Stories of Evil Restaurant Bosses That Make Gordon Ramsay Look Chill AF
Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we have more tales of the most evil bosses in restaurant history. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
Gee, I wonder why they had a hard time keeping staff
"I was bartending at a fairly upscale bar in Chicago. They had a hard time keeping staff, so a lot of times it would be just me and maybe a barback serving a full bar and the entire 150-seat restaurant. Most of the issue with staff retention had to do with the three managers that all vied to be the biggest dickhead to prove to the owner (king of dickheads) what great managers they were. They also constantly gave conflicting orders.
"Anyway, I got scheduled for two consecutive doubles one week because we were short on staff. The first night started out fine until these two over-served soccer moms on their ladies night out stumbled up to my bar. They ordered more cocktails and food, but spent most of the time shrieking at each other. I checked on them a few times and everyone seemed fine. Then one of my managers came over and needed me to fetch a bottle of wine from the cellar for a table of VIPs. I explained I had a full bar and maybe he should just go get it himself? He claimed he didn't know where it would be, which would be a fair point if he wasn't the manager who did the ordering.
"Whatever. He watched the bar as I went on the hunt for the wine. Five minutes later, I emerged with the bottle and asked where my two soccer moms went. We quickly figured out they had walked on their check (honestly, probably not intentionally, as we had a lot of clients with little concept to the value of money).
"Next thing I knew, my manager was up in my face about not managing the situation correctly and saying that if I had paid more attention I would have been able to tell the women (who had more valuables on their persons than I could hope to acquire in my lifetime) were going to walk on a $200 check. He also started shouting that it was going to come out of my check -- at which point some decent human beings at the bar started to call him on his bullshit and he backed down.
"Fast-forward to the next full day and I was on my fourth consecutive shift. The dinner rush was just getting started when a different asshat manager came up and said that they reviewed the tapes from the previous night and the reason the women walked off without paying was because I wasn't behind the bar. When I explained the other manager was watching the bar during that time, I was told that was not the manager's responsibility and that I needed to accept that I messed up, learn from it, and move on.
"Well, I did just that. I finally accepted that this was a terrible job, learned they needed me more than I needed them, grabbed my tip money, and as soon as the managers back was turned, slipped out the back door and left them to figure it out." -- Courtney Laredo
Revenge of the cheapskate owner
"In high school I worked at a local bakery that often hired kids on their first jobs, filling out the rest of the staff with older burnouts. This place had everything: micromanaging owners, short-tempered customers, staff members showing up loaded, the usual.
"The place was disgusting: Strawberries so moldy they had fur on them were chopped up to be used as cake filling because otherwise we were 'wasting them.' The pot of chocolate we used to dip cookies was kept out and uncovered 24/7… never emptied or cleaned, just refilled when it got low. The fruit-fly infestation was so rampant that every summer we just surrendered control of one of the cases. I still have issues with apple turnovers a decade later.
"The owners periodically dropped by to 'supervise' and 'help' like they all do. One day when I'd been there a few months, one of them decided she needed to teach me how to fill cannolis. This is a pretty simple operation involving a pastry bag and the appropriate amount of cannoli cream, but I had already learned to keep my head down and shut up, so I went with it. Yelling at full New Jersey volume all the while, she opened a pastry bag, stuck her bare hand in the bucket of cannoli cream, and threw a glob in the bag.
"By itself, that wouldn't have been too bad. [Editor’s Note: YES IT BLOODY WELL WOULD HAVE.] But this was during a period when her cheap ass had refused to buy soap -- hand soap, dish soap, even a damn Brillo pad -- for upwards of a week.
"When my mom wanted them to make my birthday cake, I opted for ice cream instead." -- Ali Markham
The supervisor who thought she knew better
"In 1994 I was still at school and finishing off my A-levels. My part-time job was at a Little Chef, and the money I earned on a Saturday and Sunday doing two eight-hour shifts paid for cigarettes, drinks, and David Bowie records. The Little Chef was a chain of diner-type restaurants. It's pretty much extinct now because A) people use motorways rather than the old A-roads, and B) the food was barely adequate and ridiculously overpriced.
"My supervisor was insane and stupid. And a thief.
"The cooks used to make everything that was cooked on the griddle, but nothing else. We used to serve a prawn or ham salad that involved waitresses shoving a handful of salad leaves and few slices of tomato and cucumber on a plate and weighing out 100g of ham or prawns. My supervisor showed me how to do this on my first day. Then she took a load of ham off the plate and ate it. Then used the same hand to rearrange the salad on the plate.
"A few weeks in, I had to sort out a couple of chocolate ice cream sundaes. We had the long glasses and all you had to do was take the lid off the cone-shaped ice cream and stick it in the glass, top with squirty cream, and wang in a wafer. [Editor’s Note: Editing submissions for this series has taught me a lot of Britishisms with which I wasn’t previously familiar. "Wang in" is BY FAR my favorite.]
"Supervisor saw me doing this once and dashed over to tell me I was missing a trick. I stood back and watched closely, wondering what I'd done wrong. She got the glass, peeled off the lid, and then stuck the nail of her little finger into the ice cream to dig out a chocolate chip. She enthusiastically sucked this off her finger, making the sorts of noises you only ever hear in unconvincing porn. She got out all the chocolate chips she could see on the surface, then looked triumphantly at me, saying, 'Once the cream is on, no one will ever notice!' I tried really hard not to look entirely aghast. I 'accidentally' dropped the one she'd fingered so enthusiastically and remade it for the customer.
"We got a meal allowance as a perk. It was 30p (about $1.25) per hour we worked and ended up being enough to buy two rashers of bacon and two rounds of toast. We were always hungry, so as usual one time I asked the cook to do me some bacon while I did the toast, and asked him to do it a bit longer than last time because I hate the fat. Supervisor overheard part of this and said, 'Oh, you like it crispy? Here's how you do that.' As I was trying to say, no, I don't like it crispy, it's just I don't like the rind, she dropped it into the deep fat fryer.
"She took it out and it was totally disgusting. I asserted myself and told her she'd added fat to a thing that I was trying to remove fat from, and I couldn't eat it. Her response was that I'd now used up my meal allowance, and what kind of weirdo doesn't like deep-fried bacon? She forbade the cook from redoing the bacon, and told me I was on a warning for back-chatting her. She then ate the bacon herself, dangling it into her mouth like a seal being fed a fish.
"The cook liked me more than he liked her, so he sneaked me some more food later." -- Jackie Thackeray
The owner's mother
"When I was in high school (and part of college) I worked at a roadside restaurant/liquor store/pharmacy/convenience store/gas station next to an interstate in small-town Indiana. Our food was basic fast food with a few additions. It was all cooked to order, though. We had burgers, fish, chicken strips, roasted chicken, rib-eye sandwiches, onion rings, deep-fried shrimp, hot dogs, etc. We had to cook the hot dogs in the bun steamer, because one of the owners' mother worked in the kitchen as well. She didn't know how to use a microwave, and her one attempt at cooking a hot dog in one ended up with it being microwaved for over five minutes. [Editor’s Note: OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way here: A restaurant microwaving hot dogs is laughable. Not knowing how to use a microwave? Way more laughable.]
"One day, I was working with the owner’s mother and a customer ordered a fish platter, which came with fries and a small pre-portioned container of slaw. Keeping in mind that the kitchen was completely open and the customer could see everything, I put down the fish and the fries while he stood there watching from the counter. I finished cooking and plated his meal. The owner's mother then took the slaw out of the fridge, and with the customer watching her, opened the top and stuck her nose right above it, sniffing deeply and loudly.
"'I'm just checking to make sure it's full,' she told the customer.
"He wisely ate everything but the slaw." -- Jason Panabaker
Working for an actual sociopath
"A few years ago I got a job at a small local coffee chain. I started out really cautious of this place because there were always -- ALWAYS -- ads posted on Craigslist for it, and that kind of high turnover is never a good sign. But I needed money.
"Every morning the owner would drive to every location (there were five at the time, all within two miles of each other) to berate the opening staff. It was never about anything in particular; he'd just come in and find some imaginary fault: the pastries were crooked, or the drip had been started too early, or the floor was dirty. (Even if it was the job of the closer the night before, the opener was the one who got reamed out.) He'd spend a good five minutes calling any of his staff in the vicinity every degrading name he could think of, then leave to do it again at the next location.
"So one evening before close, he discovered that the food-catcher drain under the dishwashing sink hadn't been cleaned in... I think ever. The manager was working at the time, so he told her to do it and she was like, 'Yeah sure whatever,' and then promptly didn't.
"I opened the next morning, with no idea that this exchange had happened. Before we'd even opened for business, owner stormed in, went right to the sink drain, and shouted at me, 'YOU LAZY FU*KING BI*CH! I TOLD YOU TO DO IT!'
"I was just like, 'I… you told me what?'
"And he shouted some more, and called me a lot more names, and eventually through it all I got the story of what had happened. I tried to explain that this was the first I'd heard of it, that I hadn't even worked the day before, but he kept insisting that I was just a lazy bi*ch, and he'd told me to do it yesterday, and I had to clean it 'right fu*king NOW.'
"I was like, 'OK, sure,' and glanced around for a pair of gloves. He took this as stalling and shouted, 'FU*KING NOW MEANS RIGHT THE FU*K NOW, IDIOT! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?'
"So I explained that I needed gloves, and he shouted at me to use my bare hands.
"Now… I feel I should take a moment to explain to you how bad the gunk in this drain smelled. I cannot do that, however, because words cannot describe a smell that foul. It was literal years of buildup of grease and rot, and if I'd reached to the bottom it would have gone nearly up to my elbow. It was the kind of smell that I just knew, instinctively, would stay on my skin for days if I touched it.
“As rationally as I could, I said to him,'‘I would be happy to clean the drain now that you've brought it to my attention, but in 10 minutes I have to start serving your customers food and I can't do it smelling like that. I'll stay a little late and clean it after my shift is over, OK?'
"NOT. OK. He lost it. He yelled about how I was just trying to get out of it again, and about how lazy and good-for-nothing I was. I stayed firm and insisted I would clean it at the end of my shift, but I flatly refused to handle food after handling that.
"He threw a coffee mug at my head.
"He aimed a heavy, thick-walled ceramic mug at my head with enough force that when I dodged it, it shattered on the cabinet behind me. Then he called me a bit*h once again for good measure and left.
"An hour later, that manager who had dropped the ball came in early to relieve me of my shift with a half-hearted apology and instructions never to come back." -- Parker Berelli
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 email WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Off the Menu" in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome! Also, we are now requesting submissions for holiday-themed stories, so if you have any stories pertaining to Thanksgiving and Christmas, please send them in!
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