More Stories of the Worst Customers in Restaurant History
Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we’re returning to one of our favorite topics: the absolute worst customers of all time. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
Debbie and her "special" wontons
"In high school, I worked in a shopping mall at a small fast-food-style Chinese restaurant. Think Panda Express, but locally owned and everything we served was made fresh in-house. Parts of the menu rotated daily, but a few staples were always available, such as egg rolls and wontons.
"One of our regular customers was Debbie. She was a traditional terror of a customer. She wore frightening amounts of makeup, her husband followed her around looking like a sad abused puppy, and her children always looked somewhat terrified around her. A few people had witnessed her screaming at one or both children in the parking lot before, so it was pretty much understood that she was emotionally abusive to her family. I shudder to think what she would have been like to actual full-service waitstaff, given how demanding she was when it came to fast food and how she treated her family. She frequented our shopping mall and was known at all of the neighboring fast-food restaurants for her ridiculous requests (such as expecting the Orange Julius employees to go off-recipe with her drinks), but she was the craziest about the cream cheese wontons.
When Debbie was told that she wasn't going to be able to have her "special" wontons made for her, she actually stomped her foot on the ground like a little kid.
“Now, I will admit, our cream cheese wontons should have contained more filling, but the owner (who was the main cook and was ALWAYS in the kitchen) wanted to keep costs low and would semi-police how much cream cheese we used to fill them. But Debbie wouldn't stand for that. I am not sure exactly how it started, as she had been a customer since before I started working there, but when she came in she would always ask for the owner. When he came out, she would ask for an order of her 'special' cream cheese wontons. This meant that rather than ordering the ones that were available to all the other customers, she wanted an order made fresh. Usually the ones on the steam table had been cooked quite recently ( five to 10 minutes ago, typically), but I can at least understand wanting them hotter/crispier, etc.
"But that wasn't all. She didn't just want them COOKED to order, she wanted them CONSTRUCTED fresh for her -- and stuffed with extra cream cheese. I still don't know why the owner indulged this for so many years. We did charge her extra, but in the middle of a dinner rush, stopping to put together new wontons isn't the same as grabbing a handful from the fridge and just dropping them right into the fryer.
"One night, we were out of cream cheese. We had plenty of uncooked wontons on hand, just not the ingredients to make new ones. When Debbie was told that she wasn't going to be able to have her 'special' wontons made for her, she actually stomped her foot on the ground like a little kid. She turned back to the owner and said she'd be back shortly. She turned to her husband and kids and barked at them to follow her out the door.
"Ten minutes later, she showed up with a block of cream cheese she had just purchased at the grocery store across the street so that she could have her 'special' wontons that night after all." -- Jessica Herzl
Congratulations on being clever
"I was working at a 'gourmet-casual' Mexican restaurant. The food was excellent, so Friday and Saturday nights were a zoo. The management was poor, though, so it was usually just me serving and bussing the patio area by myself, which was out back and up a small flight of steps. As this was a Mexican restaurant, we would bring out chips, salsa, bean dip, and water to people as they sat and bring a constant rotation of bottled beer, chilled mugs, and top-heavy margarita glasses. I mention all of this to attempt to illustrate how continually slammed I was.
"This not being a fine-dining establishment, I had a pretty casual demeanor. If I was deep in the weeds and saw a check with cash sticking out, I would generally pick it up and ask, 'Will you be needing any change this evening?' I never intended it to be rude.
"One crazy-hectic evening, a woman at a large table replied in a way I thought was a little wacky: 'I don't know, I was thinking of maybe getting my hair cut, what do you think?'
"I laughed politely, brought back their change, and was rewarded with a $1 tip." -- Jenny Van Ryn [Editor's Note: If you think asking if a customer needs change is an offense for which a tip-stiffing is a worthy punishment, congratulations! You are an asshole.]
Screw you AND your organic lettuce
"Many years ago, I worked in the produce section of a semi-large health-food store in South Florida.The employees were like one big crazy family and it was generally a happy place to work for minimum wage.
"One day, however, I was out stocking produce into the display case when a trio of ladies walked up to me to ask a question. 'What's the nutritional difference between green lettuce and red lettuce?’ one of them asked. I apologized politely and said that I didn't know. 'Oh! We don't eat it, we just price it!' this woman responded in an extremely mocking tone while miming me stocking the produce.
"She and her friends stood there cackling uproariously at their own joke as I just stood there in shock. I finally turned around and walked into the back room to cower and sulk for a while, while they laughed and gabbed loudly around the store. Screw those ladies and their damned organic lettuce." -- Carla Garagiola
Not worth the $12
"I used to work at a combination convenience store/gas station/ice cream parlor: we worked in an area that served both really rich customers and really poor people. We had families come in after a golf outing and drop $100 and we had people come in after their restaurant shift and get their usual order of a 30-pack of Miller Lite and a pack of Parliaments. Because of this mix, we had our fair share of garden-variety stupid customers. We had your customers who could clearly see the menu, knew that we were a big corporate chain, and still would berate us for five minutes about how the ice cream was too expensive, or how they should still get October's special deal even though it was now December, or how we didn't have the same flavors that the store across town did. Look, man… I just work here. If I had my way I'd be getting paid $100 per hour and we'd ban stupid customers, but that's life.
“Anyway, one summer, a couple stores around town got busted for selling alcohol and tobacco to underage customers (thanks, guys), so the company put in place a policy that we had to card everyone for everything unless they looked like a walking corpse. This predictably led to one of the most stressful summers for everyone at the store. This was the summer that I learned that I could not be a drug dealer (not that I wanted to) because I learned you do not want to be the person standing in between people and their fix.
"We had a number of regulars that flipped out when we carded them for trying to buy cigarettes. I get that it's ridiculous for a 50-year-old regular to be carded, but rules are rules. One woman initially thought I was joking, but lost it after I asked for her ID a second time. Turns out she had a habit of driving around town without it and thus didn't have it on her. She yelled at us for about six minutes about how she was never coming back (I still cry that she's not bringing in that sweet $10 a week for her Marlboro Reds) in front of a store full of customers before storming out of the store and peeling out of the parking lot and into traffic. I'm sure a reckless driving and driving without a license ticket is worth making a point about some smokes.
"Another man was clearly coming home from his office job Downtown and bought a case of beer. I asked for his card and he initially grumbled a bit, but presented his license. While I was ringing him up, he must have decided that being carded for booze was What's Wrong With This Country (TM) because he began to rant about how he didn't deserve this and how I didn't have a right to pry into his life like that and 'Don't you know who I am?' He said that he was an executive at a large multinational Downtown and that he'd be boycotting the store and getting his co-workers to do the same. I had never seen him before and I'm sure corporate really misses the other $12 he might have spent at our store.
"Turns out my dad had worked with the guy before and apparently everyone at the company thought he was a jackass (they were right)." -- Mark Corbett
The customer's always evil
"When I was 16, I worked at McDonald's. There was a customer who was always unreasonable, mean, and out-and-out cruel to the cashiers. We called him 'Hitler.' He always seemed to come at off-hours, which was a mercy for any other customers who might have to deal with him.
One of the other cashiers had gone for the manager; one of the guys in the back ran out, sprang over the counter, grabbed the guy, and wrestled him to the ground.
"We cashiers used to stand around the corner and argue about who would have to deal with him. That day when Hitler came in, I was unlucky enough to be the one to have to deal with him. He ordered a Quarter Pounder. He then proceeded to send it back three times because it wasn't exactly how he wanted -- the pickles being precisely placed, stuff like that.
"After he ate his sandwich, he came back and ordered a soft serve. I used to work at an ice cream place, so I was a master at making the perfect cone. I made it and he screamed at me about how it wasn't big enough and how I was trying to rip him off. I took a deep breath and went back and made another, making it bigger. He screamed again, because it wasn't pretty enough. I took it back and made yet another one -- this time the stream of obscenities that poured from his mouth would have earned a movie an X-rating. He grabbed me by my wrist as I offered it to him, yanked me forward, grabbed the cone and smashed it into my face, and asked me if I wanted to *bleep* eat that piece of *bleep* *bleep*.
"Being 16, I burst into tears. One of the other cashiers had gone for the manager; one of the guys in the back ran out, sprang over the counter, grabbed the guy, and wrestled him to the ground. The manager called the police and they arrested him for assault.
"After I finished crying, I never felt so triumphant in all my life. Then he had the nerve to come back again... my manager kindly told him that he was unwelcome and that if he set foot on the premises again, they would call the police." -- Gina Barlow
The customer of nightmares
"My wife's close friend from graduate school lived in the big city, and invited us to stay at her new condo for a weekend. This friend could be described as a person who looked down on people who go to normal grocery stores because of all the non-organic corporate food there. We also knew she was a pseudo-vegetarian/vegan with a constantly shifting list of food allergies. We weren't too worried though, because we were informed we would mostly be eating at the friend's condo, and thus the food was entirely under her own control.
"How naive we were.
"When we arrived at the condo in the late afternoon, we found my wife's friend was not feeling well because of her newest round of 'wheat allergies.' Naturally, because she wasn't feeling well, she didn't want to cook, which meant we had to go out to eat. No problem; we were in a giant city with tons of food options -- surely there were many restaurants which catered to vegans.
"My wife's friend, though, decided she didn't want to go to any vegan restaurant, despite my wife and I both insisting. Rather, she wanted to go to an upscale Asian-fusion place. I was ready to weep as I looked at the menu while we waited for our table. I managed to warn my wife that we were in for the ride of our lives.
"Our waitress asked if we would like to start off with drinks. Our friend ordered a martini, but wanted it to be organic. Of course the bar didn't have any organic alcohol (because why the hell would they), so they were unable to get her the drink she wanted. Strike one.
"The waitress gave us time to look over the menu and came back to take our orders about five minutes later (the place was packed). Our friend began by giving the waitress a hard time about not having the alcohol, and then went on a rant about what she couldn't eat. Here's the list:
Meat of any kind
Any products with corn (don't even know where this one came from)
"She also noted that she was a vegetarian.
"The waitress looked at the rest of the table, and I tried to lighten the mood by saying, 'I can eat everything!’ All this did was earn me a death stare from my wife's friend.
I once had to cut off part of my own thumb in order to free it from a metal device it was caught in, and somehow this dinner was more excruciating.
"So off we went, first to the entrees. The friend said she wanted a pork stir-fry with vegetables. Her husband quickly pointed out that pork is a meat, and she asked for it to be replaced by tofu. 'Is there soy sauce in your stir-fry sauce?' I was already nodding the answer as the waitress said yes. Crap. OK, next menu item: the chicken stir-fry with white Asian sauce. After again negotiating to have no meat in it, we ended up at the sauce, which of course had sesame oil and cornstarch, a double whammy. The sad part is that this process had already taken five minutes. The waitress had other tables that needed service, and tried her best to escape with a 'Why don't you look over the menu some more, and I will be back soon.'
"Smart move, but our friend was not having it. 'No, you will not leave the table until we have our orders placed, I know how long your kitchen can take.' More of this until finally the waitress steered our friend to the appetizer portion of the menu. After a few minutes, they managed to order some edamame, but otherwise kept running into the same issue over the fact that pretty much every Asian dish has at least one of soy, wheat, egg, cornstarch, sesame, or peanuts. After about 15 minutes with the waitress, I wanted to grab my wife and run to the bathroom and cry. I once had to cut off part of my own thumb in order to free it from a metal device it was caught in, and somehow this dinner was more excruciating.
"So my wife's friend finally looked happy. 'I got it, I'll have the sushi platter.’ The waitress told her sushi was fish, and thus was not vegetarian. Somehow this was not a problem, and all of our orders were placed. Twenty minutes or so to get our orders in: not the worst possible scenario, but I was very curious what would happen when the food arrived. So out it all came, and of course the sushi was raw fish on rice. Everyone held their breath, waiting for an explosion.
"Instead, my wife's friend grabbed a bottle of soy sauce, poured it on the sushi, and began eating, stating how good the sauce was. I dared not say a word, instead focusing on my dish (to this day I have no freaking idea what I ate) and on making small talk and eating as fast as possible so we could get out of the restaurant. We finished the meal… or so I thought, when the waitress asked if we wanted dessert. I wanted nothing to do with ordering any more food, so I said I was full and I would like some tea. Bad move, it turned out.
"Our friend said she also wanted tea, but she wanted to make sure that we didn't get any of 'that dirty tap water.' She made the waitress bring out a tea pot along with bottles of water, and then told her to open the bottles and pour them into the pot. The waitress complied, and the friend then told her to go heat the water up for our tea. I really hope the waitress went in the back and dumped the water and filled it with water from the toilet.
"Anyway, we got our hot water for tea and our friend went on to order the chocolate cake. At this point, I almost jumped out of my seat. 'Why would you order that if you can't eat flour?' is what I wanted to scream, but my wife aimed a well-placed kick to my shin to keep me from saying it. The waitress told our friend the chocolate cake had flour, and the response she gave was, 'Oh, a little flour shouldn't hurt.'
"She ate the whole thing herself, seeming to enjoy it. The waitress asked if we needed anything else, and then produced our bills, already split up by couples. Our friend said the waitress did a horrible job and only deserved a 10% tip because of 'how long it took her to explain the menu.' My wife and I were poor graduate students at that time, and this meal was what we would have usually spent on food for half a week, but we knew we had to make up for the missing tip, so we left 35%. I figured we were saving on not having to pay for a hotel room, so I could pony up the missing amount.
"That would seem to be the end of the story, but of course it wasn't, because the following also happened during that weekend:
"1. We had pancakes the next morning. Fucking pancakes, made with wheat flour.
"2. I ditched the other three to go do something for work, and actually spent half the time I was ditching them eating hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos, and shawarma. This remains a secret to this day, and my wife will probably get mad at me when she finds out I ran to freedom on my own.
"3. My wife's friend blatantly cheated at every board game we played.
"4. My wife's friend caused hell at an Indian buffet for not having enough vegan-friendly options (she said the cauliflower was not friendly enough because there were too many tomatoes in it).
"One great thing did come out of that weekend, though: we never visited that crazy nut job ever again, and my wife stopped talking to her as well. I hate to say mean things about a person, but I do not know if I have ever met a more selfish human being in my life." -- Ken Sato
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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