Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we have stories of genuinely great restaurant bosses who will restore your faith in humanity. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
Just tip your damn servers
"One place where I was working, we had a table of 18 people who took over the back dining room. They had made a reservation and had a few requests, including making sure that we didn't have just one waitress for the whole group. They were also informed of the 18% automatic gratuity for parties over six people.
"When they arrived everything was fine, the waitresses basically each took one half of the group and we just made sure everything came out together. Now, a table of 18 would have been easily handled by either of these waitresses, and typically we'd just have her just have the one table, though it wasn't uncommon to start giving the waitress a couple more tables after the entree was served. But with a split table of 18, I just seated the waitresses in the regular rotation.
"About 15 minutes after they sat down, a woman got up and asked to speak to the manager, who was still there but getting ready to leave so I just told her I was the night manager. She said, 'Excuse me, I'm the organizer of this event.' (The organizer of this event? Eighteen people having dinner at a restaurant is an event?)
"'Hi, I'm Jon, what can I do for you?'
"'Well, I had requested when we planned this event that we have two waitresses available for the table.'
"'Yes, I took your reservation, is everything OK? I think both Katie and Amanda were handling your party.'
"'They did, and everything is fine, but I see they are working other tables as well.'
"'Sure, but they will keep an eye on your table, too. I've only seated them with customers right next to the private dining room and they know to check on you regularly.'
"'I had assumed we would have exclusivity.' She used that word with a little bit of emphasis.
"'Sorry, no, I know I we didn't talk about that on the phone. But the waitresses work on tips and it's really not fair to them for me to not let them have any more tables. I promise they won't make your party wait for anything.'
"She didn't really argue much past making her point, and I should point out that except for this exchange, up to this point, the party had been fantastic. Couldn't have been nicer: ordered real meals, appetizers, drinks. No complaints, no weird substitutions, and they were running up a nice bill.
"'It's like I took money out of the waitresses' pockets, and they are fierce and dangerous waitresses and will hurt me.'"
"So, after desserts and coffees were all served, I combined the two tabs into one, added the gratuity, and they dropped the check. And, of course, there we had a problem. The gratuity, which was discussed on the phone and printed on the bottom of every page of the menu, was a surprise.
"'I had assumed that you were only putting a surcharge on if we had exclusivity of the waitresses.' There was that word again. She wasn't even using it right.
"'No, it's just for any large party. Any party more than six people.'
"'I don't think it's fair to charge that without exclusivity.' OK, third time with that word. I was done with normal customer service.
"Their bill was around $700, and I think the gratuity added $120 to that, and split between two waitresses, $60 apiece, minus 10% tip-out for the bussers, all of $54 for a table that was there for three hours. Yeah, I don't think she was getting her exclusivity on for that. And the whole party of people was watching this conversation.
'"OK, no problem, I can take the gratuity off.'
"'You just have to promise me you're going to tip more than 18%.'
"'Because if I take it off and you tip less, it's like I took money out of the waitresses' pockets, and they are fierce and dangerous waitresses and will hurt me.' I should point out that I was bigger than both of them put together.
"'But what if I don't want to tip 18%?'
"'How much did you want to tip?' I'm very aware of how inappropriate this is, the whole exchange, but I should also point out that the restaurant had recently been sold and at the end of the year it was being completely rebranded and I was out of a job, so what could really happen?
"'No, that's too low. How about 25%? It's almost Christmas, and everyone likes presents!'
"'I thought 15% was standard?'
"'Standard-ish, for poor to average service, but you had two waitresses and everyone liked them, right? Good service? How about we meet in the middle at 20%? That's only like 20 bucks extra.'
"'You know what? You're right! Just leave the gratuity on, that's fine!'
"She paid cheerfully, possibly thinking that she got one over on me by just paying the automatic gratuity. And as the party shuffled off, one of the guys in the party gave an extra 10 bucks to each waitress, telling them that they deserved the 20%." -- Jon August
Let's check the videotape
"I worked as a waitress in an upmarket four-star hotel, where I quickly learned that the more expensive the place, the more people unashamedly try to get out of paying for ANYTHING.
"One quiet afternoon in the hotel lobby, and we have two guests order a dessert each to have with coffee (posh chocolate cake and brownies with a dollop of vanilla cream). It's not my section today, so one of my colleagues takes the order, serves, clears the empty plates, and brings the check, at which point the guests kick off massively, saying that the desserts were the worst food they'd ever had, they were pretty sure the cream was off, there's no way they're paying for it. On such a quiet day, we don't even have a manager in the lobby, so my colleague has to go beg for help from the bar manager, since she wears a suit and the authority tends to help in these situations.
"She comes over and asks the guests if there was a problem with the food, why they ate it all without saying anything. They say they didn't eat it: They only had one bite and could tell it was off. She says 'Then why have we the got the empty plates in kitchen?' They say, 'Well he' -- literally pointing fingers at my colleague -- 'probably ate it himself! And now he's lying to protect himself!'
"That's right, they're suggesting someone had the uncontrollable urge to finish partially eaten, gone-off desserts.
"It's getting ugly and the guests are shouting now, so the manager says to wait a moment, goes away, and comes back… with the bouncer, who's about 6'5" and looks like an ex-Marine. She says, 'OK, let's all go to the security office together and watch the CCTV footage to prove that the waiter ate the desserts and then I can refund you' -- and here points to the cameras that we have in every corner, which they clearly hadn't noticed before the finger-pointing.
"The guests immediately start mumbling about how they don't have time for this now, they need to go, they'll sort it out later. We know their room numbers so we let them go… and she simply adds the bill for the desserts and coffee on to their room tabs." -- Sara Farragut
"My last waitress job, while in college, was in a small and very popular fish joint. The owner was a short, stocky, and kindly 70-year-old Italian man who rarely worked in the restaurant but did join his old friends at the bar in the small cocktail area most weekend nights.
"Then, to my complete surprise, the owner jumped on the guy and, with a few fancy moves, threw him out the door."
"One evening, just before the dinner rush, I helped serve in the bar. A tall and buff young man ordered a beer, so I checked his ID and served him. However, he was clearly somewhat inebriated already and I refused to serve him any more alcohol. He became angry and demanded I bring another beer, but I walked away. He then grabbed my arm and twisted it so that I fell to the floor.
"I looked up at the men sitting at the bar, assuming they would come to my aid, but they just turned to watch the show -- the owner picked me up from the floor and walked over to the angry dude. He quietly asked the man to leave but the dude refused. He asked a second time and warned the guy he would throw him out. Of course, the guy continued to demand his beer. Then, to my complete surprise, the owner jumped on the guy and, with a few fancy moves, threw him out the door.
"Turns out the owner taught judo and karate at the local boys club for 30 years! He returned to his seat and his buddies just smiled at me. This is why the owner sat at the bar most weekend nights." -- Dianne Frenetti
That's not where cones go
“Many, many years ago I worked my first job at the local Dairy Queen throughout my high school years. Our clientele included anyone that lived in our tiny Midwest town of 3,500, plus anyone driving through.
"I was responsible for taking orders at the till this particular night. I took an ice cream order from a normal-looking 35ish man (it's hard to say, since I was a teenager and everyone over 35 looked old to me). He calmly asked for a chocolate-dipped cone. So I promptly responded with the price: 'OK, great, that'll be a $1.80, please.'
"He stared at me and offered no response for an uncomfortably long amount of time. I repeated the amount with the sweetest 16-year-old awkward smile I could muster.
"He stared at me again, then looked up and then back down and loudly exclaimed, 'You want me to pay right now?!' We were busy enough that no other employees had noticed this (they were still finishing the prior order). He then added, 'At most food establishments, you eat, and then pay for your food afterwards! Are you worried I'm NOT going to pay?'
"At this point I had no idea what to do. I was 16. I didn't really know how to stand up to a complete stranger like this. I just squeaked out a little nervous laugh and said, 'But sir, this is fast food. You pay, then get your food to eat in or take home.'
"He again stared at me and then angrily stated, 'You think this is funny? You think I'm kidding? That I'm messing with you? Well, I'd like to take that cone and shove it up your ass if I could.'
"My emotional brakes came on hard. I was thinking, 'WTF?! Who talks to a teenage girl that way?'
"Right then a co-employee hands me the cone he had ordered. I took it and said back to my customer, 'What?! You mean this cone? You want to do WHAT with this cone?'
"I rotated my arm behind me and dropped it in the garbage, then looked up and gave him that sweet, awkward teenage smile. He stammered and started to say something to my manager, who had appeared at the end of the counter. I panicked.
"My manager interrupted and said, 'Sir, no one talks to my employees that way. Please see yourself out and have a great day.'" -- Janine Liles
Don't talk to me or my daughter ever again
"A few years ago I was a cook at a little cafe in Alaska. We did a pretty good trade most of the year, and when the cruise ships came to port we got pretty busy. The menu had lots of sandwiches and soups utilizing the bounty of fresh seafood available in town. It was a nice spot, and the owner worked hard to make everyone feel welcome.
"She says, 'You know what you did, and you'll only make that mistake once here. Pay your tab, leave a big fucking tip, and never darken my door again.'"
"Our staff was mostly comprised of college kids back from school, trying to make some cash while visiting their parents. Hard-working, nice kids, every one.
"During one especially busy brunch, a server comes back into the kitchen (where the owner and I are cooking) in tears. She tells us that a customer had grabbed her posterior while she was delivering drinks to a table, and it surprised her so much that she dropped a glass, breaking it to bits on the patio. She keeps apologizing about the glass and is generally shaken up pretty bad. We make her a stiff Irish coffee and tell her to take a break and not return until the cup is empty.
"Me and the boss are furious. We're close with the staff, and an assault like that, in our house… it could not be tolerated. So, the boss grabs the asshole's check and her favorite cleaver and heads for the groper's table… me, our dishwasher, and our other servers all in tow.
"We get there and his eyes go as big as saucers. He knows he fucked up, and he knows trouble is coming. Before he can stammer out some bullshit, Boss pushes his plate of eggs on the floor, slams his check on the table, and brings the cleaver down on top. She says, 'You know what you did, and you'll only make that mistake once here. Pay your tab, leave a big fucking tip, and never darken my door again.' Like out of a Dwayne Johnson movie, I swear to God.
"He throws every note in his wallet down, grabs his hat, and hits the bricks, leaving the rest of his party in shock." -- Zeke Marsden
I am the manager *dons sunglasses*
"I worked at Whole Foods and we often had regulars who simply came for the enjoyment of a captive audience. Most of these regulars were just lonely and needed someone who had to keep smiling and couldn't move beyond a 12" square of space. But sometimes there were people who just needed a trapped body upon which they could spew hatred.
"I was known as one of the most patient, knowledgeable, and friendly cashiers, so one time, when a particularly unhinged regular chose my line, I gave a secret nod to my co-workers to indicate that I would be OK. To be safe, my manager quietly began bagging groceries for me.
"As I began to ring her up, I tried to distract her with banal chatter; she was the kind of customer itching for a mistake so she could pontificate on the gross negligence of our entire company. I got all her codes on the vegetables correct (thank God), but she still berated me for the prices of our products, making it very personal, as if I were whimsically altering the price per pound. I did my best to defuse her rage; we got a lot of angry customers, and I was pretty good with them. I gave her coupons she didn't know about and checked the items with her, making sure they rang up correctly and agreeing with her as much as I could.
"Then some shredded cheese came up at a dollar higher than what she expected. This was the injustice she had been waiting for. She began to tell me I was a thief and incompetent. That I couldn't do a simple fucking job because of what a festering idiot and robber I was. She blamed me for talking and smiling too much to know how to do something as easy as ring up cheese.
"A bagger from another lane who had a severe learning disability spoke up and shouted at the customer, 'Hey! You can't talk to her like that!'
"My manager at this point also stopped her, coming to my side like a wondrous gay biracial knight in shining armor and saying in a calm voice, 'You cannot speak to my employees that way.'
"'She is fucking incompetent!' the woman said to him. 'I want to speak to the manager!'
"'I. Am. The manager,' he said, straightening up.
"She decided he was also a liar. 'You can't be the manager,' she spat.
"She then started hurling racial slurs at him (the irony is she apparently couldn't even figure out his background, so she was just wildly stabbing at whatever she guessed he was). But before she could continue her insane rant, my manager held a finger in front of her face and said, 'I will not tolerate abuse. You are abusing my employee. You are on camera. You will be escorted out by security and never, ever be allowed in any store again. We know your face.'
"Then one of our lovely undercover security guards (theft protection usually, but this one happened to be a big guy and looked more like an actual bouncer) escorted her out without her groceries or precious cheese as she continued to rant and scream.
"My manager asked if I was OK and I nodded shakily. The other customers in my line offered to use other lanes so I could take a break (!!). My teammates gave a cheer and I thanked the other bagger for sticking up for me, too. We never saw that woman again." -- April Marrone
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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