Stories Of Restaurant Employees Who Unleashed Their Inner Smartass
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 personal favorite topics: smartass restaurant employees who dialed up the smartass to 11. As always, these are real emails from real readers.
My first service industry job in 1987 was as a dishwasher at a restaurant attached to a Catholic Church in south Denver. It was the most fun I have had in my life to this day. Back in the dish area we would blast punk and hardcore music from a small radio above the glass racks, suck down whippets from every available Reddi-Wip canister and smoke cigarettes WHILE cleaning dishes. There was a full bar in the dining room that was visited on a regular basis by the entire staff, a third of which were under age. [Editor’s Note: Sounds about right.]
Every so often we would host a free Prime Rib dinner for volunteers of the Church. The owner of the restaurant would tire out by 8 PM, leaving the unruly Chef in charge of closing things down. On this particular evening an elderly volunteer was unhappy with the way her Prime Rib was prepared. She sent the waitress back to the kitchen with the dish complaining that her meat had been overcooked. The chef snarled and proceeded to slice off a piece closer to rare. A few minutes pass and the waitress sheepishly returns to the kitchen with the rare piece and tells the chef that the woman thinks the second piece is underdone. A few expletives are thrown around and he sends out a third piece with the waitress. Now everyone, including bussers, bartenders and myself were aware of this situation as the waitress returns for a THIRD time with the rejected meat. The Chef, who had been hammering Jack Daniels on the line, grabs the plate out of the waitress's hand, marches out into the Dining Room and over to the volunteers' table. The entire back of the house rushes to the dining room entrance to watch this unfold. Mind you, there are two priests sitting at the table with these volunteers who were all 70+ years old and this may truly be their Last Supper. The Chef asks who sent the Prime Rib back, the old lady at the table raises her hand and The Chef drops the dish in front of her, leans down, puts his face about four inches from hers and yells, "EAT IT! IT'S FUCKING FREE!”
I'd recently come back from a month-long trip to Thailand and was having a large group of friends over for dinner. We'd decided to order a bunch of Thai food for the gang while we shared stories about our amazing trip (no picture slide-show was inflicted upon the guests). I called to place the order and was eager to use some of the Thai I'd learned. I greeted the woman who answered the phone in Thai, ordered the dishes I wanted in Thai and then thanked her in Thai. She said, "Oh, you speak Thai!" (the fact that she said it in English was my first sign that my Thai skills probably weren't as great as I thought.) "Not really," I replied proudly, "but I try." There is a slight pause and then in her sweet Thai accent she says gently, "Maybe, you should, ah, try harder?"
I was laughing so hard when I hung up that it took a while before I could share the story with my friends.
I was working opening at a take and bake pizza place in the mid 90's and my boyfriend was working the closing shift. One evening I was covering a closing shift with him and discovered that those customers were a totally different breed than the morning.
It was fairly uneventful until a man walked in and my BF shouted "Jesus Pizza!" into the back. In had walked a man who looked like our lord and savior Jesus Christ. The guy then proceeded to order a large pizza and every quarter of the pizza was different. However it wasn't a simple 1/4 pepperoni, 1/4 sausage situation. It was something like 1/4 would have sauce but no cheese, 1/4 would have cheese no sauce, 1/4 would have both sauce and cheese and 1/4 could we put light sauce and extra cheese. It's probably unnecessary to even mention that every quarter would also have different toppings and usually one 1/4 would be divided down to 1/8's. Of course, he didn't want to be charged for more than one or two toppings because each section only had one or two on it. Inevitably, a diagram would have to be made to ensure the correct placement of everything.
After he left I asked why it was called a Jesus Pizza and the owner muttered "'cause only Jesus could get that shit right" and walked back to the office for his break.
I’m a bartender. I was working one Friday night, when a server asked me to deliver a bottle of beer to his table. Our standard is that we pour beer into a tall, chilled pilsner glasses tableside.
I brought the beer over and started pouring it from the bottle into the pilsner glass, and the guest looked up when I finished pouring and said, "Oh this is going to be different. I’ve never drunk a beer out of glass before!"
I paused, then held up the beer bottle, pointed to it, and whispered "glaaaaasssss.” I spun on my heel and walked away from the slack-jawed guest before they could respond.
So in college, I would work at McDonald's on summer break. We were the first fast food place on the major non-toll road out of Atlantic City at the time (well, there might have been a KFC a block up, but it was an old one where the grease on everything needed to be scraped off in layers) so weekends could get pretty bad, especially on drive through.
I was working one of those crazy shifts one day, taking orders, taking money, and handing out food. (this was back before people had thought of the whole two drive through windows thing). My manager was doing most of the order running for me, though, so he had a headset on too.
Now, the restaurant was set up such that the menu and speaker was in front of the restaurant, and you could look out from the inside and see the person ordering, how bad the line was, etc. We'd just had one of those non-stop lunch rushes that lasted an hour or two, but we'd finally cleared the last car, and I had a moment to lean against the wall and catch a breath.
I'd barely let it out when my headset made the "there's a car" tone, and I opened my eyes to look at the vehicle that had just pulled up, and the woman behind the wheel turning to place her order. I couldn't help it. I pushed the transmit button on the headset and let all my weariness and frustration show in my voice. Instead of a happy welcome speech, I just grunted "What do *you* want?"
My manager was paying attention, and immediately called my name and asked what the hell I was thinking over the private channel. He stopped pretty quickly though, because out at the speaker, my mom was laughing her ass off.
It was the summer of 1987 and I had just returned from Washington, D.C. after working as a page on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. What lofty job awaited me on return to Michigan? Working at McDonald's.
In reality, it was my choice, as my two best friends were working there already. I figured why not spend some time and catch up by working together? Basically, we just had fun, and made food in our spare time.
One "fun time" we took the training video for cooking chicken McNuggets home, and decided to do some editing. The video was left alone at the beginning. "We're the happy chicken McNuggets! We want to show you how to make the best McNuggets in the world!" cried the creepy McPuppet McNuggets.
"You put us in the fryer...." At this point, we swapped in the video from Faces of Death where a chicken gets its head cut off. So, as the chicken is running around in some remote farm, sans head, the narrative continued:
"Keep us in the fryer 6 minutes until golden brown. Place us in the warming tray until a customer orders us. Count out 4, 6, 10 or 20 pieces, depending on the order."
Video continues. Chicken still running around. Sans head.
"Remember, we're the happy chicken McNuggets everyone loves!"
We put the tape back in the training room. A few days later, during a training group's indoctrination into all things McDonald's, we hear the manager scream, "Nick, get in here!" (Our buddy Nick always took the fall.)
Wish we had thought to make a copy of that video.
I used to work for a coffee chain in a weird area of St. Louis where there was a mixture of rural customers, megachurches, and healthcare campuses, so you would get an interesting mix of people. None of our weird customers, however, was as special as the Goat Lady.
The Goat Lady was a special bird because she could not have milk. This is not usually a problem, since we had soy as a substitute. This would not do for Goat Lady, however, since apparently she couldn’t have that either; no, she could only have goat milk. Now, this particular chain usually had strict policies about outside food sources, mostly for cross contamination purposes. Normally, we would not allow things behind the bar like outside milk, sweeteners, and syrups. You could add these to your heart’s content once the drink was handed to you, though.
Apparently, before I started, Goat Lady complained to corporate, and the order was given that this particular customer could have her goat milk. I don’t know if you have ever smelled steamed goat milk, but it stinks to high heaven and lingers. Plus, every time we did it, we would have to wash the entire steam wand assembly and sanitize it. Needless to say, we dreaded her bi-monthly trips to our little store.
One particular night, I had just gotten over a head cold and still had some hearing loss due to congestion, so to compensate, I turned my headset to near max so I could hear drive-thru order and the behind the scenes chatter of my fellow employees. Our headsets were pretty loud on even the normal setting, almost to the point someone standing right next to you could pretty clearly make out the conversation happening.
Close to the end of the night, we saw the Goat Ladymobile pull up, and all three of her children piled out as well (her children also all shared her milk affliction). We began to brace ourselves for the stench and rushed clean-up to make sure the machine would have minimal down time. I was planning on washing dishes, but then my friend reminded me that I was the only one with a front counter register--meaning I had to take the order. Just as they were walking up to the counter, my friend started walking to the back to prepare the sanitizer. Then in the middle of Goat Lady’s order/ spiel about goat milk, I heard my friend very clearly go “BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH” aka, a goat sound, through my headset. I, at that point, was completely frozen, trying to deal with fighting instincts to laugh or run away in embarrassment. I looked into Goat Lady’s face and could see she had heard it very clearly from across the counter.
I then finished her order in complete silence, made her drinks in the same silence, and as soon as she went out the door, I hid in the walk-In freezer and prayed I never saw her again.
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!