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ByMarshall Astor


Welcome back to Off The Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we've got week one of two consecutive weeks of our old favorite subject, Worst Customers. (Part 2 is right here.) As always, these are real emails from real readers.

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Mary Allende

I worked at a coffee shop in the suburbs of Southern California.

A customer who was known to be problem came in with her six-year-old child. While on the phone, she ordered a drink full of Splenda for herself and then a super-sugary drink for her kid. Out of nowhere, the kid started crying. Not the “I’m hurt/hungry/sad,” crying, but crying for crying’s sake. Mom was on the phone, sort of waving her hand at witnesses looking bothered by her nonchalant attitude during this whole thing. In the past, parents had gotten embarrassed or angry by outbursts like this, but not this woman. This crying went on for ten minutes, while onlookers tried to console the child, who at that point was rolling around on the floor crying and crying and crying. Still, this woman was on the phone. She took their drinks and sat next to the front door, with the kid still crying and Mom doing nothing.

It was the very end of my shift, and after ten more minutes of this crap I had had enough. I went up to her and very discreetly told her that her child was being a bit disruptive and if there was anything I could get for him, I’d be happy to do so; otherwise, they’d have to relocate to the patio and become the outside’s problem. Off the phone now, she waved me off, saying it would stop soon.

Five minutes later it had not stopped, so I went back and more firmly, yet still tactfully, asked her to take her son outside. She responded with “someone’s on the way right now," and before I could exasperatingly finish asking “when are they arriving?” she pointed towards the front door and said, “here they are.”

I turned around and it was the cops. She called the cops because her own kid wouldn’t stop crying.

Dan Baker

It was near closing at the little local ice cream store my mom worked at when a family of four (mom, dad, little girl, and little boy) came in from the nearby lake. The little boy was covered in cheeto dust when he came in, so my mom offered to get his mother a wet paper towel with which to clean him off. The lady's response was "Oh no, we have wipes." She then proceeded to not wipe this child off. Said child was also running around touching everything after having received blue bubblegum ice cream, so now there was blue cheeto dust everywhere.

A little while later, my mom looks up from behind the counter to see the little girl was dripping blood from her inner leg. When the mother saw this, she reached down and pulled a leech (A LEECH) off the girl and just set it on the table. They left it there.

Additionally, my mom caught the little boy licking his finger next to the now-open cake display freezer. Naturally, she asked the mother to control her child (politely and not using those words). The mother asked him if he was getting into the cakes. The boy said no -- while he was licking his finger. The cake had fingerprints on it that had to be cut off.

They failed to clean up their mess and they left no tip.

Katie Masotta

I used to work in Greggs (a UK bakery "food to go" kind of place) to supplement my income while I was at uni doing my second degree. Three times a day we had to temp-check the fridges the sandwiches and drinks were kept in using probes. We tended to just sit them in there for a minute or two and then take them out to record the temp in the logbook.

So that's what I had done one afternoon, and I was cleaning out the cake cabinet behind the counter, when this hipster-y guy walks in and stands looking in the sandwich fridge. I said hello, let me know if I can help, etc, and went back to cleaning. Not technically right, but I was the only one there and it was a small shop, so it was fine.

Then he picks up the probe and spins around saying it's like a geiger counter! And at my blank look he proceeds to mansplain what a GEIGER counter is. So at the first moment I can I jump in and say, "Oh, I know what a GEIGER counter is! I did my first Masters in Physics!" beaming at him all friendly-like. He stares back at me, then walks out, taking the probe with him.

My manager was not particularly pleased.

James Coogan

My father is a pathological liar, and as such, deeply mistrustful of others. He's convinced that everyone is always lying to him (because he's lying to them), and it's his personal mission in life to reveal people to be the lying assholes they are. He's also pretty disrespectful, and as such, it’s very important to him that he be shown proper respect. Woe is the person who finds themselves on the wrong side of both of these personality traits at the same time.

Such was the fate of our server during what would forever be remembered as "The Applesauce Incident." My parents, younger brother, and I were at some chain restaurant when I was a kid. I remember it being a big occasion and very fancy, but because we were poor and a sit down restaurant was a very big deal, it was probably Olive Garden.

Anyway, my brother picked something off the kids menu, but didn't like the side. My father tells the young woman who was our server that my brother will have applesauce instead (why he picked applesauce remains a mystery -- my brother neither asked for it, nor particularly liked it). The server apologizes, and says they don't have applesauce. My father's switch flips. His face simultaneously has "Does she think I'm some kind of chump?" and "Who does she think she is?" written all over it. He settles on, "OH, REEEEALLY?!"

Startled, the server apologizes again, and begins to tell him the other things he could substitute. My father cuts her off "You really expect me to believe you don't have applesauce!?" She begins to speak, but he continues, "You're telling me in that whole goddamned kitchen, there's no applesauce!?" He's getting louder and louder, and the three of us are horrified. He is oblivious to our discomfort, as it's clear he thinks that we're all grateful he's doing this for us. He keeps shooting us smug, "I'll show her" looks. My brother and I stare at the ground.

At some point she stops protesting and says, "I mean, I'll go ask if that's what you really want, but we don't have it." My father considers it and then says, "I think I'll go with you." Finally (finally!) my mom intervenes, and says, "let's just see if she can find it first." He acquiesces.

Server returns with the manager, who informs us that he's personally checked, and there is no applesauce. Finally satisfied that he's gotten the truth and is being shown proper respect, my father rolls his eyes and says, "fine."

From then on, asking for applesauce became a running joke in the family. He really enjoyed this legacy, I think because in his mind, we weren't laughing at him, but with him, at that server who thought she could fool him.

My father also has a penchant for revisionist history.

Dave Andrews

In high school and college I worked at a mostly Pennsylvania-based diner chain restaurant. One of my best friends, and still one of my best friends, let’s call him Tim, was a server at the restaurant and I was a cook.

One night, Tim rang in a check for the most popular burger on the menu (built like a Big Mac, but no onions, different sauce and bigger burger patties) with extra pickles listed twice underneath. Common item, common addition, nothing out of the ordinary.

Tim came to the window and said that the woman wanted “a lot of pickles on this burger, seriously, a lot.” I think, ok, I will triple the number of pickle chips on the burger, from five to fifteen, that should do it. Tim agreed, and delivered the burger. A minute later, he returned with the burger and said, “I guess that wasn’t enough pickles, can you put some more on there?” I suppose I wasn’t really that surprised that it came back, but whatever. I put another ten on there, asked Tim what he thought, we agreed it looked good and sent it back out. Obviously, it came back again, so it was game time.

Tim came back to the kitchen and he said, “Seriously, she says she wants a ton of pickles on this thing, no amount would be too much.” I’m like, ok man, let’s load this up and see what happens. So I stacked this thing with an egregiously large number of pickles. At that point, the thickness of the pickles exceeded the thickness of the burger patties by not a small margin. We called the manager into the kitchen and explained that this woman wants “a freaking ton of pickles” and it had been sent back twice already for more pickles. We showed the burger to the manager and asked if this amount of pickles seemed reasonable under the circumstances. She gave it the ok and Tim delivered it to the table a third time.

The woman now freaked out (of course) and started going ballistic on Tim for serving such a ridiculous burger with so many pickles on it. The manager, even though she was aware of the situation before the customer complained, picked up the check anyway.

Dan Bielman

Canada has a burger chain called Harvey’s. Similar to your big American chains, but a bit more upscale. They were one of the first fast food joints to make your burger plain and then let you tell an employee exactly what toppings you wanted, in what quantities, as they made it.

So I was there after the dinner rush to pick up a couple of shakes, and there was only one person ahead of me. Since Harvey’s does your order in stages in a small assembly line-type setup, it tends to move people through at a good clip. I figured I’d be in and out quickly.

Yeah, not so much.

The customer in front of me, who I will refer to as Scrooge McDouche, ordered a shake and a cheese burger. In one hand was a pre-2008 Nokia cell phone, and in the other was what appeared to be 1.5 liter bottle of water that he had inexplicably taken into a fast food joint. He was, of course, trying to speak to the person taking his order while also imploring the person to whom he was speaking on the phone to speak up.

CASHIER: That’ll be 6.50.

SMD: Excuse me?

C: I said that will be 6.50.

SMD: That’s INSANE.

SMD, who apparently had never been in a modern restaurant before, then tried to haggle. The long-suffering cashier somehow kept her cool and repeatedly reminded him that she had no control over prices, that all she could do was press a button to ring him up. So he decided to order two burgers from the kid’s meal, which are about half the cost and size. Imagine his shock when his final total came to 6.60. Then he began complaining about the ‘insanity’ of the kid’s burgers costing more, even though he had asked for two of them.

After three of the four staff members running the place dealt with him, they finally were able to take his order, and he progressed to the area where you select toppings for your order. They could finally take my order. After placing it and waiting for a minute (they needed to replace the syrup or something), I looked around to see SMD back at the register, apparently trying to add a shake to his order. But wouldn’t you know it, he was trying to use various bank/credit cards that just weren’t working. It took him long enough that a line of people formed behind him that reached the door. It was this moment that I finally realized the “water” he was carrying was in fact the biggest, cheapest bottle of vodka I’ve ever seen. Not even brand name. I think the bottle just said “vodka.”

They finally fixed the shake machine and gave me my order. While on my way to get straws, I was accosted by SMD.

SMD: Hey, that’s my shake.

ME: No, it isn’t. I ordered both of these.

SMD: Are you sure that isn’t my shake?

ME:I am quite sure that I know what I ordered.

SMD: OK, well, she told me that was my shake.

He pointed to the cashier who had been putting up with him for the past 20 minutes. She had not told him that one of my shakes was his. She waved him over to give him his actual shake, and I finally, mercifully got out of there.

The worst part of all this? He wasn’t agitated. He wasn’t screaming. He wasn’t angry. This wasn’t some day where he was being especially difficult. This was his normal.

Dennis Overton

My first serving job was at a Red Robin when I was a teenager. One day a group of four women walk in and are ready to order immediately. The first three order something off of the regular menu, but the fourth one wants a kid’s meal burger.

I tell her the kid’s menu is for patrons 12 and under, and that we serve “petite” burgers on the regular menu if she wasn’t all that hungry. She proceeds to huff and puff, so I decide to just let her order off the kid’s menu before she blows my mood down early in my shift.

The three normal, well-adjusted women have maybe one refill of their sodas and were generally very polite. The fourth woman was a nightmare. She must have had six diet pepsis and three french fry refills (free at Red Robin).

At the end of the meal, they ask for separate checks. No problem. When I come back to get their checks, the first three women have cards ready and smile and thank me for taking their plates. The fourth woman, though, holds the check an inch from my nose and screeches “I ORDERED THE KID’S MEAL AND YOU CHARGED ME FOR MY SODA! IT SAYS RIGHT HERE ON THE MENU THAT THE KIDS MEAL COMES WITH THE SODA!” Doing the math in my head, she consumed about 100 ounces of soda, as opposed to the 8-12 a child might have in their plastic sippy cup. Again, being a rookie server, I tell her I’ll have it taken off the check.

I go to my boss and tell him what’s up, and his face turned a troubling shade of red immediately. He walks over to the POS and begins typing things and swiping his manager’s card, then marches over to the woman, who by now has a shit-eating grin on her face. She clearly thought that he was frustrated with me.

After listening to her rude-ass complaints and critique of my service, he develops his own devilish grin. He explains to her that kids' meals are for patrons 12 and under, and as such he has adjusted her bill not only to pay for the soda, but to also pay for an adult, petite burger meal, upping her check by $4. At this point the other three women are literally wilting away from embarrassment, and the fourth woman is no longer protesting. It was like magic, as if she had never been told “no” before.

She pays her bill and the other three women each leave $5 bills on the table for a tip. The fourth woman feigns walking out with them, but after they leave, she grabs the money off the table and says “you don’t deserve this,” sticks it in her pocket, and leaves.

Mike Dandridge

I worked in a classic American pub restaurant in a college town. It was pretty family friendly during the day (free soft drinks for kids as long as the adults got something too, that sort of thing) but once it hit around 8 or 9 on Thursday-Sunday, all bets were off. The stereo would jump to ear-shattering volumes of dirty, dirty music, and it would become an all-out bar.

This was usually understood, and most people who'd be offended by that sort of thing were out of the place by 7:30 pm anyway. But our restaurant was also one selected for a popular annual bar crawl modeled after a golf course -- there were 9 bars, as in 9 holes. The city was cool with it, and provided busing and all that. All in good fun. The bar crawl, however, was on a Saturday and started, thematically, at 9 am. So people pregamed a bar crawl and came in good and drunk, and only got worse from there.

It's fine, you know, whatever, they're loud and in the way, but this happens every year. A family of three comes in at 2:30pm for lunch to the melodic tones of uncensored Dr. Dre, and decides to try and stick it out. I had to get on a knee to try and hear their orders because the bar was so loud. They all get the normal pub food -- burgers and onion rings.

It takes awhile, but I deliver their food, and they're obviously not having fun. I feel for them, but come on, we had over two dozen people just turn on a heel and walk out that day, which made a lot more sense. I ask if everything's okay, and the wife says "My husband didn't get enough onion rings with his order. He wants more onion rings," as if he is a toddler who won't talk to strangers. I have to tell her, sorry, we weigh and package our onion rings as servings and that's just the size of them -- I can get them more, but they'll be an appetizer order.

They stare at me.

I stare back, and then see a drunk man literally fall down and break a full glass of beer. I apologize again, and go to fix that problem.

Five minutes later my pushover manager approaches me with a basket of onion rings and tells me that if I have a problem with a table, I should talk to her. I am perplexed. They'd complained that I had been "extremely rude." I go to apologize, because maybe I was short with them or in a rush, and get LITERALLY NO RESPONSE. They ignore me like the psychopaths they are. On the final bill is a two cent tip, with this phrase: "Sorry, we 'weigh' our tip on good service :)"

Then they called the next day and I was suspended from shifts for two weeks. I had to borrow money to make rent. Because I wouldn't give them free food.

[Editor’s Note: We get a lot of stories of atrocious restaurant customers on Off the Menu, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been seized by more of a desire to reach into a story and throttle its subject than I was while reading this submission]

Send Moar Stories!

Do you have a restaurant, home-cooking, or any other food-adjacent story you’d like to see appear in Off the Menu (on ANY subject, not just this one)? Please e-mail WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with “Off the Menu” in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!

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