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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 week one of two of an old favorite: customers who were dumb it makes our souls hurt. As always, these are real emails from real readers.

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Gabriella MacDougall

I've worked at a Midwest ice cream chain for about three years in high school and now during summers when I'm home from school.

I was working the register one day when a mother and her son (who was probably about 13) came up and looked at the menu. The son asked, with a confused look, "can you get a cone to go?" I kept the straightest face possible and responded "yes" all while thinking, "Obviously you can get a cone to go? It's a cone. It's the most portable form of eating ice cream."

His mom ordered a cup of ice cream to go and he ordered his cone -- to go -- and they moved to the area to pick up their ice cream. My manager called out their name and handed them the order, and when the son was handed his cone, the mother replied "The cone is supposed to be to go." To which my manager said, with a confused expression, "It is to go." The lady then pointed to me at the register and said, "She said you can get a cone to go." At that point I had completely forgotten about the man's order I had been taking and was staring with a dumbfounded look at this woman.

My manager replied, "I mean, it's a cone, so it already is to go. I can put it upside down in a cup for you, or put the ice cream in a cup and give you the empty cone, if you would like." Not satisfied with those options, the lady looked over to me again and said, "But she said we could get a cone to go!"

To this day I don't know what qualifies as a cone to go.

Mike Carlyle

A bartender I used to work with named Tara shared this story with me:

A group of high school teachers were in, celebrating the end of term and hanging out in the lounge of the restaurant. One of them made their way to the bar and asked "What draft beer you have?"

Tara responded, "We have Bud, Bud Light, and Coors light."

"What sizes?"

"16 oz and 22 oz."

"Which is bigger?"

Teachers.

Sadie Martinson

Years ago I worked at a rather high-end tea room/lunch spot. The food was simple, yet impeccable, and the desserts were insanely amazing. People would come in get a cup of soup and two desserts -- that kind of amazing.

I'm waiting on a two-top. Everything seems normal. Two 60ish-year-old women, both realtors, no one seems brain damaged. I bring out the dessert tray. One lady picks bread pudding, the other picks creme brulee. I bring out their desserts and coffee, and off I go to check on some other tables. The lady who ordered the creme brulee comes up behind me while I'm at another table and whispers to me, "You HAVE to come to the table right now." I tell her I'll be right there.

I put in an order and meander over to her. She proceeds to tell me there are bugs in the creme brulee. I’m horrified … until I realize she’s pointing to the flippin' flecks of vanilla. I calmly explain to her those are not bugs -- she's seeing flecks from the vanilla because our pastry chef uses actual vanilla pods, not extract. She tells me I'm covering up for our kitchen, and that everybody knows you get vanilla by tapping trees “like they do in Vermont!”

I actually have to turn around and quickly walk back to the kitchen so I don't start crying and laughing. I send the owner out. He comes back soon after carrying the creme brulee, and says he isn't charging her for dessert, so she would leave peacefully and hopefully never come back. I finally go back out to clear off their table and there’s a note on the credit card receipt from the woman who ordered the bread pudding that just says "I'm so sorry." I think she left a decent tip too, but it wasn't even important.

Nick Standridge

I worked at a family-owned restaurant known mainly for the chicken but, they also served other American food. I was in the kitchen, but we had a take out window as well.

One time I had a guy ask for a cheeseburger without the cheese. I said, "So you want a hamburger, correct?" He insisted no, he wanted a cheeseburger without cheese. I ended up writing down the order like that and just told the grill person what happened so she didn't think I was an idiot.

Sarah Whitmore

I used to work at a winery in NY. We had horses on the property, as well as ducks, chickens, and other farm-type animals (this will be important later). We were part of a wine trail with 13 other wineries and there would be events throughout the year where people could buy tickets (1 or 2 days) and if you planned correctly, you could hit all 14 wineries. Most people who did this were trying to hit as many as they could and get as trashed as possible. The people on these tours would also get a little snack as part of the package.

This one event we were serving a duck confit and winter squash cassoulet as the snack and it was pretty awesome, like buttery, rich deliciousness. People seemed to like it and no one had any complaints until this one woman. She arrived with her stupid little glass and her snack and I asked how she was liking the tour, the wine, etc. She was happy, saying the tour was good, the wine was good, the food was good, etc, and then right before her second taste, shit hit the fan.

She started SCREAMING at us, asking how we could do this, how we could do something so awful, how we could be so cruel, etc. Just railing at us for a full five minutes before we were able to ask what the fuck she was talking about. She finally gestured behind us (there were windows behind the bar) and asked us how we could possibly serve her those ducks.

Both myself and the other bartender looked out the windows behind us to see the ducks wandering around near the small pond on the property. Trying our hardest to not laugh, we explained to this woman that the ducks she saw were kept for eggs, that they had names, and that the duck she was eating was from the store.

We finished her tasting as quickly as possible and got her out of there, then wondered why she was perfectly happy eating the duck until she was inadvertently confronted with one and then just could not deal with it. The other members of her little group were mortified and were just as happy to leave as we were to see them go.

Dan Starling

I worked at a Cracker Barrel in North Carolina. The following was a common interaction:

"Would you like biscuits or cornbread with that?"

"Rolls."

"Sorry, but we only have biscuits or cornbread. I can get you one of each?”

"Do you have rolls?"

"No, just biscuits or cornbread. We can do sourdough, if you prefer that."

"No rolls?"

" ... I'll get you rolls."

Then I’d write biscuits on the ticket. I never had one complaint.

M.J. Lowery

I was working at a Whole Foods Market in Georgia a few years ago, and our store was brand new at the time, the first WFM in more than a 200-mile radius. This, as you might imagine, was a bit of a culture shock for the residents of the smallish city I lived in. (Their previous grocery options being “OK Kroger, sketchy Kroger, terrifyingly sketchy Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, or a Publix if you wanted to avoid Kroger so badly you took a 20-minute drive out of the city.”) Most of our customers had never been inside a Whole Foods before (or any other natural food store), and a good deal of them had never even HEARD of WFM.

On the day before Valentine's Day, I had the misfortune to be working outside, standing inside an open (and unnecessarily refrigerated, given the temp was in the mid-30s) truck, unboxing hundreds of rose dozens and putting them in buckets of water -- a cold, miserable, seemingly unending task which took place at the far end of the parking lot, away from any other employees and without a walkie-talkie, but directly next to a side door that was the third and smallest customer entrance/exit. I was busy unboxing roses and contemplating the steadily increasing number of bloody cuts on my hands when a man in a rough-looking shirt and paint-stained jeans and work boots rode up on a decrepit bicycle, leaned it against the nearby bike rack without locking it, and asked me -- perfectly politely and in a thick Southern accent -- if we sold gallons of milk. I assured him that we did and did my best to direct him to the dairy section (without being able to leave the truck unattended and actually go in and show him). He seemed pleased, and disappeared through the side door.

Less than 10 minutes later, the same door slammed open and he came back out, clearly incensed and milk-less. I froze in my tracks, staring at him in alarm, as he stomped up to me. I'd gotten down off the truck to get another case of roses from the stack on the ground that was, unfortunately, right next to the bike rack. He spotted me and and the conversation went something like this:

Him: "THEY DIDN'T HAVE PLASTIC BAGS."

Me: ??????? [frozen in the horrible realization I am alone in this corner of the parking lot, out of sight and earshot of any coworkers, and boxed in between truck, cases of roses, bike rack, and furious yelling man]

Him: "I SAID HOW THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO GET MY MILK HOME IF Y'ALL ONLY HAVE FUCKING PAPER BAGS, AND THE B*TCH CASHIER TRIED TO SELL ME SOME FUCKING FANCY-ASS BAG."

Me: "I'm ... I'm sorry?" [considering the merits of vaulting the bike rack and running for it. There is spittle flying from his mouth and he's gone red]

Him: "And they only had fucking expensive-ass milk! I don't want none of that pansy organic bullshit! I just wanted fucking regular milk and a fucking PLASTIC BAG."

Me: ... uh.

Him: [calming down from 'apoplectic fury' to 'righteous indignation'] "It's our fucking commie socialist n****r president's fault, all of these west-coast fuckin' liberal f****ts comin' down here and not having fuckin' PLASTIC BAGS."

Me: [I start to realize the comedy of the situation, since he keeps looking at me as if in solidarity, clearly expecting me, a Whole Foods employee with an obviously Northern accent, wearing a rainbow pin on my apron and with a haircut that would scream 'lesbian' to anyone with even a fraction of a functioning gaydar, to agree with him]

Him: "They all come here from California -- " [I cannot adequately replicate the intense scorn with which he pronounced "California," but trust me, he clearly believed California was some sort of Sodom & Gomorrah-esque hedonistic pit of sin. Which is not wholly unjustified]

Me: "Actually, sir, Whole Foods was founded in Texas."

Him: [blinks at me stupidly for a minute then barrels on, managing an over five-minute long expletive-filled rant (that I could not possibly replicate) on these commie socialist liberal gays (et al.) and their paper bags and health foods corrupting the Real America, at which point he glanced at me like 'surely you agree' again]

Me: "Well, I'm from Boston, so I can't really say I agree."

He stared looked at me in horror for a second, backed up, grabbed his bike, and peddled off quickly without another word. Apparently, Yankee is contagious.

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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