Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we bring you stories of tiny terrors: kids in restaurants. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
Worst Jedi ever
"A while back my husband and I were at a local townie joint that overlooks a lake. The bar food is mediocre but consistent, and the beer is local and cold. The patio was almost empty, save for another family, and we sat ourselves at the complete opposite end from the other diners.
"We had just ordered our drinks when a party of 10 adults and a bunch of little boys around 5 or 6 came outside. They were clearly from a soccer team, and the front of their jerseys read 'The Avengers.' Out of the entire middle of the patio, the group of adults assembled all tables right next us to in row and were sitting with their backs pressed against ours. After wedging ourselves out of our seats, we moved to a different, not-cramped table.
"Their waitress came outside and gave them menus and a beer list, then told them about the specials. At the top of the beer list it said, in bold, 'Pitchers Available!' On a handwritten chalkboard, in bold, it said, 'Pitchers Available!' On the little plastic signs in the middle of tables (which they had five of them) it said, in offending, bold Comic Sans, 'Pitchers Available!' Regardless, the large group ordered pints.
"While they were ordering, one of the kids pulled out a Captain America costume from his mother's oversized purse and stripped in the middle of the patio. This must have been a common occurrence because it didn't even garner a glance from his mother. He then pulled out a set of Star Wars action figures (must have been Episode I-III) and proudly announced, 'I want to be Jar Jar!' as he passed them to his buddies. Any decent parent knows you should squash any desire to idolize Jar Jar immediately, without question.
"Finally their beers came, at which point one of them noticed it would have been cheaper to order a pitcher. The Gungan mother complained so loudly, so persistently, and so incoherently that I suddenly realized why the poor kid liked Jar Jar. The waitress agreed to take off the pints and charge them only for a pitcher.
"We paid for our beers (and left a generous tip) while watching the Avengers-turned-Jedi poke the waitress in the legs with their little plastic lightsabers as she attempted to take orders, while making 'wom-wom' lightsaber sounds. Except for the one kid who was apparently Thor, who was instead screaming at the waitress, 'I'm going to hammer you.'
"Lesson: Dicks raise other little dicks." -- Margaret Kleiner
Kids give absolutely zero shits
"Many, many years ago, my son, mother-in-law, and I tried out a little Art Deco dinner-and-dessert place in St. Louis. My son was about 2 years old and pretty well-behaved in a restaurant, but grandma always kept a couple Hot Wheels cars in her purse if he got restless.
"Inevitably, he rolled a car off the table and under the wooden booth bench, and it ended up way back in the corner. I'm a serious germ freak, but with Germ-X at the ready, I let him climb down to get it himself because it was such a tight spot. He scrabbled under there for a bit and then I saw his chubby fist reach across the bench and deposit a large wedge of white cake on his seat. I dove, horrified, under the table to find my little guy happily chewing -- CHEWING -- with white cake crumbs all over his face.
"My mother-in-law just laughed and laughed, saying that it was good for him to be exposed to a few germs here and there. He's a big healthy kid now, so she was probably right." -- Laura DiSallio
Screw Oklahoma, even the kids there
"I worked at a small locally owned pizza restaurant in Oklahoma during college called Mighty Mike's. Unless it was a Friday or Saturday night we were usually pretty slow, so there would only be one or two of us running the restaurant.
"One Thursday night, it's dead -- no customers, just me -- and in comes a Little League baseball team. The coaches, the kids, the kids' parents, friends, and siblings. All told there are between 50 and 60 people. [Editor's Note: There's a special level of hell reserved for people who try to walk in with parties of 10 or more without at least calling ahead. Once that number hits 40-50, they wind up on the same level as serial killers and whatever executive invented online ordering at Chipotle.] I pull tables and make as good of a banquet hall as I can. I start getting drink orders and convince them to opt for pitchers of cola instead of individual drinks. I then set about getting pizza orders and intermittently trying to get absolutely anyone to come in and help. Of course no one answers their phone -- except the owner, who calls me back and just says deal with it.
"So I get in the back and go into full lunch buffet production mode, just cranking out all the pizzas I can. Every six or so I go check and refill pitchers and check on everyone. I start getting pizzas on tables and check to see if they need anything else, and, of course, they want ranch, but not just any ranch. No, they want our special in-house three-pepper ranch! I tell them it will take a few minutes since it's always made fresh, and I get to the kitchen to start making three-pepper ranch dressing from scratch. It doesn't take much once you know how, but in the time you aren't out helping people, they get a bit antsy and kids decide to play, making a huge mess everywhere.
"I finally get the ranch out and everyone seems happy. So far, so good, so I go and check to see if anyone would like anything else, and they just want the check, so I bring the tab out and it's something like $250. Our restaurant didn't do the whole added gratuity thing for large parties, because honestly it had never come up before. Everyone gets their money out on the table and they add it all up. Everyone says how great it was, thanking me for working so hard, and left a huge mess for me to clean up.
"After I go through and get their money to put in the register, I realize not only have they stiffed me (which was common enough in rural Oklahoma), but they have actually shorted me about $6. I call the owner to let him know the problem so he won't freak out when the register doesn't match, and he says no problem, I'll just take it out of your check. So basically, I worked my ass off for free so this huge group of assholes could have a pizza party for their kids' baseball team." -- Rex Thomas
[Editor's Note: Every time this happens in a story, I have to remind servers: This is illegal. Restaurant owners CANNOT do this. Of course, they could also fire you for calling them on it in at-will states, since they can fire you for fucking anything in at-will states. America is amazing.]
Kids are disgusting, part 5,609,782
"Several years ago, I was in a Steak 'n Shake with my family. At this particular Steak 'n Shake there were glass dividers in between the booths in the shape of cameras.
"In the booth next to ours, there was a younger couple and their child. The couple was having a very intense conversation and didn't notice that the child was licking the divider from top to bottom. This went on for a few minutes.
"Eventually, my mom tapped on the glass and the couple was horrified." -- Karen Baker
When you gotta go, you gotta go
"About 15 years ago, I worked at the Olive Garden for about two years.
"One Saturday night, we were in the middle of an extra-busy dinner rush. One of my tables was a party of 15 that I had split with another server. I was bringing out seconds of salads and breadsticks when a lady at the table informed me that her daughter, who looked about 7 or 8, needed to use the bathroom.
"Thinking she just needed directions, I informed her the restroom was in the front of the restaurant, right next to the hostess stand. 'I know,' she replied haughtily. 'I need you to take my daughter and help her in the bathroom... and make sure she washes her hands.'
"I was way too busy to take time away from my other tables to escort this girl to the bathroom and I also did not really feel comfortable taking a young child and 'helping her' in the bathroom. I mean, what if this involved wiping and such? I let her know that I was sorry, but I needed to start bringing the food out for the table and did not have time to help her daughter. I should add that, at least to appearances, there was no obvious physical disability that would have prevented this lady from taking her own daughter to the bathroom. Not to mention, there are 13 other people at the table -- who know this child to some extent -- who could also have helped if needed.
"The mom replied with a dramatic sigh. 'Oh, really? You just can't be bothered, huh? You are just so important!' I politely apologized again, said I'd be right back with their food, and retreated into the kitchen.
"As I was in the back pulling their food out of the window and putting it on trays for delivery I heard a commotion out in the main dining area. When I walked out with the tray, I saw my manager, who is normally very soft-spoken, in a screaming match with the mom who asked me to take her daughter to the bathroom. The little girl was standing next to the table crying hysterically and everyone else in the dining room was looking on in shocked silence.
"'It's her fault!' the lady yelled, pointing at me as I approached the table. 'She refused to take my daughter to the bathroom, so she had to just go on the floor.' It was then that I noticed the large wet spot in the middle of the crowded dining room. Apparently this lady had instructed her daughter to pull up her dress, pull down her underwear, and to squat and pee in the middle of the restaurant.
"From those who witnessed it, the daughter was crying the whole time while her mother yelled loudly about how this is what happens when staff are too lazy to help. When my manager intervened, she started berating him and accusing him of embarrassing her and her child.
"I was impressed that my manager actually asked them to leave, which I had never seen in a corporate restaurant. A nearby table actually tried to start a slow clap as they exited, yelling and berating me and my manager the whole time." -- Jessie Jacobs
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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