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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 the old standby: terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad restaurant customers. As always, these are real emails from real readers.

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Kelly Summers

This happened at my neighborhood McDonald's years ago.

My husband and I had just ordered our food and are standing off to the side waiting for them to put it on a tray and slide it to us. While we were waiting, a tiny older woman came up to the counter with her Quarter Pounder still in the container. An employee (looked to be in high school) asked her what was wrong with her burger. The lady practically shoved it under his nose and said "I wanted extra pickles!" The employee very politely pointed out that the burger did in fact have extra pickles, but he would be happy to make another burger for her and put more on it.

"No! You just put more pickles on this burger."

“But ma'am, your burger will get cold. I can make you a fresh one.”

"No! That’ll take too long! Put pickles on this burger."

“It will only take a minute. I can do it right now.”

"No!"

Seeing that she wasn't going to budge, the teen grabbed the burger from her, walked around to the toppings (within view of the customer), and put a pile of pickles on it. He closed the lid of the container, walked back over to her, and handed it to her. She proceeded to open it and then immediately complain that she wanted EXTRA PICKLES. The teen again explained that there were extra pickles on the sandwich. She apparently wanted even more than extra-extra pickles.

The teenager begged her to let him just make her a new sandwich. The lady was adamant that it would TAKE TOO LONG AND JUST PUT THE PICKLES ON THIS SANDWICH. Sighing, he again took it from her, walked around to the toppings, and put a handful of pickles on the sandwich, then again handed it to her.

She opened the container and said, "This is enough pickles, but now the sandwich is cold. I want a refund."

The teen, understandably speechless at the moment, just stared at her. She then turned to my husband and me and, with a look of complete disgust, asked us, "Do you believe that? They gave me a cold sandwich!"

Ruth Elliott

I work in a cafe in central London. It's relatively laid back, but is in a really snooty/touristy area, so we have to be pretty on our toes for difficult customers.

I'm running shift on a busy Saturday morning; every table is taken, every waitress is slammed. It's insane but running smoothly. Until one of the waitresses says one of her tables is complaining and being nasty about it.

I go over to see what the problem is. It's a table of four -- the dad is unhappy his bacon sandwich is cold. I offer to get him a new one from the kitchen, but also explain that the bun we serve it in is cold, so only the bacon will be hot. I take it downstairs, WATCH THE CHEF THROW THE FIRST ONE AWAY, and see him start on a new dish. It gets sent to the table and I go over a couple of minutes later to see if everything is OK.

It's not. I then get shouted at for 15 minutes for every insanity under the sun. I am told the chef didn't make a new sandwich and “just re-cooked the old one.” When I reassure him this isn't the case, I am told I’m a liar, and that because he's a tourist, we feel we can do whatever we want to him. The daughter chimes in and says the coffee came before the food, which is apparently unacceptable (what?). I try to explain this is standard practice when you order a drink -- nope, I'm wrong, apparently.

I offer to comp the whole bill for them to get them to shut up, but he says he wants to pay. I take the bacon sandwich off and give them the bill. He wants to pay with Maestro, which we don't accept. When I tell him this, he disagrees. I put the card in the machine and show him the error message, and he says I'm not using the machine correctly. I then offer to comp the entire bill again, but he insists he wants to pay, but only on his Maestro. He will not accept that our machines don't accept Maestro; he says we have one of those little Maestro stickers on our front door advertising that we take Maestro (we don’t, and never have). In the end, his wife comes over and convinces him to allow me to just comp the bill.

His parting comment is a promise to come back the next morning -- to achieve what, I don't know. Thank God he never did, to my knowledge.

Kate McDonald

I was working as a hostess at a farm-to-table restaurant in Nashville. They used OpenTable, and one night, I saw a reservation for a William Morris. I got the giggles because I'm overeducated and thought it was funny to think we would be hosting the 19th century poet/textile designer.

OK, so I made a bad decision. When he arrived, I said, "Are you THE William Morris?" He said (of course), "Why, yes! I am THE William Morris!" I smiled.

After work, on my way to the car, I was telling my friend about the exchange and let out a laugh. It wasn't until the next day when I showed up to work that I learned an unfortunate coincidence: the guy lived in the neighborhood and heard me laughing. I also learned a few other things: 1) there was a company in town called the William Morris Talent Agency, 2) it was more widely known than the 19th century poet/textile designer, 3) the talent agency guy had no sense of humor, and 4) my boss had no problem firing me over something I said off the clock and outside the restaurant just because some self-important asshole overheard me and got his little feelings hurt.

I hope THAT William Morris chokes on some of that restaurant's locally sourced and lovingly prepared caramel bacon popcorn.

Peter Garretson

A few years ago, my partner and I decided to go out for Christmas Eve dinner. We went to a nice, upscale hotel restaurant in Boston and had an enjoyable meal. Seated a couple of tables away from us was a group of six -- three couples. They were well dressed, looked well off, and seemed to be having a good time. Although they were drinking well, if not wisely, they were no problem during the meal.

As they were wrapping up, they all began laughing loudly and the guys were high-fiving each other, almost like their team had just scored the winning touchdown, although there were no TVs and it was Christmas Eve. They paid the check -- in cash, I noticed -- and left.

A little while later, we asked for our check and were presented with a bill for over $900. We suggested to the waiter that we didn't spend that much. He agreed, apologized, and brought us our real check -- about $90 or so. We then realized what had happened. The party of six got our $90 check by mistake, paid it, and bolted. I'm guessing they probably tipped on $90 too.

M.J. Lowery

I work at a Whole Foods in the Pacific Northwest, and a year or so ago, I experienced the most bafflingly out-of-the-blue piece of rudeness I have ever encountered. During our evening dinner/commuter rush, I was walking past the salads when I noticed an older man, probably about 65 (and not well-preserved), who was looking around a bit searchingly and scowling. I, of course, asked him if he needs help finding anything, and we had the following conversation:

Him: [In a very abrupt tone] Yeah. Where's the kale?

Me: Well we have kale right down here -- [I start walking towards it to show him, but he interrupts before I get get more than a few steps toward it.]

Him: No! I don't want to BUY any kale. Just tell me where it is.

Me: Um. OK, well, as I said we have bunches on the wall down there and right here we've got baby kale. [I point behind me at the packages of baby kale salad.]

Him: Can I get some of that? Give me some of that.

Me: Oh, sure! [I pull a package off the wall and hand it to him, but he doesn't make any move to take it, just stares at me as if I've gone crazy. After an awkward pause, I start to put it into his cart instead, but he stops me again.]

Him: No, I mean can I HAVE some. I want to taste it.

Me: Oh! Of course, no problem sir, let me just open it up for you. [Our store policy is "always offer samples," so this part wasn't super unusual. Before I've even got the package open, though, he interrupts again.]

Him: Why are you still talking to me? Go away. I don't talk to ugly girls.

I ought to have had a comeback (or slapped him -- I still regret not slapping him, honestly), but I was so shocked that I wordlessly put the kale back on the shelf, turned around, and walked the fuck away.

What really gets me about this is not the personal insult, nor the fact that he was a pretty fugly old coot himself (he looked like six feet of sad, pasty Mr. Potato Head in a flannel shirt) and really not in a position to be judging anyone else on their appearance, but the fact that apparently a woman had to be up to his hotness standards to offer him free fucking kale samples.

John Kyle

Me and my buddy were on vacation, having a couple of beers at a hotel bar/restaurant. A few minutes in, an elderly woman was seated at a table directly behind us. The waiter, the only one in the restaurant, took a few minutes to approach her. She loudly berated him about waiting so long, and he explained he was the only waiter working and apologized. She basically dismissed him out of her sight.

Now, up to that point, she was just your typical rude old woman. That's when she approached the bar and asked the bartender if she could get a list of all the food the restaurant served. The bartender, looking confused, asked her if she wanted a menu; she very forcibly said no, she already had a menu -- she wanted a list of food the restaurant served. The bartender, my buddy, and I all shared the same look. He again offered her a menu and she said very rudely that no, she didn't want that, then stormed off back to her table.

The bartender just shrugged, we shared a laugh, then finished our beers. I really want to know how the rest of that meal transpired for her. She probably wanted frozen water in her drink, and when they offered her ice, she got mad.

Rhonda Cartwright

Until recently, I managed a popular comfort food place in Harlem near Columbia. The restaurant was two rooms: a small counter area with a couple tables and a larger dining room. It’s important for you to know that the counter area was completely separate from the dining room.

The Saturday night in question, my counter girl, who was very sweet, young, and slightly incompetent, comes in looking like a high muppet. Pupils as big as my fist, mascara everrrrrywhere, giggly and borderline incoherent. I take her aside and I’m like, “Girl. Are you fucked up?” And she, bless her heart and obviously forgetting I am her damn boss, says, “Yeah! I ate a pot brownie before I came in.”

Cool. Cool. Great. Super psyched that you consumed an edible before coming in on the busiest delivery night of the week. I plan on spending most of the evening helping her out at the counter. I figure we can have a private sit-down the next day during which I will explain to her that no, she is not fired, but please never eat a pot brownie before coming to work ever again. So the night’s starting out great.

Then, my busser calls to say he is in jail and can’t come in. Awesome. My waitress that night is like 4’8 and it’s her first night. She doesn’t know the table numbers yet, but I think that if the counter girl can keep her shit together, I can help my server in the dining room and help the counter girl pack deliveries, and we’ll get through it.

This is a long but necessary set-up for the nightmare that is to come.

At about 6:00, we have a 5-top walk in. It’s a sun-burned mom and her three adult daughters. At like 6:05, the counter girl turns to me and says “I think I’m going to throw up. I’m too high and I have to go home.” FANTASTIC. Bye. So now it’s me manning the counter and the waitress is by herself in the dining room.

A couple of minutes later, the waitress comes to me and says that her table is upset because a fly flew into one of their water glasses. I leave the counter to go apologize. The mother tells me she’s not mad about the fly, she’s mad that the waitress said was she “sorry” and got them a new water. Which ... OK? I’m not really sure what else there was to do there. It’s not like she poured them a glass of fly water.

Then the mother grabs my hand and leads me to the dish tray and makes me go through all the dirty water glasses to show me the one with a fly in it. No fly. The mom says the waitress must have “taken the fly out on purpose to spite them.” I assure her that is not the case, but offer to comp their milkshakes.

I go back to the counter and try to catch up on all the deliveries I have to pack now that I’ve wasted a bunch of time with this woman. Over the course of the meal, the waitress comes to me at least five more times about their various complaints: they don’t get free bread, their burgers weren’t well done enough, the cheese didn’t melt enough, their well-done, extra-cooked fried chicken was dry. I take 10 percent more off their bill because I don’t have time to deal with their shit. They pay, stiff my waitress (who was a SAINT) and leave. Thank. Fucking. God. The waitress and I high five and she goes back to the dining room to take care of her tables.

Night’s over, right? HELL NO, YOU JUST WAIT.

Like two minutes later, the mom and her adult (I cannot emphasize this enough) demon spawn come storming back into the restaurant. “Look at my ass,” the mom screams and turns around. She is wearing very white, very tight white jeans and on the back of those jeans are some crumbs. “What kind of restaurant are you running? I’m visiting from North Carolina and I can’t walk around New York City like this!” I apologize and go into the dining room to get her a rag and she follows me. “Uh-uh, honey. I need a wet rag.” So I pour some seltzer water on the rag. “Uh-uh, honey, I can’t see back there, you have to get it for me.” I stare helplessly (hopelessly) at her three adult daughters for assistance. They stare back with eyes more dead and hateful than eyes have any right to be.

This is the moment I should have refused to wipe a grown woman’s ass. I did not. I did not want this to get back to the owners and lose my job. So I kneel down in the middle of the dining room and very gingerly start sponging off crumbs. Except most of them are sort of near the vagina/butthole area of the ass, practically between her thighs. “Let me know if I’m getting too personal, ma’am.” She says, “You can never get too personal, just clean me up.” I’m practically touching her vagina. Remember, this is in the dining room. There are customers staring, many of whom I know. It was like starring in a terrifying transgressive psycho-sexual nightmare movie from the 1970s.

I get the matriarch clean and they leave. She does not thank me.

I drink a million beers that night to drown my sorrow.

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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