Welcome back to Off the Menu, where former server and present writer C.A. Pinkham brings you the best and strangest food stories from his email inbox. This week, we've got stories of the most fantastically dumb customers ever to grace a restaurant's doors. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
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!
What's with this terrible soup?
"I used to be head line cook at American Army hotel in Germany called the Von Steuben. We had good food and virtually everything that could be was made in-house, but most of our customers consisted of unappreciative Middle American yokels too afraid to leave the hotel 'because of foreigners.' You'd be surprised at how many people get stationed in Germany and refuse to leave the Base-PX-American Hotel circuit. It's sad, actually.
"Anyhow, we were having a slamming Friday night and were in the weeds. A six -op of Nebraska National Guard Military Police yokels had all ordered surf n' turf. The order was nearly up. Prior to bringing the plates, the waitress brought a bowl of hot lemon water and a towel to each customer who had ordered lobster -- or any messy shellfish -- to wash their hands as they ate. She then ran the plates out with the help of another waiter.
"A couple minutes later, both returned with incredulous yet weirdly delighted looks on their faces. I asked, 'What's up? What happened?' Our waitress explained that they had to get more butter for the table, as it was all used trying to fix 'that crappy soup you brought us.'
"They'd dumped salt, pepper, and butter into the bowls of hot lemon water in an attempt to make it palatable, then sopped it up with bread while bitching the whole time. And I quote: 'The first soup you brought was good, but this second one is bullshit.'
"Our waitstaff was too confused to say anything about it. While laughing hysterically, I ordered them to tell them the 'soups' were comped and to send out the chef’s apologies." -- Colin Harper [Editor's Note: I’m not going to lie, this is a situation where I would gleefully screw over my own tip by telling them what they'd just done. I would want them to feel shame. Not getting paid for the table would be worth it.]
On the origin of ducks
"I used to waitress at an upscale farm-to-table restaurant that had really amazing food which wasn't always clearly explained on the menu. I regularly got perfectly reasonable questions and was used to explaining some of the more complex items.
"One day, I get a family with three teenage kids. It comes to the daughter's turn to order and she asks, 'What is the poached duck egg with greens and toast?'
"So I start explaining, 'Poaching is a way of cooking eggs where they crack the egg into hot water...'
"The mother interrupts, 'She KNOWS what a poached egg is. Why does it say DUCK EGG?'
"At a loss, I say, 'Because it's a... duck... egg?' Their sons burst out laughing while I struggle to keep a straight face. This woman didn't know that ducks lay eggs." -- Janie Stone
Just a plain pizza, please
"When I was working as a hostess/phone operator at a Giordano’s in Chicago, the most common pizza order went like this:
"Customer: 'I'd like a medium, regular pizza.'
"Me: 'OK, so one medium-sized, plain cheese pizza.'
"Me: 'And you don't want anything on it, right? Just a plain pizza.'
"Me: 'OK, great.'
"Customer: 'That comes with sausage on it, right?' -- Penny Taylor
Well, that's a new one
"I run a small cafeteria-style restaurant in an extremely small, rural town.
"I was walking around the dining room checking on the customers. I asked a table of two women how their meals were. The first said hers was great. The second complained that our beef tips had 'too much flavor.'
"I told her that I didn't know what I could do about that." -- Alan Terry
"Many moons ago, there was a Subway sandwich shop in Downtown Hershey, PA. I worked there.
"Like all locations, we had our regulars, and we also had a lot of guys working various construction jobs that would come through on the main drag. They'd be chugging to work, see us open -- one of the few things open that early on that end of town -- hop in, get lunch, and we'd never see them again. This was one of those guys, I think.
"He came in, scruffy-looking and overalls, and immediately launched into a tirade that his sandwich was always soggy when he got it out for lunch, and he doesn't want no more soggy sandwiches, thankyouverymuch! My co-worker and I looked at each other, mentally scrolling through what would make our sandwiches as soggy as he was claiming, and we assured him that we'd make sure his sandwich wasn't dripping.
"OK -- into the chute -- bread type, meat type, cheese type, veggies, extra veggies, and we get to the condiments --
'YES! I want oil and vinegar! Lots and lots and LOTS of oil and vinegar!!'
"I can't speak for my co-worker, but I heard that screech sound that the needle makes on an old vinyl record play in my head. My hand froze halfway to the bottles. The whole line of regulars waiting their turn froze. Was he putting us on? Was he serious? Where was the hidden camera? More side glances traded with the co-worker.
"So I ventured, 'Maaaaaaaaybe that's why your sandwiches are so soggy?'
"A pause. 'You think?'
"Co-worker and I, deadpan, nodded vigorously. The rest of the line also nodded vigorously. No one could believe he was for real.
"We ended up putting his sandwich in one bag, and a metric boatload of the little plastic salad dressing containers filled with oil or vinegar in another plastic bag, so he could apply it fresh at lunch." -- Morgan Hanabaker
Tastes like burning
"My party of five had just finished a very nice meal that included dessert -- a very good caramel/chocolate creme brulee -- when we overheard the table just down from us sending back theirs because, 'It tasted burnt.'
"It was very hard to keep our mocking down to a level where they couldn't overhear." -- Natalie Vickers
Predictable and pedestrian
"I worked at a trendy cafe/gourmet store in my early 20s on Vancouver Island. Our main customers were generally pleasant, but we called them 'yippies': a hybrid yuppie-hippie indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, with a weakness for organic foods and yoga gear.
"I was working a breakfast shift in the BOH with one other line cook and the head chef, who is now my husband. We had a pretty basic but tasty breakfast menu with a few bagel sandwich options. So we were all working and had an order for a Western sandwich come in. Ham, egg, peppers, onions, cheese, mayo. We normally carried white cheddar, but our food supplier was low, so we were using orange cheddar, since the alternative would have been no cheese. For anyone unfamiliar, it is literally the same cheese; one just has food colouring, one doesn't. Husband-Chef put together the sandwich, sent it out, and we continued our work.
"About five minutes later, the server walked into the kitchen with a funny look on her face, walked over to HC, and gingerly handed him a piece of paper. Apparently, the customer wanted to deliver a note to the chef. It read: 'The previous layering of egg, meat, and cheese lent itself to great flavour and presentation. However, I'm disappointed to see the use of orange cheddar. It's far too predictable and pedestrian compared to the white.'
"We still have the note." -- Amy Golson
You'd think the dripping blood would be a hint
"I work for a catering company. One night, while tray-passing appetizers to guests, the item I was passing was a 'lamb chop lollipop,' a small cut of lamb chop served medium rare, quite red, still attached to a 4-5in bone serving as the lollipop stick.
"Guest: 'Does this have meat in it?' It took me a solid 10-15 seconds to respond, 'Yes.'
"They were surprised." -- Alex Alvarez
All-meat versus all meat
"I work at a deli that has recently switched what brands of lunch meat we carry. As you would expect, this has pissed off a number of regular customers. The week of the switch, a woman comes up to order Russer all-meat bologna. I explain that we don't carry that anymore, but we do have bologna in the new brand if she'd like to give it a try.
"'It's all meat?'
"'Yes, ma'am, it's all meat. And this brand doesn't use fillers or byproducts, so it's especially all meat.'
"The brand we've just switched to had sent an employee of theirs to help familiarize us and the customers with the new product, so when he hears me having this conversation, he walks over.
"'I can cut you a slice of the pork and beef bologna if you want to give it a try before you buy it,' he offers.
"Her eyes go wide. 'Did you say it has pork in it?'
"'Yes, it's our pork and beef bologna.'
"'I don't want that. I can't have pork. I want all-meat bologna.'
"He stares at her. I stare at her. 'We have an all-beef bologna if you can't have pork,' I say, trying to wrap my brain around what this woman is saying.
"'No, I don't like beef bologna. I just want all-meat.'
"At this point, I can't do anything but gape at her. The guy helping me starts asking her what kind of meat was in the old bologna. 'It was all-meat!' 'But what was in it if it wasn't pork or beef? Was it turkey, or...?'
"'It was just all-meat! I can't eat pork! It was all-meat!'
"'Well, all of our products are all-meat with no fillers or byproducts, but the only bologna we have without pork is the beef.'
"'No, never mind. I just want all-meat bologna. I guess I'm going to have to start shopping somewhere else,' she declares before walking away.
"The guy just stares at me, dumbstruck. 'What was in the old bologna?'
"I just sigh. 'Pork. The first ingredient was pork.'" -- Sandra Leinart
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C.A. Pinkham is a guy who makes inappropriate jokes about Toblerones on the internet. Follow him on Twitter: @EyePatchGuy.