Stories of the Worst Restaurant Customers Imaginable

Welcome 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. For those of you who are new to this series, welcome! For those who are old fans from either Wonkette or Jezebel (where this series had a different name), welcome back!

Ornery older ladies. Burger burglars. Shaved-turkey enthusiasts.This week, for our inaugural Thrillist edition, we've got stories of some of the worst customers imaginable. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Hamburger buns
Nataliia K/Shutterstock

Theft so brazen you almost have to admire it

"I used to be a grill cook at BurgerFi -- a fairly decent burger chain. One day, a middle aged married couple came in. They ordered two double burgers and fries. They received their food, walked to one of the tables, sat down, and began to eat.

"The wife ate her burger normally, but the husband took the patties off of the bun and ate them by themselves. We all thought this was strange, because if he didn't want to eat the bun, he could have just ordered the burger without the bun. But hey, he paid for it, so he could do what he wanted with it. After they finished their burgers, the husband picked up his tray with an empty bun on it and walked up to the counter. He flagged down our manager and said we forgot to put the patties on his burger. He literally took the patties off his bun, ate the patties, then presented us with a meatless bun, saying he never got any meat.

"The manager comped him his meal and made me make him a new burger." -- Ray Davidson [Editor’s Note: I don’t want to believe that there exists a manager that stupid, but lived experience -- and editing these stories all the time -- has taught me otherwise.]

Angry senior woman
Laurin Rinder/Shutterstock

Watch out for ramekins

"About a dozen years ago, I worked at a horrible fried seafood restaurant in New Hampshire that I referred to as a 'low class Red Lobster.' This place was popular with the over-70 crowd, so we did a brisk business in 'water with extra lemons and sugar' during the 5PM dinner rush.

"It wasn't a good place to work, but one nasty lady stands out particularly. We had these coupons that lasted for a week and gave you a 'buy one, get one half off' of the crappy fried clam plate or whatever. This lady had an expired coupon, ordered the wrong food, and wanted not just half off, but basically the whole meal comped. When I told her I couldn't do any of that, she threw a ramekin of tartar sauce at me. I just stood there, dripping with mayonnaise and relish with bits of fried crumbs and Fixodent, utterly shocked.

"The manager actually stopped sexually harassing the teenage hostess to come out and comp the lady’s meal and give her a free dessert.

"As she left, I sang out 'Have a nice day,' and she hissed, 'YOU'VE ALREADY SPOILED MY DAY.' -- Kara Van Nies

Sliced turkey

Nope, bye

"I was living with my boyfriend in what I was slowly realizing was not a healthy relationship (on both sides). I was trying to make it work for the sake of our newborn. I had just graduated with a BS in a field that was DEVASTATED by the economic hurricane that happened while I was in college. I was completely isolated from my family, and all of my friends were college friends who went home after graduation. [Editor’s Note: Longtime readers will know that normally I leave out details like these from stories. In this case, however, they’re relevant.] To top off the misery, I was working part-time at the Wal-Mart deli.

"I was a decent enough employee, not spectacular. I did my job. I didn't mess it up too badly. I was pleasant to the customers and worked all of my shifts as scheduled. I also was bitter about my situation and did not do anything that wasn't required to keep my job.  

"Then one day my boyfriend came into the living room, announced that he was done, and walked out. My life completely fell apart. My car had recently died and I couldn't fix it, so I had been using his. I couldn't afford the apartment with just my paycheck, never mind everything that comes with having a newborn. I had a complete meltdown, made arrangements for my mom to come get me a couple of days later, and went to work. I told the area manager that due to a family emergency I had to leave the state and I was very sorry, but I couldn't give two-week notice. I would, however, finish out my shift and I was so so sorry to leave him in the lurch like that. His response? 'I don't care, today's my last day at this store. The new guy can deal with it. Best of luck to you.'

"That shift I was pretty much normal, but less interested in giving off the 'I live to make my customers happy' vibe. I was polite, but didn't banter. I figured, it's Wal-Mart, so who gives a crap?

"Which brings us to the customer from hell. To be fair to him, none of what was going on in my life was his fault. To be fair to me, I was polite and professional, and also screw this guy.

"He walks up while I'm busy doing something else. I look over to my two coworkers, but they're standing over by the fryer talking, completely ignoring both the customer and me. So I stop what I'm doing and take the guy's order. Two pounds of turkey, shaved.

"Now, most people who asked for shaved turkey wanted a mass of shredded meat, because you can't cut turkey that thin without it falling apart. So I shredded up two pounds of turkey and present it to him.

"'What are you, a f***ing idiot? I didn't say shredded, I said I wanted it SHAVED! THIN! What the f*** is wrong with you? Does that s*** look shredded to you?'

"So I apologize and slice up a very, very thin slice of turkey. Hold it up and ask him if that's good enough for him, before I waste another two pounds. It's not. I set the slicer on thinner. At this point it's so thin that it will fall apart if I touch it, so I just say screw it and slice up his two pounds. When I put it up on the scale, he starts yelling at me that it's not thin enough and what the hell is wrong with me, etc. etc.

"At this point I'm on the verge of tears, but I attempt to explain to him that when you cut real turkey at the setting that would be 'shaved,' for something like ham, it falls apart. What this guy wants is impossible. If I move the slicer to cut any thinner, it's going to end up shredded. He screams at me some more, lets me know I'm a horrible human being, and ends up with, 'IF YOU DIDN'T WANT TO WAIT ON ME, YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE!' Because I'm discriminating against him be not being able to change the way turkey cuts.

"I almost tell him that if I hadn't waited on him he'd still be waiting, but instead I apologize, tell him I'll go get somebody else, and walk away. He shouts 'YOU DO THAT' at my back, because why not.

"The two assholes that were supposed to working with me are nowhere to be seen up front, so I walk into the back. The back is one room, with walk-in fridge and freezer. Neither one is there. So I go out into the hallway that leads to the employee areas and just start walking. The first person I see is the store manager, who I met at my interview and haven't seen since. Thinking back, I'm roughly 90% certain that he had no clue who I was or what area I worked in. I walked up to him, actually in tears and shaking by this point, and told him that I had to leave because of a family emergency. Then I just walked out. I would love to know how long that guy stood there waiting on someone to come finish his order." -- Tori Thomas

Woman shocked at check

Human beings don’t make mistakes!

"I was 17, and working as a server at a pretty high-end restaurant in my small Jersey Shore town. It was small, maybe 20 tables total. I didn’t have a lot of experience, but the owners were my neighbors, so they were kind enough to hire me anyway.

"I will never forget the four-top that came in towards the end of a slow weeknight: two white, snobby as hell New Yorker [Editor’s Note: You don’t have to repeat yourself. HEY-O!] couples in their 40s. This was twenty years ago, so some details are murky, but I recall it started out fine. Apps went out OK, but the dinner order was mildly confusing, as they insisted on splitting two entrees between the four of them. All racks of lamb, but each half order needed to be cooked a different way.

"Whatever, the lamb came out fine and they all loved it. Later, the restaurant was empty and about to close, and they were all wasted. One of the men, after using the bathroom, suddenly burst through the doors of the (not open, very small) kitchen. The head chef politely kicked him out. He got back to the table and complained to his wife, who said, all suspiciously, 'Oh we're not allowed in the kitchen? I don't like that!' What? Do most restaurants invite you to just wander back there whenever?

"They lingered forever before they asked for the check. Having taken their order what seemed like many hours earlier, I made a mistake and wrote out the price of four entrees. This is pre-computers, mind you, so it was all written out on a little check. Since I had to write down four different food temps, I saw that and just put a price by each one.

"I dropped the check and all hell broke loose. A normal, sober person would have seen it was an easy mistake and let me just correct it after I of course apologized profusely for my (only) mistake. But no. The gentleman in charge screamed, 'A mistake?! How can something like that be a mistake?!'

"I recalculated the bill and handed it back with more apologies, but now they had some sort of persecution complex. I went in back to help with cleanup, and I'm not sure exactly what happened, but there was yelling, and when I came back out, they were leaving. I should mention that since it was a slow night, the kind owners were treating themselves to a date night, and were sitting right next to this table the whole time. They heard it all, including when one of the men stood up and said he was going to *throw a chair through the front window.* That was when the owners finally intervened. Thank God, as I was a nervous little teenager and was almost in tears already. I'm pretty sure the owners had to force them to pay, as for some reason my mistake led them to believe they were entitled to a free meal. Needless to say, they didn't tip, but my bosses left me an especially big one to make up for it." -- Saskia Warren

Apple pie a la mode
Karen H. Ilagan/Shutterstock

What is this “a la mode” you speak of?

"Years ago I waited tables at a relatively fancy joint near the UN that was frequented by diplomats and their complete disregard for American tipping habits. Other than dignitaries and their wallets, we had a frequent older pre-theater crowd on the weekends. I hated these shifts. Some nights, I'd leave having had only a few tables, all of them wanted the prix fixe, and each tipped exactly 15% -- which, in Manhattan, means I was probably losing money working there.

"One night, an older woman comes in. She asks me what the specials are, and there's a braised tilapia that night. She insists I pronounced tilapia wrong -- TEE-la-pee-a, she says -- and I smile politely and repeat after her. Then I realize she assumes I don't speak much of this here English language and seems annoyed that they sent her a foreigner. She starts to speak more slowly, using smaller phrasing. Note: I currently work as a writer/editor so no, she wasn't making a well-founded assumption. I have no accent. I happen to BE Asian-American. She, of course, orders the cheapest item on the menu.

"We make it through to dessert, and she seems content, if the older blonde lady sort of ornery. I ask her if she was interested in dessert and she orders the Apple Pie a la mode. Granted, she ordered the "apple pie" without mentioning the 'a la mode' part specifically, but she did point to the menu item, so I rang her up, hoping she'd leave soon so that I could be rid of her table of one that spent a whopping $28.

"I warm up a piece of apple pie and plop on a generous portion of vanilla ice cream and bring it out for her. She's wide-eyed when I try to put the plate down and immediately says she didn't order ice cream. I apologize for the mix up and return to the kitchen. The BOH manager asks what was wrong and I explain she didn't want it a la mode. He looks at her check, realizes she's been there well over two hours and spent almost nothing, and tells me to move the apple pie to a new plate, wipe off the remnants of ice cream and hand it back to her. I stare at him for a moment, but do as I'm told.

"I bring the pie back out, wincing as I can see little drips of ice cream making its way down into the crust, and quickly smile and walk away. She obviously calls me over immediately. I prepare for a tongue lashing about the ice cream. Instead, I see that she's taken a bite and is irate that the pie is warm. Why would I do that? Why would I serve warm pie?

"I'm incredulous, so I simply say that's how we serve it. She of course asks for my manager (a saint of a man who'd worked in the restaurant industry for 30 years) who plates a piece personally and walks back out. She then starts to complain about how the waitstaff was just not properly trained and that none of us spoke enough English to get by at such a nice place. And then she starts to complain about me personally and the etiquette of pies, or something similar. At one point, she tries to say that warm apple pie is déclassé. I go in the back and don’t come back out.

"My manager comes back to the kitchen, takes a glass cup out, and lops in a giant portion of the really tasty chocolate mousse that we hand made and gives it to me. 'This will make you feel better. Hand me the ice cream, I'll eat it.'

"The woman left her pocket change as my tip." -- Franklin Liu

Creamy soup at table

The tyranny of no bread

"I was a host at a fairly fancy restaurant in Boston and while the student traffic was pretty high, the particular neighborhood we were situated in contained a large and pretty wealthy elderly population. It's from these circumstances that came this group of about four or five elderly women. They would come in maybe every other week for lunch as a group, but in between those meetings they'd show up in pairs.

"The pairs were obnoxious in their own special ways. One time, I was called, from across the restaurant for help. When I went to see what was up, one woman said her companion had a headache, so I should go table to table to see if there's a doctor in the house. Another time, a pair sat and asked for bread. We explained that our delivery hadn't come in yet, as we serve bread with dinner. 'But I'm having soup and a drink! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO EAT WITH THAT?!' One of them threw such a fit about it that she got up, stomped out, bought a comically large baguette from the Whole Foods next door, and stomped back in, maintaining scowling eye-contact with me as she went back to her table. When they had completed their meal, she turned to the table next to them, and loudly (and I mean, nearly screaming) offered the rest of their bread because 'these misers don't want to give you any.'

"One particular group outing was a horror show from start to finish. They had reserved a table for 12:30, but then all showed up at 1:30. I didn't think much of it since we had the space and showed them to their table. They seemed to settle in, but then one of them did something that will always get under my skin: she raised her hand and snapped her fingers, asking for 'the boy.' I walked over, smiling over top my annoyance at being treated like a servant you summon, and asked what was wrong. I got a diatribe from about five different directions about how they didn't want THIS table, they wanted THAT table by the windows, didn't I know ANYTHING, they should really hire people who know how to do their job.

"I relocated them and went back to my host stand. Then someone came through our front doors looking distressed. He tells me that the entrance to our small parking lot is blocked. I go out to look and sure enough: a car was planted right in the center of the entrance. When I went back into the restaurant, I was summoned in the same pretentious way over to the elderly party's table.

'Why were you looking at my car?' one of the party asked. This was a partial relief as going table to table asking people if it's their car is awkward. I explained that it was blocking the parking lot and I get, 'No, it's a parking space.'

"I take a breath and explain that it's the entrance and we can't allow cars to park there as it counts as a fire hazard. She responds, 'The sign says right there: handicapped parking and unless you want to start an incident, you'll notice my friend here has a walker.'

"This went round and round as we explained it was a designated handicapped drop-off point, and while we understood the confusion on that point, the car still needed to move. The woman just started repeating over and over, 'I'll move it -- BUT IT SAYS IT'S A PARKING SPACE -- but I'll move it... '

"They spent the rest of their lunch shooting me dirty looks, giving their waiter hell ('you brought me the wrong thing!' 'I'm sorry about that. What did you order?' 'I don't know!'), tipping scarcely at all, and being generally sour. On the way out, they paused by the door to put on coats and one of them said, 'I'll just email the manager. Last time, he gave me a gift card. Did you know they won't give you bread here?'" -- Craig Rogers

Angry demanding man at restaurant
George Dolgikh/Shutterstock

He’s a customer here, you know

"My husband and I are dining at a branch of the popular Mexican food restaurant Lindo Michoacãn in Las Vegas. Almost all the tables are full, and the servers are working their butts off to refill margaritas and chip baskets and haul out steaming plates of fajitas.

"A man comes in to place a to-go order. Not pick up, but place. He demands to be seated as he waits. They offer him a seat at the bar, but he insists that since he is a paying customer, he deserves a coveted four top to himself, despite the waiting groups of dine-in customers. The server acquiesces, only to be flagged down less than a minute later.

"'Where are my free chips and bean dip? I'm a customer here, you know!' he demands. The server calmly explains that a complimentary serving of chips and salsa will be in his to-go order.

"'So I have to wait here hungry?' he roars. Note that at this point there is lively music playing and we are in a booth about 15ft away, and it still sounds like he is screaming across the table at us. The server shrugs and brings out chips and salsa.

"'What about the bean dip? I'm a customer here, you know.' Bean dip arrives. He proceeds to sloppily eat beans, salsa, and chips for the next 20 minutes, even getting a refill when they bring his to-go order. He also insists on a soda, since the salsa is spicier than he likes it and 'water isn't good enough.' He is a customer here, you know.

"He flags down the waiter and demands a second refill of free chips, salsa, and bean dip as his to-go order congeals on the floor beside him. At this point, it looks like eight chimpanzees have been finger-painting with salsa and beans on his table top and he is spraying the waiter with masticated chips when he talk-screams.

"After they bring the fresh round, he insists they package it up for him to take home because his wife is waiting on her food, which took quite a bit of time, if you ask him. The server makes the mistake of just bringing him a container to box it up in himself.

"'No, you need to do it. And make sure the salsa and bean dip containers are full and topped off, and I'll need an extra thing of chips. I'm a customer here, you know.'" -- Dana Samuels

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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 e-mail with “Off the Menu” in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!

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