, “So, your table stopped me and asked what kind of fish they had was because they thought you were lying to them; I told them it was cod and they asked why we didn’t have real fish.”
Any story that still gets referenced after the fact basically has to make these lists.
27. Tara Kelly:
I worked at restaurant that served pretty standard traditional sushi and Izakaya dishes. Nothing fancy or outright spectacular. Guests often started their meals with the usual suspects: Miso Soup, Edamame, New Style Sashimi, etc.
Four women came in for dinner one night. I greeted them, went over specials, rang up and dropped off their drink order. When I ask if they were ready to order food, one woman angrily demanded an explanation as to why I hadn’t brought over the bread rolls yet. I said they we don’t have bread rolls, and she went off the rails insisting that when she ate here last week, we brought her bread rolls.
Her friends quickly devolved into her minions, nodding along and making a point to tell me they only reason why they came to the restaurant was for the free bread. I said that I was sorry, but we did not offer bread rolls. She then insists that she saw bread rolls at other tables. I looked around a fully seated restaurant. Not a single piece of bread in sight. I offered to go back to the kitchen and see if there was anything we could do. She put up her hand and waved me off. It was so over the top, I had to bite my lip to stifle laughing as I walked away.
My manager went out to table to explain the same thing. Whatever was said, my manager came back into the kitchen rolling her eyes. She told me just to send out an app of my choice and comp it to shut the table up. Vegetable Tempura, it is! As I brought this oversized plate, stacked high with fried vegetables over to the table. The woman raises her eyebrows and loudly states: “Oh! Well! Looks like you found those bread rolls after all. Wasn’t that hard, was it?”
This story was in the very first BCO of 2015. It has not gotten less funny to me since then.
26. Rebecca Summers:
Back in the 70’s, Mom was putting herself through college by working at Kentucky Fried Chicken. One day, just before the lunch rush, Colonel Sanders shows up. He had sold the franchise years ago, but still did promotional tours.
He was greeting staff and customers alike, when he went to stand next to my mother and put his hand on her back. Then the hand dropped and he just casually rested it on her ass like no big deal.
Taking that same hand he had just used to sexually harass my mother, he goes over to the vat of mashed potatoes and scoops up a fistful. Then he goes to the gravy vat, dips his bare-handed potato fist in there, and licks it all up. One napkin later and the visit was over.
(Editor’s Note: WELL, THEN!)
I’m not sure how I could ever avoid using a story this bizarre in a Best Of post. Holy crap.
25. Emma Stevens:
My boyfriend and I were on a road-trip from Chicago to San Francisco and had stopped around Kanab, Utah for the night. It was late and we were exhausted and hungry. Of course the only place left open in town was a McDonald’s, so to the drive-thru we went. And there we sat for about 5 minutes, no one ever came onto the intercom. We figured since it was so late the McDonald’s had a small crew and they probably didn’t notice the drive-in had a customer so we drove up. There was only one drive-in window, and through it we could see there were two young men on staff, one short and skinny, and one was quite tall, overweight, and sweaty (we could see how much he was sweating through the window, it was insane). They were both standing, staring off into the distance right in our direction, but made no move to answer the drive-thru window. We knew the place was still open, so my boyfriend rolled down the window and began knocking on theirs. The skinny one snaps out of his trance and walks over to the window very wobbly, as if he was drunk. He finally makes it to the window and decided to pry it open with his hands instead of using the button. He greeted us with a resounding “huh?” and fell silent.
My boyfriend is patient man, and he calmly asked him to confirm the store was still open, because we would like to place an order. He proceeds to look at his wrist which has no watch on it, nods to confirm that they were open, and then walks away leaving the window open. My boyfriend called back to him again that we wanted to place an order, and he then very wobbly made his way back to stare silently at us again. Now the large one in the background had been staring at us the whole time this was happening and had not moved from his original spot. He made his way over to stare at us unblinking, over the shoulder of his shorter friend. My boyfriend said he would like a 10 nugget meal with a coke, and that I would like the southwestern salad.
The skinny one took a minute to process this and then responded “oh yeah man, nothing’s ready, man so you’re going to have to wait.” And wait we did. Skinny went off to attempt to make our meal while the large one never moved from his spot at the window, continuing to stare like a zombie at us, sweating profusely. Fifteen minutes later, we have the chicken nuggets and our drinks. Skinny reappeared and maneuvered around his fat zombie friend to tell us in these exact words that he “f*cked up the little potatoes” and we would have to wait while he “gave it another try.” At this point it was obvious the dynamic duo was on something, only one of them seemed to be partially functioning. Ten more minutes passed and we finally got some french fries that were fresh but overcooked (some were brown). Whatever, we just wanted to get our last item, the salad and get to our hotel, we had been waiting a half an hour for freakin’ McDonald’s!
My boyfriend reminded skinny of the salad and he fell silent and immobile again next to his friend. My boyfriend repeated the salad order, using large explanatory hand gestures, and skinny meandered around his friend and was off again. When he finally returned with the salad, it had no chicken in it. We then had to explain that the salads had chicken included with them, and then waited another 5 minutes for him to return with chicken in the salad.
OMG — we were so close — all they had to do was give us the salad dressing and we could get the hell out of there! We asked him for salad dressing and his face contorted with confusion. He told us we had our salad and were free to go. We repeated yes we had the salad but needed salad dressing for it. Skinny took a minute to think and then said “like the ketchup or the big mac sauce? You want that on the side? I can’t do that man.” We shared a look of disbelief- this kid didn’t know what SALAD DRESSING WAS. I described what the packages of McDonald’s salad dressing looked like with Paul Newman on the front, and Skinny was then off on his next mission of discovery. He appeared again with a large box, and scooted around his zombie friend who I swear to god had not moved from staring at us the entire 35 minutes we were sitting there.
“OK,” he said. Then he began to try to read off what kinds of dressings were in the box, horribly mispronouncing EVERY SINGLE ONE, his pronunciations are as follows in parentheses. “We have Ranch (ron-chee), Thousand Island (thou-za iz-lay), Asian (he didn’t even try, he just called this Chinese), and...” he began mouthing words and became even more confused. “We have...we also have...balsa dressing...no...bala-stic... noooo...ohhhhh...BALSMUK Dressing!” He was trying to say Balsamic Vinaigrette, and smiled in the end, quite pleased that he had finally said it ‘correctly.’ I told him I would love some BALSMUK dressing, and we grabbed it and got the hell out of there, with the two of them staring blankly out the window at us as we left. It wasn’t until we even got back to the hotel that we realized they never even charged us for the food!
I may or may not refer to it as Balsmuk dressing all the time now.
24. Len Kelly:
I was the assistant manager at a salad/sandwich shop. We offered several combinations of both, but only carried three types of salad lettuce; romaine, mixed greens, and spinach. So one day during our downtime I was busy making the schedule in the back. I only had one other person on staff — we’ll call him Travis. Travis and I heard the door chime go off. I know Travis isn’t the best front of house worker, but I was so close to finishing the schedule and it was just one person, so I figured he could handle it. A couple of minutes go by, I print and post the schedule and proceed to check on Travis.
When I get to the line I see Travis staring at the menu on the wall struggling to make the one salad. He sees me and proceeds to ask: “What kind of lettuce comes on a Classic Spinach?”
Me: Travis, it’s a Classic Spinach.
Me: Travis, it’s a Classic Spinach. *emphasizing the word spinach more*
Travis: Mixed greens?
Me: Travis it’s a Classic Spinach. *really emphasizing the word spinach*
At this point the customer and I are really laughing at Travis, especially since he went back to the first wrong choice when he only had three options. The customer left us a nice tip in the tip jar. Travis and I later told the story to rest of our staff, and “Romaine” became an inside joke amongst the staff.
Tremendously underrated story.
23. Carla Lang:
I was working at a pub in London—primarily a drinking place, but we also served food and had table service most of the time. This one family came in for lunch, a late-middle-aged woman and her two sons (I think), both about my age (I was 21 at the time). She had seemed a bit odd and fussy throughout the meal but nothing that weird. And then I came to take their dessert order. Her opener:
“Your honeycomb ice cream. What kind of an ice cream is that?”
I stared at this woman as a kind of gulf between my perception of reality and her perception of reality opened up in front of me. “Well...it’s a honeycomb ice-cream.”
“No, but before they put the honeycomb in.”
At this point I think I’ve spotted the problem, right. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that there were bits of honeycomb in the ice-cream, so I explain that the ice-cream is actually honey flavoured.
“Okay, but before they put the honeycomb FLAVOUR in. What kind of ice-cream is it then?”
I take a couple of seconds to readjust my face and then say that I’m not sure I understand her question - honeycomb is the only flavour in the ice cream.
“But what is it before?”
This is all getting a bit existential at this point, but I try once again to convey the idea that what I’m serving her is an ice cream flavoured with honeycomb, like, honeycomb is the flavour of the ice cream.
She interrupts: “So it’s a vanilla ice-cream with bits of honeycomb in?”
No, I say, honeycomb is a flavouring in the ice-cream. Her sons are looking increasingly embarrassed.
“So it’s a vanilla ice-cream with honeycomb FLAVOURING in?”
No, I say, steadily, because vanilla ice-cream has vanilla flavouring in, and this is a honeycomb ice-cream. She looks puzzled and I have the fatal instinct to try to explain.
“So, like, strawberry ice-cream isn’t ‘vanilla ice cream with strawberry in’. It’s just…strawberry ice-cream. It’s like that.”
“So, it’s a strawberry ice-cream with honeycomb in?”
“NO. No. It is just a honeycomb ice cream.”
“But before they put the - “
“BEFORE THEY PUT THE FLAVOURING IN THE ICE CREAM, THERE IS NO FLAVOUR IN THE ICE CREAM. It is a blank ice-cream. It is just very cold cream. Iced cream, if you will. It is a totally flavourless ice-cream.”
There is a silence during which I contemplate the fact that I have just spoken to a customer as if she were a small, tantrum-y child.
She says: “Why on earth would I order a completely flavourless ice-cream?”
I nearly punched her. The kids left me a hell of a tip though.
This story might rank higher except for the fact that every time I read it, my eyes cross, my nose starts bleeding, and I hear the sound of someone playing a 45rpm record of Highway to Hell backwards at 60rpm in my brain.
22. Barry Lewis:
So a few years back, I worked as a delivery driver for Donatos, which is an Ohio-based pizza chain. Every Saturday, we would get the same order: a large pepperoni pizza and three two liters of Pepsi from this teenager who lived at the very edge of our delivery area (about a 20 mile round trip, which is tantamount to being murdered for a driver). So we would drive out there and every time, this kid wouldn’t tip, even though it was obvious his parents left him the money to tip while they went out bowling or swinging or whatever the fuck and the little shit was just pocketing it.
Anyway, I get stuck with his delivery one Saturday night and resign myself to losing nearly an hour’s worth of earning potential, schlepping it out to the suburbs. I get allllll the way back to the shop and am told by my spineless manager that they’d just got off the phone with the kid because, and I quote, the “retard delivery driver had shook up his soda” and he wanted new ones. My manager, being terrible, comped his drinks and sent me back out to lose another 45 minutes of my night to deliver three two liters.
So that’s when I figure I’ve accomplished everything I want to accomplish at this job, and that I’m fresh out of fucks. Kid lived in a cul-de-sac at the bottom of a fairly steep hill. Upon pulling onto his street, I stop at the top of the hill, open my car door, aim for the bushes at the bottom and bowl his 2-liters down the hill, driving slowly after them. Upon reaching the bottom, I retrieve the payload and bounce them off the curb a couple times, stuff them in the bag and violently shake while I walk to the door. Drop them off to the little asshole with a smile on my face and wait near the door after he goes back inside.
Seconds later, I hear the unmistakable sound of two liters of highly pressurized foam ejecting itself violently all over this kid and his kitchen. He bolts outside to see me laughing hysterically on his walkway to the point that I’d fallen on one knee.
I no longer work there.
I don’t recall anyone defending the kid in this story at the time, so let’s give them one more chance to do so.
21. Rachel Higgs:
I had been working at Chipotle for just over two hours when I encountered one of the most clueless women I’ve ever met in my life. This was in 2011, so Chipotle was already a massive and well-known corporation in the USA. From both sides of the sneezeguard, it is about as idiot-proof as you can get. Every menu item is clearly laid out, to be combined at the direction of the customer. I’d only been working a couple hours, but it was simple, so they left me on the line alone to take care of the zero customers there at the time.
The door opened and a middle-aged couple stepped in. “Hi, welcome to Chipotle!” I called out, aware that I had the chance to look like a great hire in front of my new boss.
They slowly shuffled up to me, scrutinizing the menu boards as the approached. I smiled and asked what I could make for them. In our local flavor of Midwestern accent she responded “Yes, what kind of soup are you serving today?”
Uhh...Soup? I wasn’t expecting that. Before getting hired I’d eaten at Chipotle many times, and knew for a fact soup was not a menu item. Yet, I turned and checked the menu anyways, giving the benefit of the doubt, just in case that was a test-market Chipotle or there had been a menu addition. Nothing. “I’m sorry ma’am we don’t serve any kinds of soup here. Is there anything else you’d like?”
“No soup? Well, what’s a bowl then?” She was really being very polite at this stage.
I was just relieved to know the answer, and explained that some people preferred to have all the contents of a burrito without the tortilla wrap, so we called that a burrito bowl. Even as I was speaking, I could see their eyes starting to glaze over with the use of Spanish words like tortilla and burrito.
“No soup?” She sounds defeated.
“No.” I smile sadly. “I’m really sor-”
“All we want is soup. Where is there soup?” She started to get a little snappy.
I pointed to the purple awnings of Panera visible from our windows. “You could try Panera. They usually have pretty good soup.” I was ashamed that I’d lost a sale on my first customers, but there was nothing to be done. The customers seemed to calm again from their slightly agitated state (the whole time the husband had been standing behind his wife, completely silent but mirroring her facial expressions almost exactly) and turned to leave.
They reached the door and I was trying to process the interaction I just had, when she turned back and yelled “You really shouldn’t call it a bowl if you aren’t going to put soup in it!”
I mean, what else could a bowl possibly be used for aside from soup? I’m still reasonably sure these people eat cereal off a plate. With a knife and fork.
20. Lindsay Newman:
When I was 16, my mother was an assistant manager at the local Pizza Hell (Pizza Hut, but we literally never called it by it’s proper name) and so lovingly shanghai’d me into the wonderful world of the service industry. I had many a horrific adventures in Pizza Hell, but the worst were the ones that involved the local Santa Claus, who was hatefully nicknamed “Psycho Santa.” Psycho Santa got free food. No one knew why, no one knew who started this long standing tradition, but he always got free food from November till March and no one ever questioned it.
The Psycho Santa tales ranged from groping servers and offering to “stuff their little stocking with his North Pole” to him walking into the kitchen and harassing the cooks who were preparing his food. I was already terrified of this guy and I hoped that everyone was just trying to freak me out. None of those stories had prepared me for the unbridled hell that he would unleash on me.
My encounter with Psycho Santa was on a fateful November afternoon. There was a birthday party in our back room, and in the winter season, Psycho Santa would randomly show up in full yuletide regalia and crash birthday parties, demand free food, and generally fuck the server’s day to hell. Today, he sees we have a party in the back, turns heel and leaves. I breathe a sigh of relief—I had heard the legend of Psycho Santa and had yet to deal with him, and I think today is my lucky day.
Ten minutes later, I hear the quietest little sound behind me and turn to see the mother of the birthday boy, a look of extreme concern on her face. She beckons me close and whispers, “I’m so sorry to bother you Miss, but there’s a little problem.”
She’s so polite and seems afraid of offending me, so I slap on the sunniest smile I can manage and reply, “Of course! Tell me what’s up and I’ll do my best to take care of it.”
“Well...Santa Claus has just shown up at my son’s birthday party. He knocked on the back door and we thought he might be an employee.”
“Okay,” I say slowly. Usually, people like when Psycho Santa shows up and tip their server like they booked him themselves for their little darling.
“Well...We’re Jewish.” I nod understandingly, slightly horrified at that alone, but her tale is not finished. “And when I told him that we were Jewish and did not celebrate Christmas, he told me that everyone celebrates Christmas...even Jews.”
And I know right then that whatever kind of good day I was having has just gone down the toilet. I tell her that I am so sorry for the confusion, that Santa does NOT work for us, and that I’ll go and get the manager on duty—which was the GM, a useless fucking paper clip that never dealt with anything, ever—who informs me that I, in my infinite teenaged wisdom and experience, need to deal with the situation.
I gird my loins and march back, and ask Psycho Santa to come with me; amazingly, he complies. I inform him that he’s not wanted at the party in the politest way I possibly can, but he doesn’t seem to understand.
“But I’m Santa Claus!”
“I understand that, sir, but they’re Jewish, and they don’t celebrate Christmas.”
“Don’t celebrate Christmas? That’s the most un-Christian thing I’ve ever heard!”
“That’s because they aren’t Christian. They’re Jewish.”
“Well, even Jew kids like Santa!”
“Sir, many Jewish families don’t teach their children about Santa because that’s not part of their beliefs...” On and on this goes for 15 minutes, until he finally gets pissed off enough that he just plops down at a table.
“Fine. I’ll just get my free food and go then.”
I’m just thankful that he’s shut his face anus about being fucking Santa and that everyone fucking loves Santa, so I agree, take his obscenely large order, and push it through as fast as possible. He takes his food, leaves, and I get a generous tip and a thank you note from the birthday party in the back, along with a slice of cake. And I think that I have survived, and that the worst was over.
NOT EVEN REMOTELY.
The next day, I go about my shift feeling like a champ because I made it through my skirmish with Psycho Santa unscathed. Sure, the guy’s a fucking throbbing pikestaff, but I’ve dealt with worse.
Until he marches through the door with the boxes of food he got yesterday. He slams the boxes down in front of me and yells in my face, “Do I look like I’m gonna put up with some entitled little c*nt ripping me off?”
That alone is enough to send me into the shakes, and I start bobbing my head around like a terrified chicken. My logical brain is wondering “how exactly do you rip someone off when they got free food?” but my gut is like “agree or he’s gonna fucking hurt you.” Thank god for my gut.
He proceeds to yank open the box on top, whips out a fucking pocket knife, and cuts open his “P’zone.” For all you younguns, that was a thing at Pizza Hut before this “artisan” bullshit started. It was like a pizza folded in half without any sauce inside. I refuse to call it anything else, that’s what it was. So Psycho Santa starts brandishing this fucking pocket knife at me, screaming something about me ripping him off and not putting “enough” toppings on the damn thing. Well, in my terror, all I can think to stutter is “I’m sorry sir, we followed the company specs, that’s how much is supposed to be on the P’zone.”
So Santa does what any reasonable human would do: he stabs the fucking pizza box with the pocket knife, walks over to the nearest table, picks up a fucking chair and hurls it down the hall that leads to the back party room, screaming obscenities at me. By this point I’ve wised the fuck up and ducked for cover under the counter, crying for help like the sniveling terrified pissbaby that I was.
The Momager is the manager on duty, and she hears the chair and her sniveling terrified pissbaby daughter crying for help over the noise of the kitchen and gets up front.
Psycho Santa is no match for the Momager. She’s armed with one of the cast iron pizza pans we used for the pan pizzas and she has gone from her usually sweet demeanor to full-on She-Hulk. She comes at him full speed, screaming at him to “get the fuck out before I bash your fucking skull in.” This is a direct quote that has been chiseled into my skull because it remains the most bad-ass thing I have ever heard my mom say.
Psycho Santa is scared shitless and bolts. Momager calls the local yokels, who laugh it off and tell us, “Well, that’s just (Psycho Santa’s real name). He left, didn’t he?” Momager says yeah, and they tell her not to piss him off. Gotta love small town cops.
I almost left out Psycho Santa before the person helping me figure out which stories to use epically lost her shit at me over it. Message received.
19. Barry Kristol:
I was in my 20s, playing in a jazz trio at a local Club Corp. club, which took up the penthouse floor of a high-rise building in a Southern US city. It was a nice, if kind of sterile place, the kind of place that attracted ‘New money’ rather than old. I don’t know what the memberships cost, but the food was all out of the price range of a poor college kid like I was. It was a fairly easy gig, as gigs go – three hours, for three nights a week. But the money was good, the staff was friendly, and as long as I could stand playing the same ‘standards’ night after night, it was okay. The manager had made a stab at a music career before he moved into restaurant management, so he was always sympathetic to the band.
Now keep in mind, this was the kind of place where the music was background noise to conversations. Our dynamics went from “pop” to “p” (for you non-musicians, that means “ridiculously soft” to “still able to talk over it without straining”). I was the drummer, and ended up playing with brushes, my hands, or drumsticks not much bigger in diameter than No. 2 pencils. We were always keeping an eye on the volume, and rarely got complaints. Rarely. But then there were times that nothing I did could keep a diner from whining.
Case in point, one evening the waiters put together a banquet table. 20 chairs. These were always dicey, because it usually meant a birthday celebration of some kind, which meant a wide age range of diners. This usually translated into weird requests (“No, I’m afraid we can’t do a credible version of Purple Haze - no vocalist, and no electric guitar…is there something else we could play for you?”) or cranky old farts who wanted to hear moldy oldies, but dialed down to a volume impossible to play.
Now the wait staff was pretty good at putting the potential whiners as far away from the bandstand as possible. But on this night, the birthday boy/old fart/paterfamilias of the table insisted on being seated at the head of the table, which was, coincidentally, right by my drums. My crash-ride cymbal, in fact, blocked my view of his ancient head.
Keep in mind, I was playing with wire brushes, and generally keeping off that cymbal, anticipating trouble. And trouble was on it’s way, almost immediately.
The old fart called over the waiter to complain about the volume of the drums. The waiter told the bandleader, who dutifully asked me to turn it down. “I HAVE ‘turned it down’…how much softer do you think I can play?”
One song later, the fossil called over the manager, Walt. Walt smiled and said he’d handle it, winked at me, and suggested I lay off the cymbal nearest the guys head. I’d already done that, but I smiled my “I wanna get paid and not lectured” smile, and gamely played on.
We were playing softly enough that I could overhear the dinner conversation at the banquet table. Words like “too damn loud,” “damn drummers” and “this is a terrible restaurant” wafted over my drum kit. I looked grimly at the bandleader, and then came up with an inspired idea. As the old fart summoned Walt once again, I was ready. The patron raised his voice, and complained about “that damn cymbal in my ear.”
Walt grinned, and gestured to the bandstand. “What cymbal is that?” he asked.
The old guy looked over at me. Only then did he realize I’d removed the cymbal from the stand and put it behind my drum throne. I was playing “air cymbal,” keeping the beat with my bass drum and hi-hat. I smiled at the asshat. Big grin. He muttered something about “smart-ass kids” and went back to chewing his cud. The manager smiled at me and mouthed the words “Well-played!” and withdrew.
As I recall, one of the guy’s kids left a big tip for the wait staff, since Mr. Big Shot refused to leave a dime.
This is probably the gentlest, politest revenge story we’ve ever run. Someone will still find a way to complain about it in the comments.
18. Keri Bixby:
My very first job was working at a now defunct truck-stop in the Ozark Mountains area of Arkansas in the early 2000s. One soul-crushingly hot July day, I was working as the “hostess” in the diner attached to the truck-stop when a trucker came in to make a to-go order. He was a pretty heavy-set, bearded guy, probably in his mid-sixties, and wearing a button-up shirt. After he made his order, he told me that he was going to go check something in his truck, and he’d be back in 15 minutes to pick up his order. I put his order in and went about my business.
After a few minutes, the trucker came back in and told me that it was too hot to be outside and I told him he was welcome to just hang out at a table while his food was cooking, so he sat down near me and we starting talking. When he had gone out to his truck, he had taken off his button-up shirt and was now wearing a red muscle shirt. I also noticed he was now carrying a plastic bag from the store section of the truck-stop, and when I asked him what he bought, he pulled out a cheap knock-off Barbie and some princess jewelry and told me he had picked them up for his granddaughter, who he was going to see later that week.
A few minutes into our conversation, a family came in that consisted of a young father, his Southern Belle of a wife, and their daughter, who was not quite 4. I sat them down and went to check on the truckers food while the 4-year old desperately tried to get her mother’s attention. As I walked out of the kitchen holding the trucker’s order, the girl started slowing building herself into a total state of mania.
Finally, in front of the entire restaurant, the little girl stood up in her chair, pointed at the trucker and screamed “MOM THAT’S SANTA AND HE’S ON VACATION AND I CAUGHT HIM AND THAT IS SANTA. THAT. IS. SANTA. CLAUS!” She then sat down, exhausted, and stared unblinkingly at the trucker while her parents looked at her, absolutely mortified.
Before anyone had a chance to collect their thoughts and say something to her, the trucker jumped up, walked over to the little girl and immediately busted out a perfect, booming Santa impersonation:
Santa/Trucker: “Ho Ho Ho! That’s right! I am Santa, and I’m on a secret vacation here in Arkansas, but you caught me! Do you know what happens when little girls catch Santa on vacation?”
Little girl, “no....” (side note: yes, the parents looked absolutely terrified at this point)
Santa/Trucker: “YOU GET PRESENTS! HO HO HO!”
He then proceeded to hand the little girl all the cheap truck-stop toys he had bought for his own granddaughter, then took his to-go order out of my hands, winked, and walked out the door.
I never saw him again.
I am almost positive Santa is actually a trucker in Arkansas after reading this story.
17. Annie Overton:
I worked at one of “New York City’s Hottest New Restaurants!” for awhile last year, and it was a pretty legit gig. Well-known chef, restaurateur-mogul owner, and “California-Italian Fusion cuisine designed for sharing” (translation: “Whatever the fuck Chef thinks tastes good and wants to cook”). Being that the restaurant was part of a Corporate AF restaurant group, they took allergies REALLY SERIOUSLY, GUYS. I’ve never punched in more convoluted fucking orders than at this restaurant. This situation was encouraged by the fact that the question “are there any allergies or dietary restrictions we should be aware of?” was part of our required server spiel when taking an order.
This one night I was assigned to turn-and-burn “vacation station,” a section of eight two-tops at the front of the restaurant. One of my first tables is a Very Jersey Couple, the female half of which is wearing a dress that only barely counts as “clothing” along with eight thousand Gold Jangly Things on her neck and wrists. They seem friendly enough, though, so okay. We chat for a few minutes and I get to the allergen part of my spiel, at which point the woman interrupts me—
“I have very serious dietary restrictions. It’s a diet I’ve been on for a week and a half, but I’m SUPER committed to it.”
“Okay, great, we’re more than happy to accommodate whatever you need. What are your dietary restrictions?”
“Well. I don’t eat meat, gluten, dairy, or ‘fish that swim.’” When she says the “fish that swim” part, she makes a motion with her hand indicating the swimming pattern of a dolphin—like a fish that leaps up and down in and out of the water. I stare at her and blink furiously, hoping that somehow using my face muscles in this way will prevent me from snort-laughing at this comment or, at minimum, inquire as to why she is dining at a restaurant where they serve Food, usually containing the aforementioned in some combination.
I remark that her diet is admirably strict and ask her to clarify what constitutes “fish that swim.”
“I mean, like, shrimp and crabs and lobster and stuff...that’s fine. They, like, walk on the ocean floor, right? Or swim like this?” [makes swimming motion with hand]
“So...shellfish are okay? Mollusks—like, mussels and clams—they’re fine?”
“Oh, totally! Just no fish that swim!” [repeats swimming hand motion]
I thanked them and bolted from the table to the barista station in the back as quickly as I could to die of laughter. We ended up serving her some uber-shellfished version of our bouillabaisse, removing all the “fish that swim” [makes swimming hand motion]. CRISIS AVERTED.
I thought this story was pretty solid, but man, you guys loved the fuck out of it. The lesson, as always, is that I am only ever even partially attuned to the BCO zeitgeist, at best.
16. Larry Kramer:
I worked at a pizza joint for a summer in 94. On a typical Friday night with the 4 phone lines ringing off the hook, I mostly said, “thank you for calling ______, can you please hold?” The manager’s policy was not to wait for a response if more than one line is ringing because customers will abuse that time and weasel ahead of the phone line. As I am going down the lines saying the phrase, I hear a guy say NO as I hit the hold button. He gets pissed and hangs up and calls back 3 times. Each time I hear him yell NO! before putting him back on hold.
He decides to show up, and throws the most epic fit I have ever seen. The typical don’t you know who I am etc etc. Without making this longer, we finally get his order and he says he WILL be waiting in the car. It takes about 20 minutes to make his pizza, and he keeps coming back in, yelling about if his pizza was done. Every 5 min up until the 15 min mark we say “no, sir, it will be ready in a few minutes.” The last time he asked, it was actually done and being carried over to the holder. So he walks in, asks, the girl checks the rack and doesn’t see it, and says no. As soon as she says no I say sir (I had the pizza) but he’s in such a huff, he slams the door before I could get his attention. I have no time to go chase him and I know he will be back in 5 minutes. Meanwhile the guy who placed his order right after him walks in and walks out with the pizza he ordered.
Well, him seeing that must have unleashed the power of 3,000 strokes because he came flying in in a rage talking about how he ordered before the last guy. I told him that we tried to catch him but he left in a hurry. We gave him his pizza on the house. The guy is yelling and cussing and making a huge scene as he walks out and to his car and places the pizza on top of his car all the while yelling and pointing at us all as we stand watching through the huge window to the parking lot. He gets in his car, starts to tear out of the parking lot...and the pizza he left on the top of his car slides off the roof, slides down the back of the trunk, and splats face down on the pavement. As this was happening, my manager is like WAIT FOR ITTTT and then we all jump for joy and yell and laugh. At that point, the guy sits there for 5 seconds, and then just speeds off.
At that moment, I knew there was a God, and he was vengeful.
Karma is real sometimes, and it is beautiful.
15. Kelli Jeffries:
I was 15 and working at a vineyard restaurant. I had been working in food service for three years (yes, I started young), and while I was a fairly shy kid, I’d gotten reasonably comfortable waiting on tables at that point. It was 3:45pm (15 minutes to close, but hey, we were still open!) and a 6-top sat themselves on our patio. The leader of the group was a broad-shouldered woman in beige capris. I placed the menus on the table and launched into the usual jibber-jabber, including the fact that between 2pm and 4pm we offered a delightful tapas menu.
Now, the reason for offering a more limited menu between 2 PM and 4 PM was to give the cook (also my Mother) an opportunity to prep the following day’s menu, and in addition, to make it possible for the both of us to make it to our evening jobs on time. So the tapas menu was a lot of pre-made (but still housemade and delicious) items that could be plated quickly. The leader of the pack did not take kindly to the fact that they missed the full lunch menu. Our conversation went something like this:
Her: “We want the full menu.”
Me: “I’m sorry, but between 2 and 4 PM we offer the tapas menu. It has lots of wonderful items—”
Her: “That’s fucking bullshit. Bring me the full menu.”
Me (stunned, but remaining resolute): “I’m sorry Ma’am, but this is the menu we’re offering at present.”
Her: “That is fucking unacceptable. I boated all the way from [redacted] for dinner (NOTE: we were a lunch-only establishment) and I expect the full menu.”
Anyway, this exchange went on for a while, and I wish I had time to share all of the creative expletives and insults she levied at me. By this point her dining-mates were cringing so hard they had melted into their seats.
Me: “I think if you’d take a look at the menu, you’d see that there are lots and lots of options. Very filling.”
Her: “Fuck you and your tapas. I want to speak to your manager.”
Me: (voice quivering) “I can arrange that, but I’m pretty sure she’s going to tell you the same thing I just did.”
Her: “BRING. ME. YOUR. MANAGER. YOU. FUCKING. LITTLE. IDIOT.”
And then she threw her head back. Horked. And spat on my foot. A BIG, MUCOUSY glob of spit.
Given that a customer had just intentionally spat on me, I started to crumble. The other waitress (who I’ll call Sara) took me by the arm and walked me back to the kitchen, where I started to cry. I sobbed out to the cook/Mom “there is a customer out there who wants the full menu!” Of course, I was about to add: “and she just spat on my foot!” when the customer in question walked RIGHT INTO THE KITCHEN.
Her: “I want the full menu. And you’re going to give it to me.”
Mom: “As your waitress surely explained to you, we offer the tapas menu between 2 and 4pm.”
Her: “You are going offer me the full menu, or I will tell each and every person I meet what a shithole establishment this is. I will write letters to the owners and get you fired. I will make your life a fucking hell.”
Mom (pulling her largest butcher knife from the block): “Fine, I will serve you the full menu, but *stabbing her knife into the wooden chopping block* I AM NOT FUCKING HAPPY ABOUT IT.”
So the worst customer I’ve ever had smiled triumphantly, took the menu my mother offered her, and practically skipped back out to her table.
At that point it was decided that I would not be waiting on the table for the remainder of the transaction. Sara, who was two years older than myself and decidedly one of the most prim and proper teenagers in existence, took over. The table ordered their meals (of course the ONLY PERSON who ordered from the lunch menu is the she-witch—everyone else offered platitudes about “how wonderful the tapas sound”) and a pitcher of sangria to share.
I watched from the corner as Sara took them their wine glasses. And I watch as she tottered over with a large, fruit-filled pitcher of sangria. And I watched as she lifted the pitcher high over the wretched woman’s head...and dumped it all over her.
Finally, that woman had nothing to say.
As a commenter put it at the time: “Sara is the hero we deserve.”
14. Cara Sloane:
I was out with some friends and my long-suffering boyfriend. The night was winding down, so we thought we’d grab a bite at the all night diner. We all got seated and discussed what we were having. Grilled cheese is what I settled on, with fries. The waitress asked me for my order and then asked me what type of bread I’d like. I’m generally super health conscious, so I said “no bread, thanks.” She replied, without skipping a beat, “that would be a puddle of cheese, and we don’t do that.”
I ordered pumpernickel.
I was always genuinely impressed with the server’s professionalism here, because there is no way in hell I could ever be this on point were I presented with that specific situation.
13. Kinja user Plaatsvervangende Schaamte:
I ran a Subway sandwich shop for a few years back in college. I did get my fair share of idiots (and committed my fair share of faux pas as well), but one woman in particular during a lunch rush stands out in my mind as the most aggressively stupid customer I had. Not stupidest period, but definitely most determined to infect her stupidity upon others.
She ordered a standard cold cut sandwich, got through all the toppings without incident, then hit a brick wall on the sauces. Oil and vinegar? Easy peasy. Mayonnaise, no problem (this was the south... kids are born knowing how to pronounce mayonnaise). Dee-john mustard (whatever, it’s phonetically how it’s spelled, sure, you get a pass). Then comes chipotle sauce. She goes “Chip...chip-holt...chip-holt-uh-lee...chip-oh...chip-POH-little. Chipohlittle.” I make sure to say “chipot-lay” in response to gently correct her, and she proceeds to correct me with “chip-poh-LITTLE” and give me a condescending smirk. Whatever. I wrap up her sandwich and leave it for the cashier to finish.
As I’m working on the next sandwich, the customer asks for chipotle sauce, and she immediately corrects him “Chip-poh-little.” I say chipotle again, and she clucks and corrects me again. After paying, she decides to stand behind the line and correct every single person who asks for it (and, as luck would have it, the next few people all wanted The Sauce That Shall Not Be Named). It wasn’t until another employee and a customer simultaneously shot her a dirty look that she abandoned course and bustled her soggy, over-sauced chip-poh-little sandwich out of the store.
Props for somehow finding a worse mispronunciation for Chipotle than “Chi-POLE-tay.”
12. Theresa Harkin:
When I was in college, I worked at a popular restaurant chain.
Before menus had nutritional information provided, we had a section of the menu (it was 2 items) that were considered “healthier.” I had a lady order the shrimp dish, nothing out of the ordinary.
When her meal arrived, she pulled me over to ask where her crab was. I told her the dish she ordered only came with shrimp and that we didn’t serve crab. Needless to say, this made her angry, so she demanded to see a menu and a manager. I brought the menu to her first and she furiously flipped to the page. “See?” she said. “Served with net crabs!” I had to point out to her that what she was reading was the amount of net carbohydrates in her dinner.
She didn’t speak to me for the rest of her meal.
Look, worldwide overfishing of net carbs is a serious issue. It’s no laughing matter.
11. Matt Hardin:
This took place several years ago in the town of Fayetteville, AR, at a restaurant known as ROTC (The Restaurant on the Corner). The waiter in question, we’ll call him Simon, was a waiter who earned the favor of regulars by being efficient and direct but made no attempt to be pleasant just to fish for tips or, frankly, for any reason whatsoever. Curt, typically scowling, and on weekend mornings and afternoons and almost invariably severely hung over, he could be a nightmare for newcomers not prepared for the no-nonsense approach he took to the job.
One Sunday brunch, I and some friends were dining there when the table besides us, a family of five or six people, flagged him down. Now, they weren’t especially rude, but it was a very busy morning and they weren’t his customers (their waiter had been gone for several minutes). “Young man,” the matron of the group said to him, indicating the baked potato on her plate, “I’m afraid there’s been a mistake. I ordered hash browns. That is a baked potato.”
Simon stood there for a few silent seconds with a blank expression, like he was only slowly able to process the events taking place before him. Then with a look of genuine confusion, he leaned over and eyeballed the potato. Slowly, gently, he reached over and lifted it from her plate. He stood again and inspected it, holding it above his head to check the underside, turning it around to investigate every angle. Then, seemingly satisfied with his evaluation, he returned it to her plate, turned to her and replied, “You’re absolutely right, ma’am, that IS a baked potato!” Then, leaning down in an almost conspiratorial fashion, he pointed towards the kitchen and said, “Don’t let them fool you!”
With that, and before the shocked and confused customers could immediately respond, he made off to the back, leaving them speechless and our table trying to suppress muffled giggles.
In our heart of hearts, we are all Simon.
10. Matt McNair:
My sophomore year of high school through my sophomore year of college, I worked summers at a local old-school 50’s style drive-in. The staff was almost entirely high school kids or recent graduates who were attending the local community college. No one older than 20.
One employee in particular seemed destined for an early grave. We’ll call him Jacob.
During closeup one night, Jacob was tasked with sweeping and mopping the kitchen. Basic KP duty. I was mixing a batch of root beer in the back room when my lungs began to itch. Seconds later, the entire kitchen staff came barreling around the corner doing their best impression of Han Solo running from the Imperial shield bunker on Endor.
Seems Jacob thought it would be clever to mix up some extra-powerful cleaner to make his job easier. He’d mixed a half-gallon of bleach with a half-gallon of ammonia in the mop bucket. For reference, this is the equivalent of crossing the streams. We recovered, and Jacob was educated on WWI chemical warfare.(Editor’s Note: I am in love with these entire last two paragraphs.)
Next. We made our own cole slaw. Toss three heads of cabbage, 10 carrots, a bowl of dressing, a bit of salt and pepper into this ancient chopping mechanism, give it a few passes, and voila. Jacob was assigned the job. Again, how hard could it be?
About half an hour later and Jacob was still hard at work on a job that should have taken, at most, 10 minutes. The kitchen manager walks to the back to investigate. “Jesus Christ, Jacob, what the hell is this?”
“Cole slaw, duh.” You could hear his eyes roll.
“Jacob, have you ever eaten cole slaw?”
“Did it fucking look like pudding?!”
I had to see. Jacob had made a slaw smoothie. It was literally liquified. I still don’t know how.
(Editor’s Note: Goddamit, Jacob.)
Everyone who has ever worked in a restaurant for an extended period of time has known at least one Jacob. Goddamit, Jacob, indeed.
9. Vanessa Halliard:
This story takes places in a far off time when our relatively conservative area was getting its very first high street gentlemen’s clubs. They’d just opened one in a city about an hours drive away and the management had decided to house some of the strippers in our city for safety reasons. The housing was a high end apartment block of mostly tourist rentals separated from our historic gastro pub by an alleyway. Our clientele was a weird mix of alternative/geek students and elderly blue collar workers. Since we had no TV or radio, “stripper watch” became a major entertainment for a lot of the guys and window seats on that side of the building were in high demand.
We’d also recently gotten a new manager, an odd Harvey Fierstein lookalike with no sense of personal space or personal hygiene. When he heard that a lot of the customers and most of the staff were goth or punk he invested in some leather trousers to better ‘fit in’ with the culture. Sadly he didn’t really fit into the trousers; by the second day the zipper had given out under the strain and was permanently stuck at half mast. He liked to flirt with all the female patrons, regardless how horrified they were by his open trousers and vaguely cheesy odour. After a few weeks and many complaints to the owner the majority of the women stopped coming to the pub at all. The owner insisted he couldn’t do anything unless the manager did something substantial. He soon got his wish.
The managers had access to an apartment over the bar. One day after the lunch rush the old guy on stripper watch mentioned that the girls were back from the gym. The bar staff didn’t notice the manager was gone until a couple of cops came in asking for him—apparently they urgently needed access to the upper floor of the building. We figured he was either up there or out at the suppliers, so we let the cops go up. Turns out he was the reason they needed access—he’d decided to woo one of the strippers by means of draping himself, naked, over his office desk opposite her bedroom window. One of the cops described it as “the couch scene in Titanic but with a silverback gorilla instead of Kate Winslet.”
We never found out what the stripper though of his attempt, because she never saw it—the witnesses were an elderly tourist couple and their grandkids.
That silverback gorilla line is fucking poetry. One of the best lines of any submission I’ve ever received.
8. Cassie Trainor:
When I was in high school and college, during the summers I worked as a server on the boardwalk. Typical restaurant that you would find on the boardwalk at the Jersey shore (breakfast in the am then switches over to cheesesteaks, gyros, French fries, pizza etc). Living in a vacation destination, where about 85% of the restaurants close in the winter time, I did as most the locals do and worked as many doubles as humanly possible in the summer months.
I remember one day where I was only scheduled to work to 4, I was so excited I wasn’t working a double that I didn’t even care that my last table before I was cut was an 8 top that was sat at 3:50. I went to my table, and they just ordered pizza. GREAT! This would be an easy table, and I could finish my sidework (carrying up huge boxes of cups and other paper products from the basement) while they were eating.
When the pizzas were done, I brought the food to the table along with a basket where I put everything people might ask for to go with their pizza. Garlic, parmesan cheese, oregano, red pepper flakes, extra silverware and napkins. Knowing I was going to be down in the basement for 15 minutes I even brought the weird but still common requests of hot sauce and ranch. I wanted to cover all my bases.
My table was happy and I went down to the basement to do my sidework. Then I heard my co-worker yell down the stairs to me, “CASSIE, YOUR TABLE SAID YOU FORGOT TO BRING OVER PIZZA TOPPINGS—THEY ARE ASKING FOR YOU!”
Shocked, since I literally brought the table every single thing in the restaurant that one would put on a pizza, I went back upstairs and over to the table.
“There’s no jelly on the table,” they told me.
“Jelly?” I asked, thinking I heard him wrong.
“Yeah, You forgot the Jelly.”
A moment’s pause before I asked again: “Jelly?”
Now looking at me like I’m an idiot, they repeated, “Yeah, you forgot to bring over the Jelly.”
I just had to ask again, because wtf, “Like, grape jelly...?”
“Obviously,” the man said smugly, looked at his wife, and rolled his eyes.
I went and got the jelly packets (which were taken off the tables and put away in the serving station— because BREAKFAST WAS OVER) and brought them to the table.
And that’s the time I watched a group of eight people spread grape jelly all over two pizzas and happily eat them.
You know a story resonates when you get a bunch of “I don’t normally judge people for weird eating habits, but WHAT THE FUCK” comments. It isn’t even so much that they were eating grape jelly on pizza as that they thought it was insane that she didn’t think to bring it automatically.
7. Jessica Faller:
A friend was waiting tables at an expensive old chestnut of a restaurant in NYC, one of those destination spots for moneyed tourists who think that just because it’s famous and costs an arm and a leg the food is better (it is not). A trio of middle-aged ladies came in for lunch, decked out in their Mob Wives finest, instantly demanding things from the server left and right in Jersey-accented smoker’s rasps.
One waved away the wine list when it was presented. “Just bring me a bottle of Piglio Griglio.”
Pause. Gorgon Number Two tapped on her friend’s arm with her acrylic talons.
“You stupid bitch! It’s Pinot Giorgio!”
And now I will forever refer to it as Piglio Griglio.
6. Brad Halsey:
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.”
The first of two stories that got farther away from me than I expected, this one was covered in multiple news outlets and actually resulted in public comments from Starbucks along the lines of “don’t worry; we’re gonna handle this shit.” Go figure.
5. Daniel Green:
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.
I always approve of stories about restaurant employees who appear to be real-life versions of John McClain.
4. Lou Bergen:
I was working in an upscale restaurant that specialized in fresh seafood. Check averages pushed $200 for two, so the tips were good. Now, I get that some people can’t eat seafood; either they’re allergic or they just hate it. Which is cool, but why the fuck would you come to a seafood house, then?
One night, I have one of these tables. They first bitch about all the fish. I’m crying inside but don’t say anything as I point out sub-10 dollar items on the back of the menu that are not fish or fish-like. Took them 20 minutes to decide on some horrific cheese-covered thing that was apparently French or something. Whatever. Within 20 seconds, their order was being assembled.
Every 20 seconds, the man stretches his neck and starts looking for his waiter (which is me). Before he can turn the other direction...I’m there. “Mother likes her food very hot,” he says. He’s already told me 4 times, so the 5th should really make me remember.
“Yes sir. Absolutely,” I say or, something equally as ass-kissingly sweet. “Right out the saute pan,” (lol, it was all pre-made and largely microwaved).
It was served in a special dish that sat inside a broiler so the food would be extra hot. The cook tops the French Gloop with a fistful of cheese and I watch it melt. I grab the dish with tongs and chuck it on the tray. Ten seconds later, it’s in front of mother.
“Oh no...this simply is not hot enough,” says Pa.
I make some remark about re-doubling my efficiency. I then serve it three more times with the same result . “Oh...mother likes her food hot. Mother likes hot food. Food....hot food...mother must have it,” I had to endure every permutation.
The cook (who is also my stoner buddy) is at this point genuinely confused. “Dude...that shit will not get any hotter unless we flambee the fucker and you serve it on fire. Lucifer doesn’t eat food that hot.”
At this point, I come up with a plan: we’ll heat the serving dish until it’s on the verge of melting (or fracture). The radiant heat alone would cook a steak to well-done in under a minute. We leave this dish under the broiler until it glows dull red. Half of the gloop burns away instantly so we add another bag. The cheese is the temp of lava and literally boiling. We add another fistful just in case. My fear is that when I place this in front of mother, the tablecloth will burst into flames. She’s got a can’s worth of hairspray on her blue-haired head, so she’ll likely blow up as well. This would cost me money. (Editor’s Note: Oh my God that sentence is every server I’ve ever known in a nutshell.)
Finally, I place the dish in front of her like it’s radioactive. Fuck, it probably is. And for the 4th time, I mention that the outer dish is very hot...do not touch the very hot outer dish.
Of course, she grabs the dish with both hands. I can hear the skin sizzling. She can’t pick it up, though. Know why? BECAUSE SHE BURNED THE SKIN FROM HER FINGERS AND THUMBS! She’s essentially pan-seared her hands and fingerprints with it. I’m waiting for her to start screaming, or maybe pass out into a bubbling cheese magma in front of her.
She sweetly tells me it’s “perfect” and dishes out half to Pa (yes, they split the entree). They seemed to enjoy the whatever-it-was, and each other’s company. And neither seemed to mind the odor of human flesh that perfumed my station. I did manage to up-sell them dessert, which brought the check total to $30.00.
They left a pair of 20 dollar bills and told the manager I was a very nice young man.
I never thought something I had a hand in would become a meme, and I sure as hell didn’t expect it to be “mother likes her food very hot.” For a couple days, that shit seemed like it was everywhere. Sometimes I do not understand the internet.
It was a hot summer day in Southern California, and I was ten minutes shy of finishing my shift at Starbucks and was super excited about my afternoon plans to see my boyfriend, who lived several hours away and was home for the first time in months. It had been a pleasant morning up until that point, lots of nice regulars, easy traffic, good co-workers, and I was feeling prettay, prettay, prettay good. I’d brought a cute outfit to change into and spent time fussing on my hair that morning, making sure I’d look good when he arrived to pick me up. It was dead at that point, so the manager taking over told me to wrap up early and head out.
And then she walked in.
This woman was an afternoon regular that I’d seen only a handful of times over the years I’d worked there, since I was usually the opening manager. But I knew exactly who she was and I *thought* I knew exactly what was coming. Only I had no idea how bad it was about to get for me. She usually ordered a Venti (I’m sorry, I know you hate that word) Caramel Frappuccino with two added shots of espresso, which elevated the drink from nasty to nasty plus smelling like dog farts. Sure enough, she ordered her regular drink and I start making it, barely even wrinkling my nose at the smell of the espresso hitting the Frap base.
“Make sure you put EXTRA CARAMEL in there,” she hissed, peering at me over the divider. Her eyes were small and darting, following my movements and nodding in agreement with the steps I was taking. I added an extra pump of the caramel syrup and readied the sauce bottle while the drink blended.
“I LOVE THE EXTRA CARAMEL!” she reminded me, literally four seconds later. “So make sure you put EXTRA CARAMEL IN THERE!”
I assured her I would and she responded by pressing against the plastic divider to get an even better view of her drink being made. Her smooshed up face looked like a eager slice of wet ham as she continued eyeballing me while I poured her drink into the cup.
“WAIT!” she shouted, as the cup was half full. “I want caramel in the cup.”
Not an uncommon request, but a gross one. I poured her drink back in the blender and did a generous swirl of caramel sauce around the cup.
“MORE!” she implored.
“Sure, but I added extra in the drink as well, so y’know, it’s gonna be real caramel-y,” I said. This set her the fuck off.
“That’s why I said extra caramel! That’s why I order the espresso! EXTRA CARAMEL EXTRA CARAMEL!” she chanted.
At this point, the inside of the cup was completely coated in caramel with at least a 1/4 inch of the sauce at the bottom. I poured her drink into the cup, did a nice little dollop of whipped cream and went to give it one last drizzle of sauce before she had another freak out. Except my caramel bottle was empty and now I had to fill a new one.
“Just a sec,” I told her, heading to the back to grab a bag of caramel sauce. I heard her say something to my co-worker like, “Can you make sure she puts caramel on top?” and I swear to god, I wanted to run back out there and choke her with the damn drink. Instead I grabbed the bag and headed back out.
At the time I worked there the caramel sauce came in these large slug-like bags. You’d snip the corner, jerk it off into a bottle, and yay, everyone is happy (except you because you now hate something as wonderful as caramel). So, I get the bottle full and the bag is about 1/4 full. I know, I KNOW that this nasty Caramel Golem is going to ask me about it. I am bracing myself for it as I snap the lid on her drink and place it on the bar. Even though I logically know where this is heading, I’m still shocked when she asks me for the bag.
“I can’t give that out, ma’am. Sorry! Have a good one.”
I headed to the back room to grab my stuff, leaving her standing there with her sick drink. I’d just finished changing my shirt and touching up my makeup when I heard a huge crash from the floor. I ran out and sure enough, she was trying to reach over the bar to grab the bag and ended up knocking over a stack of clean pitchers and supplies. Her arm was flailing and half of her body was sprawled out on the bar while my poor coworker was trying to do damage control.
“Ma’am, you are going to have to leave now. This behavior is not acceptable and you’re making us uncomfortable,” I explain to her.
“Just give me the fucking bag!”
“Ma’am, I am happy to add more caramel to your drink but I cannot give out our supplies. We have been very polite to you and now I need to ask that you GO.”
She pulled herself upright, drink in hand, and glared at me like I’d never been glared at before. “You. Fucking. BITCH!” she screamed, throwing her drink at me.
It hit me in the chest, exploded instantly and covered my whole torso and my hair in a repulsive, sticky mess. I was shocked, adrenaline coursing through my veins, and taking very, very deep breaths so that I wouldn’t leap over the bar and attack her. Before I could do anything, she turned around and ran out.
My boyfriend arrived a few minutes later and pitched in to help us clean up, but ughhh. I was just done at that point and wanted to go home and cry/eat pizza in the shower. The next day, my manager informed me that she got the woman’s information off her credit card and reported the whole thing to the police. I don’t know what, if anything, came of it but she never returned to that store again while I was working.
The most impressive thing about the story you guys nicknamed Caramel Golem (and there are many, many impressive things about this story) is just how phenomenally well-written it was. I’m not 100% sure I had to make a single edit. That doesn’t happen.
2. Ian Summers:
I don’t know what came over me, but this loud, obnoxious jerk (who was in a rush, of course) came running into my restaurant, he kept asking me questions, then interrupting when I tried to answer...and I just lost a little self control.
Guy: I’ll take a burger with lettuce and tomato.
Me: We don’t have lettuce or toma—
Guy: YOU’RE A HOT DOG AND BURGER PLACE AND YOU DON’T HAVE LETTUCE AND TOMATO???
Me: (fed up) No, we’re an alligator and party hat place, and today we’re giving away KAZOOOOOS!
...and then we just stand there staring at each other, because neither one of us knows what the fuck just came out of my mouth. Then the girl standing behind him just starts LOSING it. Like, laughing so hard she can’t breathe, so I start laughing, and now we’re just laughing in this guy’s face.
Guy: .........I guess i’ll have a hot dog.
I start giggling uncontrollably every time I even think about this story. I can’t for the life of me understand how “KAZOOOOOOS!” didn’t become a BCO meme, especially considering some of the ones that have. Alas, the audience response wasn’t quite strong enough to give it the #1 spot.
1. Callie Rossmeyer:
About 8 years ago, when I was in my late teens/early 20’s, I worked at a movie theater. It was the only one in my town and it had exactly one screen, so all the employees shared the various responsibilities (tickets/concessions/cleaning/dicking around while the movie was playing/making the yellowest batch of popcorn possible). This particular day, I was working concessions. We were showing some big blockbuster movie, and being the only theater in town, we got SLAMMED. We had just finished a big rush and the movie is about 15 minutes in when this older couple walks in. The husband orders a large popcorn and a soda, pays, and then his wife approaches the counter. She places both hands on the glass and looks up at me with an expression that I think is best described as all the leftover parts from a preschool Mr. Potatohead set.
“Hello! What can I get for you today?”
“I would like a box of popcorn.”
“Well, we sell it in bags, usually, but I can pour it into a courtesy tray, if that’s better. What size do you want?”
“No, I don’t want any size, I just want popcorn in that box.” She points to our cardboard courtesy trays.
At this point, I think I get it. Our large popcorns had a free refill and sometimes people would get their refill at the same time as their first bag so they didn’t have to leave the theater during the movie, which we would give them in the “boxes” she kept referring to.
“Oh! Did you want the free refill now? I’m happy to do that.”
“Nooooo. I don’t want my husband’s popcorn. I WANT MY OWN.”
“Right! I can give you the refill now, in one of the courtesy trays and you won’t have to share a bag with your husband.”
“NO NO NO. HE needs to keep his refill. I WANT MY OWN POPCORN.”
“I TOLD YOU I DON’T WANT A SIZE. Just take some popcorn from over there. Put it in a box. And GIVE. IT. TO. ME.”
“...You want free popcorn?”
“It’s not free if you give it to me!”
“Ma’am. I don’t...I’m sorry. I really don’t know what you mean. If I give you popcorn and you don’t give me money after I give you the popcorn, then it’s free popcorn. And that’s not how this works.” (I am so overwhelmed and confused that I am gesticulating WILDLY) “I can’t just give you stuff.”
“It’s not free popcorn! You’re giving it to me! Century Theaters does it all the time for me and they don’t say anything.”
My mouth opens and my face falls off and I am so mad at this lady. She is being purposefully obtuse and aggressively confusing. And she’s yelling at me. She sees me weaken.
“Just put some popcorn in the box and I won’t have to tell your manager about your rudeness.”
I am not afraid of my manager. He is, in fact, standing in my view, hiding in the stock room, and trying very very hard not to laugh. But I have given up. My soul has shriveled and become a sad popcorn kernel inside me. My spirit is but a tiny, weak flame as I repeat the phrase “It’s not free if you give it to me” over and over in my head. I grab a box (I’m calling them boxes now, not courtesy trays because everything I know is wrong and did you know it’s not free if you give it to me?) and am about to fill it, when she says-
“You’re making me miss the movie.”
My eyeballs light aflame and turn to dust. I am SEETHING. She obviously is used to harassing people into giving her free shit and even though it was just popcorn and basically garbage after this show (the last of the day), I didn’t want her to win. So I put exactly three pieces of popcorn into the FUCKING COURTESY TRAY I DON’T CARE THAT IT’S PEDANTIC THAT’S WHAT IT’S CALLED and slide the tray over to her. She is not satisfied.
“I’m going to need more than that.”
I take the popcorn scoop and put what amounts to maybe 15 more pieces of popcorn in her tray by letting them fall through the air from the scoop into the tray like a beautiful, angry, yellow waterfall.
“OK! There you go! If you want more than that you’re going to have to buy a bag.”
She points at my name badge and scowls her stupid potato face scowl and says, “YOU are getting fired, bitch.” Takes the tray with her 20 pieces of popcorn and goes into the movie.
A reasonable person might just give up and chalk it up to a crazy, entitled customer and go about the rest of their shift. I was not a reasonable person that day. She called me a bitch! She yelled at me! AND I STILL GAVE HER FREE POPCORN. Sure, it wasn’t a lot, but she still got SOME and I was cranky about it. So with my manager’s blessing, in the last 10 minutes of the show, I scooped up all the popcorn from the popper into our storage bags (essentially garbage bags for popcorn that we kept for the next day’s first showing if we felt like keeping it) and found where she was sitting in the theater. I slung the bag over my shoulder like the fucking Santa Claus of popcorn and sat in the seat directly in front of hers. I put my giant ridiculous garbage bag of popcorn on the seat next to me and ate out of it, in a comically animated way for the rest of the movie. I stuck my whole arm in there, swirled it around, shoved it in my face like cookie monster. It was not dignified. It was not pretty. But it felt so fucking good. Look at all this popcorn! None of it is for you, potato lady! I’m just throwing it on the ground! Here ground! This is for you! Don’t worry chair, it’s not free if I give it to you! I looked absolutely bananas crazy.
As far as I know, she never called to complain about me.
This is one of the few stories that became a BCO meme along the lines of “save bread” or “allergic to crunchy” or “monogrammed thermoses.” Considering how strongly this one resonated, I don’t see how I could’ve picked any other story for the #1 spot.
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.
Image via Jane Rix/Shutterstock.