Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we have an old favorite: restaurant employees who took their righteous revenge in creative, interesting ways. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
"I used to bartend at a semi-famous live-music club at Kent State in Ohio when I was in college. There was an upstairs and a downstairs, of which the downstairs was more of a basement/dungeon.
"One St. Patrick’s Day, I'm bartending down in the dungeon, where there is a live hard-rock band playing, so the bar is pretty full and everyone is in full party mode -- including myself and the other bartenders. Except this one guy. We'll just call him 'the Jerk,' as it's descriptive and true. The guy has that look like he just got up on the wrong side of the bed, day, and life, and he's going to take it out on the nearest person. That would be me.
"I see him coming from a mile away, just a crappy smirk on his face. He saunters up to the bar and snarls at me, 'What kinds of beer do you have in bottles?' So I run down the short list of domestics for him. Then he snarls, 'Imports?' I run down the even shorter list of the two we have; this is, after all, a college town live-music bar, not a hipster microbrewery.
"He orders a Natural Light Ice on tap in a plastic 12oz cup (the cheapest, crappiest beer we have). I get it for him, and he practically throws change (coins only) at me all over the bar and walks off. Of course, it's the exact change and no tip.
"Fifteen minutes later, here comes the Jerk again -- just seething condescension with the same sneer, same attitude, same beer, same change, and same no tip. This repeats over the course of the next hour until he realizes something: It's St. Paddy's Day and his beer isn't green like everyone else's is. We kept a few bottles of green food coloring behind the bar and added one drop to each beer (which was plenty to make it bright Kelly green), but only if the customer requested it.
"Now the Jerk requests it, with a snarl and a sneer. He's pretty buzzed at this point. 'Certainly, I can make it green for you,' I cheerfully offer, and begin to pour his beer. As I go to put in a drop of the food coloring -- which happens to be below the bartop where a customer can't see -- a lightbulb goes off in my head and a devil whispers in my ear.
"After a few moments, I hand him his 'green' beer. He picks it up, looks at it oddly and kinda shrugs, takes a huge sip, throws his exact change at me again (no tip again, of course), and stumbles off.
"Did I mention that this was a basement/dungeon bar? We actually had bats flying around down there a few times. As such, it was dark down there -- really dark. The reason the Jerk looked at his 'green' beer oddly was probably because it was hard to see it. It was green. Very green. Dark, dark green -- almost black, in fact. This was because I had dumped an entire freshly opened bottle of green food coloring into it.
"I saw him leaving later and half his face was smeared with green food coloring. It was apparent that the Jerk was completely oblivious to that fact.
"Just in case anyone wants to get shirty: If you ingest too much green food coloring, nothing really happens except that your body can't process it fast enough, so it comes out the same color it was going in for days." -- Ken Hyland
"Back in 2006 I took my first food-service job at a fast-food place. My management experience got me a post as an assistant manager at Mr. Hero, a sort of Quiznos-type hot sandwich joint.
"It wasn't a hard job to learn, as we only served like six types of sandwiches plus fries. My co-workers were decent, if quirky, and most of the customers ranged from the bland and generic to fun. I found, after a week or two of settling in, that I really liked it.
"That said, there was one lady that was such a huge problem that she was universally known among the staff as 'the Witch.' Nothing was ever good enough for the Witch: everything we did was wrong, slow, we were morons not worthy to touch her food, and she made a call to our corporate complaint line every time she ordered (I know this for a fact, as I'd get a call from corporate asking about her the day after every one of her visits). She tortured the staff for about six months straight, coming in about every four days.
"The last straw came on July 3rd. July 3rd in our area was a crazy-busy kind of night. The local Little League field was a block away and that was the night of its All-Star game. Lots of families put in orders, and evening shift on July 3rd was always likely to do about three times as much food as any other full day of the year. Well, this night we did at LEAST that; a normal shift did about $1,000 in food, and we did almost $3,700 for that shift. We were BEAT when the rush was over, despite having two extra people on staff for the anticipated load (bringing the staff up to five, including myself). So much so that, with about 15 minutes left in the shift, I took a good look at my staff and called the owner to give him a heads-up and ask if we could possibly close early or leave some cleanup for the morning crew.
"Mid-call my register person, Jeanette, came into the office. She was clearly upset, tears starting to fall, and said, 'Nathan, I can't… the Witch just walked in. I can't deal, not with her, not after the rush. Can you…?' I knew how she felt, being in not much better a state, but it's what I was there for, so I passed the phone off to her and took over the register.
"'Good evening, ma'am,' I said. 'Welcome to Mr. Hero. What can we do for you tonight?'
"She ordered the worst thing on the menu, from the grill's perspective: Family Pack. This is eight 6" hot sandwiches, four large fries, four drinks, and sauce sides. I punched it all in, read it all back, and asked if I had taken her order correctly. That's where we hit the first snag.
"'I ordered four large Cokes, not four large Pepsis.'
"'Ma'am, I'm sorry, but we only serve Pepsi products,' I replied.
"'Since when? I was in here last week and got Coke.'
"'I'm sorry, ma'am, but in the eight months I've worked here we've ONLY had Pepsi. Perhaps you're thinking of another restaurant?'
"'Fine, give me the damn Cokes then, if you're too incompetent to do it right.'
"I gritted my teeth behind what was probably a VERY fake-looking smile, rang out the order, and told her the total.
"'That will be $24.95.'
"'You're trying to cheat me! The sign says it's $19.99!'
"'Yes, ma'am, the Family Pack is $19.99. You upgraded from medium drinks to large and ordered four sides of cheese sauce for the fries. That increases the price.'
"'That's false advertising! You're cheating me! You always do this. You people hate me and scam me every time I come in! I want to talk to the manager!’
"I explained that I was the manager, we didn't dislike any of our customers (an outright lie, in her case), and that the computer system doesn't allow me to alter prices in any way, shape, or form, regardless. Needless to say, the Witch didn't settle down. In fact, she became MORE angry.
"Now, I need to break here to explain our register system. It was BIG. Like, 1985 desktop-computer big. It had a large frame, a heavy cash drawer securely bolted in it (we were in a bit of an ugly neighborhood, and robbery after closing happened about five or six times a year), and the keyboard and monitor were in a heavy shell. Underneath it was probably the dirtiest place in the store: We couldn't clean underneath it because it was bolted to the counter.
"Or so we thought.
"Despite my absolute best attempts to be mild, unassuming, polite, and helpful, the Witch decided it was time to go Super Saiyan. She literally picked up the register -- remember, something so hard to move that a grown man used to manual labor had thought it bolted down! -- and THREW it over the counter at me. I dodged and she stormed out, proceeding to stand in the parking lot screaming the vilest things I've ever heard come out of someone’s mouth.
"Thankfully, karma decided to be impatient that night. Less than a minute after she stormed out into the parking lot, no less than FOUR police cars arrived and she was arrested. It turns out that when she threw the register, something in the drawer (likely the pen for checking currency) hit the panic button that set off the silent alarms and called the police.
"We gave statements, turned over the security footage, called it in to the owner, closed up, and went to the bar a few doors down for some hard-won and much-deserved drinks -- the first round of which were on the owner, who authorized me to take $300 out of petty cash with direct orders to 'Get 'em legless, y'all have earned it!'" -- Nathan Talisien
"My friend -- I'll call her Kate -- works at a place that's a kind of weird combination of a restaurant and movie theater. She works at the ticket booth sometimes, and other times works as a server, bringing people their food during the movie.
“"One day, while she was dealing with tickets, a woman cut in line and demanded to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Kate politely informed her that she would need to wait her turn, which of course resulted in the woman shrieking and arguing with her. In any case, eventually she decided she was going in, but Kate was in the doorway. So this woman thought it would be reasonable to aggressively shove Kate into a wall before storming in.
"Kate told her boss, and he lost his shit. He called security. Kate went with them to point the woman out. As they escorted the woman out, Kate looked her in the eyes and said, 'Han dies.'
"The woman cried." -- Alex Blake
"I was very young (under 18) and on a terrible first date with a terrible older man (let's call him Averi, because that is how he decided to spell his sport-fuckingly stupid name) who apparently only ever ate out at Cracker Barrel.
"Averi told me we were going somewhere nice and to dress up, so I was sitting there seething in a glitzy club top and skirt with a salad he had made sure to order for me as he tucked into a huge breakfast platter of country-fried meats with extra biscuits and regaled me with a list of reasons why most women are awful and how I should steer clear of such behavior so I didn't 'turn into a useless bi*ch.' He was a demanding jerk to our waitress, insulting her gender each time he had to ask for something complicated and unnecessary. Averi also insisted we sit at a table closest to the entrance of the country store part of the building (this will be important later).
"Despite shoving smoked meats and biscuits into his mouth, Averi managed to carry on both sides of the conversation, posing sexist questions and immediately answering for me and agreeing with himself (which was probably for the best, because if I had gotten a word in edgewise I might still be in jail today for having rammed all the biscuits he ordered down his throat at the same time while still in the basket).
"Our waitress, an older lady whose name was Dawn, kept coming back to the table with an increasingly worried look on her face, busying herself by refilling drinks and biscuits as this meal progressed. When I excused myself to the bathroom for a moment, she followed me in and asked if I was OK. I was very much not OK, and she immediately made arrangements to help me sneak out of the restaurant by getting another waitress to distract my date, then sent me down the block to catch a cab she called for me.
"Apparently this dingbat took dates to that Cracker Barrel every couple of weeks, and his antics were well-known to the staff. And their Underground Railroad-style smuggling-of-his-unfortunate-dates-to-freedom-routine had become common enough that he wanted to sit by the door so that he could actually watch the bathroom and make sure his dates didn't escape.
"A few days later, I came in to give Dawn a huge tip and thank her for helping me, and I got to hear how Averi had finally disgraced himself enough that night to be BANNED from Cracker Barrel after he discovered I had fled.
"Averi realized I was not coming back 10 minutes later and immediately began making a scene. He started pushing everything off the table, dumping food and condiments everywhere, and demanding a manager. The manager came out and Averi yelled at him that his 'vicious scheming waitresses' had 'cost him his pu**y' for the LAST time (much to the horror of his fellow diners). He demanded compensation for the last four dates which apparently ended the same way as mine and told the manager in a rage-frothing rant that he had 10 minutes to either pay him $2,000 or find someone to 'suck his di** for the rest of the night.'
"Needless to say, the manager declined and invited Averi to pay for his meal and leave the premises voluntarily or in a squad car. Averi cursed him out and stormed into the country store, grabbing things off the shelves while yelling that as a good Christian, he’d take those products in trade for now, but Cracker Barrel better have his money when he came back next week.
"The cops were called. Averi fled with his loot and was captured a few blocks away and banned from the restaurant. My savior waitress Dawn and I ended up in hysterics laughing over her description of Averi fleeing the law on foot trailing armfuls of flowered aprons and packages of NECCO wafers, and I've followed her sage advice to this day: Never date a man who thinks Cracker Barrel is a nice dining establishment to bring a date." -- Felicia Baker
The purple giraffe
"A couple of years ago, my family went to check out a fancy fondue place that had just opened. It had really good reviews and every time I walked by it that week, I started drooling at the smell. So we were excited.
"The place was gorgeous and our waitress was really sweet, but she let us know right away that it was her first night and she was a little nervous. But everyone was in a good mood.
"Salads came and went, the first fondue pots came out… and the waitress splashed some boiling-hot broth right on my mom's arm. She yelped and grabbed her burning skin. The waitress just went pale. Her 'oh shit' face will likely never leave my memory. But she acted really fast and brought my mom into the back to get some burn ointment. I went with both of them to a back office, where the waitress applied the cream to my mom's arm.
"Suddenly an extremely tall, slender, dark-haired woman in a tight purple pantsuit (and an even tighter bun) walked into the room. The waitress stood straight up in terror and began to explain. This was clearly her boss… but the woman wasn't even listening to her. Obviously buzzed, she started pushing things around on a desk, looking for something and muttering to herself. When she finally addressed us, she reacted as though we had just stumbled into the room. She kinda listened for a minute while looking around the room. Then without even taking a breath, she told the waitress she was fired and left.
"The waitress just collapsed in tears, talking about how she really needed this job. My mom (still holding her scalded arm) told her she was a good waitress. She just made a mistake.
"We left the waitress to calm down and went to find the gazelle woman, hoping to right the situation. We found her leaning on the bar and, as we approached her, she very visibly rolled her eyes and told the bartender, 'Oh, here it comes. I bet they want free food.’ By this point, I had completely lost my temper and started laying into this woman. She smiled at me through teeth that matched her pantsuit and started laughing, telling me she owned the place and 'no one in this town can touch me.'
"'You're the owner?' I asked her.
"'Well…' she said coyly, reaching out to touch my hand like we were suddenly sorority sisters. 'HE does.'
"'Him. The man. In my life.'
"I saw the bartender shake his head.
"'So…' she continued. 'Pretty soon… I. We.'
“Everything was pretty much a blur of exchanged words after that… until 'he' showed up. After he was briefed on the situation he told the bartender to comp our meal, handed us a business card where he said we should send any medical bills, then took the purple-stained giraffe's arm and started leading her toward the back.
"'Wait, what about the waitress? Is she fired?' I asked him.
"He looked at his fiancée with chilling disdain. 'Only people who work here are allowed to fire waitstaff.'" -- Linda Halterman
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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