Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we present some of the most WTF things to ever happen in restaurants. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
The bird's tale
"I worked at a small ice cream shop in an East Coast university city throughout high school and most of college. The ice cream was excellent (I still dream about the Moose Tracks), but the rest of the shop was a craphole. I can't believe people would come in and still be tempted to put food in their mouths, but whatever. Ice cream.
"We were open until midnight every day of the week, so we attracted a lot of weirdos after about 10pm. On weekend nights, we would have a line out the door until we closed, even in winter. One night, I was working the closing shift with Andrea (not her real name). Andrea happened to be a drug dealer as well as an excellent ice cream scooper. She sold out the back of the shop and always added generously to the tip jar on nights that she did well (we were located almost directly on a college campus -- she always did well). Andrea also did a lot of coke herself, which made her great to close with, as she could clean like nobody’s business.
"One night, which was particularly snowy and cold, was going along just fine. Andrea was in the back attending to one of her personal customers while I manned the busy-but-not-crazy counter. A man approached in full snow gear -- he could barely put his arms down -- and something on his shoulder. My eyesight is not great from a distance, so he didn't come into focus until he reached the counter. There was a white-and-yellow cockatoo on his shoulder. Like, a huge bird.
"I really like animals but, damn Snowman, that's gross. So I said, 'Hey, beautiful bird! But actually, if we get caught with that in here we'd be in a lot of trouble. Do you mind leaving him in the car and then coming back to order?'
"He replied, 'I walked here, so no.' Which, if we can just pause to think about this huge man in what is essentially a full-body duvet walking the city streets with a bird. What?!
"As I was about to open my mouth to protest again, the bird took flight and landed on my shoulder behind the counter. It looked at me with those crazy soulless bird eyes and kind of cocked its head. I (weirdly, I admit) did the same. At this point half the line of customers was laughing, the other is vomiting into their own mouths. No one left, because I guess they wanted to see how this would play out.
"It is at this moment that Andrea, who was clearly doing a few lines with whoever in the back, popped her head out to see if I needed help. There I was with a cockatoo on my shoulder, head cocked to the side and eyes glazed. She looked absolutely terrified and screamed, 'YOU LOOK LIKE THAT BIRD!'
"The bird, startled by the noise, flapped its goddamn wings in my face, pooped on my shoulder, and flew back to perch on its owner. The man said, 'So can I get a scoop of mint chip or what?'
"I got him his mint chip, then immediately changed my shirt. When I returned to the counter, I got a round of applause from the remaining customers, a group of whom had taken folded white napkins and made them into cockatoo headdresses. Andrea had fled the scene, and I closed by myself." -- Rachel North
The bread bandit
"My girlfriend and I were having dinner at the nicest restaurant in a small city in Iowa (you can imagine!) and had the worst table in the place, near the hostess stand. The restaurant was packed and we apparently provided a floor show for the numerous patrons waiting for a table. Our long-awaited food had just arrived, and as we prepared to dig into our roast duck, a woman wandered over, hovered over us, and started to engage us in conversation:
"'Oh, that looks good! Have you eaten here before? Is that duck? I've never had duck before. Where do you go to college? Oh, my daughter goes there, maybe you know her!' You get the idea.
"We politely answered her questions, hoping she would get the idea that perhaps she should allow us to BEGIN OUR MEAL. No such luck, as she proceeded to spew information about her family, job, and other mind-numbing stuff. Just as I was considering using the knife poised in my hand to stab myself in the eyeball, she said, 'Well, my husband is probably looking for me. Ooooh, those look good!'
"She then reached into the bread basket on our table, grabbed a croissant, turned, and walked away. My girl and I looked at each other, stunned, and broke into hysterical laughter. The duck, now cold, was forgettable, but the ballsiest woman ever gave me a lifelong memory." -- Craig Bartlett
The last straw
"I was in a fried chicken shack in a South Texas town, the last person in line for placing orders. The woman taking orders took a couple and then, suddenly and unexpectedly, said to no one in particular, 'I hate chicken!' She then turned to her co-workers preparing the orders and said, 'Don't y'all hate chicken? I hate lookin' at chicken, I hate smellin' chicken, I hate touchin' chicken, I hate cookin' chicken -- I HATE CHICKEN!'
"The rest of the clientele looked aghast and horrified. Me? I wasn't even trying to control my uproarious laughter. It was awesome; how long had THAT dam been waiting to burst?
"The chicken, by the way, was delicious." -- Vince Parker
That there white pow-dah
"I worked as a pizza delivery driver at a local chain in the San Francisco Bay Area. This particular story takes place during the day shift, which for a pizza place is not very busy so it was only me and the manager.
"We had recently gotten a call and taken an order for delivery. While my manager was busy making/tending to the pizza, a man wandered in. Seeing that my manager was still busy, I walked to the front to greet him and asked if I could get him anything.
"'Yeah, can I get that there white pow-dah.' I blanked for a second, not quite sure what he said and asked him again what he wanted.
"He said, 'That there white pow-dah,' while pointing across the counter at a bowl.
"I looked over and realized he was talking about the bowl full of flour we used to roll out the dough. I took another pause and then looked over at my manager. My manager simply nodded his head. I grabbed one of the small ranch containers, scooped up some flour into it, capped it, and handed it to the man. My manager spoke up from the other side of the oven: 'No charge.'
"The pizza came out of the oven and was ready for delivery. I grabbed it, put it into the bag, and headed out to my car. As I was driving out of the parking lot, I saw the man snorting the flour. Having seen no ambulances upon my return, I assume that a human can reasonably snort flour and not be killed." -- Barry Dyson
The pizza imp
"I worked night audit (overnight shift) for three years at an Embassy Suites in a medium-sized city. I loved the shift: the general quiet, smoking with the guests, getting to know people on a level that the regular staff rarely got to experience. I also once hugged Laurence Fishburne, which is a total highlight of my life. Embassies have an open atrium style, like a big cylinder, which is great for keeping track of ne'er-do-wells.
"As with any hotel, we would get plenty of groups staying for weeks on end. One of those groups was a business that was doing something businessy that I can't quite remember. Ninety percent of the time, if somebody from one of these groups was still up and in the lobby when I got on shift at 11pm, they were closing down the hotel bar and I would see their groggy face at 7am as they crawled down their meetings. Again, mostly cordial people who liked having the time off from their significant others to drink all night and flirt with people. One guy, however, will stick out in my mind forever.
"It was pretty well-hopping for a mid-week night shift, and we still had a good chunk of arrivals left. I got in, checked with the outgoing staff, talked to the security guards, and was ready to dig into the audit. The front desk 'pods' at my hotel faced directly toward the bar, so I could see if any late-nighters were drinking too much for their own good. There were three or four people still at the bar, and one guy was getting progressively louder and belligerent. The bartender made eye contact with me, I got on the horn to the security guard, and walked over to examine the situation.
"At this point it is around 11:45pm and the restaurant is closed. The guy, however, wants pizza. This is fine, and I inform him that I would be more than happy to give him the numbers to all the national chains and some good local places as well. He mumbles something about a local place and I grab a menu for him and wish him a good night.
"Cut to about 2am, when the bar is closed, and the bartender tells me the guest is finishing up his last drink and doesn't want to take it upstairs. I ask her if he ordered the pizza yet, because the place stops taking orders as 2:15. She says no, so I amble over and ask if he needs help ordering. With bloodshot eyes and shaky hands he proceeds to toss his credit card at me and then points to an item on the menu he wants. OK… fine. I tell the guest I cannot order for him, because if something goes wrong with the order I would be on the line for it. He isn't having any of it, but he can't talk at this point. I call the security guard to grab the wheelchair so we can take him upstairs to his room on the second floor, directly over the front desk, and I get on the phone to the pizza place and decide to get the whole thing over with.
"Thirty minutes later, the pizza gets there. The delivery guy (who is there often because their pizza is fucking amazing) comes down with a big smile on his face, shaking his head. I'm on the phone and can't ask him what was so funny, but I figure shenanigans.
"An hour later, at around 3:15am, I hear this weird heavy breathing coming from above me. I ignore it for a bit, but after a few minutes I step out from behind the desk and look up. The guy is standing over the railing, stark-ass naked, holding half a 20in pizza taco-style, with all the cheese and sauce removed and covering his whole body. I'm completely flabbergasted, and I've seen some really strange shit: bitten-off ears, girls peeing in our fountain, a bat loose in the hotel. But this is the most batshit insane thing I've ever witnessed. Bear in mind, it's deathly quiet, and I'm staring up at a naked man covered in pizza sauce and pepperonis. The only sound is his heavy, labored breathing.
"Still keeping an eye on him (and him on me), I inch over to the front desk and grab my radio to call the security guard to watch him while I call the police and an ambulance to get him off-property. That split second I have between finding the security contact in the radio and taking my eye off the guy is just enough for him to ghost. I can't hear him, can't see him, nothing; when the guard does his sweep, he can't find him either, not even in his room. He does, however, find the half pizza laying on the floor where the guy was standing. The police can't even find the bastard, and his room doesn't have anything in it besides a pizza box and his clothes. The bed isn't even rumpled.
"Come 7am when the next manager comes on shift, I recount the whole bizarre story to him. The guy never showed back up to collect his clothes, which were still in the lost and found by the time I quit that place.
"When I asked the delivery driver what was so funny, he said that the guy paid with the credit card, paid again in cash, and tipped him $500. To this day, I have no idea what happened to that guy." -- Mike Pearson
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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