Restaurant Employees Share Their Craziest Celebrity Sightings
Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we have tales of restaurant customers who happen to be celebrities. And, just like all restaurant customers, some are decent and tip 80%, while others are just dogs. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
Opera master drops the mic
"In the '90s I worked at popular French cafe on the West Side of Manhattan. The food wasn't extraordinary, but for some reason celebrities loved to hang out there. Ethan Hawke came in almost every day, Uma Thurman reserved a particular table to accommodate her dogs, I served breakfast to profusely hungover Johnny Depp and Kate Moss, etc. It was quite the heady experience for a 20-year-old recently arrived from Oregon. But at the end of the day, they were just customers, and I was just serving them escargot and croque-monsieur. Except for one night.
"It was a Friday and packed and a large bearded man with three women had been seated at one of my tables. They ordered, all of them, the steak au poivre. They were very nice and enjoyed their steak immensely, particularly the large fellow. He loved it so much that he grandly insisted that he wanted to 'sing for the chef!' He had been such a delight to wait on, and I like singing, so I went to get him from the kitchen. So the chef came with me to the table, the man complimented him, and then he stood up. In the middle of a packed restaurant, he began to sing. Someone had the sense to turn off the music and out into that packed dining room soared the glorious voice of the one and only Luciano Pavarotti.
"He finished to much applause, threw down far more money than the dinner cost on the table, and regally exited the restaurant." -- Gina Matthews
Sometimes celebrity campers work out OK
"Back in 2011, I was serving at a restaurant attached to a hotel lobby in a smaller Midwestern NBA city. The Miami Heat were playing the local team and always stayed in our hotel when they were in town. I was scheduled to work the lunch shift that had to hang around all afternoon until the dinner staff came in, so I showed up mid-lunch rush and got ready for my first table.
"It was normal for us to serve basketball players at this restaurant, and walking in this afternoon, it was impossible not to spot the enormity that is Chris Bosh. He was eating with his tiny (about 5ft-tall) fiancée and their server said they were a great couple to serve. After they finished eating, Chris got up and left, but his fiancee stayed put.
"She wound up sitting alone in her booth for a good 45 minutes while the lunch rush wound down and her server transferred her check to me so he could leave. Eventually, her parents joined her, ordered another round of food, and wound up camping through my entire extended shift. For about four hours total.
"Now, don't get upset about this. This was the best camping situation I've ever had. They weren't monopolizing a table during a busy service, they were extremely sweet and courteous, and they tipped 80%. I was a happy camper when I left that day.
"Until I rounded a corner in the hotel lobby on my way out and nearly walked face-first into Dwyane Wade's crotch." -- Emma Reasoner
Fuck the Turtle Man
"Ages ago, I was working at Olive Garden in Kentucky. It was a pretty busy weekday lunch. Nobody was covering the party table, because that was usually not a thing that got used on a Wednesday during lunch. A group of seven men in suits got sat there. Suits were an odd thing to see, because this town was pretty blue collar and casual.
"My manager assigned the table to me because I was the closest. Before I could make it over to greet them, all of the FOH staff was buzzing around, saying things like, 'Oh my God, that's Mitch McConnell!'
"Being young, from another state, without a TV, and not really into politics yet, I asked one of the other servers, 'Who the fuck is Mitch McConnell?' This is a town that got excited when they saw Johnny Depp's grandpa (seriously), so I was ready to be underwhelmed. Apparently, he was in town to support some other Republicans in the area who were running for various offices.
I start screaming out, 'FUCK THE TURTLE MAN! THE TURTLE MAN IS A FUCKING ASSHOLE!'
"I go over to introduce myself and get the drink order. They're all kind of rude and obviously thought I was beneath them, but whatever. It happens a lot when you're a server.
"A majority of the guys ordered the unlimited lunch soup, salad, and breadsticks (excuse me while I have some PTSD flashbacks about the goddamn unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks), which, goddammit, you're here on the dime of someone backed by the Koch brothers, order real food! Or better yet, go somewhere nicer.
"Once the salad and breadsticks hit the table, all hell broke loose in the form of getting one-itemed by these guys. It got so bad with that many men eating all that soup and salad that my manager had to take over my other tables.
"These fucking human garbage disposals finally got their fill of unlimited cheap food. I dropped the check off, it was given back to me with a card that had some form of McConnell's name on it. After they left I went over to help bus the table, and there were a few small piles of pennies. I picked up the check and looked at the receipt. No tip. Nothing other than the guys who had put pennies on the table. I still didn't know who the hell Mitch McConnell was.
"A couple years later, I'm watching The Daily Show and Jon Stewart was doing his McConnell impression. I start screaming out, 'FUCK THE TURTLE MAN! THE TURTLE MAN IS A FUCKING ASSHOLE!' Even today, I still say fuck that guy." -- Sandra Worthington [Editor’s Note: As do we all, Sandra. As do we all.]
Ethan Hawke is a dancin' machine
"I worked at a fairly well-known Thai establishment in NYC. Ethan Hawke frequented our place. It became so common that I hardly gave pause when I saw him. I don't really freak out about most celebrities, and he's not my jam anyway, but occasionally a customer would freak out and request something super weird like holding and drinking out of his used glass.
"One night, I was exhausted from two doubles in a row and the bartender was running his card. My boss occasionally binged on disco and cranked up the volume. I was pretty immune to it by that time. I was also falling asleep standing up. I yawned and opened my eyes to see Ethan Hawke disco dancing, "Stayin' Alive"-style. He danced right up to me, pointing his finger and all. I just stared at him and nodded." -- Martina Neumann
Please don't kill Ronald McDonald
"In my final years of high school, I worked part time at McDonald's.
My manager screamed as I stood over Ronald McDonald's lifeless body, shocked.
"Our location was in a small Canadian town where the summers were extremely warm. One day, it was some fundraiser McDonald's does where Ronald McDonald comes into the restaurant and talks to the kids and congratulates the employees on their good work. We were all tired, hot, and cranky when Ronald finally arrived. He then started running around the kitchen high-fiving employees, and me being uncomfortable with clowns, I quietly moved to the back room to avoid him. Ronald saw me trying to sneak away and yelled, 'YOU'RE NOT GETTING AWAY WITHOUT A HIGH FIVE!' and jogged towards me in the hot, greasy McDonald's kitchen. The clown then slipped on a puddle of grease and fell on his back on the floor, knocking himself out cold. My manager screamed as I stood over Ronald's lifeless body, shocked.
"We washed the the actor's makeup off his face and had to cool him off in the back with ice water and a fan. He was fine, only a little shaken and embarrassed. For the rest of my time working there, I was known as the guy who almost killed Ronald McDonald." -- Fraser MacKenzie [Editor’s Note: Maybe this doesn't count as a “celebrity” story, but I don’t care. It’s close enough.]
Jerry Lee Lewis is about as creepy as you'd expect
"Back when I was young, two or three hundred years ago, I worked as a cocktail waitress in Memphis. I had been reared in a nearby little Arkansas town, and Memphis was the main big city in my starry eyes when I graduated high school. Memphis, being a music town, had several clubs that offered great music. A new show club opened, and I was hired. On opening night for any music club, it was customary for a lot of the club owners to come in and take a table to themselves. They happened to sit in my section. Glenda, an older and wiser waitress, told me to give them great service, because club owners are great tippers.
"I gave that table a lot of attention and made sure their drinks never ran dry, their snacks were full, and that I was available whenever they needed something. And they were all friendly and nice. Then Jerry Lee Lewis came in and took a seat at the table. He started off drinking double Bloody Marys, but after two of those, switched to double CC and orange juice. And he was pouring them down. He kept giving me instructions all night, calling me 'baby' and 'sweetheart' and patting me on the ass every chance he got.
"I, being young and naive, was running that patted ass off trying to keep up with Jerry Lee's, 'Baby, get me this,' 'Sweetheart, get my friend there some of this.' Pat pat. At one point he got on stage with the band and sang a few tunes. That gave me a little rest. At the end of the night the club-owner table asked for their bill, and when I brought it, Jerry Lee grabbed it and said, 'I'll take this, honey.' So I gave it to him and he pulled out a wad of bills. There wasn't a lot of change, maybe a few bucks, but I put his change (in the little change tray) on the table beside him and he looked at me and gave a wink as he put the change in his wallet. I smiled and left the table so they could get their stuff together and leave, figuring my tip would be on the table when they left.
"They left, and I excitedly rushed to the table to see how big my tip would be. Club owners AND Jerry Lee, I was expecting a windfall. But there was zip. Zilch. Zero. Not one farthing. Jerry Lee completely stiffed me after all that bullcrap he'd dished out." -- Belle Anderson
Timothy Olyphant is extremely gracious and forgiving
"I was bartending at an upscale dinner spot popular with wealthy vacationers from NYC. We had this beautiful patio down a fairly long/steep flight of stairs, where we allowed customers to hang out and order drinks before or after eating. Unless they happened to order at the bar then move down themselves (or I could snag a busser), it would fall to me to carry the drinks down the stairs. No problem for wine/beer/simple mixed drinks, but there was absolutely no way to get a martini on a tray down those stairs without spilling any of it.
"So. One night in summer a group of people had already come to my bar, ordered a few drinks, and gone down to the patio, saying the rest of their party was on the way. Cool. I had a regular (and former co-worker, great dude) hanging out at the end of the bar.
"I was busy with orders for the servers when a handsome guy walked up to the bar. He said he was with the group on the patio, and ordered another round of what they'd had before, plus a glass of wine for his date and a martini for himself. I said sure, I'd get to it as soon as I could.
"My regular piped up just then. 'Hey man, aren't you Timothy Olyphant?'
"Handsome dude confirmed that yes, he was actor Timothy Olyphant. The two exchanged pleasantries about the latter's work on Justified, and then Timothy Olyphant went down to join his group.
"After a bit I was finally able to get to the patio group's second round: all bottled beer, rocks, or Collins glasses, and wine... except for Timothy Olyphant's martini.
"My tray was fully loaded, and perfectly balanced except for that damned martini. I barely took one step and already it was sloshing over the edge of the glass (who the hell designed martini glasses anyway?!). Tickets were popping up from the servers again, precious seconds were being wasted while I tried to handle this tray without soaking it in vodka, and there were no bussers around to help. Frustration getting the best of me, I exclaimed to my regular, 'Ugh! Stupid Timothy Olyphant's martini!'
"... just as Timothy Olyphant was walking back into the bar.
"'May I carry that martini down for you?' asked Timothy Olyphant pleasantly, as my regular suppressed hysterical laughter.
"'That would be lovely, thank you,' I replied, each of us pretending he hadn't overheard what he definitely just overheard.
"And that's the story of how I was accidentally kind of a jerk to actor Timothy Olyphant." -- Margaret Branson
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!
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.