Off The Menu

Strange-but-True Stories of Ridiculous Restaurant Customers

off the menu
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

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 bafflingly confusing restaurant stories. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.

Ahh, Boulder

"I was working at a coffee shop in Boulder, Colorado, where many of our customers were bored rich people who hung out all day writing novels or meeting with their life coaches. A lot of them were pretty eccentric, as most rich people are, but were usually nice and liked to chat with us. We had one guy who would do tai chi while he was waiting in line. One was a lawyer specializing in DUI cases who wore an orange-and-seafoam-green suit every day. Another guy wanted a 45-second shot with the first 20 seconds poured out.

"There was one woman, however, who would constantly test not only our patience, but our ability to not be weirded out by even the strangest of rich people. She owned some kind of jewelry business and would use our coffee shop to interview potential employees. They were usually young, attractive students from the university who she would meet there to interview while she filed her nails or combed her hair. She never bought anything, and many times her interviewees would offer to buy her coffee, so she would let them while she sat there all day taking up a table. Since our Wi-Fi had a two-hour limit, she would schedule the interviews to be two hours apart so that she could poach the Wi-Fi code from the receipt of the fresh interviewee who had just bought coffee.

"One day she came in and we started rolling our eyes, preparing ourselves for an afternoon of her mooching off potential employees. But before I could say anything, she held her hand up as she walked by and said, 'I need to use the restroom first.'

"Fine with me.

"So she went in, and a few moments later, we started to hear this muffled whooping noise. It was really soft at first, like'‘whup, whooo-up, whup-p-p-p-,' but it soon turned into wet snorting followed by 'hrugh, ghurhg, hgurgh' and an aggravated hissing noise. By this point, the customers sitting near the bathroom started shooting concerned glances in our direction, so I went and got our poor manager, who was on break, to tell him what was going on. He came out to hear the toilet flush and her stomping around the bathroom like a horse.

"He looked at us with tired eyes. 'Whoever wants to go in and clean up after she's done can go home early.' It was supposed to start snowing later that evening, and the thought of getting a bottle of tequila and a pizza before the storm came in sounded amazing, so I volunteered to do it.

"It should come as no surprise that when she finally came out she made a beeline for the front door and took off like she had just robbed the place. I gathered the bathroom cleaner, gloves, paper towels, and fresh garbage bags and went inside, preparing for the absolute worst.

"I opened the door and stepped in. I was surprised to find the bathroom was not a complete wreck, and it even looked as if she had tidied the sink and mirror up a bit. The only thing off was a small object wrapped in tinfoil sitting in the middle of the floor. I covered my mouth with my forearm as I slowly approached the thing. With a gloved hand I carefully peeled back a corner of the foil to reveal a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. On wheat bread. With the crust cut off.

"What. The. Fuck.

"I tossed it in the trash, which I threw out anyway just for good measure, clocked out, ordered a pizza, and went to the liquor store." -- Cindy Carnero

MINE

"I was at an El Pollo Loco near my mom's house waiting for my order. A guy walked in from off the street carrying a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, walked over to the condiment section, lifted the avocado salsa, and poured THE ENTIRE THING into the bag. Then, before anyone really had a chance to react to what had just happened, he sealed it and skedaddled." -- Ian Johnson

"If the guy didn't do what she wanted, he would end up in her trunk and no one would ever see him again."

The happy couple

"My husband and I have a local Thai place that we order from. We mostly do takeout, but occasionally we eat in.

"In one of our experiences dining in, we were seated about 8ft away from another couple. The dining area is only probably 20x20ft square, with an additional front area where you come in and pay and a hallway to the kitchen, so it's pretty small and cozy.

"Back to this couple. We were already well into our meal when the woman was seated, then the man came in a bit later. After a few minutes, it was clear that they weren't very friendly with each other; they started talking in agitated voices rather quickly and soon everyone else in the small space was pretty uncomfortable (there was also another table of eight seated within 6 or so feet of them).

"I don't remember the whole conversation, but they were obviously discussing money. The man talked in a low voice, but the woman had a problem keeping her voice down. Both were very, very angry. Everyone else was just annoyed until suddenly the woman very clearly said something about how if the guy didn't do what she wanted, he would end up in her trunk and no one would ever see him again.

"So that happened." -- Cameron Gray

off the menu
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

The story of X

"I was a part of my sister's wedding party a few years ago, and her fiance was trying to explain the other two people in the party to me because I hadn't met them before. One was 'X.' X was the best man. X lived by himself. He never cooked for himself. Never had plates, napkins, silverware, anything that would indicate someone did in fact cook for themselves.

"One of X's favorite places to eat was a Chinese takeout place in the neighborhood where he lived and grew up not far from Manhattan, in Queens. Nothing special about the place. Just a normal neighborhood takeout spot.  

"Then, for some reason, X had to move out of that neighborhood and further out into the suburbs. He still worked in the city though, so he would have to drive past his old 'hood in order to get home. So one night he decided to stop by his old favorite Chinese place and pick up dinner. And pick up dinner he did.  

"Either he made it all the way home, or most of the way, but somehow he came to the sudden realization that the takeout place didn't include any plastic forks or knives in the bag. New house, old habits: X still had no silverware at home, so he drove all the way back to the restaurant, about 45 minutes away, to right the wrong and ask for a plastic fork and knife.

"Then he went back home to enjoy his dinner." -- Mike Carson

"The Dork sprinted across the huge parking lot with the odd gait of some kind of raptor ballerina."

The world's worst thief

"After I graduated college, back in the spring and early summer of 2010, I mainly worked at my father's car dealership as a detailer/lotman. My best friend was the day manager at a pizza place in a Buffalo, New York suburb and he convinced me to pick up some shifts (mostly delivering) during the week. I felt like I could use the extra money, since I wasn't looking to jump into adult life yet.

"He and I both had a ton of pizzeria and greasy-spoon experience throughout high school and college, because the Western New York area is one where you can't blindly throw a rock out of your window without hitting a pizzeria and then having it ricochet and hit a Greek diner before losing inertia and coming to rest at the entrance to a hot dog joint. As such, our combined fooding experience only necessitated the two of us being there from open, through lunch, and until dinnertime. This was cool, because it gave us ample time to hang out, do crosswords, and just generally fuck around.

"Just to give you an idea what this place was like: The owner also ran a second location of the same pizzeria that he CLEARLY cared much more about than the one my friend and I manned. His store was in fancy new digs in a younger, growing, and much more affluent neighborhood. Ours was in a plaza built before the A-bomb and in a town populated by people from that same era still with Great Depression sensibilities. His store had wonderful services like supply delivery and contained kitchen equipment that was safe, functional, and effective. Our store relied on infrequent supply drop-offs from the owner in his shitty Tacoma pick-up or, failing that, me running down the street to Restaurant Depot to procure luxuries like flour, tomato sauce, and cheese. You may recognize those ingredients as being THE THINGS YOU NEED TO MAKE A FUCKING PIZZA. As for OUR kitchen tools and equipment, well, I'm certain some long-dead Buffalo restaurateur had once paid top dollar for it all through Yugoslavian black-market mail-order catalogs.

"One day during our lunch 'rush' (maybe three people, and I couldn't blame anyone for avoiding this place), this complete dork of a guy came in and ordered three fajitas. This was a rare day when our illustrious owner had graced us with his presence and showered us with his bounty in the form of supplies, so we actually had what we needed to make this wiener his stupid fajitas. I took his order, and because I figured he could pay when he received his food (or perhaps because I hadn't been paid in so long that I had forgotten what the actual transacting of money was), I did not cash him out. My friend made the fajitas while I went and did prep work.

"When the fajitas were made, my friend brought them over to Turbo Doink, and that seemed to be that. When he returned to the kitchen, he gave me a quick look and asked for assurance that the guy had paid. Realization suddenly dawned, and I said I had figured the guy would pay when we brought out his food. After a second's pause we both rushed to the front door to see The Dork SPRINTING across the huge parking lot with the odd gait of some kind of raptor ballerina daintily holding a package. My friend, a fit and athletic former D-1 lacrosse player who doesn't suffer any shit, got out ahead of me, then came to a stop and shouted across the parking lot, 'Hey! Are you gonna pay for that?!'

"Now, here's the truly amazing part (bear in mind, he had ALREADY REACHED HIS CAR and was WELL out of our range): He stopped, turned around, and then sheepishly walked back to the store like a kid caught pilfering butterscotch candies from his grandmother's purse. The fucker should have just hopped in his car and drove off! He was already seen running, we weren't close enough to get a look at his plates (nor would we have had the wherewithal to do so, anyway), and it's not like he left us his name! This caper could have become a legend for this dorktopus to tell his friends about the time he stuck it to the MAN. In this case, though, the MAN would be two bitter college graduates who, by all rights, should have just let EVERY fucking customer walk away with free food.

"Anyway, Sir Dongle returns, battered, broken, humiliated, but defiant. He proceeds to mealy-mouth some shit about how long the fajitas took to make and my friend looks him square in the glasses and says, 'Even if that were true, you would take that to mean you could just fucking steal food?!' I don't quite remember what happened after this point beyond the guy paying and leaving and us laughing at both his brazenness and stupidity." -- Andrew Calliero

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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C.A. Pinkham is a guy who makes inappropriate jokes about Toblerones on the internet. Follow him on Twitter @EyePatchGuy.