Off The Menu

Unbelievable Tales of Rotten Restaurant Customers

off the menu evil customrs
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've got our old favorite: stories of the most monstrous customers in restaurant history. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.

"Free" has its limits

"My husband and I used to frequent a rib restaurant in our neighborhood. The place had two main areas: the dining room and the bar. Beside the bar itself there were a bunch of small high-top tables for drinkers. Interestingly, the bar also had self-serve appetizers, including mac & cheese.

"One busy night, we were in the bar perched at a high-top, and we saw a couple swoop in and seat themselves at one of the booths that had just become vacant. The hostess came in with a couple to be seated and was perplexed to find someone already there. There were apologies and they scurried out, followed by some conversation among servers and the hostess, with nods at the couple. But they must have decided it wasn't worth making a fuss over, and the self-seating couple stayed.

"The couple ordered the type of drinks you order when you're too cheap to pay for alcohol, then proceeded to ravage the appetizers, coming back with multiple small plates piled high with everything they could fit. At one point they magically procured dinner-sized plates and came back to the table with those plates heaping with mac & cheese -- heaping.

"During all this, the server had come back several times, asking if they were ready to place their order, or if they wanted more drinks. Each time, they waved her off. After multiple rounds of heaping plates of mac & cheese punctuated by crackers and crudités, they finally told the server, 'We’re done, just bring us the check.'

"The waitress tried to explain that, well, you took up one of our dinner tables during a busy time, and you can't just sit here and order nothing. Sure, the food was free, but it was meant as a pre-dinner appetizer or a bar snack while drinking.

"The couple pointed out that they'd ordered drinks and that the appetizers were free. A manager came over and said yes, the food is free as appetizers, but it's not a free dinner buffet. Either the couple could order entrees and the restaurant would happily pack them to go, or they’d charge them for two mac & cheese dinners.

"The couple decided they weren't about to pay for their free mac & cheese, so they ordered entrees to go. They patiently waited for them to arrive, paid the check… and then went back for more plates of mac & cheese.

"I'm surprised there was any left -- in the county." -- Dana Corcoran

Mother does not like her soup hot

"While we were in high school, my sister waited tables at a local sushi restaurant. It seemed like it would have been a good first job -- the place was really popular with locals, the food was great, the management didn't seem too insane.

"Having had the soup at this place, I can attest that while it is pleasantly hot, it is not Lava Soup."

"One Saturday night, they were super slammed, every section was packed, and while taking a full tray out to the dining room, someone bumped my sister and she accidentally sloshed some miso soup onto a guest. It was pretty bad -- it was an older couple and they were dressed up for a night out, so it got all over her dress, and my sister immediately started apologizing and giving her napkins. My understanding was that the lady with soup on her was pretty nice about it. Unfortunately, her crazy-ass husband went absolutely ballistic. He started yelling about how she was a careless idiot, that his wife was probably burned, that she ruined their night.

"He got so loud that other tables started staring at my poor sister, who basically just had to apologize through all this while helping his wife mop soup off her dress. They ended up storming out, not even waiting for a manager to settle their check. Since her section was still slammed, sis had to chin up and keep running her ass off for the other tables, who were fortunately pretty nice to her after witnessing the extreme public humiliation.

"Forty minutes later, the hostess called her up to the stand, saying she had a phone call (usually that meant a family member had an emergency or something). It was husband, calling from the hospital, where he had rushed his wife because he was worried the 'burns' could have caused heart palpitations. He had gotten her name off her name tag, called the host stand, and wanted to personally chew her out again before asking for the manager, saying he was going to sue her, sue the restaurant, and 'shut this whole goddamn place down and put you all out of work.' Having had the soup at this place, I can attest that while it is pleasantly hot, it is not Lava Soup.

"My sister handed off the phone, went to the back, and burst into tears. She was legitimately worried she was going to get fired for assaulting a guest with soup. Fortunately, the manager decided the guy was a nutjob and not worth paying attention to." -- Lena Ramsey

Off the menu Evil Customers
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

The dreaded parsley

"I was with a few friends of mine in town and we decided to get some shawarma. A friend and I ordered them for everyone, since the place where you could queue up to get them was pretty small and we didn't want to crowd it. One of the people in our group said she wanted hers sweet and with all the extras (stuff like tomatoes, pickles, diced cabbage, and stuff like that), and my friend was the one who ordered it. We got everyone's stuff and sat down to eat.

"It was at that point that we discovered the bane of her existence, the horrid antagonist of her culinary tastes, the parade pooper of gastronomical constructs: parsley.

"Sure, not everyone is a fan of parsley, but she was so enraged at its unwelcome presence… I chewed my food in embarrassed slow motion as she picked the bits of parsley from her food, stacked them in a pyramid of disgust and hatred on a small napkin, and mumbled angrily to herself.

"My frustration soon turned to abject horror as she put down the rest of her food on the tray, took the napkin from it like she was handling an ogre's diaper gravy, went to the place where we ordered the food (and where it was also prepared), planted the napkin on the counter (having some of it fall over the counter and into one of the salad trays), and proceeded to berate some random guy there (I'm pretty sure it wasn't the one who actually prepared it) about how absolutely appalling this display of inedibility was.

"As I sheepishly consumed my food, trying not to make any subsequent eye contact with her, all I could do was try to imagine just what was going on inside the mind of that poor guy she snapped at." -- Tim Anders

Cue WWIII

"Last weekend was super busy -- the tiny family-run bistro where I work was slammed for three days solid with revelers attending a local music festival. The weather was great, so alongside our usual diners, we had loads of tourists and locals taking advantage of the weather and entertainment to drink outside in the square. It was nice, everyone was in a good mood, the sun was shining, and by close on Sunday we had sold out of everything except bar condiments. All in all a great weekend. Literally HUNDREDS of happy customers.

"Until this lot showed up.

"It was at this point I couldn't hold my tongue. I plastered on a fake smile and said jokingly, 'Well, you know, the food couldn't have been that bad. You cleaned your plates!' Cue WWIII."

"Just after the kitchen opened for dinner, the Family From Hell arrived and was seated. I knew I recognized the parents -- in that way you do when you know someone has been difficult before [Editor's Note: This is one of the worst feelings you can get as a server.] -- these were the type who work hard to find something to complain about and aren't mollified until they manage to scam a free drink or a complimentary dessert, so I knew they were likely to be difficult again.

"When I went to take their drink order, the mother wanted a gin & tonic, which we didn't currently have, and she acted like I had throttled her kitten when I politely explained we had sold out and why. In the end she ordered a bottle of wine instead. When the barman took her wine down in an ice bucket, she complained that it wasn't chilled enough -- it had been in the fridge for nearly an hour, but as I said, stock turnover was super high that weekend and yeah, it wasn't as cold as normal, but it was still properly chilled.

"The barman explained why it wasn't as cold as usual and offered to take it away and put it in the freezer for a while, the mother refused, saying that we should be keeping our alcohol for 'proper' (whatever that means) customers and drank it anyway. She then decided the seats were 'too soft' to be comfortable and the manager had to start shifting furniture around for her. All in all exactly as expected from previous encounters.

"It didn't stop there. They were quiet during the starters, but they were only saving their venom up for the main course. They ordered three steaks and a fish special as entrees. When I took their sides out to them, they were wrong. Again, you'd think I'd killed a beloved pet, they were so incensed by the mix-up. I apologized, returned the sides to the kitchen, and informed them the correct sides would be with them in five minutes. When I returned with fresh sides five minutes later, I was berated again, both parents shouting at me about how it was 'all ruined!' They started bitching about their steaks being cooked wrong. I don't mind customers complaining -- if you're paying for a meal it should be done right -- but their attitude, the entitlement, the way they spoke to me… they were seriously getting to me. So I turned them over to my lovely manager before I said something I regretted.

"The manager offered them four entirely new meals cooked from scratch. They refused. The manager took their main courses off the bill (the four most expensive main courses on the menu, coincidentally). They accepted. We went to remove the 'ruined' meal from the table and they wouldn't let us. They proceeded to CLEAN their plates. They nearly licked them. There wasn't a scrap of food left, bar the skin from the father’s fish special. Not a veggie, not a potato, not even a bit of garnish.

"As I was clearing the table, the father asked to see the dessert menu. When I left the plates in the kitchen our chef (who is also the owner) asked me to tell them that she'd be happy to come out and chat to them about the food if they liked -- so I relayed this offer when I went back with the dessert menus. 'Oh no,' said Papa FFH smugly, 'we sorted it out with the manageress.' He then started ticking off on his fingers what he was getting for free and what he was paying for. He was practically glowing, he was so delighted with himself.

"It was at this point I couldn't hold my tongue. I plastered on a fake smile and said jokingly, 'Well, you know, the food couldn't have been that bad. You cleaned your plates!'

"Cue WWIII.

"The mother nearly lost her mind at this (never mind how rude she'd been to every member of staff who came near her all evening) and screamed at me across the restaurant to 'FUCK OFF!' It was loud enough that the whole restaurant heard. The table behind her (a lovely couple) had been cringing at their behavior all evening anyway, and they nearly sank into the floor with embarrassment at this point. So I fucked off. The father came to find the manager and complained about me before THROWING the money still owed on the bill (very little after they'd been comped their mains) at her and they departed in a strop, sans dessert. Obviously they didn't tip, but the table who sat behind them left a tip that was larger than their actual bill. I can only assume out of sheer embarrassment at their behavior. Thank you, nice people on table 10!

"I found out later the father is a local radio personality and not short of money." -- Cathy McNamara

I don't think you're supposed to take those with you

"So my friend/co-worker and I took an Extended Lunch Friday and went to Olive Garden. We were sitting there talking about work, and four older folks walked in. Late 70s, I would guess. Immediately, one of the men starts grousing around, loudly, about the weather. It was January in Northeast Ohio, so it is predictably cold. He then takes a phone call, in the corner, near another table, and is shouting the entire phone call. As far as he's concerned, he's the only one in the restaurant.

"Finally, he sits down and they have a relatively normal conversation. They've been there for 10 minutes, and this is the first time this guy hasn't screamed. The waiter comes over and asks what they would like to drink. He leaves, and comes back with the largest glass of milk I have ever have seen. Humongous. He hands it to the Phone-Screaming Weather Grouser, who glares at him.

"So then he's ready to order. They order the soup, salad, and breadsticks deal with the all-you-can-eat soup or whatever. He demands that the bowl be full. 'I like a lot of soup. Last time, there was only about THIS MUCH soup in the bowl. I like a lot of soup,' he says while holding his index finger and thumb a few inches apart. This is, in fact, a lot of soup to ask for. The waiter responds with, 'Well, it's all portioned out, so… but it is all-you-can-eat, so I can just bring you more.' This seems to suffice for the old man, as he drops the issue.

"The salad, as is customary, comes out first. 'Can I have ranch?' the old man asks. 'Well, the salad is already dressed, do you want a side of ranch?' the waiter responds. 'No. I want a new salad. With ranch. But leave this for these folks,' the Old Man demands, motioning towards his companions. The waiter explains that he can't, since they didn't order salad. Old man settles for a side of ranch.

"Then the following exchange takes place.

"Waiter: OK, guy. I can take those menus and bring your meals out.

"Old Man: No. I'm going to take this with me.

"Waiter: You're going to take the menu with you? Home? Alright.

"He drinks his milk, uses his ranch, and grouses around a bit longer. The whole time with his menu (souvenir?) on the floor next to his seat." -- Jay Doherty

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.