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 restaurant employees who had no clue what they were doing. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
The pizza bandit
"During high school I worked at a pizza delivery chain as a cook/driver/etc. just past the edge of rural suburbia. One guy who worked there was Tim. Tim was older than most of the other employees (about 21-23) and was not exactly the college type. He had worked there for about three months, first as a cook, then as a driver. He had become somewhat infamous with our regular crew for being unable to manage the simplest tasks -- like making a pizza to order -- but full of great ideas for the owners on how to 'grow their business.' Think a slightly meth-addled, chain-smoking, white-trash Donald Trump.
"One day, Tim took a delivery out to the next town over. He came back 20 minutes later, no big deal. About five minutes after that, six different sheriff's cruisers came flying into our parking lot, lights and sirens blaring. Tim took off running towards the back of the store like he was shot out of a cannon and hid in the walk-in. The cops came in both the front and back doors, guns drawn. The staff and customers had their hands in the air, but it was fairly apparent we weren't who they were looking for, and one of the counter people just said, 'He is in the walk-in.' They found Tim and dragged him out in handcuffs while he was yelling about how he didn't do anything… right, Tim.
"What we came to find out is that on his way to the delivery, Tim decided to stop at the convenience store on the edge of town… and rob it at gunpoint. There were three flaws in that plan. First, Tim was wearing our restaurant's shirt and hat. Second, Tim's car (an already unique white and pink Suzuki Sidekick) had the quintessential pizza guy car-top sign stuck on top. Third, because of the way the town was organized, he actually drove past the site of the robbery again on his way back to our store. Unsurprisingly, it did not take long to trace him back to our restaurant.
"We never saw Tim again." -- Seth Ferraro
What is vegetable? What are purple?
"I went to a local burger place with my husband the other night. I do not eat meat, but usually this is not a big deal because burger places usually have veggie patties or at least fries.
"I asked the bartender if they had veggie burgers and she says, 'Sure! We have turkey burgers.'
"Turkey is not a vegetable." -- Alice Williams
Umit has no time for sanitation
"My first job was at a pizza joint. One of the guys in the kitchen was this guy named Umit. He was hairy and sweaty and didn't shower enough -- basically, he looked like a too-warm George Constanza.
"One day, another guy was stirring the pizza sauce in a huge pot on the stove and the wooden spoon he had been using broke. Now, this place was a pretty insane environment to work in, lots of big personalities, lots of temper tantrums, and that's not even including all the normal crap all restaurant workers put up with. So naturally, Umit was in a mood, and he just said fuck it, went over to the pot, pulled the spoon out with his bare hand, then proceeded to go on stirring the sauce, that was on the stove and God knows how hot, with his BARE ARM. His hairy, sweaty, dirty ARM.
"No one batted an eye. I'm pretty sure lots of customers ingested Umit arm hairs for days." -- Sarah Maher
"I was a sheltered suburban kid from Chicago and had just finished high school back in the early '90s. I graduated from a boarding school in New Hampshire, which meant all of us were traveling home through Boston. To celebrate, my father took our entire group to a very famous seafood restaurant. It was on a pier. It’s been 25 years and it remains home to the worst meal of my life.
"I wasn't an adventurous eater at 17, but since pizza and burgers are not what people have to celebrate life's big milestones, I put on a jacket and tie and my winningest smile. We arrived for our reservation, got seated at a nice table with plenty of room for everyone, and placed our orders. I requested a medium New York strip -- the go-to choice for patrons who retch at the smell of fish.
"Our server took our orders and promptly returned with our drinks. When he set my drink down, I was assaulted with a terrible smell. Our server had body odor. It wasn't mild, like he was just having a long day -- it was weaponized. It was as if he hadn't showered or washed his uniform in weeks. Every time he lifted his arms, a cloud would descend over the table. I could watch each of my family members react one at a time as the noxious cloud wafted under each nose.
"The food arrived with the same fanfare as the drinks, spoiling appetites and turning all conversations toward 'How does someone even GET to smell like that?' I honestly can't remember if anyone else enjoyed their meal, because I'm still in shock about what happened next.
"I cut into my steak and it was cooked through. Well-done, brown throughout. I didn't know much about steak, but I knew that medium meant 'pink in the middle,' and this was not a thin cut of meat. I reluctantly called the waiter over to point this out, mentally preparing myself for another gassing. He leaned over, put his arm around my chair so my face was an inch from his armpit, lifted the steak with my fork, studied it for a few seconds, then looked me in the eye a few inches from mine and with a breeze of plaque and halitosis declared, 'It's medium' and walked away.
"I was incredulous that my father didn't do anything about it at the time, but he was laser-focused getting through the evening without an incident, no matter how much the restaurant worked to thwart him. Since there were eight of us and we were paying tourist-trap prices, our server still got a decent tip. I just wish we could have left $100 worth of Right Guard." -- Jake DeWise
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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