Off The Menu

Stories of Restaurant Employees Failing in Spectacular Ways

Off the menu
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we have more stories of restaurant employees who just could not get it together. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.

Um, yes, flour is made from wheat

"I have a severe (diagnosed) wheat allergy. A couple of years ago I walk into a Menchie's for frozen yogurt. They label their yogurts really clearly for the eight most common allergens, so I've never had a problem eating there. It's on a Wednesday, and apparently, Wednesday is free waffle bowl day. The young woman behind the register greets me and asks if I would like a free waffle bowl. I say no thank you, I am allergic to wheat.

"She looks at me questioningly and says, 'There's no wheat in waffles!' I'm dumbfounded and never seem to have a snarky comment at the ready, so instead I go educational. 'Well, you put flour in the batter, don't you?' 'IS FLOUR MADE FROM WHEAT?!' she replies.

"I didn't actually facepalm. I wanted to, but I didn't. I just nodded, said yes, got my yogurt, and left." -- Octavia Finnegan

Never assume

"Years ago, my best friend was cooking at a Sizzler family restaurant on a VERY busy Friday night. That particular Sizzler was set up so that customers at the counter would see the backs of the cooks as the cooks slaved away. Above the heads of the cooks was posted the menu, so all the customers could see it.

At this, my friend lost it and yelled, "What the hell's the matter with you? Are you blind?"

"On this Friday night, my friend was frantically trying to keep pace with the blizzard of orders but was falling further and further behind. He was in the process of getting completely snowed under by orders, when he heard a voice behind him (evidently from a customer) asking: 'Does the sirloin come with a baked potato?' My friend was too busy to turn around, so he shouted back, 'Yes, it does.' The customer then asked, 'Does it come with a salad too?' My friend shouted back, 'Of course it does.' He was beginning to get irritated with the customer because the guy was asking questions about a menu that was clearly posted above the cooks' station, where all of the customers could see it to place their order.

"Finally, the customer asked, 'Does it come with a drink?' At this, my friend lost it and yelled, 'What the hell's the matter with you? Are you blind?' He heard a hurt-sounding voice behind him say, 'Yes, I am.'

"My friend turned around and there was the blind customer in the dark glasses and carrying a blind person's cane. My friend said, 'Oh my God. I'm going to hell!'

"He paid for the blind guy's dinner." -- Darrell Wharton

Take allergies seriously, dammit

"My wife is allergic to capsaicin -- the active ingredient in chili peppers, so no hot pepper sauce, chili powder, jalapeño poppers, or even paprika for her. It's a major hassle, and it's usually less stressful to just eat at home. One day though, she gets talked into going out for lunch with some of her co-workers.

"As she orders something that seems safe -- a grilled chicken sandwich -- she explains her situation to the waitress. She also stresses that the waitress needs to talk to the chef and make sure there are no chili peppers or chili powder in the rub or marinade. The waitress disappears into the kitchen and returns a couple minutes later. No problem, she says, the chef has assured her that there is no chili powder in the seasoning.

"Their lunches arrive and my wife takes a big bite out of her delicious-looking sandwich. She immediately spits it out and rips the top bun off the sandwich. There is great big roasted chili sitting right on top of the chicken breast. She keeps an EpiPen in her purse along with a bottle of Benadryl. She opens the bottle of Benadryl, measures out a healthy shot, and chugs it down.

“When the waitress shows up to see what all the commotion is about, my wife is in tears. 'Why would you serve that to me? I told you I have food allergy. That sandwich could have killed me!'

"The server's response: 'It's only an Anaheim chili. It's not even spicy. Try it, you might like it!'

"It was months before I could convince her to eat out again." -- Edward Palmer[Editor's Note: DO NOT ASSUME ALLERGY REQUESTS ARE NOT ACTUAL ALLERGIES.]

I wonder if it's a cruller

"In 2001 I was on holiday on Fire Island and went into a store in one of the villages for a snack. There was a slightly sad display of pastries and donuts on the counter, which was manned by a middle-aged woman. I'm Scottish, so I'm happy with pretty much anything in pastry, deep-fried, sugared, or all three, and there were things I didn't recognise, so I thought 'let's branch out and order a local delicacy.'

"Me: What is that?
Her: It's a cruller.
Me: OK, but what is it?
Her: It's a cruller.
Me: Right, I know its name, but is it like a donut?
Her: It's a cruller.
Me (not yet prepared to admit defeat): Yes, but is it sweet or savoury?
Her: It's a cruller.
Me: Would I have it as a snack or a treat?
Her: It's a cruller.
Me (admitting defeat): OK, thanks, I'll leave it.
Her: Don't you want the cruller?

"I bought a donut in another shop instead." -- John Gray

Fucking waiters

"Back in high school I worked as a food prep/cook at a Bennigan's, which was a mid-range chain with a large menu and all sorts of crap on the walls (imagine Moe's Family Feedbag with a vaguely Irish theme. [Editor’s Note: Do people not know what Bennigan’s is/was?] One of the more popular items was a dessert called Death by Chocolate, which featured two different kinds of ice cream, chopped-up candy bars, a crust made from chocolate wafers, and a whole lot of fudge. The ice cream and candy got mixed together in a bowl with the crust added on top before it got refrozen. After that I popped it out of the bowl and cut it into wedges with a two-handed knife (which could have been another task for Hercules). The wedges went back in the freezer to harden again before they got dipped in fudge and frozen again. When it got served it came with hot fudge as well. Yum.

"After I had hacked up my first one I went into the freezer an hour or two later to get them for the dipping, only to discover that the majority of the leading edges had collapsed or something. They were all ragged and missing chunks. I didn't understand why, but dipped them anyway and went on with my shift.

"Jump forward a week or so later. I'm standing in the fridge making whipped cream (Bennigan's had us make it from scratch for the strawberries and cream) and three members of the waitstaff walk in. One asks 'You just made a DBC, right?' When I nodded, she said, 'Sweet!' and the three of them pushed through to the freezer, where I discovered that my wedges had ragged edges because people were taking bites from them. I had no idea what to do -- while I knew it wasn't sanitary, I was also 17, and didn't want to be the guy narcing on the others. So from then on when it was time for the dipping, I'd trim the edge of the wedge away first, hopefully getting rid of all the germs/slobber.

"Maybe two weeks later I was doing just that and my manager walked around the corner. I figured I was in trouble but he sighed, shook his head, and said, 'Fucking waiters.'" -- Kevin Yandle

Accidents happen!

“I grew up in a very rural town where one of the only pizza delivery options was Pizza Hut. I was home from college one weekend and my family decided to order from there around 6:30/7 in the evening on a Saturday night to feed an unexpected gathering of aunts, uncles, and cousins. We ordered a little of everything off the menu -- pizza, wings, breadsticks, and pasta.

He stared at me expectantly, as if asking for nearly $65 for one box of wings made perfect sense.

"Understandably, the order took a while, but after two hours I was given the task of calling to check on our order. The manager answered the phone and was perplexed, as she said the delivery man had left with our order about 30 minutes prior and he only had one other delivery with him. She said to call her back if he did not arrive in the next few minutes. Around that time the doorbell rang. I answered, cash in hand, and was handed one box of chicken wings and told that will be $64.57. He stared at me expectantly, as if asking for nearly $65 for one box of wings made perfect sense. I asked him about the rest of my order and he said, 'Oh… I'm not sure where that is,' and repeated the total. I stared. He stared. I said I wasn't paying without my entire order. He said he would go back and get it, but that I needed to pay.

"I refused and called Pizza Hut, where the manager told me to tell him to come back to get the rest of my order. He left and she apologized, said she could not believe what was happening, as she knew he had left with the entire order the first time, but promised us fresh food and graciously comped the entire order for the mix-up. About an hour passed and he showed up with a little more of the order, but still not everything, and repeated my total. I replied that he still did not have my entire order and asked if he hadn't been told that my entire order was now free and he responded that he hadn't been back to Pizza Hut.

"I asked where he had gotten the food he was delivering to me, to which he replied that he had remembered that he accidentally gave some of our food to the other house he had a delivery for and that he WENT BACK THERE AND GOT IT! Not sure whether to laugh or be pissed, mainly I was starving, I called Pizza Hut again, which was very close to closing and relayed the story. The manager was mortified and made everything for us and delivered it herself, complete with a stack of coupons for free pizzas to use in the future." -- Karla Andrews

Off the menu
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Greg's TAYSTEEEEE adventure

"I was enjoying a guys weekend in Chicago in the late '90s which included plenty of drinking and stupidity only guys in their mid-20s could appreciate. My friends, all in med school and law school, were there with me, the guy who made the sparkling decision to work in restaurants as a valid career path. I had educated my buddies on how to behave in a dining establishment, so if I taught them anything, it was how to be respectful and tip well.

She glanced behind her and seemingly got a nod from a lady whom we thought would be our server. "Your server tonight will be… (big exhale)... Greg."

"We were seated at a large table for our party of eight at one of the ever-present brewery/bar/restaurant amalgamations that sprung up in that time period. Not my choice, but I rolled with it, because it was fairly inexpensive and seemed to have all the things my friends enjoyed. After the hostess had provided the menus, she glanced behind her and seemingly got a nod from a lady whom we thought would be our server. 'Your server tonight will be… (big exhale)... Greg.' Unless this woman was named Greg, she was not going to be our server for the evening.

"Greg appeared roughly five minutes later, a tall, stocky guy with a huge beard and beer belly that indicated he liked to party. My friends thought this dude was going to be awesome. Only thing was, during all that time in grad school, my friends didn't have the time to experiment with a litany of mind-altering drugs like their friend the restaurant manager had. It was clear to me within seconds: Greg was tripping fucking balls.

"Greg stared at us for an uncomfortable amount of time, before someone asked him what he would recommend for a drink. Greg leaned in, cupped his hands around his mouth, and whispered almost inaudibly '... beers …' Then he walked away. Literally just strode off somewhere else. I quickly informed my friends that all the signs were there that this dude was in rough shape, but before I could finish, the woman the hostess had nodded to earlier came by and started taking our drink orders. Her name was Julia, and apparently she was Greg's handler for the evening. She brought our drinks and took app orders, before appearing once again with Greg to attempt to take an entrée order. Greg was shaking by now, and had sweated through his uniform, and was in no way capable of being at work, let alone out of direct medical supervision. Valiantly, Greg recommended the seafood pasta and when Julia prompted him to list the ingredients, Greg did his best to say 'shrimp… and other shit.' As we giggled at the hilarity of that comment, Greg reared back, pointed his face to the ceiling, and bellowed 'IT'S TAAAAAYYYYSTTEEEEEEE!' The entire place came to a halt, people were staring, you could hear a pin drop. Greg took that as his cue to unleash another primal delivery of his 'IT'S TAAAAAYYSSSTEEEEE!' tagline. Then, once again, he just walked away.

"Julia crushed it the rest of the evening, and she was handling two sections with little to no help from anyone else. As we were getting ready to settle up, I heard a commotion coming, and looked toward the back of the place, only to notice Greg trotting in between tables, wearing no shirt or shoes while being pursued by what I can only assume were the shift managers for the evening. Greg was skipping and giggling and evading restraint at every turn. It was the happiest I'd ever witnessed an individual." -- Craig Devers

In addition to collecting the usual restaurant, home-cooking, and any other food-adjacent stories, we're looking for stories of college assholes from dining-hall workers. If you have anything you’d like to see appear in Off the Menu, please email WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Off the Menu" in the subject line, or tweet @EyePatchGuy.

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C.A. Pinkham is a guy who makes inappropriate jokes about Toblerones on the internet. Follow him on Twitter @EyePatchGuy.