Stories Of Elderly Restaurant Customers And The Havoc They Caused
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 stories of the trials and tribulations of the elderly in restaurants (many of which are happy and adorable, we promise!). As always, these are real emails from real readers.
Many many years ago, before the bagel-industrial complex made bagels ubiquitous, my mom was at Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side in NYC in line waiting to buy 11 dozen bagels or whatever. An older British couple stood in line in front of her, discussing the offerings:
Older British Lady: What would you like to eat for breakfast?
Older British Man: I want toast.
OBL: They don't have toast, they only have these ... "baggles."
OBM: What is a "baggle?"
OBL: I don't know.
OBM: Well, I don't want a baggle! I want TOAST!
OBL: Well they don't have toast! They only have baggles!
My mom just snickered as they stormed out in their quest for toast.
[Editor's Note: No, the decision to base a post around this story totally wasn't inspired by Kaili's rant about bagel atrocities. Why would you think that?]
I'd just like to start this out by saying that my grandfather is a really great person 99 percent of the time. He has, however, two major flaws: one, he outsources all of his social etiquette powers to my grandmother, and two, he's super deaf and thinks that everyone else is just mumbling because they're contrary fucks or something. This means eating out with him is sort of a minefield, dependent largely on how good a sense of humor the server has.
This story takes place sometime in the mid 2000s in an American chain restaurant that sells breakfast food and generic Southern comfort food stuff (I'm not actually trying to be vague, here; I genuinely have no idea what it was. Bob Evans? Denny's?). A fairly large segment of my extended family was there: grandparents, two aunt/uncle pairs with their children, my parents, my siblings and me -- altogether, about 20 people. We were seated at one long table in the back corner of the restaurant, which meant that a little over 50 percent of the seats were completely inaccessible to anyone once the others had been seated. My grandfather was seated in the far corner in the least accessible part of the table. Our waitress had stopped about halfway down the table and asked for food and drink orders, which is when it happened.
My grandfather stood up, cupped his hands around his mouth, and bellowed "I WOULD LIKE AN ICED TEA NO SUGAR AND THE SOUP AND SALAD COMBO WITH TOMATO -- " and so on and so forth. The waitress stared. The family stared. Everyone in the goddamn restaurant stared at this tiny old man who had, in a voice like Discworld's Death, suddenly filled the room with a deep and unbearably loud rendition of a completely mundane food order. He ended with " -- THANK YOU, AND PLEASE COME DOWN HERE NEXT TIME SO I CAN TELL YOU IN PERSON."
He then sat down and started eating bread rolls like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Meanwhile, the waitress looked shellshocked, a baby had started crying, and my grandmother was making throat-slitting motions with her hand for pulling this kind of shit (they're a great couple).
Our waitress, bless her heart (in the non-facetious way), didn't mention the outburst and gave us great service the rest of the time. We tipped well and high-tailed it out of there -- to my knowledge, never to return.
Our pub had been an ale house in some form or other since the reign of Queen Victoria. So, despite frequent re-brandings, a lot of the regulars had been coming in for decades rather than years.
One such was "Jack.” Well over 90 and looking like Yoda in a bow tie, Jack had worked in the bar as a young man many decades ago. Sadly, due to some degenerative mental condition, he had regressed back to that time in his mind. His job had once been to bus tables and nothing was going to stop him now. Not his arthritic hands, the begging of management, or the pleas of patrons who weren't actually done with whatever he'd cleared away. On the one hand, you can't really ban an adorable elderly man who's just confused, but on the other we weren't insured for an elderly befuddled busboy. For the most part, we just learned to be super fast with clearing tables whenever he came in and tried to engage him in stories about the pre-WWII years, since that was sort of the present to him. We did try to find a caregiver or responsible person for him, but as far as we knew, he didn't have anyone.
One day, we were really busy at the end of lunch service and didn't notice that Jack had collected four glasses, stacking them into a tower. They were all the same size and wedged tight. One of the younger bar men, Jeff, tried to pull them apart, but having had no luck, he just abandoned the stack on the kitchen sink. Ten minutes later, BOOM. Either the vacuum created by Jeff's pulling or the heat difference in the kitchen had caused the whole tower to explode. Tiny cubes of glass were scattered 10 feet across the room, including into the last plates that were due to go out to customers. I went to fetch a broom and to tell chef that he'd have to cut his cigarette break short since the meals needed remaking.
Returning to the kitchen, we found that one of the waitresses has taken the glass coated meals out to their table. Because of course cubes of glass look exactly like sea salt -- if you're an idiot. Fortunately, chef managed to wrestle them away from her and we ended up comping the meals rather than admit to almost feeding them mashed potato avec glass shards.
The next time we saw Jack, he told us he wouldn't be in very often any more as he'd signed up to fight the Germans and was waiting to ship out. Perhaps the exploding noise triggered a new memory, or maybe it was chef shouting like an enraged drill sergeant. Either way, he came in once a month after that, always smartly dressed and refusing to reveal any military secrets.
My 87-year-old grandma likes to be taken to a local BBQ joint where she continually orders, not BBQ, like one would expect, but fish.
It is the same every time. After being seated, she complains about how uncomfortable the wooden booths are. She then orders a sweet tea NO LEMON and asks the server, "Do you still have the senior catfish dinner?" (Hint: Yes, it is right there on the menu.) Once she receives the affirmative, she says, "All right, well if the fish is fresh, I'd like that." When asked what sides she wants, she confusedly peruses the list even though she always orders the same: sweet potato fries and coleslaw, which she doesn't touch.
When we ask her about her meal she replies, "It was okay. The fish was a little watery." It wouldn't be so hilariously frustrating if she didn't repeat this routine the same exact way EVERY SINGLE TIME, but she does. It's practically a bit at this point.
I was slammed, bouncing back and forth between too many tables when I got sat with an eight-top of old ladies. I grimaced, but that's the breaks.
When I approached, I could barely get out the canned greeting before I got assaulted with, "CAN I GET CREAM WITH MY COFFEE?" and "I HAVE A COUPON" and "IT'S COLD IN HERE."
I did my best to placate all of their demands/concerns when one of the meeker ladies squeaked something like "Splenda." I confirmed that we had Splenda and that I would bring it to her with all the drinks. Before I could move on, she tugged on my shirt and repeated herself. Less patient this time, I promised her that we had Splenda and she would get her Splenda and I would bring her the Splenda myself if she just let me walk away.
Once I managed to get away from the table, I high-tailed it to the wait station and hastily assembled the eight-top's decafs when another server approached and said, "Uh, I think it was your table, this lady called me over and wanted to talk about Splenda or something? I told her I'd let you know."
I returned prepared. I had Splenda for miles. Splenda in packets, Splenda in a ramekin, Splenda Splenda Splenda. She would want for nothing. I began placing down the drinks, one by one, and I finally got to the fucking Splenda lady and presented her with my bounteous gifts.
Instead of contentment or excitement, I got confusion. She finally spoke up for the first time and said, "I was trying to tell you that you have a splendid beard. It's just splendid. You're so handsome!"
[Editor's Note: That is ADORABLE.]
My boyfriend and I were having happy hour drinks and appetizers at a popular spot in Boca Raton, FL. This place (Kapow) is right next to an Irish restaurant called the Dubliner. The outdoor seating is near each other so you can hear the tables talking at the Dubliner.
An elderly couple is seated within earshot of us at the Dubliner. The wife ordered just fine, but the husband was a piece of work. The exchange between him and the poor server went like this:
Man: "I want the lamb burger, but the lettuce and tomato I want separate."
Server: "Sure, no problem, I'll have it put on the side for you."
Man: "No, I want it to come out first."
Server: "You want the lettuce and tomato first?"
Man: "Yes, I want the lettuce and tomato to come out first and can you cut it up in the back? Also, I want some dressing."
Server: "So you want a side salad?"
Man: "No, I want the lettuce and tomato cut up to come out first. I'm not paying for a side salad."
At this point I had lost it and was laughing in these people's faces. The poor server tried to explain it wasn't possible to use the one piece of tomato and lettuce to make him a special side salad, but if he wanted to order a side salad, he could. If I remember correctly, I think she gave in just to get the old guy to stop arguing.
A few years ago, my friend Justin was working at Mocha Mott's, my father’s coffee shop in Martha’s Vineyard. It was November, so it was the off-season and a slow afternoon and he was reading a paper. An elderly man had parked his car in front of the shop. Confusing forward and reverse, he drove up and over the sidewalk, through the wrought iron fence, down the stairs, and through the window. He was only stopped by the Odwalla refrigerator. Personally, I think the ability to stop a car should be a selling point for their beverages. Justin was pretty freaking stunned when a car DROVE INTO THE SHOP and is pretty grateful for that Odwalla fridge.
The man is no longer driving. The Odwalla fridge is still standing.
[Editor’s Note: #HeroFridge]
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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!