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 more stories of truly horrendous restaurant customers. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
I really wasn't planning to do another Terrible Customer Stories entry any time soon, but in looking over my submissions, I realized I had an absolute crapton that fit that category. If these seem like a lot of stories, just know that I didn't use all the ones I had — I've got at least double this amount kicking around just waiting to be used.
In 2007, I was working in the back "private dining club" area of a restaurant in Galveston, TX. Members pay an annual fee, which means if you're working the club, you get REAL minimum wage plus tips, and you get a cheat sheet detailing the likes/dislikes of each club member, so you know never to push a crab smothered redfish for Mr. Johnson because he only ever eats the oysters rockefeller. They host events (mothers day brunch, new years eve midnight dinners, etc) which truthfully, were the best gig, because it was all buffet — I only had to handle drinks and special orders, which were rare. But because the club had members, many of which had been members for decades, they kind of felt like they OWNED you when you were their server. One in particular stands out, Mrs. P.
Mrs. P was a widower who lived with her — in her words — "colored nurse" named Dora. Dora was awesome and always super nice — she would have an Arnold palmer, the free shrimp cocktail clubmembers received, a fried shrimp and fish platter, and a slice of pecan pie. Always. If you ever asked her what she wanted, however, Mrs. P would cut you off and say "ITS IN THE BOOK," meaning it was in her club member file. Dora's order was listed in the book, with an additional note to NEVER EVER speak to her in Mrs. P's presence. Also in the book was Mrs. P's preferred meal, which one was ALWAYS supposed to ask about since she sometimes would tweak her order:
Vodka Martini, with blue cheese stuffed olives (we did not have these ready, you had to make them by hand fresh for her), up. Well Vodka.
Shrimp bisque — a cup's worth, but in a bowl. (Editor's Note: Oh my God, when old people ask for shit like this)
Bread — from the restaurant next door, NOT THE NORMAL BREAD WE ALWAYS SERVED. I cannot fault her for this, next door they made fresh baguettes and at our place they had a gross black cracked pepper bread that was baked every 3 days - with softened UNSALTED REAL BUTTER not the piped margarine that was available in the reach-in. You had to actually go to the sauté line cook, ask for a ramekin of butter, and if the dish was cold (meaning you had prepped it in advance) she would put it in your front apron pocket.
Salad — house salad with vinaigrette, tossed tableside, NOT A SERVICE THAT WAS ACTUALLY OFFERED.
Fried whole flounder — which is only actually available 1/4 of the time because no one in Galveston is constantly gigging for flounders. There are peak times when you can get a fuckload, or times when you can't get any, and since we didn't serve frozen fish, if there was no flounder Mrs. P would come down on you with the wrath of a thousand fiery suns. If this was not available, she would proceed immediately to dessert.
Chocolate Molten Lava Cake — that she always complained about. I waited on her for a year (as I replaced her favorite "colored" waiter, who didn't actually leave the restaurant but refused to wait on Mrs. P anymore), and she never once actually met a lava cake that was up to her standards.
She would rattle all of this off to you, occasionally deciding against one of the items you had carefully planned for her in advance, I am convinced just to keep us servers on our toes. She once ordered the legendary pecan pie, only to have it arrive to her disappointment, covered with pecans. She told me she didn't realize it came "with nuts all over it" (despite the fact that Dora always got pecan pie, and we were in Texas, so what the fuck, it wasn't like she'd never seen a pecan pie before). She once berated me over the dirtiness of her martini, and proclaimed that because I couldn't even get that right, she needed me to bring her a small container with olive juice so she could dirty it herself. From then on, all servers had to bring her a small container with olive juice, and for fucks sake, that better have been chilled and not just pulled out of the bar well, because if it was room temp, it would bring up the temperature of the martini and then she could taste what utter shit the well vodka was.
The last time I waited on her — before I took a short vacation that coincided with Hurricane Ike devastating the island — she got up to go to the ladies' room and I came by to refill her and Dora's water. "You know, it's so sad," Dora said to me, "She's so lonely because her friends are all dead and her children don't like her. She's a mean racist coot."
"I'm so sorry that you have to be around her," I replied, looking over my shoulder to make sure she wasn't coming up behind me.
"It's OK, I promised her husband, before he killed himself, she'd never be alone. She hates to be alone." She shook her head, "All that crazy's just up there all the time."
It was then we heard her screaming for Dora. She had fallen in the bathroom. Dora rushed in to get her up and they quickly left. I went into the bathroom and discovered she'd fallen trying to steal TP from under the sink — the cabinet doors were still open and there was toilet paper everywhere. I could hear her at the entrance, yelling at Dora to hurry up and bring the car around. So sad, to be alone, with all that crazy.
I would like to share an experience about bringing the wrong sort of friends to your favorite place. About 12 years ago my then boyfriend and I had a favorite Korean/Japanese restaurant we liked to go to for special occasions. We had two kids and this place was really cool about family dining. They totally rocked. We both worked at restaurants too, so we sort of struck up a friendship with a few of the servers. Many of them were recent immigrants from Asia (a detail that will be important soon). We were the kind of customers they like to have. You know, be nice, make small talk, order lots of good stuff and leave a substantial tip.
Then one day we made the mistake of inviting a few friends to come along to celebrate our anniversary. This would have been fine, except for the boyfriend of one of my friends was a massive asshole. We arrived and were seated at a large table, I think there were about 10 people in our group including my kids.
With what can only be described as lightning wit, this guy starts complaining that he won't eat cat, he loudly refuses to accept a cup of tea because it looked like dirty water, he called the salad dressing 'Chinese slop.' etc. etc. He was so embarrassing and we felt terrible because WE brought him. He made our waitress cry.
Finally our entree was served and I could only hope to get out of there as fast as possible. Suddenly he asked what the green stuff on our sushi plates was. Without missing a beat one of the other guys said 'It's kinda like mayonnaise, want a taste?' Mr. Horrible smiled and popped the whole ball (easily over a tablespoon) in his mouth. His agony was a balm to all who witnessed it. And he was surprisingly quiet for the rest of the meal.
I doubt that I have ever given a bigger tip, and I was just glad that they didn't ban us for life. We never invited that couple anywhere ever again.
I work at a Mexican restaurant. One day I had a gentleman call on the phone saying that he wanted to order a half of a beef chimichanga, and half of the chicken chimichanga but did not want to get charged for two (which is wasting food on our end because we have no one to buy the other halves he didn't want). Then he wanted to add the ingredients of a taco salad which he was buying for his wife into his chimichangas — again, the veggies into half of each, but not all of them. His reasoning behind this was "You see, my wife, she's fat and needs a strict diet." The sad part then would be all she gets to eat is a deep fried shell.
Being confused, I asked the gentleman what exactly he was trying to order. "Do I sound like I'm in kindergarten? Do I sound like a little kid?" he responded. "No sir. I just want to figure out how to do your order correctly." Then he yelled at me over the phone until I gave in and hung up.
I've had many confusing orders and customers. This one was asking for the impossible, and wanted it for cheap, too.
I'm a barista at a very quality-focused cafe in Seattle. Every day, we have two espresso options. One of them is typically a brighter, more distinct coffee for the adventurous, and the other is typically still distinct, but a more approachable, simple espresso. There's a customer who I've seen a few times, pretty young guy, never really chatted with him much. But the current owner (who bought the cafe about a year before) told me that previous owner banned him from the shop because he was so mean to the baristas every time.
One day, he came in and ordered his drink, a large breve latte with kids temperature milk. Then he said "which espresso is normal?" I was caught a little off-guard, since we don't serve flavored coffee or anything. I said "Um, do you mean which one is more approachable?" to which he said "I mean, NORMAL. I want the NORMAL one." I said, "alright. I think you might like this one more." He proceeded to tell me how he doesn't want coffee that has all of these distinct characteristics or anything (even though that's what we're known for). So I said "cool, no worries. Sorry, those are the kind of coffees we tend to like to showcase here." He looked at me and very sternly said, "Well, I really DON'T appreciate it."
After I told the owner about it, I told her that next time he's an asshole, I'd just tell him to go to another coffee shop. She was totally fine with that, said they've put up with his shit for a while, and he already got kicked out by the previous owner. Essentially, she gave me the blessing to refuse service or be rude back to him.
So he came in a few weeks later, and I knew I wasn't going to take his shit. I'm going to calmly and politely say what I want to say, and not pretend like he's being appropriate. If he decided to act like a normal customer, I'd take his cash and not make a big deal. But the second he starts to be rude, I'm dishing it right back.
So he orders his usual drink and says "Which coffee is normal?" I said "Well, they're all normal coffee." So he angrily yells "YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN! NORMAL! LIKE IT TASTES LIKE FUCKING COFFEE! DO I REALLY HAVE TO EXPLAIN THAT??" I replied "Sounds like you should go to another coffee shop."
So the cashier rings him up, then I serve him his drink. He asks for my name and I give it to him. Then he says "You don't have to be such a passive aggressive asshole." I tell him, "I'm not being rude. I'm just letting you know there are many other cafes on this street that will serve you that kind of coffee. I think you'd like them more." I told him that when he comes in and pays us to make him coffee, he's supporting us buying a product that he doesn't enjoy.
He continues to yell at me and says "There is a normal kind of coffee, okay?? It's called the normal curve! Look it up!" That's when I decided to not be polite anymore. I said "OH okay, so you like 'low grade' coffee. I see. Well we only serve quality coffee here. If you want low-grade coffee, there are plenty of places to get it." As he continues to call me an asshole, I look at him mid-sentence, throw on a huge grin, and say "Thank you so much! Have a great day!" and walk away.
The next day, he wrote a Yelp review with a fake name that claimed, "They are such hipster assholes. The barista passively aggressively told me they don't serve normal coffee. No normal? ARE YOU KIDDING??" My boss thought the whole thing was hilarious (I'm pretty damn far from a hipster), and wasn't at all upset about the Yelp review, because we have pages of great reviews that they'd have to sift through to find that one.
When I worked at the college-town diner, one of our least-favorite graveyard-shift regulars was a lawyer who was also, to put it bluntly, a huffing addict. We called him The Glue-Sniffer, but frankly he would inhale anything that would get him high - how he managed to keep his job was beyond us. He was also just an asshole of epic proportions.
One night, I looked over to see him slumped over at his table, and I couldn't see him breathing. Horribly enough, what went through my head was "fuck - if this asshole died, I am going to have to fill out SO MUCH paperwork." It says something when someone has managed to destroy any reflexive compassion you might have had for them.
Anyway, I still figured it was likely that he had just passed out, so I took my large oval tray, walked up to his booth, slammed it down as hard as I could next to his head, and screamed "SIR!! YOU HAVE TO WAKE UP NOW!!!"
He jolted upright with a snort, the few other customers I had cracked up, and I told him he needed to leave. He staggered his paint-flecked face out the door a minute later.
I worked in food service for three long, awful months in my mid-teens, and I would happily cabbage patch into traffic with a sparkler hanging out of my ass if that were the only other option outside of serving other human beings a meal for money.
I was kitchen staff at an Italian fast food chain in West Texas, which is exactly as shitty and depressing as that sounds. Horrible, greasy pizzas that tasted like they were sauced with Pixy Stix, baked ziti that came out of the tray in one rubbery piece if you forked it, super jizzy-looking Fettucine Alfredo. Everything, so gross, except for the breadsticks. They were pretty alright, because how hard is it to not fuck up breadsticks?
I did a few things at the restaurant, including pizza-making, dishwashing and general prep if I did mornings, but my main thing was making the breadsticks, which consisted of drowning a tray of two dozen frozen sticks in a mixture of melted butter, garlic powder, and salt with a paint brush, and shoving them in an oven. I did this for eight to ten hours.
We had the same policy of unlimited breadsticks with your meal as Olive Garden, with the wonky twist that these came no matter what you ordered. Come in for a piece of our freezer-burned cheesecake? Have all of the breadsticks. Order a side salad and nothing else? Breadsticks! Maybe a slice of cheese pizza from the kid's menu because that's a thing management allowed dickhead adults to do? Put these breadsticks inside of you until you can't do that thing anymore. Just wanna fountain drink? Sit down! Breadsticks. For the mouth part of your face. As long as you were dining in, there would be some poor, hollow-eyed teenager hovering nearby with a giant basket full of breadsticks and a pair of tongs silently wishing you death as soon as it was evident the breadstick rule was going to be abused. And man, did customers ever, and gleefully.
I'd always simply been a supplier for those poor kids, and after a few weeks of absorbing garlic butter in my shirt, apron, pants, shoes and invariably my skin, I could hardly stomach the thought of eating one, much less walking around with a basket of piping hot ones wafting in my face. So, I was legit horrified when one of our approximately three hundred and forty one associate managers walked into the kitchen fifteen minutes to closing and was all, "Hey D, we need you on breadstick duty. We've got a church crowd just walked in."
Our other policy, no matter how slow the night, was if a customer walked in the door even thirty seconds before someone had the presence of mind to lock it, we're not shutting down shop until they're satisfied and out the door. People also took advantage of this. Associate manager bro-guy gave me a spare shirt (seriously, you get so gross in the kitchen) and told me to snag a new apron so I'd look semi-presentable, and stuck a visor in my hand, because handing people food in restaurants often means outdoor headwear indoors for no reason ever logically explained in the history of ever.
I peek out of the kitchen through the little window we stick finished pizzas through to the cashier folk and saw three dozen people, all of which I knew. See, in West Texas, at least where I grew up, if you want to interact with your peer group in any significant way, you go to church. For me, church was youth group every Wednesday night (I picked up work shifts every other Wednesday), which was basically church with minor supervision in the form of a cooOoOOoooky youth pastor that was totally down and hip to our jive and cooly fresh yo, and understood our young feels, and, "...word, dog. I get you. I GET you, and Jesus gets you. Isn't that so dope and slammin'? Let's pray."
Even though many of the guys my age that went were legitimately way stoked about god and stuff, even the most devout couldn't pretend the fact that we were all teenagers, our world was boners, and the healthy ratio of girls to dudes there was rather high wasn't a major factor in going. I was pretty much out the door on believing already, so I was attending on the futile hope that maybe someone cute wouldn't notice how debilitatingly awkward I was and would maybe let me touch their butt in the hall or something.
So, Super-Relatable Friend-Guy Youth Pastor™ and a couple of adults had packed up the church vans and taken everyone out for horrible Italian at my poopy chain restaurant, and I was about to serve breadsticks to everyone I knew for however long thirty people can handle consuming sticks of bread. I looked like a barely presentable grease monster after nine hours in a dirty kitchen, which coupled with the fact that I was über-greasy by design because sixteen, and suddenly stink-sweating because of anxiety, and just...fuck, man. I was pretty close to peak gross.
I spent the next two hours not only serving breadsticks while they ate their meals, but due to our associate manager being a leaking canoe full of emulsified dick-meats and refusing to actually do any work, pulling double-duty prepping frozen trays in the back (my colleagues helped, but they still had end-of-night prep to deal with so they could go home) and putting them in the oven.
The youth pastor wanted to chat me up every time I approached his table, my friends were jackasses because that's what teenage boys are, as I'm almost positive some of them absolutely made themselves sick eating breadsticks simply to experience the power of making another human being do their bidding. Every single girl I thought was cute was there, and thus I remained perpetually mortified every second I was in their sight, and thus increasingly stinky and nervous.
And again, two hours. Two. Exactly one hour and fifteen minutes longer than people that aren't evil would have stayed, as anyone that truly believed in our Lord and Savior Jesus Heffernan Christ and his teachings would have looked at our hours on the door, and been all, "Let's order to go," or, "Let's go bother the nice people at Olive Garden." Instead, because they were all collectively the devil, they pretty much killed their meals in thirty minutes and spent the rest of the time casually chatting, pushing me closer to my inevitable atheism, and eating almost forty trays of breadsticks before they called it a night.
And there was nothing to show for the trouble either. Being breadstick guy isn't being a server, and even then most meals are picked up at the counter. Fast food, remember? Youth pastor gave me an awkward side-hug (it was awkward because he hugged me at all, but also because it was clear he didn't want to get any of my labors on their behalf on him), said something something Jesus something something god bless something something bad old white guy joke, and left.
I quit that night. Both youth group, and my job. (Editor's Note: This is the most entertainingly-written story I've ever received)
Do you have a crazy restaurant story you'd like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens? Please e-mail WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Behind Closed Ovens" in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!
Note: The author of the last story contacted me and gave permission to use his actual name, so it has been changed from the pseudonym originally being used, "Dave Hogan."
Image via (who else) Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.