Stories of Restaurant Customers Who Were Just The Best (Yes, Really)
Welcome back to Off The Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, as a palate cleanser from the last two weeks, we've got a subject new to Wonkette: truly awesome restaurant customers. As always, these are real emails from real readers.
At my generic chain restaurant in Orlando, the waitstaff is often racist -- and sometimes not quietly. Everyone gets suddenly "busy" when an African-American family comes in. I get a lot of those tables.
During off-peak hours on Saturday, an African-American father and daughter walked in. He was one of the most handsome men I have ever seen. Mid-30s, muscular, square jaw, nice suit. His adorable daughter was about 9, in a frilly dress. Everyone else ran for the hills, so I went over and took their drink order.
"Special occasion?" I asked.
"No, just a father-daughter date," he responded with a beautiful smile. God, his teeth were just perfect.
They were at an end booth, so I could hear their conversation from the coffee station. In between questions about school and friends, he would explain restaurant manners: be respectful, don't ever snap your fingers, make eye contact, don't make a mess, etc. The daughter was beaming.
After an hour of that, I gave him the check for $30. When I left, he explained tipping to his daughter. "They work so hard and depend on our tips to make money. This girl didn't have any other tables, so we will be the only people who pay her for this whole hour."
The daughter understood fractions, so they began by calculating 10 percent. He frowned. "I don't think $3 sounds like enough for her, do you?" he said. They started talking about how many times I refilled their sodas. So they calculated 20 percent.
By now, all the servers had congregated in the coffee station, watching this. "Six dollars is an acceptable tip," he explained, "but do you think she deserves a little bit more? Just because she was so good?"
Of course she said yes, so they decided on $10. He explained that 15-20 percent is standard, but that they should always add a few extra dollars if they can afford it. I swear to God, if the daughter hadn't been there, I would have let him take me right there on the table.
[Editor’s Note: This story is not notable because an African-American customer tipped well; that happens all the time, regardless of what a lot of servers will tell you. It’s notable, instead, because of the dumb other servers who didn’t want a great table like this. Fuck them.]
I had a wonderful experience waiting tables in my 20s. I worked two jobs, and my dream gig paid pennies, so waiting tables was how I paid my rent. And while some people truly hated waiting tables, I loved going to work at this particular restaurant. The owners were amazing, management was supportive, the food was fantastic, and the money was great. This Los Angeles establishment was well-known, and weekend nights were known to be beyond busy. And on one particularly busy Saturday, I was sat an eight-top on a far end of the restaurant.
It was a birthday dinner. These eight women were really lovely, friendly and chatty, and were there to celebrate. The birthday girl didn't know that two of her friends came in early to drop off a birthday cake. I placed it in the fridge and we agreed to bring it out just after dinner. Another note: most of these women wore a ridiculous amount of hairspray.
When I brought out the candlelit cake, everyone sang happy birthday. As the birthday girl leaned in to blow out the candles, it was a tad too close, and I heard a "whoosh," followed by a flame. Her hair caught on fire.
One of the ladies screamed at the top of their lungs while I stood frozen. The flames seemed to get bigger. One of the bartenders ran over with his damp towel and promptly extinguished the flames. The birthday girl went to the bathroom to collect herself. I then looked up and saw the entire 140 seat restaurant staring at me in shock. I grabbed the cake and took it to a back station, only to see my manager laughing in tears while I removed the pieces of burnt hair from the white icing. We laughed for about five minutes. When I was finally able to deal, I brought the cake to their table.
The birthday girl now had an asymmetrical style, one side was missing about 2 inches.
I have to give it to her, she was a good sport. Every time I went back to the table, her friends were giving it to her. "You'll never forget this birthday, will you?" Or, "At least you don't have to worry about getting a haircut." She was laughing until she cried, and I couldn't help but join them.
My other tables were highly understanding. When I apologized for being a little absent, one said, "You clearly have your hands full.”
All of my tables left a huge tip.
I spent about the first four years of my culinary career working back of house at an Olive Garden. At this particular OG, we received fresh produce and Breadstix (tm) four times a week, but everything else came on one giant order once a week. Thus, we would routinely run out of one or two items the day before our weekly delivery. Usually it wasn't a big deal (“I'm sorry, we're out of penne, can we substitute ziti?”).
This 3-top came in about an hour before close the day before our weekly delivery. They put in their order and we didn't have the stuffed mushroom app they wanted. Not a huge deal: we told the server, they told the guest, the guest decided on a smoked mozzarella dip. Well, we were out of that, too.
At this point, the restaurant looked pretty stupid and the only manager on duty didn't want to deal with it, so it fell on me. My title was Culinary Professional, so something like a sous but more often a glorified expo, but I was semi-qualified to deal with it. I went to the table, explained how embarrassed I was, told them I'd comp whatever app they wanted, and made sure they got something we weren't out of. They were super cool about everything which was a total relief for me.
Then their mains came in, and lo and behold, they ordered the one entree we couldn't prepare (I think we were missing something to make a sauce). Right away, I went back out, let them know we didn't have it, but I'd do my best to get it as close as I could with what we had and their whole meal was going to be free. Again, they were super cool and understanding and in the end they said the dish was fine.
I told them dessert was on us, they said they were full, so I gave them something to go (also, we had 86'd two desserts so I chose for them). As I was letting the manager on duty know what happened, the mother from the table came up to me.
"I just wanted to let you know that we came in so late because our flight just got in from California. We were out there for a week because my mother just died. I wanted to thank you for giving us such a good experience after having had such a sad week."
A couple months later, the family came back and recognized me. They thanked me again and I got a chance to talk to them and make sure everything went smoothly on our second chance.
I worked at a Subway for two years during high school. Overall it was a great place to work as a semi-irresponsible high school kid for a lot of reasons, but it was definitely my first exposure to people treating fast food workers as if they are lower than the scum of the Earth.
I was working the weekend day shift. We'd been steadily busy for about 3 hours. I saw two regulars come in separately, and end up one behind the other. The first one was a generally shitty 60-something lady who is always both unpleasant and ungrateful, and who always ordered a steak sandwich which she would then complain about. The second customer was a 40-something gentleman who was always nice enough, but a pretty shy, unassuming guy.
Steak Lady made it to the front of the line. I start to load up the sandwich with steak using tongs kept in a thing of hot water that we changed every hour or so. All of a sudden, she started wigging out, saying "YOU TOUCHED THE OTHER MEATS BEFORE YOU PUT THE STEAK ON." At this point, I kind of just stare at her. I can't calculate how to tell her I didn't without sounding like a prick, so for a few moments I am kind of frozen. She shouts it again: "I SAW YOU TOUCH THE OTHER MEAT BEFORE THE STEAK." I am trying to figure out what the hell she is talking about. I had put on fresh gloves before I started her shit sandwich, so I am at a loss. She turns to Shy Guy and says "DID YOU SEE THAT? DID YOU SEE HIM TOUCH THE OTHER MEAT."
Shy Guy: "No, ma’am."
Steak Lady: "I KNOW YOU SAW HIM TOUCH THE OTHER MEAT," Fingers are being pointed.
Shy Guy just shrugs.
Steak Lady: "HE’S TOUCHING THE OTHER MEATS BEFORE HE -- "
Shy Guy explodes: "Ma’am, he DID NOT TOUCH ANYTHING before he started your sandwich. He absolutely did NOT."
Steak Lady at this point looks at him and me, hands in the air, trying to process her next move. Apparently coming up empty, she has a little huff and puff session and just drops it. I finish her sandwich and she walks out (someone else rung her up so I can help Shy Guy). I quietly say "thanks" and shy guy just nods his head and orders his sandwich like nothing had happened.
My partner and I were in the middle of nowhere (Nevada? Utah?) in the middle of the night (11?) and we stop at a truck stop food court. We're ordering at the Subway counter when we hear a screaming "WHAT THE FUCK?" behind us. Everyone in the truck stop (all 8 of us) stops what they're doing to turn to face the McDonald's counter, which is across the cafeteria seating area from where we're standing. There is silence. It's a customer and she's facing her husband, who is standing in front of the server taking his order. She's got silence from all the rest of us. She pauses, looks around at everyone, and screams "WHAT THE FUCK?" again. We're all on edge, waiting to see exactly, what the fuck.
She then launches in, still at the same volume: "YOU THINK THAT JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE HOLDING MONEY AND SHE WORKS AT McDONALD’S THAT YOU CAN TREAT HER LIKE THAT? SHE. IS. A. HUMAN. BEING. AND. YOU. WILL. APOLOGIZE. TO. HER. RIGHT. NOW." Our server is doubled over laughing. The McDonald’s employee in question seems to not think this screaming is out of line -- she's got a half smile and her hand on her hip. The man being yelled at is clearly completely embarrassed -- he's hunched over and whispering to his wife. She continues at the same volume: "OH, YOU'RE EMBARRASSED? HOW DO YOU THINK I FEEL, REALIZING THAT I'M MARRIED TO AN ASSHOLE WHO THINKS IT'S OKAY TO TREAT ANYONE THAT WAY?"
He mumbles something to the server and bolts for the door. She orders.
And no, I have no idea what he said that started this.
I spent 2+ years waiting tables at a Lone Star, which is just about as miserable as you can imagine. I come in for what promises to be a supremely slow lunch on a weekday in July, and towards the end of my shift I get a 3-top: a father and two small boys. The evening before was bananapants crazy, we had actually run out of salad. We were not expecting our next delivery for another couple of hours and, for whatever reason, no one thought it was a good idea to run across the street to the grocery store to buy lettuce.
So the father orders a lunch steak, which comes with option for soup/salad -- and as any sane human being in July would prefer, he asks for a salad. Sorry! We actually don't have any ... would you like a bowl of chili? Or some other ungodly hot option on this fine 100-degree day? I brace myself for a barrage of complaints, as all my previous tables were quick to scoff and demand some sort of free meal from the manager, because that's apparently how things work.
Instead, he declines and says it's OK to forego the option and then places the order for his kids. I get everything into the system and the kids' meals are out within 7 minutes. I had let their drinks lapse, hurried to get them refilled, managed to grab his meal as someone CAME IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR and smashed everything. Goddamnit.
I recovered, kind of, got the drinks again, profusely apologized to this table and had the cooks fire things up as quickly as they could. I have my manager go check on the table to cover my ass (no complaints!). His meal was done in 5 minutes, I even give him an additional baked sweet potato because no one expects this kind of shit from a weekday lunch. Drop things off, make sure the drinks are full, and leave them in peace to eat their meal. They're done, I drop the ~$20 check off, and return after I see him fiddle with it. There's cash in the fold, I tell him I'll get him his change, he tells me not to worry about it and to have a great day. I take it back to a service station and open it to find a $100 bill.
Bless that beautiful man.
I worked for six years at Culver's, a regional burger chain that wants so bad to be casual dining but instead is just a much more expensive McDonald's. It should not surprise you that this story takes place in Wisconsin.
I was often put on drive-thru during our busy shifts on Friday evenings, which I actually enjoyed. One of the "selling points" of Culver's is that everything is made when you order it, so we tended to have slightly longer wait times. This meant taking an order over the speaker, taking money at the window and handing out drinks/custard/shakes, and then asking the driver to pull forward to wait for the rest of their food.
So this one Friday mid-spring circa 2007-ish, a mid-size white SUV pulls up to the speaker and the woman inside begins to order, talking right over my greeting. We could not understand her. I asked her to please repeat her request, and my manager extracted the phrase "custard pints" from her mumble, so we had her pull up. We had just started offering pre-packed pints of various custard flavors at like 4 for $8.99, and we kept the flavor list up at the window.
As soon as I opened the window, I knew she was wasted. Her eyes were half-closed, she was struggling to hold her head up, she was slumped in her seat, and she was slurring her speech so badly I had to ask more than once for her to repeat herself. She picked out her four pints, and I closed the window and immediately went to my manager, telling her that we had an obviously drunk driver sitting in our drive-thru.
Her response? "Yeah, we can't do anything about that."
I think I argued with her for four minutes, but she was adamant that we weren't allowed to call the police. Eventually, she took over, giving the drunk woman her custard and taking her money and sending her off.
The following week, on a Saturday, I was back on drive-thru and taking orders during a very busy dinner rush, and who should pull in but the very same SUV. Again, the woman slurred out her order for pints, and before she had even left the speaker, I ran over to my (thankfully different from Friday) manager.
I told her that this woman had come through before drunk, and I didn't think it was right for us to just let her go when she was wasted. This manager agreed, and immediately called the police. The dispatcher said we were right to call, and asked if there was any way we could keep the drunk woman in the drive-thru until they could get a squad car over.
During all this, the drive-thru line had filled up and was now stretched literally down the block. Drunk SUV lady was one car away from the window, and the customer currently at the window was just about to be pulled forward. I think she could kind of sense our panic and had noticed something off about the SUV behind her, because she asked if everything was okay.
"Would you, maybe, mind just sitting here for a while?" I asked. "We think the person behind you is drunk, and we called the cops."
I will love this woman forever for how she slammed her car into park right then and there. "Oh, yeah, no problem!"
Even when her food came out, just a few minutes later, she didn't move. She said she was happy to hang out until the cops arrived. Unfortunately, people kept pulling into the drive-thru and ordering. In a panic, we started running out through the back kitchen door and serving people right at their cars. Everyone asked what was going on, of course, but once they found out about the drunk driver, they had no problem with our improvised service. Thankfully, our drive-thru lane was two cars wide, so we were able to serve the customers after the drunk driver and they could leave with ease. A few asked if we wanted them to stay and help box the SUV in, just in case, but the woman at the window was still happily parked, and the drunk driver hadn't figured out our ruse.
After about 15 minutes, a squad car showed up, and the cop came right into the restaurant. I quickly explained the situation. At one point, he actually approached the drive-thru window and looked out (the parked woman gave an adorable little wave). He told us to let the drunk driver come through the line, and that he would follow her out of the parking lot.
So finally, we had the drunk driver at the window. She looked even worse than the previous week, but ordered the same four pints. I gave her the total, and she held out a half-eaten cookie as payment. I said, "Ma'am, that is not money," and she dropped it on the ground. Her debit card was sitting on the dashboard, and eventually she figured out how to hand it to me.
She'd paid, her pints were ready, and we let her go. The cop waited until she's at the edge of the parking lot, and then he turned on his lights. Thus commenced the slowest police chase ever of all time.
The SUV crawled through the grocery store parking lot behind Culver's, then down the access road to the street. She never got faster than 10MPH, and everyone in the restaurant was transfixed by the spectacle. The drive-thru line miraculously dried up, and the entire kitchen staff joined us at the windows to watch.
The drunk driver went straight through a completely stopped intersection and up a block, then reappeared a moment later coming back down the same street. She pulled into the Taco Bell parking lot; she backed out and tried the car wash. She crossed the street to the gas station, where the attendant used their PA system to ask her to stop her car. Ignoring that, she tried the McDonald's kitty corner from us, circling the lot six or seven times.
At long last, it ended: the cop stopped and waited for her to circle around again, and someone leaving the McDonald's drive-thru stopped behind her, boxing the SUV in. She was given a field sobriety test and failed it, and I swear, as the cop was leading her towards his car (custard pints clutched firmly in hand), she actually turned back to look at Culver's and waved.
[Editor’s Note: This story is incredible for a lot of reasons, but chief among them for me is the staggering number of categories it fits into. Aside from Bad Employees, is there a single category it DOESN’T work for? Dumb Customers, Worst Customers, Best Customers, Horrible Bosses, Great Bosses, WTF Stories, Employees on Point ... this one could’ve gone everywhere. As Abyss would say, this story had EVERYTHING.]
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