That's... not a bag of trash
"So years ago I worked at a restaurant in Gatlinburg, TN. My first week, I was tasked with hauling out the bags of trash from the server stations. The dumpsters were a bit of a walk from the back loading dock door at one end of a parking lot. It was pretty early in the morning, like 2am, when I set off across the deserted parking lot to dispose of the two bags. For some reason, most of the other servers chose that moment to come out onto the back dock to smoke. I was kind of out of it and not really paying attention. Anyway, I got maybe 5 or 10ft from the dumpster, noticed it was open, and just tossed the first bag in. Sort of heaved it so that it made a terrific bang when it landed, and was about to heave bag number two, when a full-grown black bear erupted from the dumpster.
"I don't remember if I screamed or not. Pretty sure I peed a little. I damn sure ran… all the way back to the door and the other servers who were falling over themselves with laughter. The humiliating part, though, was that I didn't get rid of the second bag of trash. I still had it with me when I got back to the dock. I had to turn around and make the trip again. I threw rocks at the dumpster before approaching it this time." -- Ben Nickerson
And then the canes came out
"It was a Saturday evening in the heat of August. This restaurant was in a summer tourist mecca and we had a full book for the night. I was working in a strange capacity: I was the maitre'd, the host, and the bartender, thanks to unreliable staff deciding the beach was more enticing than their job. This meant I was solely responsible for seating tables, making every drink, and managing the dining room.
"The bar was crowded that night, too. I was doing my best to crank out involved, high-quality cocktails (white Manhattans, strawberry-rhubarb mojitos, limoncello drops, etc.), seat the growing mob who had reservations, and afford patrons the kind of staid, 'Yes sir, no ma'am' service expected from such an expensive, high-end (off the clock, my words would be "overpriced" and "pretentious") establishment.
"Around 9, our third seating was beginning. The place was jamming. This was high season and everyone wanted a table. But we had a problem. A 15-top had been sitting since 4:30. This was a small restaurant -- only 19 tables -- and we had to devote four of them to the 15. However, despite three and a half hours being an unreasonable amount of time for a table of any size to stay on an August Saturday, I was reluctant to speed them along.
"Their selection went as follows:
"A dozen-plus cocktails to begin the evening (Belvedere, Grey Goose, Macallan 25, and so on); then three bottles of Domaines Ott Provence rosé. This was followed by an enormous platter of shrimp cocktail, escargot, arancini, tuna tataki, and more. Then came another round of cocktails. For entrees the group all ordered our signature steaks, lobsters, veal saltimbocca, etc., etc. ad nauseum. Money was not an object for these people and this was only underscored by the $1,000 worth of red wines they proceeded to order (Gevrey-Chambertin, Margaux, Barolo). Dessert consisted of two entire cakes, and 15 of our signature "flaming pineapple" desserts which requires the server to light a blend of rum and sauce on fire as they're pouring it over a quarter pineapple, singeing it golden, sweet, and delicious. And of course 20-year ports, multiple bottles of vintage Sauternes, Scotches, Cognacs, espressos, Spanish coffees -- holy crap.
"You can see why I was reluctant to rush them. Their bill was in excess of $18,000 -- easily a record for the restaurant.
"As the desserts came out, one man at the head of the table finally asked for the check. He was austere, thin but fit, about 60, with a slight limp and an impressive cane made from something black, metallic, and straight out of B-movie science fiction.
"Now jump back to the bar where I was in the weeds. The 15-top has been taxing. I had to help out the two servers I had taking care of it due to sheer quantity of orders. Sitting in front of me at the mahogany bar were four people -- who had reservations -- but who had still been waiting for almost an hour. They were displeased.
"'What's the point of having a f***ing reservation?' one man asked.
"'If we don't get a table in five minutes I'm doing something about it,’ his wife (mistress?) added. 'Can I speak with a manager?'
"'I am the manager, ma'am,’ I responded. 'It is inexcusable and I apologize profusely.' I proceeded to offer a bottle of Jordan cabernet to them on the house. This only made things worse.
"'I can pay for my own wine,' the man said. He was about 70, struggling with obesity, wearing a sport coat that probably cost more than my head sous makes in a week, and putting his immense weight on a thick, polished wood cane with a silver handle.
"'That's it,' his wife said, mousy, sassy, and about as aristocratic as the Queen of Hearts.
"I was so far in the weeds at that point that the expression is barely apt -- more like in the jungle, or in the Okefenokee Swamp complete with cougars, escaped zoo animals, and alligators. I had a stack of service drink tickets piling up on my printer, I had a dozen people howling for another round, and still, parties were coming in expecting open tables that did not exist, purely because of the 15 high rollers in the back dining room. So you see why I hardly noticed when the mousy aristocrat left the bar.
"A server ran up to me. 'We need you in the dining room, NOW,’ he said. Usually a suave professional, the panic in his voice forced me to abandon the drinks I was making and follow him.
"The mousy wife had apparently walked up to the 15-top (who were just about to pay and, presumably, leave) and demanded they all get up because she had been waiting an hour and 'that was enough.'
"The thin man from the party approached me just as the mousy woman's husband did, both wielding canes.
"'Keep your woman on a leash,' the thin man said to him.
"'Excuse me?' the fat man asked. For a split second they glared at each other, with me in the middle, and then the canes came out. They both looked to be trying to behead each other with these blunt objects, the crowd at the bar dispersed like a dance number in Grease, and the only way to describe what happened was as it was: a sword fight, with canes, between two dapper senior citizens.
"I immediately jumped in to break it up and was rewarded with a broken nose, a cut above the eye, and other bruises. Finally, I was able to wrestle the canes away from the two and they began hurling insults at each other. After begging them to not do anything they'd regret even more in the morning, they moved to leave.
"The $18,000 check had not been signed. The thin man spat at me that he would never be back. Upon walking out the door -- in the complete silence of what had been a jamming restaurant -- the police cruiser appeared. I'm still not sure who called them, but the two cane-wielding Zorros were led off in handcuffs and the fat man's wife never did get her steak tartare.
"After service that night, as I locked the door, the owner and chef came out of the kitchen and bought every employee a shot of Patron. We all sat there drinking in silence, stunned but completely amused by the spectacle we all had witnessed. No one will ever forget that night.
"It took us six months and two lawyers to get that $18,000 tab paid, but it happened. Sans tip." -- Steve Dragomir [Editor’s Note: Those poor servers.]
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!
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