Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we've got stories of restaurant employees and the righteous revenge they visited upon the deserving. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
Never have children
"One time we seated seven teenagers in a long booth we had. They were nervous and weird, but they were teenagers, so that's normal. After testing the waters about whether or not they could get served alcohol ('What kind of beer do you have?''‘I'll have to check. What kind of ID saying you are 21 do you have?'), they ordered relatively normal food, burgers and chicken sandwiches.
"But both the waitress and I were getting suspicious, because they had been scoping out how far it was to the door, and who was between the booth and the door. We had a bathroom by the front door, but that was just a single bathroom, so it's not like they could use that as an excuse to sneak away en masse.
"Now, I've never had someone successfully dine and dash on me, but I've had a couple confrontations, and I honestly didn't want to have one with a bunch of high school kids. You really can't win that -- either you're menacing children and you look like a monster or you let them run off without paying. So, when they were near the end of their meal, I sat down at their booth with them.
"'Guys, we should totally dine and dash,' I whispered conspiratorially, ‘What do you think?' They didn't say anything, but were definitely nervous.
"‘Seriously. Screw that waitress. I work with her all the time, you know she's got a 2-year-old son? And she just bought him a BRAND-NEW coat. Seriously. What 2-year-old needs a brand-new coat? She doesn't need the money. They might not even charge her for letting us dine and dash anyway. But listen, I work here and the only way out is the front door. You could go to the downstairs bathrooms and then up the back way, but that door is alarmed. And the guys in the kitchen would totally freak if you tried to go through the back kitchen door. Now, two of the guys sitting at the bar are cops, but they aren't working right now so I don't think they can arrest anyone. But there is a cop in the parking lot because they like to park here to look for people making illegal U-turns from the ShopRite. So whoever is driving, go to use the bathroom, and then go to the car but go out the back lot and through the other lot. Oh, and I usually stay at the corner of the bar by the front door, so you want to wait until I go somewhere to help a customer.'
"Then I got up from the table and went back to the bar.
"After a few minutes, they asked the waitress for the check. And then they sat and sat and sat. Eventually, an unhappy-looking older guy came in and asked if we had a 'table of idiot kids' somewhere. The hostess pointed them out, he went over and took their check from them, paid it, tipping the waitress north of 30%. He then told me to never have children." -- Jon August
Never-ending ketchup and breadsticks
"Years ago I worked at an Olive Garden. I was finishing up with a slow Sunday night and I was the last person who should be cut before the closers. Right before I was supposed to be cut, I got sat with two trashy older women and three younger teenage kids between the two of them. They were the standard rude people who said 'Water with lemon' before you can even introduce yourself.
"Fine. Whatever. I just want to get them out as quickly as possible so I can go home. My other tables were already clean and Olive Garden doesn't have side work. When I brought back the waters, they demanded to know where their salad and breadsticks were. I explained salad is made to order and it has to be rung in with a food order or they would be charged separately for the salad and this is how we keep track of food costs, etc. They weren't having any of that and they demanded 'some goddamned unlimited salad and breadsticks.' (You know you're going to have a bad time if they have to throw in 'unlimited' before saying salad or breadsticks.)
"Fine. We were making our own salads and breadsticks by that point in the night anyway. I bring it out and they complain about the amount of pasta on the menu, but ask where the Never Ending Pasta Bowl is. I proceed to die inside. I explain it's a temporary promotion that only happens for six weeks around October. It's July. Unhappy with the menu having too much pasta but also our lack of the Never Ending Pasta Bowl, they order five well-done Steak Toscanos.
"After getting them about five (unlimited) salad and breadstick refills, the steaks finally show up. 'WHERE THE F*CK IS THE F*CKING KETCHUP?!'
"'I can grab you some. I'll be right back.'
"I bring five ramekins of ketchup. (Olive Garden doesn't have bottles, and they usually only give them with kids' chicken tenders.)
"'THAT'S NOWHERE NEAR ENOUGH. WHAT THE F*CK KIND OF PLACE ARE YOU RUNNING?'
"I apologize for my ‘error' and bring a soup bowl full of ketchup. They're sort of satisfied.
"I ignore them the best I can until I go to see how they want to split the check and the women are gone. The older kid tells me his mom went to the bathroom to throw up because her steak was too dry.
"I go and get a glass of water for the ladies. As I open the bathroom door, I heard them putting together a plan for how they're going to ditch on the check. It's pretty obvious nobody was sick. I walk up with the biggest shit-eating grin and hand them the water, saying something about how I was so worried about her -- trying not to laugh.
"I get out of there as quickly as possible and tell the floor manager what's going on. She goes to block the entrance doors. The women sheepishly walk out of the bathroom and back to their table -- they know I've heard everything. I present the check. Defeated, they pay the exact amount, down to the last penny. No tip.
"Later, when I'm sweeping under the table (which I had already done earlier right before they were seated), I find a $20 bill. Oops." -- Sandra Worthington
She really wanted those fries
"Back in high school I was a shift manager at our local McDonald's. One weekend, right when the lunch shift had started (which was always the most crowded, hectic period after breakfast changeover), we had a woman come through the drive-thru. She must have ordered some kind of meal, but all I remember was that she wanted fries. Really, REALLY wanted her fries.
"A few minutes after handing her the bag out the window, she comes raging back in like Godzilla clutching her takeout bag so tightly I'm surprised she didn't burst a blood vessel. People come in all the time to complain about something being wrong with their takeout, but this one was special. Fry Woman starts screaming at the person at the front counter orders about how her fries aren't hot enough and that she. Wanted. Fresh. Fries. The girl at the counter is clearly terrified, and just starts backing away. Another manager steps in to apologize, and offers to put down a fresh basket of fries we would bring out to her car when they were ready.
"The entire time he's trying to help her, Fry Woman is shaking the bag of fries in front of the manager's face, screaming about how this was beyond unacceptable. Fry Woman proceeds to pull out the offending fries from the bag and just throws them at the manager. I can't articulate enough how aggressively she chucked these large fries over the counter.
"Fry Woman suddenly realizes what she's done and big-time hustles it out of the restaurant back to her car. As she's speeding off (without her fries, mind you), she ends up slamming her car into another parked vehicle, causing a huge accident. The police come and arrest her. Turns out she was on the run -- her family had threatened to get her locked up for her crazy behavior and she stole her husband's keys, ran the car THROUGH HER GARAGE DOOR, and had stopped at McDonald's for some fries to keep her company on her escape mission.
"Since I didn't want them to go to waste, I ate her fresh fries instead. Yum." -- Jacqueline Brunell
Well, that's one way to quit
"When I was 16, I got one of my very first jobs as a dishwasher in a large seafood restaurant (long since defunct, thank God) in Marin County, CA. My first shift was a Friday night, and I was one of two dishwashers on the schedule.The other dishwasher called in sick, so my very first shift was the busiest night of the week in a restaurant that sat around 200 people.
"Before long, the bus tubs were stacking up outside the dishwashing station and I wasn't even close to keeping up with the never-ending stream of greasy, fish-stank dishes and cutlery, plus all the damn glassware. Needless to say, it was a nightmare. It got worse.
"The prep and line cooks thought it was funny that I was jumping through my own asshole all night, and decided to make it more fun by ending their shifts by piling up all the skillets, stockpots, griddles, and all the other greasy shit they used in front of the doorway to the dishwashing station and laughing at me (some of these clowns were asshole seniors at my high school and knew me from there).
"I stared at this mountain of food-encrusted crap that was going to take me until 4am to clean up, and I decided it wasn't worth it and I was done. When no one was looking, I climbed over all this detritus, went into the restroom, locked the door, then stuffed my apron down the toilet, and flushed it. Then I climbed out the window, shut it, and drove home, laughing maniacally all the way.
"They didn't send me a paycheck." -- Eddie Baker
A dish best served with Worcestershire and Tabasco
"Back in the early '90s, I was working at a nice Northern Italian restaurant in NW Connecticut. The waitstaff would keep glasses of water or soda hidden away behind the bar so we could have a refreshing drink and remain on the floor. Everyone had their own place, so you wouldn't accidentally drink someone else's beverage.
"Then we got a new busboy who was quite a wise-ass. It was his mission to leave my glass empty every time he went behind the bar. Every time. Completely empty.
"One day, I had had enough. I waited until he was busy and grabbed a new glass from the dishwasher. The chef/owner saw me filling it with Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce and asked why I was wasting it all. Time was of the essence, so I quickly explained what was about to happen. I snuck it back behind the bar, tossed in a couple of ice cubes, and gave it a splash of Coke for color, then headed back to the kitchen.
"At that point, everyone in the kitchen was waiting to see what would happen, when BAM! -- the kitchen doors slammed open and the busboy slid across the floor on his knees, coming to a stop in front of the bread warmer, ripping open the drawer, and stuffing his face with bread. In between gulps for air and bread, he mumbled through a mouth full of bread, 'YOUSONOFABITCH!' The entire kitchen erupted in laughter.
"The maitre'd came in a few seconds later to report that he had downed the entire pint glass of Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce in one huge gulp, then immediately dropped the glass and sprinted to the kitchen." -- Eric Stohl
Oh, is this your ID?
"I used to work at a diner in Downtown LA. One time, my manager asked me to work a Monday morning shift because they were desperate for morning staff (I was the regular graveyard server Tues-Sat). Since she offered to pay me double my hourly wage [Editor's Note: California is one of the seven states where servers have to be paid at least the actual minimum wage rather than the tipped sub-minimum], I agreed. I hated doing any weekday morning shifts, because they were always filled with the asshole office staff who worked at the Downtown LA buildings, and you were run off your feet the whole service for terrible tips.
"As soon as I clocked in, my section was nearly full. The hostess sat me a four-top of ladies who all worked in the same building, all wearing their lanyards and office IDs around their necks. There was certainly a pack leader in this group -- let's call her Ms. Important -- who told me they were in a rush and that they'd need separate checks. They all ordered breakfast specials except Ms. Important, who wanted to sub her pancakes out for a side salad. I explained to her as patiently as I could that there were no substitutions for the breakfast special (which was $2.99 back in the day), plus all the salads were made fresh and wouldn't be available until 11am, when they were prepped for the lunch run.
"Ms. Important demanded to speak to our manager, so I sent our manager over and attended to my many, many tables, refilling coffees and bringing out breakfast orders. My manager came up to me and said, 'I'll prep her the salad, just punch it in.' Fine, I had already put their breakfast orders in anyway, so I brought out their food, topped up their coffees quickly, and dropped their split checks. They paid and left, and I came back to help the busboy clear the table (again, we were completely slammed). Of course, no one left a tip.
"I was irritated but not surprised. However, sweet karma appeared in the form of Ms. Important's office ID hidden under some crumpled napkins. I told the busboy to keep quiet and not say anything if she came back, and instead to send her my way.
"10 minutes later, in came Ms. Important. She made a beeline for the table she had been sitting at, only to see it occupied with another four-top. She accosted the busboy cleaning a nearby table, and he pointed to me. I was walking over to pour refills of coffee nearby, and she stood in my way, demanding to know what had happened to her office building ID. If she'd been nice about it, even after stiffing me, I would've given it back to her.
"She was not nice about it.
"I said to her in the most conciliatory voice I could muster, 'I'm sorry, when I went to bus the table nothing was there,' and smiled the fakest possible smile. Her face dropped and she told me she'd have to pay $200 to get a replacement ID made, as it was her security pass. Again, I reiterated nothing was on the table. Her face fell completely, and she skulked out of there, as she was very late to work.
"Right after she left, I dropped that ID in the trashcan in the back -- the one we used to get rid of all the food and waste left on the plates." -- Andrea Moreno
Like the end of Ghostbusters, but streaked with blood
"Through high school and into college, I worked at a hot dog stand in Chicago called Fluky's. Somewhat surprisingly, it was a great job. The employees were a mix of high school students, burnouts, and illegal immigrants, and when we weren't just eating ridiculous amounts of food in the back, we generally just horsed around, drinking and smoking pot in the alley. I mean, everyone else drank and smoked pot -- I was way too boring in high school. Anyway, if the owner wasn't in the office, nothing would get done.
"So one Saturday, I'm working the drive-thru and it's slammed. We'd just gotten it put in, and it was the only hot dog place within miles with a drive-thru, so if anyone wanted a hot dog and didn't want to get out of the car, we were it. These were the days before electronic orders, so we had to call burgers and Polish sausage into the grill, and get the rest ourselves.
"In the middle of this huge rush, these guys come through the drive-thru. The owner of the place was in the office, and the drive-thru was piped in there, so he heard everything. They ordered a ton of food: burgers, fries, and drinks. The order came out to over $30, which in 1993, was a crap-load of food. In the middle of the rush, it took forever, and the cars were backed up the entire length of the drive-thru. There was a curb, so there wasn't even a way to pull out, and the lot was filled, so there was nowhere for them to go. It took about 10 minutes to get their food, which is an eternity on the drive-thru, with cars honking behind them and people coming up to the window to yell at us.
"I finally have their order ready, and I read it back to these two guys, probably college students, definitely stoned. I get about halfway through, and the driver says, 'Oh, wait, no. That was what we wanted to get at McDonald's.' They then drive away, leaving bags of food behind.
"The next half-hour is hell, with dozens of incredibly pissed-off customers to deal with. I'm apologizing and calling the manager over constantly. Then I hear a familiar voice over the drive-thru: it's the same guys, laughing and placing a second huge order, this time for hot dogs, Italian beefs, and shakes. Again, it all goes to hell. Everything takes forever, and I've got eight large handmade shakes to make, each of which is a multi-step process. That alone takes 15 minutes, at the end of which the first few shakes have melted. Finally, they arrive at the window, I've got their order ready, I'm dripping with sweat and the floor is littered with wrappers and food. I lean out, give them the total, and the driver laughs.
"'What took so long? Anyway, I forgot my wallet, so just cancel the order.'
"I can barely understand what he said, it's so inconceivable that he would do that. After a couple seconds, someone plugs my brain back in and I see red. Like, literally. I used to get nosebleeds, and one suddenly goes off, and blood is streaming down my face. I turn to the counter, pick up a four-count tray of large chocolate shakes, and hurl it through the window into their car. It exploded magnificently, and I had dripped blood into it as well. The inside of their car looked like the end of Ghostbusters, streaked with blood. They start screaming, and I just turned around, bloody and covered with the splashback of chocolate shake, dripping sweet.
"The owner comes out to yell at me, takes one look at me, and just sends me on break. The entire incident was never spoken of again." -- Greg Taurian
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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C.A. Pinkham is a guy who makes inappropriate jokes about Toblerones on the internet. Follow him on Twitter: @EyePatchGuy.