Welcome back to Off The Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. For our last Wonkette Off The Menu, we bring you stories of fantastic restaurant managers and where to find them (not really the latter, we just really like Harry Potter). As always, these are real emails from real readers.
As noted, this will be the last iteration of Off The Menu to appear on Wonkette. The series is not disappearing, though! Starting next Monday, May 2, you’ll be able to find it in its new home at Thrillist. As for me, I’ll still be here too, doing snarky posts on Wonkette.
All right, let’s do this, one last time.
I worked in a local, small restaurant outside of Atlanta that had a very busy lunch rush. I mostly worked in the kitchen, but occasionally when we were down a server I would pull some double duty and help in the front after I finished prep work. On one such day, we were particularly slammed with two servers out sick, people waiting for tables for 45 minutes, and the owner donning an apron to help in the kitchen. I was sent out onto the floor to help wait tables, and the lunch rush went well until one table arrived.
From the moment the four-top of genteel, middle-aged Southern belles sat down, I knew I was in for a rough time. They were extremely loud and obnoxious, to the point that other customers gave them the stink-eye. On top of that, they had been shopping, entering with an armful of unwieldy bags, and asked me to “be a dear and get those out of the way for us.” I agreed to help, handed them menus and took the bags. It was a small restaurant, so the only place we had to store anything was behind and under the counter. I then returned to the kitchen to deliver food to other table orders. The second I walked out of the kitchen, loaded down with food, one of the ladies started snapping her fingers at me. I nodded, said, “one moment please,” and delivered the food. Arriving at the four-top, I was told that I shouldn’t keep them waiting and they needed wine NOW since they already had to wait for a table. I apologized, took their orders, and went to get the wine immediately. After pouring, I was asked, “see, was that so hard?” I ignored the condescension, but it kept going. They remained loud and obnoxious, making extremely inappropriate comments, including subtly racist and overtly homophobic ones. They snapped their fingers to get my attention for more water or more tea despite the fact that a glass was never drained; questions about why the food was taking so long were met with snorts and eye-rolling when I apologized and proffered excuses for the delays. I was pleasant, kind, and apologetic — no other tables complained about the service. I even comped the group two free appetizers for their “trouble.”
Nothing I did helped their mood, and they finally decided they had had enough when I delivered the meal, within about 30-40 minutes of ordering.”It is about time, but I am not happy,” the make-up-caked gargoyle leading the group of the women sneered. “Your service has been pathetic. We have been ignored and have been left here to STARVE! I want to see a manager! NOW!” Other tables started staring, open-mouthed at the interaction.
I went back into the kitchen to tell the owner about it. The owner, obviously pissed that she had to deal with this situation during the lunch rush while we were short-staffed, went out front to listen to the complaints.
The leader, with her southern Stepford clones nodding their heads, began to recount all of the atrocities committed against them — long waits, delayed drinks, lukewarm food, and poor service. My owner listened quietly and politely until they started in on me: “You really shouldn’t have incompetent people working for you who are obviously incapable of doing the job even a monkey can do.”
“DO NOT EVER TALK ABOUT MY STAFF IN MY RESTAURANT LIKE THAT AGAIN OR I WILL TOSS YOU OUT ON YOUR ASS!” I should mention that my boss and owner was a 5’2″, 100 pound woman.
Shocked, the table gasped and the leader stated, “I don’t think I will ever eat here again!” My owner responded, “You don’t have to eat here NOW,” and picked up all of the plates on the table, which had barely been touched and threw everything, plates and all, directly into the trash. The group stood up, mumbling angry comments, and shuffled out of the restaurant.
After a moment, I realized that they had forgotten their shopping bags. I told my boss, who grabbed some and handed me the rest from behind the counter. We walked to the back porch of the restaurant where the parking lot was located and found the group standing fuming about their treatment and probably figuring out what to do next. My boss yelled, “Hey ladies, you forgot your shit,” and slung the bags off the porch in the general direction of the group, landing in the parking lot, scattering the bags and contents on the gravel. I was stunned, and before I could even move, she grabbed the bags in my hand and threw them after the first. “DON’T EVER COME BACK AGAIN!” she yelled, and then mumbled “assholes” as she walked back into the kitchen.
To this day, she is still the best boss I have ever had.
I started at one restaurant as an assistant manager with no experience, so the first month was basically me filling in for people who didn’t show up, so I got some experience waiting tables, bartending, expediting. It helped me learn the business faster and I think the staff warmed up to me seeing I had no problem bussing tables.
It also taught me that the customer is not always right. So when one of our most reliable waitresses called me over, I was ready. A couple had come in and the husband had ordered a burger well done. It was a 10 oz burger cooked to order, so this did take a few minutes. Apparently, he started complaining IMMEDIATELY after ordering that it was taking too long. Finally, he demanded to speak to the manager. I looked up the order and the time and saw that a mere five minutes had passed.
So I went through the whole shpiel. Our burgers are 10 oz of choice beef, cooked to order, and a well done burger takes a while to cook. After calling the server an idiot, and me ugly, he stood up and pointed to the McDonald’s across the street.
“I’m paying TEN DOLLARS for this fucking burger. I could have it faster and cheaper at McDonald’s!”
“Well sir, I suggest you go to McDonald’s instead.”
The wait staff loved me after that.
The summer before I went off to college I worked in a Panera Bread. I did a little of everything from making food to restocking things to handling customer complaints. All in all, it was a pretty good job for a high school kid, and I was happy to have it.
The single dumbest customer experience I had was when I was changing a light bulb. Most Paneras have a track of small spotlights above the soda machine. Towards the end of the lunch rush, my manager asked me if I would please swap out a dead bulb for a replacement. I grabbed the ladder and replacement bulb and made my way over. I placed the ladder in front of the soda machine and climbed to the top with a rag and the new bulb.
As I was unscrewing the old bulb through the rag (looking back on it, I’m not sure why I had the rag), I felt my legs shake. I looked down to see a woman trying to lift the ladder up and move it over to the side…while I was on it. In her hand was an empty soda cup. She was of average size so she couldn’t pick up a full sized ladder with a 190 lb. guy on it so she was trying to jerk it, bit by bit, with me still on it.
“What are you doing?” I yelled at her. She looked up while still jerking the ladder and said “I need to get my soda.” I lost my temper pretty quick (I was on one of the top rungs holding glass, and this woman couldn’t wait to get her sugar water), and I yelled “are you kidding me?”
By this point my boss (good guy) had come over and asked what was going on. The woman looks at him and again says “I need to get my soda,” gesturing with her head towards her cup. “Can it wait?” he asked. She just stared at him. To his credit, he took her cup, crawled down to reach under the ladder and gave her a glass of Pepsi with ice. She didn’t say another word and walked away. My boss stood at the base of the ladder, held it, and waited for me to finish and climb down.
He then said to me, “sometimes I really wonder how some of these people make it through their everyday lives.”
[Editor’s Note: You and me both, man.]
I work at a pretty nice seasonal restaurant on Cape Cod that’s right on the water. It’s super overpriced, but all the rich tourists love it because they can dock their yachts right outside.
Last summer I was working a rehearsal dinner that was supposed to be 32 people. During the cocktail hour at the beginning, we gradually had to add more chairs because more people kept showing up. All the tables in the restaurant are square and seat four, although some have leafs that flip up to make rounds, so originally we had two long rows of tables with 16 chairs at each. I can’t remember exactly how we finagled it, but at one point we flipped up some leafs, and at another point we added in the last extra table in the restaurant. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but it was a Saturday night in July and the restaurant was fully booked, so when the 8th and 9th extra guests showed up, we had to take a table from another server’s section which was unfair to her and a pain in the ass. These people, however, seemed to think it was no biggie.
Finally, it’s time for appetizers so everyone is seated and luckily they don’t look too crowded. Then another couple walks in (WTF?! There’s no way they didn’t know all these peeps were coming ahead of time). Now we’re in a pinch, because we have exhausted all our options for more seating. I walk over to the one place where I think it could work (there is a family with several kids at this end of the table, who I figure can scoot closer together). I politely say to the woman sitting there (sister of the groom), “Excuse me, would you mind scooting down just a little bit so I can fit some extra chairs here?” I was not expecting any objection, so when the woman stared at me blankly and answered “No.” I was taken aback.
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, it really won’t take up too much space if everyone slides down just a little bit.”
In a nice slow, condescending tone she says, “I said no, so go find somewhere else.”
Now, I look young for my age, so I’m used to customers trying to talk to me like some dumb teen that doesn’t know anything. “I would put them somewhere else if I could, but this is the only place where it could work.”
“I’m sitting here with my family and I’m not going to be separated from my family,” she retorts, as if this is a lifeboat on the Titanic or something.
I explained to her that she wouldn’t be separated from her family and that I could even put the new chairs at the other end of the table away from her, but her family would still need to scoot closer together in order to make space, to which she responds, “I’m not moving, so it looks like you need to go get another table.” I was so in shock of this lady’s blatant rudeness I didn’t know what to say. I took a long pause before quietly explaining, “We actually used our last extra table for you guys earlier, I’m sorr- ” She looks up at me with the angriest mom face, points at me and says, “I don’t think you heard me. I said, get. Another. Table.”
What I wanted to say: “I’M AN ADULT, DON’T POINT YOUR BONY LITTLE SOCCER MOM FINGER AT ME.”
What I manage to say: “You know what? Good.”
I walk away dumbfounded and get my manager Beth. Never have I been so thankful to have such a crazy person for a manager. Beth goes over and wastes no time giving this woman her options, slide this way and let me put chairs here, or slide that way and let me put chairs down there, either way you need to move so that all the guests of the couple can be seated – just on her A game in terms of being aggressive but in a really friendly sounding voice. As crazy lady goes on about “The rude little waitress” who “seems to think” there’s no more tables (all while I’m standing right there, observing the zero available tables we have), Beth just starts pushing the extra chairs in until the lady has no choice but to move, lest she get her dainty little toes crushed. Finally, Beth says, “I just can’t believe you’re acting this way on such a special day,” and calmly walks off. I struggle not to laugh out loud.
Crazy lady sits there pouting and glaring at me all dinner, and no one ever apologizes for her behavior. I still have waitressing terrors (aka work nightmares) about this woman. My consolation prize was that when she finally stopped her sulking to bark an order for a glass of pinot grigio during dessert, I ordered that shit on her drunk husband’s tab, chugged it myself out back and “forgot” to bring her anything.
I was working as an assistant manager at a pizza place and cleaning inspections are coming up. I was just transferred to a much busier store for them to see if I could handle it, so I was trying hard to get everything right.
The district manager had come in the previous night and made a list of different things I needed to take care of for the upcoming inspection. I come in the next morning to find some post-its around the store of things I need to do, which is pretty typical, but I stop dead in my tracks as I walk by the prep table …
There was a small hole in the wall where we used to have a knife rack mounted, but had recently removed it. The note had an arrow pointing to it saying: “Fill this hole with cock.”
I could not stop laughing. I call my manager and tell him what she wrote and he cracked up as well. I shoot her a text and tell her that it’s a pretty small hole, and I don’t think I can manage it. She tells me to just go to home depot and pick up a “cocking gun.” I’m dying.
The next time she comes in, I show her the CAULK and point out that it is spelled C-A-U-L-K. She pauses for a second and just bursts out laughing like a madman. We all laugh, tears are running down her face and she’s just hysterical. At least she had a good sense of humor about it.
I worked for years for a small non-profit that had been operating since the 1980s and was always in financial trouble. Work events were rare and never lavish, but they always threw a fairly nice Holiday party in December.
The founder of the company was still the president, and was in her early 80s and pretty feisty. She was also a creature of habit, and was deeply devoted to a local restaurant and ate there every day, and had done so for as long as anyone could remember. Every work lunch meeting was held there, gift certificates for the restaurant were given out for employee recognition, etc.
The place had probably felt fancy at some point but the dark wood, velvet wallpaper, and gold statuary felt thirty years out of fashion. Even the menu felt like holdovers from another century (tuna salad in a hollowed-out tomato, creamed corn or stewed tomatoes as side dishes, etc.). The food was middling but not expensive, and the restaurant was usually busy at lunchtime with retirees eating their pickled beets. The staff was always kind and attentive. My boss loved it there and was on a first-name basis with every server and the manager.
Every year this restaurant would host our Holiday party, even though they were not really set-up to accommodate large groups. We’d have 50-60 people there, and they’d have to close off two of their small dining rooms for us, and even then we’d be packed in wall-to-wall. The company paid for our entrees (picked out a week before from a few options) and our first drink, but the employees could (and almost always did) continue to drink on their own dime. Even with all their wait staff on duty it took a long time to get everyone served, but that was expected, as the party would go for about three hours and we’d have things like employee awards and speeches between courses. And, hey, we were getting free food and drink and the afternoon off work. It was nice.
My last year there, the holiday party was going on as usual when a commotion rang out on the other side of the dining room. A woman from my work (who I didn’t know, as she was both new and in another department) stood up and literally began screaming, at the top of her lungs, at her waitress. She was horrified by the food (which she did not pay for) and wanted her plate remade. She was extremely angry that her food took so long to come out (along with the other 60 entrees). Her drink (which she also did not pay for) was watery. The abuse was torrential, personal, and profane.
The waitress kept trying to apologize, but was eventually reduced to tears as this woman berated her at full volume for at least two or three minutes, in front of her entire company. Those around her seemed shocked, and then embarrassed, and finally tried gently to intervene, though I think people were hesitant to draw her fire. I could see people looking around for our company’s president, but she was in the bathroom.
I have no idea what this woman was trying to accomplish, since there was no way to comp a meal she didn’t pay for, and she was adamantly not accepting an apology. I have to assume she just wanted to make someone cry.
The waitress was finally able to flee back to the kitchen and our party continued. The president came back, everyone ate, and the waitress (red-eyed and sniffling) continued to serve.
After the party I was helping pack a few things up when the restaurant manager came in, sweating bullets, to talk to the company president. He wanted to apologize for his service and see what he could do to make it up to us. I could tell he was worried the restaurant was going to have to refund part of the party fee. This was the first my boss had heard of the dust-up, and called me over and a couple other people to find out what had happened. We related what we heard, and my boss was livid. An employee insulting her waitress! At her restaurant! At her party!
Long story short, the yelling woman was called in at work the next day and written up for behaving so badly at a work function. She didn’t last much longer than that, because of her attitude problems.
So this is the true story of a customer abusing a waitress, and the customer getting fired.
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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!