Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. From dads who are dangerously devoted to all-you-can-eat crab leg night to kids who dig fish-sauce soup, this week, we’ve got more of an old favorite: restaurant customers who are unbearably stupid. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
Might as well be allergic to fire and earth, too
“I was recently at a conference at a very nice resort. Beautiful locale, uber geeks, good presentations, and good venue. All of us sat down and the servers were trying to give everyone drinks: soda, coffee, tea, beer, wine. They poured water as each of us sat down.
“My colleague then told the server, ‘I need a glass with no ice. I am allergic to ice.’ So she took a different glass, and poured sideways, and gave him one without ice. Oh no! This would not do! The pitcher has ice. He is *allergic* to ice. So she brought a new the glass (presumably a few steps away where she did the same thing) and returned with ice-free water. Then the guy spent the entire meal insisting he was allergic to water in solid form.
“Later in the trip, we went to another meal, this time not at the venue, and he came along. We got a wonderful table overlooking the ocean. He sat at the seat by the water, then got cold, and claimed: ‘I have to move. I am allergic to wind.’ He asked the server for another table on the basis of this allergy.
“We all indicated that we know the word ‘allergic,’ and he was not allergic to wind. The server offered another table because of his endless whining, though, and ultimately, we all moved.
“There is a senior security professional who claims to be allergic to air and water. He is not, in fact, four years old. He holds down a job.” -- Jessica Sillman
How is salsa formed?
“In 2004 or so, I was working at an upscale Canadian chain restaurant (Milestones) [Editor’s Note: Longtime readers of this column may remember this chain as ‘Mill-es-tonis’] as an expo. One day, the servers were slower than usual, so I opted to run an order down to the bar. It was an appetizer order of chips and salsa. So two components: a bowl of chips and a boat of salsa.
“At the table were two nicely dressed women, one 55 or so, the other younger. The older one asked me, ‘so, how do you eat this?’
“Please note that while Canada is of course a frozen wasteland, our igloos do have cable, and Tostitos had been running commercials for ages. So had Taco Bell and Old El Paso. For otherwise normal people to have missed the salsa and chips lesson was baffling.
“As politely as I could, I told them that most people scoop salsa onto a chip and eat it, and they seemed genuinely happy with this explanation. I retreated before laughing my ass off, and stayed on the line for the rest of the night.” -- Jason Kallianis
You say potato, I say potato
“I spent a few years waitressing my way around Ireland and England (I'm a Canadian gal). I can't tell you how many customers in Ireland I experienced who refuse to differentiate between the myriad types of potato you can order in a restaurant and would make me stand there and recite all the different ways they could order it, only to just order chips. Here's an example:
“Customer: I'll have the steak burger.
“Me: Lovely. What would like on the side?
“Me: (rushed off my feet and annoyed we have to have this conversation) Yes, what type of potato would you like, sir?
“Customer: (looks slightly bewildered) Umm, well, what do you have?
“Me: Chips, mash, baked, boiled, (etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum). (My brain: that's it, I'm outta here!)
“Customer: Chips, chips! (as though it was a stupid question to begin with)
“Me: That's great sir, thank you. (My brain: I will burn your village to the ground.)
“I fought the urge just to bring them out a raw, unwashed potato. Now, you might ask, why bother asking how they'd like it, if you know they want chips? The answer is because customers are shifty, elusive, and unpredictable. Whenever I just went ahead and put the order thru with chips as the side, it was almost *always* wrong and I'd just wind up doubling my workload to correct the mistake.
“Whenever I watch reality shows involving food service, I always have my boyfriend reassure me that I'll never have to waitress again.” -- Sarah Parker
ESP is simply part of the job description
“While attending college, I worked as a shift manager for a fast food restaurant, Whataburger. Generally, I would work the grill or expedite food to make sure the customers were receiving exactly what was ordered. One afternoon during the lunch rush, we were short a cashier, so I took the spot.
“A middle-aged couple with two teenage sons came in around the middle of the rush. The woman ordered a #5, which is a bacon and cheese hamburger meal and her husband and sons each ordered hamburger meals as well. I read the order back to them and they confirmed that I had taken their order correctly.
“A few minutes later, just as I have finished taking another order, I see that the family has received their order, and the husband and wife are heatedly discussing their food order.
“I hear the husband say, ‘You told her you wanted a #5. That what's you got.’
“She responds, ‘But I wanted a chicken sandwich, not a burger.’
“They go back and forth this way a couple of times when she says, ‘Well, she should have known.’
“That's right, I clearly should have somehow known that she wanted the #4 grilled chicken sandwich combo and not the #5 hamburger combo that she confirmed was her order.” -- Ria Rinetti
That soup tho'
“So me and my significant other decided to go eat at a Vietnamese restaurant. This one is a pretty large chain, but is pretty legitimate considering the neighborhood is Dorchester, MA. Anyway, we walk in and get seated next to a group of teens who don't seem to know what everything is. They had ordered egg rolls which come fried and comes with a small bowl of nuoc mam (fish sauce) for dipping of a variety of stuff (e.g. egg rolls or grilled meat).
“He starts sipping this stuff straight out of the small bowl and commenting how salty it is (it's basically 100% sodium with some sugar and chili peppers), and I assume he’s just taste testing. After they’re done eating and get up to leave, the poor boy who sipped the sauce blurts out ‘Man, that soup got me really, really thirsty.’ When I look over at their table, the entire bowl of fish sauce is gone.
“There goes his sodium intake for the month.” -- Kyle Yee
Items are usually not stocked by color
“I work for a small regional grocery company in Texas. While I was working on one of the grocery aisles in my particular department, I kept hearing a person speaking from such a far distance that the words were indistinct. I ignored them, since I didn't think anyone nearby was speaking to me. Finally, in a much louder voice, an elderly lady approached me and said, ‘I'm speaking to you, young man!’
“‘I'm so sorry, how can I help you?’
“‘I've been asking you, where do you keep the green sauce?’
“‘I'm sorry? What green sauce?’
“‘The green sauce, the green sauce!’
“‘Ma'am, I'm sorry, we don't have a section for green sauces. Could you tell me what kind of sauce it is?’
“‘Well, the kind in a bottle, of course!’
“‘... could you possibly tell me the name of the sauce, or even the brand of the sauce you're looking for?’
“‘It's exactly the same!’
“I was totally lost at this point, but our company employs secret shoppers and I did not want to make a horrible mistake with this customer, in case she happened to be the sneakiest secret shopper in history.
“‘The same as what, exactly?’
“‘The same as the others!’
“‘The others? What others?’
“‘The others that aren't GREEN, of course!’
“‘Ma'am, I am SO sorry, I do not know what it is you're looking for. We don't normally stock items by their color.’
“‘Oh, never mind! I'll find it myself!’ Then she turned and stormed off.
“I spent the rest of the day hoping she did not report me to my boss.” -- Brian Quesada [Editor's note: We know this isn't a restaurant, but it's funny all the same.]
Hey, if it’s free...
“It was around 2003-2004, the years before smartphones, cable wifi, broadband internet, social media, etc. A lot of people still didn't have internet at home. One of my friends had a restaurant. He happened to opt for DSL internet connection so he can offer free wifi to his dine-in customers. He advertised it with big letters ‘Free Wifi’ at the restaurant on the delivery menu flyers, thousands of which were delivered to the neighborhood.
“One day a lady called in to order some food. My friend was answering the phone that day. Before hanging up, the lady politely asked him ‘Can I also have the Free Wee Fee?’” -- Terry Planier
Sir, that's not what 'plain' means
“I was waiting to order at the airport Burger King when an older guy in a suit approached and slammed his unwrapped, open-faced sandwich and receipt down on the counter (the universal sign for ‘You messed up my order.’)
“The ensuing conversation unfolded as follows:
“Burger King Employee *looking at his ticket*: ‘OK, you ordered this plain, and... it looks plain?’
“Customer: ‘But where's all the stuff in the picture?’ *points up at the picture of the sandwich displayed on the menu*
“Burger King Employee: ‘The stuff in the picture?’
“Customer: ‘Yeah. The lettuce and tomatoes and whatever else there is! That's what the sandwich is supposed to come with!’
“Burger King Employee: ‘Oh, so you wanted the toppings on the side?’
“Customer: ‘No. I wanted them on the sandwich. Like it's supposed to come with! All that stuff is in the picture.’
“Burger King Employee: ‘But you ordered it plain.’
“Customer: ‘Yeah. Plain. Because I wanted it just like in the picture!’
“Burger King Employee *closes eyes briefly, as if in pain*: ‘Sir, that's not what plain means.’
“When I ordered, I jokingly said, ‘I want it plain like in the picture. But can you make it extra extra plain and double the mustard?’" -- Carrie Morgan
Length does matter
“I was a ‘Sandwich Artist’ for a couple of years back in the mid-90s. And at least 10 times a day someone would ask me what was the difference between a six inch and a footlong. They were never, ever joking.
“I actually believe in good customer service (I only act like a jerk in my own head) and it always bothered me, because it's really difficult to answer that question without sounding like a complete smartass.” -- Dan Sanders