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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 WilyUbertrout@gmail.com 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.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.