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 stories of the dumbest restaurant customers in living memory. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
What is chicken? How are purple?
"I worked in the Kosher Kitchen, this little segment of the dining hall that was run by Orthodox Jews and catered to Jews who keep kosher at a little liberal arts college in upstate New York.
"Sometimes we got Cornish hens. I loved those: They were amazing. The chef would cut them in half because we would run out before the first hour of dinner if he didn't, and we rarely made it to the end of the night with any left regardless.
"We also had the dinner menu on top of the flattop over the sneeze guard on the hot table. People rarely read the menu (you wouldn't believe the number of people who've looked at the tray of tilapia and asked me if it was chicken). However, one night, we've got the hens, and this guy -- young, fit, pretty clearly a freshman -- comes up and pauses to read the menu. I mentally award him two points for thoughtfulness.
"I say, 'Hi, how are you?'
"He says, 'I'm good, how are you?'
"I smile and give him some generic answer."
"Then he asks me, 'What's a Cornish hen?’
"Thinking he's referring to the 'Cornish' part, I start to say, 'It's a breed of hen. They're smaller than regular ones, and I think they come from Cornwall in England.'
"He shakes his head. 'No, what's a HEN?'
"I stop. I stare. The guy standing behind him stares."
"I tell him, 'It's a chicken? A female chicken?'
"He nods. 'Oh, OK. Is it any good?'
"I tell him, 'Yeah, it's delicious, you should definitely get one,’ all the while thinking, 'How the hell do you get to 18 without ever hearing the word 'hen'?"
"I never got an answer." -- Ali Weisman
Eggs that defy the laws of physics
"Working the line in a restaurant kitchen, this ticket will remain burned in my brain:
"'Eggs: whites only, sunny-side up.'
"I asked the server to clarify the order. They repeated what was on the ticket word-for-word. Asking how they expected me to do that, since the sun doesn't shine on whites-only eggs, the server rolled his eyes, describing the customer as one of the many typical clueless, trendy-lemming 'gluten allergy' types.
"The customer wolfed-down her whites-only eggs." -- Malcolm Langdon
How do skeletons work?
"I was working in a high-end grocery store local to the Chicagoland area: Think Whole Foods but more Midwestern.
"We had a hot bar with varying offerings and a soup bar that always had either chicken noodle or chicken & dumplings on it. I worked the front end dealing with cashiers and, most importantly, customer complaints.
"This man came up one night with a bowl of chicken noodle soup and proceeded to complain that he needed a refund because there was pork in his soup. My service desk attendant knocked on the door to ask me what to do because had there been actual pork in the soup, it would have been a thing. Sensing some major fishiness, I came out and talked to the customer.
"I asked him what the issue was, and he explained to me that he didn't eat pork and that there was 'rib meat' listed as an ingredient on the nutrition information tabs. I explained that many chicken products use the meat between the ribs of the chicken to keep the cost down.
"He turned to me and shouted: 'Chickens don't have ribs!'
"Using my calmest voice, I replied, 'Sir. I butcher a whole chicken every week. I've ripped open enough rib cages to know that chickens have ribs.'
"He looked at me sideways, took his refund, and muttered, 'You still should put a sign out about the pork.'
"'Certainly, sir.'" -- Tom Torrance
A dumb Starbucks order unlike any other
"Years ago, I was working at a Starbucks, and a woman wanted three granules of Splenda in her coffee. Three. Granules." -- Jack Carpenter
Meat on the bone
"I was managing a banquet at a hotel for a conference -- about 300 or so people. The conference organizers had attendees sign up in advance for a beef, fish, chicken, or vegetarian entree, and also asked if people wanted a kosher meal or had any food allergies that needed to be taken into account. This was before the gluten-free craze, so we had only a handful of allergies -- nuts and tomatoes, mostly.
"Things are going along fine when one woman says she needs to change her meal, the herb-roasted chicken breast with rice pilaf and asparagus. Did she get the wrong entree? No, she asked for the chicken. Is there an allergen in it? No. She just doesn't eat 'meat on the bone.' We offered to bring her a vegetarian entree, but she didn't want the vegetarian entree; she wanted chicken, just not 'on the bone.' [Editor’s Note: I wonder if this was the same lady who didn’t eat *swimming motion* fish that swim.]
"The chef accommodated by removing the bone, but it's a good thing she couldn't hear his reaction." -- Greg Martin
Well, yes, that's what tea tastes like
"One time I had a woman send her hot tea back because she said it tasted like leaves. She didn't even look at me -- she just waved the cup and saucer around. 'Miss, this tastes like leaves. Take it back.'
"My manager thought I was joking and he went to ask her if there was an issue with her tea. She completely failed to make the connection that it was TEA." -- Amanda Cornish
An entire bevy of stupid in just one person
"I work at a counter-service brunch restaurant in Austin, Texas that makes a point of offering bacon on every dish. I'm sure it's difficult to figure out which one.
"The following list consists of things that needed to be explained to one particular customer, all within a half-hour span:
1. Whether one orders from the giant menu with the order-here signs
1a. That first thing, but a second time
2. What a hamburger is
2a. What comes on a hamburger. It's worth mentioning that the menu clearly delineates the accoutrements, but many of our customers are illiterate. God bless them all.
2b. What a hamburger is, but a second time
3. Whether indoor smoking is permissible. It is not.
3a. Whether outdoor smoking is a bring-your-own-smokes proposition, or if cigarettes were to be provided by nicotine-addled and overcaffeinated waitstaff
"That final line of inquiry was rendered moot by customer's contemporaneous cig/blunt smoke-a-thon with a newborn (in the other hand) and while clearly in late-stage pregnancy. This was in the parking lot, but what the fuck?" -- Alex DuClaire
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!
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.