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Cheers to That: Social Dining Is A Big-Ticket Restaurant Occasion

There wasn’t much mystery behind Applebee’s decision back in 2013 to branch out in to late night operations with its “Bee’s Late Night,” which saw the family dining format transformed into a lively bar scene with black-light parties, karaoke and dancing. Quite simply, the chain saw opportunity in encouraging younger diners to socialize (and, of course, order apps, meals and drinks).

Of course, the restaurant “Get-Together with Friends” occasion isn’t relegated to any particular age demographic—it’s a time-honored practice used to celebrate any number of occasions ranging from birthdays to holidays and workplace or sports events. As we all know, going out to eat with a group of friends can be the highlight of pretty much anyone’s week. And, no great mystery, it’s also a restaurant opportunity for big, higher-margin tabs. Unfortunately, according to analysis of eating occasions conducted by The Hartman Group, consumers seem to be doing fewer get-togethers today compared with two years ago—so what can restaurants do to reinject some excitement for such occasions?

The Hartman Group’s The Power of Marketing to Restaurant Occasions report finds that Get-Together with Friends eating occasions make up 5 percent of all restaurant occasions. These events consist of a group of three or more (not counting significant others) guests who get together to socialize, de-stress and enjoy good foods and beverages. As any waitstaff would point out, group occasions such as these are more likely to include alcohol.

Our analysis finds that 21.4 percent of the Get-Together with Friends occasion segment involves alcohol (and is more likely to involve alcohol compared with any other measurable restaurant occasion) and is the only occasion where alcohol surpasses carbonated soft drinks in terms of what’s consumed. If the margins from alcohol weren’t enough to convince restaurant operators of the value of Get-Together with Friends occasions, they should also consider that these occasions:

  • Have a significantly low price sensitivity.
  • Lean towards premium restaurants.
  • Are more often at full-service restaurants.
  • Are less likely to be food-only occasions.

The social stakes at Get-Together with Friends occasions are high. Not only are such occasions not terribly common, they’re usually made unique by the particular combination of friends who gather. It may be one of a very small number of times per year for friends within a particular group to get together. Celebration in combination with stress relief and perceived rarity means that people will spend in greater proportion to match the perceived importance of the situation.

Of interest, group restaurant occasions like Get-Together with Friends have been steadily declining in recent years. We believe the same social fragmentation that has produced growth in eating alone is making it more difficult for consumers to coordinate around each other’s varying schedules to assemble at restaurants. For consumers, the increased rarity of group restaurant occasions may in turn lead to even less price sensitivity. For restaurants, this could mean bigger spending from groups that are showing up less often. Though innovating for diners who eat alone should be front of mind for restaurant and chain marketers today, it is important to remember how much of current sit-down revenue models are built around serving groups.

If this trend intrigues you, consider findings displayed in The Hartman Restaurant Occasion Wheel, which depicts a taxonomy of consumer behavior towards restaurant selection. Our Restaurant Occasion Wheel illustrates how social and emotional goals are connected as well as who is included in the occasion. The Restaurant Occasion Wheel shows when and where the occasion takes place and if it’s culturally meaningful. So far we’ve uncovered 14 culturally distinct occasions that encompass 78 percent of restaurant-sourced eating.

Consumers are dramatically changing their eating behaviors: perhaps we can all take a cue from Applebee’s, which saw merit in extending operating hours to encourage new behaviors in their formats that include social dining. In the hyper-competitive restaurant world of today, targeting restaurant occasions and understanding more about what is behind the motivations, needs and desires of diners as they make their decisions to “eat out” is a meaningful, relevant way to capture market share.

The Hartman Group , CONTRIBUTOR
We cover consumers, food & beverage culture and trends

This Is What Happens When You Open A Restaurant In Your Dorm Room

NEW YORK — We’ve only been in Jonah Reider’s dorm room kitchen a few minutes when a young man in a blue pea coat scurries past, gaze averted. He’s already out the door before this reporter can ask what he makes of his roommate installing a restaurant in the middle of the common area of their three-bedroom suite.

“I think they’re just kind of shocked that this has become such a thing and I totally get that,” 21-year-old Reider explains rather ruefully.

That “thing” is biweekly a supper club of sorts called Pith, where it’s now nearly impossible to get a reservation (full disclosure: I earlier tried unsuccessfully myself). High-profile features in outlets like The New Yorker and the Grub Street food blog have only further swelled the waiting list to nab a coveted seat at this Ikea table in Columbia University’s Hogan Hall — it stands at about 2,000, according to Reider.


Even on an Ivy League campus presumably rife with overachievers, running your own eatery on top of the demands of an independent-study track in economics and sociology seems extraordinary. So on a chilly Thursday evening in November, MTV News traveled to Morningside Heights, where Reider satiated our curiosity by letting us watch him prepare the night’s multi-course meal — and nibble on a few tasty appetizers — before swiftly kicking us out once his guests arrived.


The end of tipping?

Guests: Adam Hornik, Paul O’Neill and Pasqual-Emmanuel Gorby

More restaurants are abandoning tipping, choosing instead to pay their workers a higher wage. But this often means that menu prices go up to cover the pay increase and what happens to customer service? This hour, debating tipping in restaurants – what does it mean for restaurant workers in the front and back of the house and for the customers?

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How to Be a Bartender’s Favorite Guest

A seasoned bartender gives advice on how to be the best possible bar guest.

In this special feature for Cocktail Week, Beau du Bois of The Corner Door writes what customers can do to be a bartender’s best friend. Starting with don’ts, then moving on to dos, du Bois’s industry perspective will help you master the cocktail experience.

You’re nearly there. You’ve found a good neighborhood watering hole with great drinks made by bartenders you love. But the question is, do the bartenders love you back? Are you a favorite regular? Everyone wants to be a beloved regular at the bar, so I’ve listed a few dos and some non-obvious don’ts to help you navigate the interaction between customer and bartender. Let’s start with the things you shouldn’t do first.


Ask me what my favorite drink is

I’m weird and my preferences are based on many nights of drinking studying my craft. Unless you’re sure you’ve tasted a few hundred variations of a Negroni or we’re actually twins separated from birth, I doubt our preferences are going to be exactly same. It’s a much better to start to just tell me what you’re in the mood for.

For the last time, DON’T TOUCH THE FRUIT

We use fresh produce in your cocktails and stack them on the bar. By “fresh” we also mean, untouched by grubby stranger hands. If you touch the fresh produce, we gotta throw it away and scowl at you.

Don’t make out at the bar

Nobody at the bar is watching you make out heavily with your date and thinking, “Man, now those two are in love.” We’re all just wishing you would leave and get to the good stuff in the privacy of your own place.

Don’t ask me to make another bar’s signature cocktails

Even if I knew what was in the drink, I still wouldn’t make it. That would be very rude of me to copy drinks from other places. If you don’t see something on our menu that tickles your taste buds, we can chat about it. I’m more than happy to make you something special based on your preferences.

Don’t skip the ingredients listed on the menu

We put those there for your benefit, to help you decide if that drink is up your alley. Ordering a mezcal-based cocktail and then sending it back because you don’t like mezcal is a crime greater than touching the fruit (see above).

The Corner Door Bar


Order first, chat later

When your butt hits the bar stool, take a look at the menu and order something right away. Trust me, that story from last week’s Tinder date or catching up with your Snapchat profile will be 10 times better over a refreshing beverage.

If you must wave to get my attention, you must be ready

I see you, I promise, I see you. As soon as I’m finished making cocktails for the eight guests ahead of you, I’m coming straight over. But may the Lord of Whiskey save you if I get there and you actually have no idea what you want.

We’ve all got that friend, but you brought them

You know who I’m talking about. The customer that’s rude to the service staff. The obnoxious ones who always get annoying and drunk first. You will curry much favor with me if you snare them before I have to.

If you’ve signed the bill, then it’s time to bounce

Once you’ve called it quits and closed your tab, give me a high five and hit the road. I have other guests waiting for your seats. Please understand I’m running a bar that sells drinks, not campsites.

Be a good tipper

Duh. 10% percent is not really enough if you get exceptional service.

There you have it, I’ve done all I can for you. Now, take this gospel and tell your friends. And don’t be mad at me when you’ve got bartenders all over town asking for your hand in marriage.


Why this chef plans to avoid lemons and olive oil

The Berkshire sow has flopped down on her side inside a sunny, semi-exposed shelter at Cabin Creek Heritage Farm in Upper Marlboro. A couple of piglets, no larger than pugs, are nursing while the remaining newborns gather around their mother’s head, as if looking for face time.

Jeremiah Langhorne is beyond smitten. The chef and owner of the Dabney, the forthcoming restaurant in Blagden Alley, and his two sous-chefs simultaneously release the same sweet, unguarded sound when they lay eyes on the black piglets with their stubby pink legs: Oooooooh!

“They got their little pink socks,” Langhorne says. “They’re so cute!”

Langhorne, former chef de cuisine at the influential McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C., is not shopping for a pet. He’s scouting farmers who might supply his restaurant, dedicated to the flora, fauna and fermented flavors of the Mid-Atlantic. This trip to Cabin Creek is just one of many he has made ahead of the Dabney’s opening later this month. The 30-year-old Langhorne wants to inspect every potential supplier, not just to form a bond with farmers who might be skittish about working with (historically unreliable) chefs, but also to review their agricultural practices. He wants farmers who respect their products as much as he does.

“They’re doing it right,” Langhorne says after visiting two Maryland farms in August with sous-chefs Chris Morgan and Mike Tholis. “They put their animals’ happiness first and foremost. Most other farms, you’ll see some part of the chain where convenience outweighs the happiness of the animals.”

In turn, Langhorne and his business partner, Alex Zink, want to do right by the Mid-Atlantic with the Dabney, which is shaping up to be one of the District’s most ambitious restaurants, perhaps ever. The chef wants to source virtually every ingredient, whether the vinegar on your greens or the sweetener in your dessert, from the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (save largely for liquids such as coffee, tea and some wine). The Dabney won’t have a set menu. It won’t even have a signature dish. Langhorne expects to create small, personalized menus based on the products available to him from day to day. Many will be prepared in a large, open-flame hearth, and some will feature vinegars, misos, pickles, preserves and other pantry items made in-house with ingredients plucked from local woods and valleys.

It’s an approach that can frustrate both prospective diners and companies that set up point-of-sale systems for restaurants: They want much clearer answers on what the Dabney will serve.


“Everyone seems to really not be able to comprehend and understand the fact that I just come up with dishes, like, the day the ingredients come in. That’s how it works, honestly,” Langhorne says. “The menu doesn’t exist.”

Where history left off

At a time when restaurants are defined by their “concept” — maybe a fast-casual Mexican joint or a Mediterranean small-plates emporium — the Dabney will have no easy shorthand description to classify its food. What, after all, defines Mid-Atlantic cuisine? Does it incorporate Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and the sweet specimens pulled from the “Chesepiook,” as the Algonquian natives used to call the “great shellfish bay”? Does it embrace the products that have become tourism commodities, like Virginia ham and peanuts?

Or is it something else altogether?

Over the months that I’ve been following him, I’ve watched Langhorne explain the Dabney to the curious and the confused. A few folks have remained that way even after the chef’s explanation. Their confusion is understandable: The Dabney will be a reverse image of your standard restaurant.

The Dabney will not latch onto an identifiable cuisine, like French or Southern, and then search for ingredients to create the necessary dishes. Instead, it will start with Mid-Atlantic ingredients and rely on Langhorne’s ingenuity to prepare something satisfying. The food will be informed by his study of the historic cookbooks of Maryland and Virginia, but his plates will not be museum-level recreations, like tabletop dioramas. No modern diner would eat such food: 19th-century cooks had a limited pantry available to boost flavor.

Langhorne sees it as his duty to continue the evolution of Mid- Atlantic cuisine, which was halted prematurely — by war, by industrialization, by America’s fascination with cuisines far older than its own.

“My goal is to continue this region’s development and movement as far as gastronomy is concerned,” he says. “The idea is not to re-create [historic recipes]. The idea is to learn from them and pick up where they left off.”


For a man so focused on history, Jeremiah Langhorne prefers not to talk about his own, at least not his childhood. In some ways, he doesn’t know much about it. Asked where he first lived, Langhorne begs off and says he’ll need to call his older brother, the family historian.

Langhorne was midwived in a Bethesda hospital, the middle of three sons to a father who ran a concrete company. Langhorne spent his early years in Sterling, but his family moved around Loudoun and Fairfax counties. When his parents split up, Langhorne and his brothers lived with their mother in a small mountain town in the Shenandoah Valley.


“We had a massive garden, tons of woods,” Langhorne recalls. “My little brother and I, we used to dam the creek and make swimming holes or build fjords or do whatever we could to just have good time.”

His parents reunited when Langhorne was a teen, and they settled in Charlottesville, where the middle son started his life in the restaurant industry. Sort of. He took a job at McDonald’s so he could buy equipment to videotape his skateboarding antics. He later delivered pizzas, which led to a grunt job at the now-closed OXO restaurant under chef John Haywood, an Englishman trained in French cuisine. For Langhorne, working for that old-school taskmaster would be his culinary school.

“I thank him to this day, because he spent four years just beating into me all these wonderful, wonderful values” about food, Langhorne says.

While laboring at OXO, Langhorne learned about chef Sean Brock’s experiments at McCrady’s, where the future James Beard Award-winner was reclaiming long-dormant low country ingredients and putting modernist spins on them. Langhorne became obsessed with Brock’s blog, Ping Island Strike, a minimalist and illuminating “digital notebook” that the chef started after opening McCrady’s. Langhorne was determined to work in Brock’s kitchen one day.

It would take some two years and multiple visits to Charleston, where Langhorne apprenticed for Brock, before the young cook caught a break: In 2008, McCrady’s had an opening in the kitchen, and Brock hired Langhorne. After a year or so at McCrady’s, Langhorne took a sabbatical to work at Nomain Copenhagen, where chef René Redzepi’s team taught the American about foraging. Langhorne would take the lessons and transform McCrady’s kitchen.

“Jeremiah is a lot like me. He’s a very obsessive person, and when obsessive people get attached to something, into something, we tend to take it way too far,” says Brock. “And foraging really became that for him. This guy went nuts. He was creating these notebooks, plotting these maps and going out every morning and filling his car full of all this stuff.”

By 2011, Langhorne was chef de cuisine, running the restaurant that made Brock a rock star. Eventually, Brock says, every dish on the menu was Langhorne’s.

“He slowly created his own thing,” says Brock. Such ambition sparked both pride and worry in Brock. “You’re like, ‘This guy’s not going to be around much longer,’ ” he remembers.

Brock was right. By the fall of 2013, Langhorne and his future wife, Jenny Mooney, left Charleston for the Mid-Atlantic. It was time for Langhorne to take all he had learned — about foraging, about cooking, about a sense of place — and apply it to the region he considers home.

‘It’s market-driven cooking’

If you need to better understand the Dabney, look at Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, owned by Spike Gjerde, the Beard-winning chef who has become a mentor, student and friend to Langhorne. Since opening his place in 2007, Gjerde has been slowly building a pantry and a menu that reflect the region around him; the work is both treasure hunt and reclamation project. It requires brutal dedication. But it can unearth once-lost jewels like the fish pepper, a chili popular with African American cooks in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“I would say Jeremiah and I start with the notion that we’re going to source from local growers and the local food systems,” says Gjerde. “It’s market-driven cooking going back, probably, a millennium at this point.”

The approach goes beyond farm-to-table, even though that tag often gets applied to both Gjerde and Langhorne. Langhorne, in particular, has been contemptuous of peers who proudly list farms on their menus but buy only an ingredient or two from local growers, sourcing everything else from traditional wholesalers. Langhorne is not interested in using a menu to convince diners of his convictions; he wants to use local products to convince diners of the natural beauty of the ingredients around them.

But first he has to source the ingredients or forage for them himself. Once they are in hand, he might pickle them. Or he might convert them into molasses. Or he might ferment them into misos or vinegars.

Whether on his own at Union Kitchen or with assistance from theHoneycomb team at Union Market, Langhorne has already produced more than 150 pantry items. A woefully partial list: watermelon molasses, pickled ramps, canned Roma tomatoes, fish pepper pickles, walnut miso, sunchoke miso, popcorn miso, black garlic, aged sorghum vinegar, carrot vinegar, beet vinegar, cabbage-and-carrot kimchi, vinegars based on local beer and a Worcestershire-like “bay sauce,” adapted from the late 19th- ­century collection, “Housekeeping in Old Virginia.” He’s just now starting on his own fish sauce, fermented from 100 pounds of Atlantic menhaden.

“That’s really the tip of the iceberg,” Langhorne says, “because once we get into the kitchen, [preservation] will be a daily occurrence. Every single item we get in, we’ll figure how to utilize it” for the pantry.

Langhorne has developed a network of farmers and chefs, like Gjerde, who have helped him find other ingredients needed for a functional kitchen. Like salt (which Langhorne will buy from J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works in West Virginia) or citrus (which will come from Next Step Produce in Southern Maryland, where the farm grows “flying dragons,” a lemon-like fruit) or cooking oil (which the Dabney will source from Shenandoah Agricultural Products in Virginia, where they press canola oil). It has to be the hardest way to build a pantry, far more difficult than placing an order with a distributor or loading up at Restaurant Depot.

“I call it an illness, because it comes with health concerns,” says Brock, who influenced Langhorne in these flavor-reclamation projects. “It’s not healthy to be this obsessive and passionate and hard-working . . . It’s exhausting physically and mentally, and that’s why very few people do it, because it takes 10 times the amount of work that anybody would ever want to do.

“Jeremiah’s got that illness, and thank God,” adds Brock, with a laugh. “We need more people who allow their passion to cloud their judgment when it comes to healthy living.”

So a question or three flow logically from Brock’s comments: Why on Earth would anyone go to such extremes? What’s the point? Are these chefs the real-life equivalent of the main character in William Golding’s “The Spire,” a cathedral dean who decides to build a towering spire to bring people closer to God even though the construction might hurt those involved?

In a sense, yes.

“The most powerful thing that comes out of this is a sense of pride,” says Brock. “It’s almost like the pride that comes along with college football. It’s like, this is ours, and it belongs to us. This is the food of the people before us and our ancestors and our family members. This is the food that we’re supposed to be cooking here.”

By Tim Carman

Restaurant and Bar Design Awards: Antwerp and London take top prizes

(CNN)The Jane restaurant in Antwerp and Dandelyan bar in London took top prizes at the 2015 Restaurant & Bar Design Awards, now in its seventh year.

Designer and architect Matteo Thun and chef Jason Atherton are just two of the names on the 23-strong panel of judges.

The Jane in Antwerp, Belgium is an ex-military hospital chapel that was transformed by local design practice Piet Boon into a modern Gothic space. It features a statement spiked chandelier design and all new stained glass windows by Studio Job.

The art deco inspired Dandelyan bar, housed in the recently refurbished Mondrian London hotel, was conceived by Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio. Originally designed by American architect Warren Platner in the 1970s, the hotel looms over the Thames and is said to be a contemporary reflection on the golden age of transatlantic travel.

These Two Food Tech Startups Changed Their Models And The Chefs Are Not Happy

A recent article in Grub Street highlights changes in the new on-demand chef space, one of the fastest growing segments within food-tech. The story focused on how two startups,Kitchensurfing and Kitchit have changed their business model from a chef marketplace model, where customers can book chefs for private parties, to an on-demand model, where customers get pre-set menus cooked at their homes. Although this may seem like a small tweak in the models, it’s a much bigger change —especially for the chefs who work for the two companies to generate much needed extra income. The pivot by both startups means that chefs are limited to an hourly rate on a set menu price—as opposed to a revenue share on a job capped only by how much customers might spend on a dinner party.

The online personal chef business has been heating up over the last few years. Kitchit, a San Francisco startup, launched in 2011 with $600,000 in seed money led by 500 startups. New York-based Kitchensurfing launched in 2013 with $1,000,000 in seed capital led by the BoxGroup. Both companies have been growing slowly since their launch, but that did not stop them from attracting additional funding in 2014. Kitchensurfing raised an additional $15 million, bringing their total funding to $19.5 million, while Kitchit brought in an addition $7.5 million. With funding in place, both startups were poised to enter 2015 with hopes of hyper growth.

But the Grub Street article highlights the pain points of growing a food-tech business, especially one with no real product. As both companies grew their marketplaces, they seemed to have happy customers and more importantly—because they are known for being difficult to work with—happy chefs. However, both companies quickly realized that, in the fast-paced world of Venture Capitalists, their slow steady growth based on a small revenue share wasn’t going to cut it.
“As it turns out, making 12.5 percent off of bespoke, high-end cooking has not been lucrative enough for the company.” Jessica Pressler was writing about Kitchit, but Kitchensurfing had learned the lesson she described a few months earlier. Although the on-demand meal space will bring larger margins to both startups, the model will be more difficult to manage and scale while at the same time disenfranchising their biggest assets, their chefs.

Kitchit and Kitchensurfing are banking on the on-demand meal space, hoping that customers prefer their meals cooked in their homes instead of at a catering facility or restaurant. But with Uber Eats, Munchery, Farm Hill, Radish and countless other startups delivering on-demand meals around the country for $10-$15 per meal, Kitchit and Kitchensurfing may have a difficult time convincing consumers to have on-demand meals cooked in their kitchen at rates of $25/person (Kitchensurfing) or $39/person (Kitchit). Additionally, the two startups have left many chefs feeling angry and left behind, especially the most talented ones, who have no interest in the on-demand, fast food model.


Restaurant Refuses Service To Soldier For Carrying Firearm

Over the weekend, a soldier with the National Guard was told to leave his gun outside of the Nicholasville Waffle House or he wouldn’t be served. The situation is now getting national attention.

Billy Welch said that he stopped at the Waffle House Sunday morning for breakfast. He was in his Army National Guard uniform and had his gun holstered to his side. After ordering his food, Welch said that a waitress signaled for him to come over.

“I got up and I walked over to them, asked them how they were doing and stuff, and they said I’d have to take my firearm outside,” said Welch. “I don’t feel comfortable taking my firearm away from me. I always keep it with me and they said, ‘it’s one of our policies.’”

Welch said that he didn’t think too much of it, just told the waitress that he could not leave his firearm outside.

“You know, if I can’t have my firearm, then I can’t be here,” said Welch. “I walked inside to the other waitress. I said, ‘thank you, but no thank you ma’am. I’m gonna have to leave.'”

Welch started hearing from people and organizations all over the country after one witness took the details of the situation to Facebook.

“I have a bunch of family members and friends who have been active military and in the military and retired and it hurts my feelings when people disrespect them,” said Micaela Shaw, who was sitting in a booth nearby. “I just wanted to stand up for him.”

Her posts quickly went viral.

The owner of the Nicholasville Waffle House made this statement, “For many years we have had a “No Firearms” police in place in our restaurants. We continue to believe this is the best police for the safety of our customers and associates.”

More Stories of Fantastically Stupid Restaurant Customers

Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. This week, we’ve got our old reliable favorite: stupid restaurant customers. Christ, I will never run out of these stories. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.

Matt Porter:

I work at a wholesale bakery. We primarily supply restaurants, but also the occasional grocery store. We bake every day and deliver seven days a week, but sometimes shit happens and people will need bread that they didn’t order ahead and we try to accommodate. There was a restaurant that had recently changed hands, and the new chef was proving to be quite a dick. His ordering was all over the place, he was an ass on the phone, etc. One afternoon he calls in freaking out that he doesn’t have enough bread and we need to bring him more buns or he won’t have enough for dinner service and “this is UNACCEPTABLE! It is an EMERGENCY! Do you understand me, an EMERGENCY!” It’s entirely his own fault, but whatevs.

One of our employees says she’ll take him enough to get him through dinner on her way home, so she loads up the bread in her car and leaves. About an hour later, she comes back, stomping mad, throws the bread back and says “I stood there for 10 minutes pounding on the door, and that motherfucker wouldn’t open the door. He was hiding behind the counter, but I could see him through the ALL GLASS DOORS!”

I give him a call and ask if he needed the bread or not, since he wouldn’t accept it from our employee and his response is “Oh, was she here to deliver the bread? I thought she was trying to break in.”

Perhaps I should mention at this point that this employee happened to be African-American. So after ordering hamburger buns, he thought that the woman knocking on his door holding a crate with 24 dozen hamburger buns, was…trying to break in.

He went out of business two months later.

Amy Storen:

I worked in the mountains for a while. A number of our summer season customers asked if the patches of white stuff on the higher parts of the mountains was sand.

Courtney Martin:

I once had a guy out for dinner with his wife. Although our restaurant is pretty upscale, it is in a touristy area of San Francisco, so we inevitably get the tourists who would never dream of spending that much money at home. This seemed to be the case with these two. After adjusting the temperature of their water twice, I finally came to take the order. The guy told me he was allergic to all seeds and tree nuts. That’s fine, I pointed out anything on the menu that had pine nuts or seeds so that he knew what would be safe to eat. He then proceeded to order the steak with mustard cream sauce. I tried to explain that mustard is made from seeds—we used real mustard and not the yellow powder stuff. He could not understand, and asked if I could just give him mustard sauce then, without the allergens. When I tried to explain again that the mustard was the part with the allergen, he argued that it was not. Eventually I just offered to adapt the meal to his dietary needs and he agreed. I exchanged the sauce for our housemade steak sauce and brought the meal out. When I returned to check on him, he asked me where the mustard sauce was.

He then proceeded to order the strawberry and mixed nut dessert.

Barry McAdams:

I just started serving at a small but nice Italian/Greek wine bar. The menu is mostly small plates. An older couple came in and sat at a table in the other server’s section. I just happened to pass by as the woman was saying “I want a Greek Platter but I don’t do olives, I don’t do hummus, I don’t do cheese and bread hurts my stomach.”

The Greek Platter is feta, olives, hummus, pita bread and artichokes. I have no idea what she ordered, I had to run across the restaurant before I started laughing.

Steve Garrett:

I was a really picky eater growing up, and when I turned 13 I finally started eating greens—but not really, because I don’t think Caesar salad counts.

Anyway, I’m at a restaurant with my mom and sister in Connecticut, and our waitress comes to our table. I then proceed to say, “May I please have the caesar salad with extra croutons, but no anchovies, parmesan, and definitely no hearts of romaine. Thanks!”

My mom’s mouth dropped and my sister fell out of her chair laughing. The waitress was confused. It was not my finest moment.

Karyn Davidson:

My partner, daughter, and I were in a small town and eating at a Thai restaurant. I am going to go ahead and assume that the server would also be the owner/operator.

As we’re eating we see a giant pick up truck pull in and block the only entrance/exit to the parking lot. The guy hops out, rushes in and goes right to the front counter, to presumably order take-out. The server asks that the guy move his truck because he’s completely blocking the way, but the guy refuses saying he’ll “only be a minute.”

He immediately demands chicken pot pie. The server explains that this is a Thai restaurant and they don’t have chicken pot pie. The guy just keeps saying, “Chicken pot pie! My wife wants chicken pot pie!” over and over again, with the same result. He says she orders it there all the time. The server looks dumbfounded.

This goes on for a while and finally the guy asks to see a menu. As he’s looking through, he then demands a menu with PICTURES. The server is very polite but explains this is their only menu and it doesn’t have pictures or chicken pot pie.

As the server retreats to the kitchen, the guy calls his wife. I can’t hear her end of the conversation, but the guy goes on and on about all the injustices he’s experiencing and tells her they don’t have chicken pot pie. He pauses, listens to his wife on the phone, and hangs up without a word.

He then goes back and orders…chicken Pad Thai. Not pot pie. Pad Thai.

To his credit, the server was incredibly nice about it, but you could tell he felt vindicated. We left an extra large tip because screw that guy and his pot pie.

Sarah Barton:

I worked at a fancy organic deli in Colorado, and we usually had latkes in the case. Ninety percent of customers (and employees) pronounced it “lot-key”, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Two customers stand out in my memory for their unique interpretations (keep in mind that “potato latke” is clearly written on the sign in the case). One customer asked for a “potato lake,” and shortly thereafter someone else asked for a “potato latte.”

(Editor’s Note: You should hear what customers will do to the word “rotisserie.” I heard “rotissary,” “rosiary,” “rotisuwary,” and “rosary.” The last was doubly funny since I was working in a kosher deli)

Courtney Wasserman:

I was at Starbucks, waiting in line to order coffee. The woman in front of me asked the barista, “Does your mocha have coffee in it? Because I don’t like coffee.”

The barista answered that yes, Starbucks mochas—in fact ALL mochas—come with coffee in them. But if she doesn’t like coffee, he would be happy to make her a hot chocolate instead.

She replied, “No, I want a mocha. But make mine without coffee.”

Noelle Rawls:

I worked at a small independent local coffee shop in California by the beach. Laid back atmosphere, great people watching, busy mornings, sedate evenings. One day during a busy morning rush, I was working the espresso machine and my manager was working the cash register. He would take an order, write it on the cup and line the cups up on the counter next to me. I would proceed to make the drink and hand it to the customer standing on the other side of the counter from me. A small counter. A counter from which you could easily view me making your drink.

Everything is going well, fast paced, I am flying through soy lattes and cap’s, calling out orders and handing them to the customers when I hear a deep scream in my left ear: “WHAT DID YOU GIVE MEEEEEEEEE!?!?!”

It is a very large man for whom I had just made a drink. I think a latte. He is literally spitting his latte out onto the counter. I look towards my manager who turns around and proceeds to deal with this guy so I can continue making the drinks stacking up for the people in the long line waiting at the register. My manager asks the guy what he ordered. He screams “A LATTE! A LATTE WITH NON-FAT MIIILKKK!”

My manager writes the order on the cup, hands it to me. The man then leans over the counter and watches me make his drink…I hand it to him. He takes a sip. He then SPEWS it out like a deranged fountain and starts screaming “YOU POISONED ME! YOU CRAZY BITCH, YOU TRIED TO POISON MEEEE!”

At this point it seems the world has stopped. I think the music playing over the sound system might have actually ground to a halt. The whole cafe is silent and staring at me and this man. I sedately and calmly explained that I only put espresso and NF milk into his latte, and he watched me make it himself. My manager then writes his order on another cup and steps over to hand the cup to me, then decides to make him the drink himself. The man is still yelling at this point and now starts screaming that I “PUT CLEANING SOLUTION IN MY CUP TO POISON MEEEEEEEEE!” Unfortunately there is a bottle of powdered espresso machine cleaner near the espresso machine. He is pointing at it screaming “SHE POURED POISON IN MY DRINK! I SAW HER DO IT! I CAN TASTE THE POISON!” He is leaning over the counter and I am very worried that I will be throttled.

While he is still screaming in the now deathly quiet coffee shop, my manager hands him his new latte, which he watched him make. He sniffs it. He proclaims very loudly it “ALSO POISONED!” and “THEY ARE TRYING TO KILL ME HERE!”

I look at the cup and I notice my idiot manager has written this dude’s order on the outside of the cup with a really thick large sharpie instead of the thin ones we usually use. I grab the sharpie open it, and ask the guy “Is this the poison?” He roughly grabs the marker from me, sniffs it and says “YES.” Then he proceeds to nonchalantly take his “poisoned” latte off of the counter and walk out. The silence in the shop ends, the music returns and business resumes.

And that was the time I “poisoned” a customer.

Ian Summers:

Guy: “So a reuben burger comes with swiss, sauerkraut, and thousand island?”

Me: “That’s right!”

Guy: “What does that mean?”

Me: “Um, well, instead of corned beef with swiss, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing, it—”

Guy: “OH! Thousand island DRESSING!”

I guess we need to start being more specific on the menu so people don’t think they’re getting 1,000 ACTUAL ISLANDS on their sandwich. My bad.

Dan Perkins:

One time I had a customer who couldn’t understand what pork was. They kept asking if it was “like chicken or beef,” which we assumed meant they were asking which is more similar to. Turns out, they were “like” as a space filler and they were actually wondering if our pork ribs were from chickens or cows. They were shocked to discover that it was from pigs, as they thought pigs only produced bacon or ham.

(Editor’s Note: The first person who unironically tries to argue “WELL MAYBE THEY WERE KOSHER/HALAL AND DON’T KNOW WHAT PIGS ARE” should be fired into the sun.)

Sharon Morales:

In university, I worked at a coffee shop that was in a busy downtown mall, right by the transit. I wasn’t working this day, but my coworker, an extremely taciturn guy, was. A 30-ish business-looking man had been doing his coffee business at the stand, when he approached the counter, holding the carton of homogenized milk. “What’s homo milk? Is this milk from GAY COWS?!” he demands, utterly seriously, even angrily. Anticlimactically, my coworker explained calmly what it was, and then the customer left without further incident.

Samantha Stoddard:

I was a bartender for a while at a trendy restaurant that served all kinds of craft cocktails. Seasonal ingredients, obscure liquors, etc. We had a bunch of garnishes sitting in glass cubes on the bar, which had strawberries, blackberries, candied ginger, and all sorts of goodies. Occasionally people would try to take some, but for the most part the restaurant crowd was pretty cool about not touching the bar supplies.

One night, after the dinner crowd had left, it was still pretty packed. There was a group of drunk sorority girls celebrating a birthday or something, and they all wanted Sex On The Beach shots and lemon drop martinis. They were very confused about the fruit and figured it was free snacks. I tried to keep telling them not to touch it (seriously, never eat bar fruit. It’s gross.) but they wouldn’t listen, so I pretty much gave up.

One extremely annoying girl started shouting to get my attention, and when I finally looked up, her mouth was all blue. She told me something was wrong with my blueberries. (Duh, they’ve been sitting on a bar for eight hours). I told her again that they were garnishes, not snacks, and she proceeded to yell “BUT THEY TASTE LIKE VAGINA!” I started laughing (because seriously, what the hell?) and her equally drunk friend RUNS over and dumps the rest of the container in her mouth and goes “THEY TOTALLY TASTE LIKE VAGINA.”

My coworker and I couldn’t stop laughing, and I haven’t eaten a blueberry since.

Dana Tosi:

I own a restaurant in Washington DC. This is a recent email I got from a customer.


I attended a happy hour at your fine restaurant on March 26th. The bill came to be $12.10 and I added a tip of $3.90 so the total was $15. However when I checked my credit card bill today, the amount that was charged to my card is $16. Someone may have made a mistake while entering the amount.

For proof, I have attached a copy of the receipt to this message. I am not really hurting for 1 dollar. But I just wanted to bring this to your attention that small things like this ruin a pleasant experience and lead to disappointment. I am sure this was just a mistake and your establishment is a reputable one and I would like to visit for more happy hours and meals.



Theresa Harkin:

When I was in college, I worked at a popular restaurant chain.

Before menus had nutritional information provided, we had a section of the menu (it was 2 items) that were considered “healthier.” I had a lady order the shrimp dish, nothing out of the ordinary.

When her meal arrived, she pulled me over to ask where her crab was. I told her the dish she ordered only came with shrimp and that we didn’t serve crab. Needless to say, this made her angry, so she demanded to see a menu and a manager. I brought the menu to her first and she furiously flipped to the page. “See?” she said. “Served with net crabs!” I had to point out to her that what she was reading was the amount of net carbohydrates in her dinner.

She didn’t speak to me for the rest of her meal.

Wallace Severino:

I attended a very small art school on a Greek island. One of my fellow students, a woman in her mid-20s, grew up in Mumbai but had been living London for the last couple of years. She was a well-educated young woman whose family belonged to a high-up caste, a fact she brought up fairly often. Before attending our school, she had already completed *two* masters degrees from prestigious UK universities and was an exceptionally talented writer. We all thought she was brilliant, albeit annoying.

She, like many of the students, was a vegetarian. Which is fine, but her vegetarianism was super important to her, as she reminded us at least twice a day for many, many months that she did not eat meat and had never in her life eaten meat. Since there were quite a few other vegetarian/vegan students, we always had loads of plant-based meal options. Nevertheless this woman drove us absolutely fucking crazy at every meal, asking if literally everything she was passed had meat in it. She seemed to live in constant fear that she may accidentally find herself eating something containing meat. “Does this bread have meat in it?” “Does this fruit salad have meat in it?” It’s fruit salad. Please stop.

One glorious day, I was sitting outside of Chaniotis, a deli-style restaurant known for their enormous, greasy cheeseburgers that were advertised on flyers and whatnot all over the island. Burgers were basically the only thing people went there for. I’m finishing my lunch at an outdoor table when my classmate walks up to the restaurant to study with another student, a sweet but perpetually nervous-seeming shyguy. They put their stuff down on a table near mine. He sits down and spreads out their project papers as she goes inside to order her lunch. She comes out a few minutes later, carrying her tray; there’s a huge burger on it. I’m thinking to myself, I didn’t know Chaniotis served veggie burgers, but whatever, I go back to my book. The two of them are two tables over, going over their homework project, but I can tell the shyguy is distracted by something. Three or four minutes later, I hear him hesitantly say, “Um…are you eating a cheeseburger?”

She is unfazed and says yes, she eats them all the time! Cheeseburgers are just about her favorite food, she says. She proceeds to explain to him that only a hamburger contains meat, and that a cheeseburger is vegetarian. She says she knows this because she has been to McDonald’s in London literally *hundreds* of times in the last few years, and that a cheeseburger is always vegetarian when she orders one! My mouth must’ve been hanging open as I listened to him try to explain to her as delicately as he could that he had never heard that before, and gently suggests she “ought to double check” that information.

She bolts inside to the counter where the Greek woman who rang her order up is standing by the register. Totally breathless, my classmate is shouting “Excuse me, by any chance did what I just ate have a dead cow or a dead pig in it?!” The Greek woman, whose English was just the bare minimum, was having an extraordinarily difficult time understanding what my classmate was asking, so she kept hysterically shouting and repeating to the other four employees behind the counter, “By any chance did what I just ate contain a dead cow?” The Greek cooks were so confused they couldn’t even process or respond, so she ran back outside to the table where shyguy was sitting, wide-eyed at all the commotion. He had already started gathering up their books and papers, and they as she continued flipping out and ranting about how “in London, any moron knows that if you order a cheeseburger that you’re a vegetarian—this must be a Greek thing!”

Do you have a crazy restaurant or other food-industry story you’d like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens (on ANY subject, not just this one)? Please e-mail with “Behind Closed Ovens” in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!

Note: I do not want poop/vomit stories. Please stop sending me poop/vomit stories. Also, if your stories are not food-related in some way, I am unable to do anything with them. Sorry.

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Restaurant Employees Who Were Abjectly Terrible At Their Jobs

Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. This week, we’ve got restaurant employees who were just unmitigated disasters. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.

Matt McNair:

My sophomore year of high school through my sophomore year of college, I worked summers at a local old-school 50’s style drive-in. The staff was almost entirely high school kids or recent graduates who were attending the local community college. No one older than 20.


One employee in particular seemed destined for an early grave. We’ll call him Jacob.

During closeup one night, Jacob was tasked with sweeping and mopping the kitchen. Basic KP duty. I was mixing a batch of root beer in the back room when my lungs began to itch. Seconds later, the entire kitchen staff came barreling around the corner doing their best impression of Han Solo running from the Imperial shield bunker on Endor.

Seems Jacob thought it would be clever to mix up some extra-powerful cleaner to make his job easier. He’d mixed a half-gallon of bleach with a half-gallon of ammonia in the mop bucket. For reference, this is the equivalent of crossing the streams. We recovered, and Jacob was educated on WWI chemical warfare.(Editor’s Note: I am in love with these entire last two paragraphs.)

Next. We made our own cole slaw. Toss three heads of cabbage, 10 carrots, a bowl of dressing, a bit of salt and pepper into this ancient chopping mechanism, give it a few passes, and voila. Jacob was assigned the job. Again, how hard could it be?

About half an hour later and Jacob was still hard at work on a job that should have taken, at most, 10 minutes. The kitchen manager walks to the back to investigate. “Jesus Christ, Jacob, what the hell is this?”

“Cole slaw, duh.” You could hear his eyes roll.

“Jacob, have you ever eaten cole slaw?”


“Did it fucking look like pudding?!”

I had to see. Jacob had made a slaw smoothie. It was literally liquified. I still don’t know how.

(Editor’s Note: Goddamit, Jacob.)

Bryce Jamison:

My place of work happens to be very close to a Subway, so I often grab a quick sandwich from there for lunch, and over the past year I’ve gotten to know the people who work there. I recently went in and found a new employee working behind the counter, wearing the trainee badge and all. She made my sandwich, and being a trainee, it took a little longer than usual. I’m not here to judge her for lack of sandwich perfection, she was new to it. However, I will judge her for something else.

When we got to the condiment section, I requested mustard. She took the bottle out and squeezed, and I noticed that rather than mustard coming out of the bottom as is normally the case, a little bit of mustard oozed out of the top. No big deal, she had grabbed the bottle upside-down.

However, she hadn’t noticed her mistake, and became determined to get the mustard out. She squeezed the bottle significantly harder, and this time mustard shot out of the top of the bottle and smeared all over her hand and arm (she was wearing short sleeves).

She still did not notice her mistake, despite her arm dripping with mustard. Her brow furrowed in frustration and she now used two hands to squeeze the bottle with the force of a thousand suns, thus creating what future historians will call The Great Mustard Geyser of ‘15. It shot out of the top and splattered all over her arm, her hand, the counter, the sandwich next to mine, the vegetables, it was a mess. There was more mustard in the room than there was oxygen.

And the most insane thing is that she was so razor-focused on getting the mustard on the sandwich that she STILL HAD NOT NOTICED. She reared up for another go at it and started to squeeze.This time I stepped in and muttered “Um, I think it’s upside-down.” She finally, finally looked at the mustard apocalypse that she had created…and just shrugged, flipped the bottle over, and applied the mustard. When she was done she went to the next customer, completely ignoring the mess that her mustard adventure had created.

Strangely enough, not a single drop of mustard got on my sandwich before she flipped the bottle.

Aaron Slade:

In the early 1990’s, I worked as a line cook at a one-step-above-pub-style restaurant in Worcester, MA (Editor’s Note: WOOOOOOOOOOOOO-STAAAAAAAAHHHHHH sorry I have no idea what just happened). It was a Saturday morning, and I arrived at about 10 AM for the long day, began lunch set up and prep for the night. Then the owner, a little loud Napoleonic fella, burst into the kitchen and announced to the Chef and I that one of the servers had committed suicide overnight. She had been there a while and was one of the better servers. We cooks liked her.

The owner genuinely shaken up; he had just gotten a call from her sister, but didn’t know anything else. I had gone to school with the sister, so I offered to call the house to see how we could help. The owner was going to close the restaurant for the day, he offered to cater the wake, send food for the family. More generous than I expected from the shifty bastard.

I called the house and her younger sister answered. I reintroduce myself, expressed my condolences…and she asked what the hell am I talking about. Her mother had just spoken to the “dead” sister a moment ago, and person I was talking to certainly had made no call to the restaurant that morning. We talked another minute and the only only conclusion we could reach is that the server had called in dead to work.

She. Called. In. Dead.

Zoe Leventhal:

I spent a good twelve years of my life working for Fazoli’s. Now, for those who haven’t heard of it, Fazoli’s is essentially the fast food variant of Olive Garden. Crappy Italian food, served by underpaid, overworked, underappreciated people. The original goal of Fazoli’s was to provide “upscale quality Italian food at fast food speed and prices”—which it actually did when Kuni Toyoda was still in charge, until Sun Capital bought it out and proceeded to try to turn it into Italian McDonald’s, only without wanting to spend all the money McDonald’s has to make it the way it is. (Editor’s Note: If you guys remember Dustin Hucks’ Breadsticks story, that was at a Fazoli’s, though he never explicitly stated such)

The first GM I worked with had quit, and it was the first week of our brand new GM (I will refer to him as “Charles”). Now, we had another gentleman who worked there (who I will refer to as “Buddy”). Buddy was a really nice guy, but he was rather…unbalanced. As such, he was on medication to control his mood.

So, it’s a Friday night and we’re packed to the gills, I’m on the register, we’ve got a line to the door, and buddy is out delivering breadsticks to the tables. That’s when Buddy completely flips.

It turns out his new doctor had decided to tinker with his medication and the changes had a rather bad effect on him. Buddy starts screaming, throws his breadstick basket to the ground, and tries to shove over the soda machine. By the grace of god, he didn’t manage to tip it (although he almost managed to). So he grabs the lid off the soda machine, and, using it like a Frisbee, hurls it at some kids in a nearby booth. Charles, in what can only be described as luck granted to him by the Lady herself, manages to catch it in MID-AIR, right before it slammed into those kids.

Buddy still isn’t done, though. Still in a Hulk-like rampage, he plows into the line of people, grabbing these various decorative bottles that were glued to the shelves on the other side of the soda machines. He RIPS THE BOTTLES OFF THE SHELVES, before hurling them onto the floor. At this point, Charles and two other managers tackle him, trying to get him under control. He actually manages to throw them off of him, before running for the door, kicking it open (and shattering the glass in the process) and running off into the night (presumably to climb the nearest skyscraper and swat at planes).

Amazingly enough, they gave him another chance—only to fire him about a month later after another freakout. As for Charles? He stopped showing up to work a couple of weeks later. That probably should have been my clue that I should have done the same thing.

Carly Mientkiewicz:

A friend of mine who was in the process of being tested for celiac disease wanted to go out for her birthday. She was being careful in what she ate during this time until the results were final. She picked a restaurant and when we were ordering, asked the waitress what the soup of the day was. She was told minestrone. My friend then asked if the soup had any wheat in it. The waitress goes “oh no, honey, it’s just vegetables, beans and noodles.”

Ella Creegan:

The summer after my senior year of high school, I was dating a very good looking boy. He was very tall and broad shouldered and looked like he was in his 20’s, while I was very short and looked younger than 17 (this has benefited me in the 13 years since). We went out to dinner, a lot, because his parents gave him a huge allowance and were never home. It was great.

I mention that he was good looking because a lot of waitresses would flirt with him. Most would figure out relatively quickly that we were on a date; they’d notice us hold hands, or that I was wearing his class ring on a necklace, or maybe we’d say something; whatever it was, the flirting usually didn’t go past the drink orders.

One time, however, we were at a TGIFriday’s or some place like that and the waitress did not get the message. It was late, like 10:30 or so. We were waiting to order our food when our waitress came back with our drinks – we were holding hands, so obviously on a date, but she didn’t notice. She plopped my soda in front of me, then leaned over to place his soda near his left arm. She leaned in, as if she wanted to brush her breasts across his chiseled jaw. It was weird.

Then she took our order: she barely acknowledged me, but touched his arm when he ordered (meatballs) and giggled, like meatballs are the funniest word in the world. She actually winked at him as she walked to the back to put in our order. We were cracking up at this point, because we were obviously together.

She came back with our food a little later and after again, plopping mine down, she leaned over and gently placed his plate in front of him. “If you want more *meatballs*,” she said, channeling her inner Marilyn Monroe, “just ask. It’ll be…my…pleasure.” She winked again and walked away.

By now I was starting to get uncomfortable, so I decided to say something when she came back. But, when she did, she has 3 meatballs on a small plate, which she delicately added to my boyfriend’s food, WITH HER FINGERS. “I thought you might like some extra…meatballs.” she said.

At this point I was enraged and about to say something, but before I can my boyfriend said, “Excuse me, we’re on a date. And I don’t want your meatballs.”

WELL. She was in utter disbelief that he could be on a date with me (!!!) so laughed and said, “You’re shitting me, right? I thought she was your little sister!” then starts laughing maniacally, as if it’s the funniest thing in the world. My boyfriend asked for the check. She stopped laughing immediately and stomped off towards the server station. We just sat there in complete disbelief and try to ignore the patrons around us who have, at this point, all noticed what was going on.

She came back with the check, flung it down in front of me and says (no lie), “Well if you’re old enough to date HIM, you’re old enough to pay!” She then gave him the saddest puppy dog face and flounced off.

On the check was her phone number and a little heart.

Doug McManus:

In the 80’s, I worked in a fancy restaurant in Faneuil Hall. One of the servers was not the sharpest tool. For dinner, the chef prepared duchess potatoes, and we told the server it was pronounced douche potatoes—which he cheerily explained to every table that night.

Jenna Carmine:

Years ago I used to work in Human Resources. Our department was made up of about 6 women at the time, and we all got along pretty well. On Fridays we would often order in lunch and all eat together. The head of our department kept Kosher, but this wasn’t generally an issue, as long as she didn’t mix milk and meat, or eat non-Kosher cheese, she was happy to join in and eat with us.

One Friday we ordered from a catch-all kind of restaurant we’d ordered from before, one of those places who specialize in either pizza, fried chicken, or salads and sandwiches, depending on which delivery menu you happened to pick up. I wouldn’t bother hiding the name except I can’t remember it anyways, a local place, not a chain.

So we’ve got the guy on the phone and the rest of us give in our orders, and then we hand the phone to my boss. “Hi,” she says, “I’d like to order a tuna sub, no cheese.”

“No.” We can all hear it through the phone. “No substitutions.”

My boss looks up, confused. “No, no, I’m not asking for anything extra, I just don’t want the cheese.”

“No,” the guy repeats, “no extra, no substitutions.”

“I know,” my boss says again, “I don’t want you to substitute anything FOR the cheese. I just don’t want it. I can’t eat it. Leave everything else the way it is, a normal tuna sub. Just hold the cheese.”

“No substitutions!”

Now we’re all looking at each other like we were being punked. My boss looks baffled and speaks slowly into the phone: “you can keep the cheese. Can’t you just make me a tuna sub and keep the cheese? Save it for someone else?”

Again the guy was adamant. No way was this crazy lady gonna talk him into making any substitutions on his menu.

At this point we were starting to fidget. If he wouldn’t fill her order, we’d have to all agree on a new place, and hurry to get the order in before it got too late, since we all had assorted meetings and things later in the afternoon. It had already taken us long enough just to agree on this place…

Suddenly my boss had an idea. “What if,” she asked into the phone, “you make me a tuna sub…and put the cheese…on the side?”

“No problem,” the man’s voice rang out, “Delivery will be about 40 minutes.”

Alan Ganzler:

There’s one restaurant experience that has led to a running gag in our family for about 10 years. We went to a mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant in DeKalb, IL, where my wife’s family is from. We’d never been there, so we didn’t know what was in their kitchen’s wheelhouse. We get the menu, and a special catches my wife’s eye. However, she also doesn’t like her food to be overly spicy, so she has this conversation with the definitely non-Mexican experienced waitress:

Wife: How spicy is it?

Waitress: Well, it has onions in it…

Now, anytime we eat anything that has onions in it—even a Big Mac—we say, “Watch out, it’s probably spicy.” Or, if something is spicy, we say, “It probably has onions in it.”

Kinja user Tza:

I worked at a Dip ‘n Dots in FL a few summers back. It was a successful set of two stores, and the secondary store was managed by the owners’ son. That store was smaller and had less employees, even on the busy night shift. One night it was me, the son, and a very religious young man about my age working. We’re between rushes but there’s still a few customers. While one group is being served, two black men with strong Jamaican accents come in.

The manager asked me to take care of them even though it should have been my coworker, but hey, no issue. I assumed that maybe the guy had trouble taking orders from people with strong accents or something, it happens. I serve the two men who are nice as can be. No trouble. They’re the last in line so I get to wiping the counter down as they’re rung out by the manager. I noticed that my manager and coworker seemed to be trying not to laugh and asked what was up.

“Girl, you didn’t even break a sweat! How’d you do that?” my manager asked.

I was very confused by then. I just had no clue what he meant at all. “Do what?”

It came out, using fairly offensive language, that they had been attempting to fluster me because they assumed the men were homosexual and therefore assumed that 1) I would assume the same and 2) this would somehow send me into a fit of womanly hysterics. They had asked me to serve those men as a prank or something.

My response was “Oh, why would them being gay have bothered me?” in my best you’re-silly voice and an attempt to go back to cleaning while desperately telling myself I only had a couple weeks left at the job.

Also, what my coworker took from that response was that I was a lesbian and that was why I had rejected him in the past. Sure it was, buddy. Sure it was.

Carly Ballantino:

Here’s what happened to me many years ago at a soup-and-sandwich shop in downtown Philadelphia.

ME: Hi! What’s your soup du jour?

GIRL BEHIND THE COUNTER: It’s the soup of the day.

ME: Yes, I know. But what is it?

GBTC: It’s a soup we make special—it’s different every day.

ME: Yes…and what is today’s special soup?

GBTC: Gestapo soup.

ME: I beg your pardon?

GBTC: Gestapo soup. You know, the cold stuff.

Judging from her sighs and eye-rolls, the girl behind the counter clearly thought I was an idiot.

Janelle Jeffries:

When my husband and I first moved to town we used to frequent a local pizza place close to our townhome. A college-aged girl worked there and she was always really chatty. It was pretty obvious that she wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box, but she was cute and friendly so I always chatted with her whenever I came in.

One night I called to place an order for delivery and I recognized her voice taking my order. Everything went fine until she asked for the expiration date of my credit card. I told her “July 2017.” I hear her fumbling around for a minute, then she asked again, “What’s the expiration date on your card?” I answer, July 2017. More fumbling and she asks for the expiration date again. I thought maybe it was loud in the restaurant and she was having a hard time hearing me, so I answer again, “July 2017.” Then I heard her holler to someone else in the restaurant, “What number is July?”

Caroline Akers:

I was attending a play at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston. There are several fully stocked cash bars set up in the lobby and during intermission I ordered what I assumed was a simple drink. It turns out I was wrong. I’d like to point out that these are professional bartenders and the guy in question was clearly in his thirties. The following conversation followed almost verbatim after I asked for a whiskey neat.

Him: “Do you mean whiskey with ice?”

Me: “No, neat.”

Him: “Like on the rocks?”

Me: “No, neat means no ice.”

Him: “So like, just whiskey?”

Me: “Yes, just whiskey.”

Him: “Like a shot of whiskey?”

Me: “Kind of, only in a regular glass, not a shot glass.”

Him: “With nothing else?”

Me (growing exasperated but trying not to sound condescending): “Nothing else. You just pour the whiskey in a glass and hand it to me.”

He picks up a bottle of Jim Beam and shows it to me.

Me: “No, that’s bourbon.”

He picks up a bottle of Johnny Walker and shows that to me.

Me: “No. (pause) Never mind, sure.”

He pours about four fingers of scotch into a highball glass and hands it to me like it’s a glass full of warm spit.

Him: “Is that what you want?”

Me: “It’s close enough. “

The best part was that the elderly couple who was standing next to me was so amused by the exchange that they paid for my drink and covered the tip as well. The lady said it was funnier than the show.

Kinja user RTSLightning:

I was 17 just out of high school working as a server at an IHOP on weeknights.

A South Asian family of seven came in and my coworker sat them. She dropped their stack of menus on the table and hurried back to the server station where I was watching from. I was surprised, because she appeared very flustered. Before I could ask, she said “Can you serve them for me? I just can’t serve those people. Not after 9/11.”

(Editor’s Note: Apex idiot right here. Or it would be, if not for the next story.)

Greg Morris:

Years ago I worked in a hotel in a sleazy seaside town that hosted every kind of shitty event, from disappointing weddings to soul-numbing trade shows. One time, we hosted a meeting for a notorious animal testing company who’d been exposed a few years before for horrific animal abuse, including vivisection.

The guy responsible for making the coffee for this event was the most clueless, unhygienic piece of crap I’ve ever worked with (outside of academia). The coffee goes out and straightaway our manager gets a call complaining that the milk is bad. He goes to check it out, and sure enough, the milk’s turning into cottage cheese in the coffee. Because the coffee isn’t coffee.

Turns out dumb co-worker ignored a whole bunch of massive red barriers and yellow DO NOT USE warning signs, and made coffee from the water boilers that were being de-scaled with industrial-strength hydrochloric acid. The manager ran back to the meeting room in a panic and pretty much grabbed the cups out of people’s hands, then destroyed the evidence before anybody twigged what was going on. And that’s how [Hotel Chain] nearly killed the entire senior management of [Evil Company].

(Editor’s Note: And somehow, improbably, there’s still a better story this week.)

Austin Hargrave:

During my junior year at Tennessee, I worked at a place in Knoxville called the “Silver Spoon Café.” Silver Spoon’s allure was Five-fold: Sunday Brunch, a boursin butter so addicting I often saw customers “covertly” emptying ramekins into plastic bags under the table, Baked Pastas (that always came double-bowled and with the warning “Careful, that top bowl’s hot”), a peanut-butter pie which could’ve held over the Donner party, and, oddly enough, the $3 margarita.

Now, I’ll remind you that this is not a Mexican restaurant, so apparently the $3 margarita was the perfect gambit to get Knoxvillians who wanted to eat incredibly unhealthy food, but also get their drink on to the white-trash-tune of a $3 18oz margarita. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for us to stand scratching our heads as multiple $3 margaritas stacked up on a table that had just eaten enough food to feed a small country.

(Editor’s Note: Stick with this one. Trust me)

One particularly busy night, we were all slammed and margaritas kept flying out of the bar faster than normal. Manager calls a quick team meeting to tell us all how good of a job we were doing and realizes one of my co-workers is bouncing around to his tables still. He finally shows up from a table with the most odd request of the night: “Hey…so table X wants to know if we can make a “Kid’s Margarita…”

We all were laughing our asses off thinking they wanted a kid-sized margarita as if $3 wasn’t cheap enough, but apparently the kid was throwing a fit because both of his parents were drinking margaritas and he felt left out. Our bartender, the quick-thinker she was, said “sure, i’ll just throw some margarita mix in some sprite.” Drink made, taken to table, happy kid, crisis averted.

But it stuck in our heads: “Kid Margarita”…

For the rest of the night, the running joke was to come into the bar, and yell out “kid” drink orders…


– “Hey can we get a Kid Mudslide?

– “We need 4 Kid Pina Coladas”

– “Where are we on that Kid’s Martini?’

– “I need a Kid’s Bloody Mary!”

Duplicates got punches, so you had to pay attention. It was a riot, and helped bust-up the craziness of the shift…until the moment I was ringing-in an order at the bar POS when one co-worker had to put in a drink order and shouted it at the top of his lungs:


Deafening. Silence.

(Editor’s Note: Told you)

To make matters worse, our bar was full of regulars who, seeing the wait times, had opted to sit in the bar instead of waiting for a table in the main dining room. When I looked over my shoulder, one such regular; a sweet 60-something-year-old lady and her husband looked as mortified to hear those words as if the act itself was taking place in front of them.

I’d never seen my manager comp a meal faster in my life. If we hadn’t been so busy, I’m sure we’d have ended up with one less coworker, too. He kept his job, but also an unfortunate nickname: BJ, which customers who were there that shift continued to call him for as long as I could remember.

Do you have a crazy restaurant or other food-industry story you’d like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens (on ANY subject, not just this one)? Please e-mail with “Behind Closed Ovens” in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!

Note: I do not want poop/vomit stories. Please stop sending me poop/vomit stories. Also, if your stories are not food-related in some way, I am unable to do anything with them. Sorry.

Also, note that for this subject in particular, the employee really has to have screwed up in a unique and interesting way for anyone to have a reason to care about the story. If you specifically requested a sandwich with no mayo, and a server then brought you a sandwich with mayo on it, well, I’m very sad for you, but that is not an interesting story.

C.A. Pinkham

Lou_Misiano_683affc3e858813acf60c9bb1c9f9c74-bpfull By Lou Misiano

Shitting Where You Eat

A comprehensive step-by-step guide to drama free sex within the service industry…you’re welcome I like talking about fucking. Who doesn’t? If you are, most likely, you’re regaling in some embellished tale of conquest from your past. Perhaps you’re with your friends swapping different techniques that might work on the opposite sex. Maybe you’re finding common […]