Stories Of Restaurant Customers Who Really, Really Weren't Supposed To Eat That
Welcome back to Off The Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we have one of our old favorites (and my personal favorite category): customers who really weren't supposed to eat that. As always, these are real emails from real readers.
I bartend at a place that has an unusually large amount of daily regulars, considering that it's New York City. We're known for catering to their needs. The majority of them are delightful, but keeping their particular food and beverage quirks straight -- and believe me, there are a TON -- takes some doing. We offer a generous lunch special until 4 pm every day, and a lot of the older locals phone in to-go orders at the very last minute. It's a pain for the chef, but we know it's because they're on a fixed income and it's going to be their dinner, so no big thing. Most of the time.
I was working a slow Monday night shift shortly being hired. Everything had gone well that evening. It was 3 a.m. when my last customer left, so I did a little sweep of the empty dining room (the kitchen closed at 12) to make sure no one had left anything behind. I see a bulging takeout bag at the service station. I figure it's leftovers someone forgot to take home. It absolutely reeks of spoiled fish, and grease and rotten fish water have liquefied the paper cartons. Gagging, I haul this bag of hell to the trash, already feeling sorry for the night porter who'll have to deal with this later too, and scoot behind the bar to wash my hands.
I'm ducked under the bar, turning off the tap, when I hear a breathy voice say, "Excuse me." I jump up in shock (I've been alone in here for almost an hour at this point) and see a mousy little woman in her sixties wearing what can only be described as an enormous straw Easter bonnet (it's November). I'm taken aback, but I've seen weirder get-ups. I slap a coaster in front of her and tell her it's last call, but I'd be happy to get her a drink. She looks at me aghast, as if I'd offered her hard drugs or a bondage session, and quavers, "I'm here to pick up my food."
"Yes," she said.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't get a call for takeout, and our kitchen's been closed for hours."
"My name is Edith," she said pointedly, as if this non-sequitur explained everything.
"All right, Edith, um, I'm sorry if there's been some confusion, but the servers didn't say anything about an order when they left... at midnight...and, the kitchen staff is gone, too, so...?" I trail off at this point, a) because I don't know what's going on here, and b) she's fixed me with a stare that's half-Miss Havisham, half-pure horror movie, and I'm starting to sweat, because we are the only two people in the whole restaurant, and I'm imagining my bloody remains stuffed into the walk-in after Edith feasts on my soul. I edge closer to the bar knives.
"I don't understand this," she says, shrilly. "I ordered the halibut special!"
"We didn't have a halibut special tonight," I croon gently. "Perhaps it's another restaurant you're looking for?"
Edith's face goes beet with rage. "What, do you think I'm crazy?" (YES. YES YES YES YES.) "I order from here all the time. Andres KNOWS me!"
And suddenly it all connects, like the Human Centipede. Andres is the daytime guy. Edith ordered the lunch special. Thirteen hours ago. That putrefying bag of salmonella that I had just humped into the trash.
I can't remember exactly what I said to get her the fuck out of the restaurant. It was some enormous bouquet of platitudes and avowals that such a tragedy would never re-occur, and OF COURSE the owner would hear about this, this vanished order, how such a thing could have even happened in the first place, RIDICULOUS. Nighty-night, Edith, love the chapeau, by the way! Home safe! I do know I bolted that door behind her, and bolted into a cab shortly thereafter.
I barreled into work the next day, brimming over with this story. My coworker shakes his head. "Oh, yeah, Edith. She does that all the time."
"Well, shouldn't we refrigerate the food then?"
"Oh, no, never. I used to, but she goes batshit if it's cold."
I was 17 working at a small pizza place that was located right next to a bar. It was a Saturday night after our late night rush, so the place was dead, as we only had 20 minutes before closing. We had started to clean the whole place when this guy walks in piss drunk. His eyes were super glossy and bloodshot and he was barely walking straight as he stumbled into the store. He made his way over to the counter and began to order: two slices of pizza, a lot of jalapenos, and crunchy. His food got made, it came out, I brought it to him.
I got back to the counter and he started to pour red pepper flakes all over his two slices of pizza. And pour. And pour. And pour. Then he proceeded to enter one of these god-forsaken slices into his mouth. He goes red-faced, tears flowing down his face, mucus running down his nose. He finished both slices. No drink.
He then got up and stumbled into the night.
This was many years ago. My family ended up eating at a Red Lobster [Editor’s Note: NOT THE BLUE SPIDER-CRAB!] for dinner because some visiting relative really wanted to eat there. Unfortunately, I was a young little punk who had no appreciation for seafood, and as such I largely got by on those biscuits and stealing food from other people's plates (in my defense, I was about 12, and my seafood appreciation is very gradually expanding). The one item on the menu I was super stoked about was a strawberry-banana smoothie. I was a 12-year-old who hated seafood and had remnants of a childhood fear of lobsters; it was already set to be a shit night, and that damn smoothie was my only saving grace.
Drinks come out, and with that my smoothie. Twelve-year-old me is ecstatic...until I take a sip of the smoothie. Something's not right, but I can't place what taste in there is off. Whatever it is, it is definitely neither strawberry nor banana. I pass it to my dad, who also can't tell what's off with the drink. It gets passed around to 5 different people until my mom tastes it and identifies what that taste is. Tomato. Tomato banana smoothie. It was about as appetizing as it sounds.
Naturally, it was an easy fix. But I do feel bad for the person who ended up with the Bloody Mary (an already sad drink that just wishes it could be a Caesar) mixed with strawberry juice.
I used to work in a sports bar next to Seattle University, so I got my fare share of asshole college students who were too cheap to afford going out, but would try anyway.
I was cleaning tables after a busy game one day, dumping leftover pints with all the dregs and backwash of stale beer and other nasty things into an empty pitcher that had been left at a table. I left the dump pitcher at the table, carrying the stack of emptied pint glasses back to the dishwasher. I was the only one working and it was a while before I could get back to clearing. When I got back to the table, some college kids who I had just ID'd for pint glasses (I assumed they were with friends who had ordered new pitchers) were sitting there, and the dump pitcher had a noticeably lower level of sludge than when I had left it.
"You weren't drinking from that pitcher were you?" I asked.
The only response I received were blank stares of terror.
"Because that was my dump bucket, and that would be disgusting."
I grabbed what was left of the pitcher and walked away. So did they, without saying a word.
It was a Sunday morning and we were prepping for the usual Sunday brunch. My boss was drinking red wine from the bottle by 9am. The drinking part wasn’t unusual, but he usually drank from a juice glass and not straight from the bottle. I knew it would be a special day.
We had a brunch buffet, and one of the items was “glazed ham.” My boss’s idea of haute cuisine was...not ideal. For example, his recipe for “dilled salmon” was to dump pickle juice onto a frozen salmon steak, microwave it for three minutes, then toss it under the broiler until cooked through. The recipe used for “Glazed Ham,” meanwhile, was to dunk sliced ham into a boiling pot of watered-down pancake syrup and then fish it out and dump it into the chafing dishes.
Because he was drunk and talking too much with familiar customers, he was ignoring the dwindling items on the buffet. When he finally did notice, he came blustering into the kitchen, furious that the buffet had run out of ham. He went over to the waitress dessert counter to get the pancake syrup to “glaze“ a new batch of it. Just one problem: he was colorblind. He grabbed the jug of crème de menthe without noticing the brilliant green color.
I watched as he poured a cup or so of thick BRIGHT GREEN mint-flavored syrup over about 2 lbs of sliced ham. He added a cup or so of hot water and cranked the heat. I finally said “Chef, what are you doing?” I was told in no uncertain terms that I should mind my own business and attend to the customers ordering off the menu. I shrugged and let him carry on, and within minutes, he was proudly marching out to the dining room with his plate of BRIGHT GREEN ham with a decidedly mint flavor.
Two minutes later, his wife (acting as hostess) brought in the chafing dish of green ham and asked WTF. He launched into a fit about how dare she question his cooking, but she was having none of it. She pointed out that the ham was bright fucking green, and finally he backed down. Embarrassed, he retired to the basement with a bottle of wine and wasn't seen much for the rest of the day.
Many years ago, probably the spring/summer of 2003, I was working at a Subway as assistant manager (or my preferred and quite possibly made up title "head sandwich artist"). And of all the thousands of sandwiches I made that summer only one stands out, a lady of dubious class and questionable upbringing comes through the line and orders the following:
A double meat, double cheese Cold Cut Combo, with EXTRA mayo, and the standard vegetable offerings. (Lettuce, Tomato, Onions, Pickles, etc.)
A little background on the Cold Cut Combo, it's three types of meat, as long as you consider Bologna three types of meat. They're all called different things, but it's a bologna sandwich, it also had by weight the most a) meat and b) fat of any sandwich we offered at the time. And this had just been doubled on a foot long sub.
Well, at Subway you watch them make your sandwich, and as such, she was watching me. When we got to the mayo part of the process I grabbed the bottle with the big hole for a nozzle and applied the Subway recommended 3 stripes lengthwise on the sandwich. She requested simply "More." So I repeated the process. "More!" she bellowed. So this time, lots of lines horizontally, and now there's a grid of 1/2" strips of mayo, on this sandwich, and her response again was a resounding "MORE!!!" So I just give her the ol' tell me when to stop option, and then proceeded to empty like half a bottle of mayo on her sandwich.
I could barely wrap the sandwich with the paper at the end, and the way the whole thing squished when I dropped it in the bag nearly made me sick, but she ate the whole thing, said it was delicious, and apparently came back in when I wasn't working and complained that whoever made the sandwich the second time hadn't put enough mayo on it.
Many moons ago, I had taken a date to a popular sushi joint in Birmingham, Alabama. This was at the height of their midnight sushi popularity, and we were sat at the sushi bar. Next to my date was an open spot where someone had taken the stool to another part of the bar. Into this empty space walked a young man.
The young man gave off a distinctly creepy vibe, so my date went to the bathroom and I swapped seats with her when she got back. The dude marked up a *massive* order of sushi on the order paper and handed it up to the chef.
Within 2 minutes, he was looking around like he expected magic sushi to be delivered on demand. Started making "Hufffffffff" sounds in exasperation. Then he did something I have never seen before or since: he picked up the little glass votive candle holder, dumped the LIT tea candle in it out onto his hand, filled up the candle holder with soy sauce, and proceeded to eat the wax off his hand and wash it down with shots of soy sauce.
He followed up this display by asking the sushi chef if every plate he put food on was his. "Is that one mine?" "No, yours will be about 20 minutes." "Is that one mine now?" and then after 5 minutes of this, he reached up and tried to grab sushi off someone's plate. The chef smacked the back of his hand with the flat of his knife, and remade the messed up food.
After this happened twice, they waved for the off duty police security to come escort the guy out. He broke loose from the cop and ran back in, knocking plates over and grabbing anything he could get his hands on (including a used napkin) and shoving it in his mouth while yelling "HUNGRYYYYYY.” He was eventually removed by three police officers dragging him out of the restaurant.
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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!