Restaurant Customers From Hell, Part One

In Depth

Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. Today, we’ve got part one of two consecutive weeks of horrible customer stories (since I have a frankly unbelievable stockpile of them). As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.

Tim Gray:

I used to work at a fancier restaurant in Wisconsin. They used to do nights that were “Chef’s Dinner” — you know, special menu, special ingredients, all that. It’s a night that is almost always balls to the wall busy. Crazy busy — no time for bullshit, no time for one table of assholes to fuck around and get you in the weeds.
So it’s a Chef’s Dinner night and I get the first table. As the hostess is coming to tell me I’ve been sat, I think I notice a certain look she’s giving me, trying to give me, but I can’t confirm it. No time — more customers are coming in and she can’t sidle up discreetly and whisper what I am sure is information I need. But really, I already can tell by her wide eyes and tired sigh what her look is trying to tell me. Servers know this look.
I walk up to the table hoping I had misread the hostess’ body language. There are three of them – one guy sitting across from a man and woman.
“Hi,” I say. “I’m Tim. I’ll be your server.” I continue, blah blah, tell them about the specials, blah blah, end by asking if anyone would like a drink.
“I don’t know,” says the dude next to the woman (side note – in your head, please do a deep southern white trash accent for this guy’s dialogue. Why is it that no matter where in the U.S. you are, if someone is a dumbass redneck, they talk with some pseudo-southern accent? We’re in Wisconsin, but this guy talks like fucking Bubba from the block). “Depends how much a beer cost in this place. What are they, like $10 a bottle?” In my head, I’ve already stuck my wine key into his eye.
I say, “Just typical prices – three dollars for a domestic, three seventy five and up for imports.”
The two men order beer, and when the lady begins to order a wine, Bubba from the block stops her. “I’m already paying enough for the beer, I’m not paying another five dollars for a glass of wine.” Of course you’re not, I think. In my imagination, I’m now turning the corkscrew of my wine key into his eye.
I bring the beers, no wine of course, and do my best to seem good ole boyish to the fine gentlemen. One of my strengths has always been my ability to fit in with whomever. So the dude seems to get along with me. When he jokes about his wife (I’ve been told by now they are married) having a big butt, I give him a “nothing wrong with big butts” response. Then a wink, wink, nudge, nudge. He guffaws and she actually looks pleased by the compliment (compliment?).
It’s a tedious table to wait on. Every interaction becomes a complicated middle-class struggle. He doesn’t know what to order because all the descriptions are too damn fancy (“If it’s a sweet-and-sour-like sauce why can’t it just say so?” for example). The beer has a different label one time (God only knows why, but of course it had to happen with this douche bag), so this now becomes a scam we are trying on him. Apparently there is a cabal of label-switching desperadoes bent on world domination. His wife warms up to me in a big way, and he tells me she’ll be here next Tuesday with her friend for lunch – her friend is a real horny babe, so they will “treat me good!”
Finally they are reaching the end stage of dinner. I’ve bantered my way through classless remark after classless remark. I’ve done my best self-deprecating laugh with each “there goes your tip” comment. I’ve feigned laughter when he asks about a waitress, and after finding out she’s barely eighteen, says it’s OK, she won’t feel weird calling him daddy. The crowning bon mot – that he was disappointed we had no bathroom attendant to hand him towels, “or at least shake off his dick.” I’ve redirected the energy of each stupid remark like a verbal judo master. I’ve gritted my teeth, ground them to nubs really, created a permanent cramp in my jaw muscles. But now the end is here. Check dropped, payment received.
Mercifully, the trio leaves. Assuring me they’ve taken good care of me with the tip (turns out that means a giant 10%, which is probably more than they’ve ever tipped), the wife winks and looks me up and down. Bubba laughs and grabs her around the waist.
“See you Tuesday,” she says as they push through the door and are finally gone. Finally, I can breathe again.
I immediately tell the floor manager I will burn the place down if I’m ever scheduled to work another Tuesday ever.

Anna Holden:

For an accumulated four years I worked at a local coffee shop in a college town. It was generally an awesome gig with a laid-back staff and die hard following. Most regulars knew that our speaker box was most likely from the 70s and more of a joke then functional. One afternoon when it was really dead in the shop, I hear someone squeal their tires in our 14 foot entrance to the drive through. “HEY HEY HEEELLLOOOO!” Immediately comes squawking through the speaker and I already knew I was going to give them decaf regardless of what they ordered. They continually demand attention until I politely tell them to please order.
“I want a coffee latte fast!”
“Did you mean a cafe latte?”
My mind was totally blank and I started to think it had to be a joke but this woman sounded truly irate.
“Do you want to pull around to the window?”
She screams at the speaker. Not just a caffeine-deprived white lady yell, but the guttural primal call of an enraged chimpanzee.
“I dont want to be here! I want Starbucks but the line is long and I’m in a hurry, just give me a coffee latte!”
“That’s not a drink. You can have coffee or you can have a cafe latte. What you’re ordering is not a real thing.” My sparkling personality was fading fast at this point.
“JUSTDOITLIKESTARBUCKS!” she screams while shaking her fists.
“Coffee or latte, tell me what you want and I’ll make it, but I can’t make something that’s not real.”
I stare at her wholly confused about whether this is a real person or if I had forgotten that I eaten some special mushrooms.
“AAAAHHHHHHH FUUUUUUCCCCKKK YOOUUUUUUU!” She yells while literally stomping on her gas and bulldozing into traffic almost causing a pile up. I had to have stared out the drive through window for five minutes wondering if that was real life.

Carol Yeats:

I work at a cafe that caters corporate lunches and does a very busy lunch hour due to the downtown businesses, law offices, and design firms in our part of the city. I oversee any special events and make sure the normal lunch business runs smoothly.
I was working on an order for a few hundred boxed lunches. They were for a special event and the clients he worked for provided special boxes, stickers, labels, napkins, and pink printed tissue paper to line the boxes with instead of our usual materials. So there was a stack of pink party supplies in our back dining room, a sort of assembly line set-up. I was working on setting up the boxes and arranging the tissue paper and napkins the evening before the order when two guests came in.
I went to take their order and asked if they had any questions about the menu. The woman said she hadn’t been to our restaurant for over five years, but was doing that “lemmie tell you what to get” schtick to her dining companion, who seemed to be a business associate or client. I offer some advice about the menu, specials etc. She is pretty dismissive and rude to me, waves me off. She tells him she will order for both of them and then orders a sandwich that isn’t on the menu. Our sandwiches are pretty straightforward in name, tuna, turkey, italian etc. She orders a sandwich named after our restaurant, that isn’t on the menu and hasn’t been on the menu any time I worked there. I tell her this politely, and ask her if she knows what is on it so we can recreate it. She snaps at me that she doesn’t remember and it isn’t her job to do so. I ask her to wait while I check with the cooks, and no one knows what she’s talking about.
I come back and apologize. I tell her about our most popular sandwich, that is probably similar, perhaps even a descendant of this six-year-old mythical menu item. I explain it has egg on it and she abruptly interrupts me and incredulously asks, “EGGGGGG?” in this tone that seems to imply, that rather than egg, I have offered her a sandwich with unicorn poop or unexploded ordinance. Like egg couldn’t ever possibly be on a sandwich. It was off putting to say the least. Anyways, they order their meals (no egg). I bring their food, get waved away when I go to check in, and happily return to my boxes.
A few minutes later, she gets up and walks past me to use the restroom. She comes out a few minutes later and says huffily, “There aren’t any paper towels in the bathroom!” and grabs ten or so sheets of my custom printed tissue paper to wipe her hands with before I can say anything.
It seems the pinnacle of rudeness to me to just grab someone’s work materials and make them trash. If I was at her office and I needed to blow my nose, could I just grab documents off her desk?
She leaves the tissue paper on the counter while I just look at her for 5 seconds blankly, in shock. Then I recover and say, “Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I apologize and I will take care of it right away.”
I immediately go get a new roll of towels and head to the bathroom to change it up. No one has used it since her. I look at the dispenser, and not only is it full of paper towels, its not even jammed and a ready paper towel is hanging down for the next user. There were towels the whole time. WTF, man. I wish I could have told her that she was wrong, but that’s not my job.
She didn’t tip, of course. Maybe when she comes back in five years I’ll sneak some egg in her sandwich. Hopefully I won’t be a server in five years. Dream big.

Kinja user twoheadedgoat:

One of my best girlfriends and I decided, as we hadn’t seen each other in several months, that we needed to go spend a day at the beach and catch up. What I didn’t realize was that her whiney-ass boyfriend would be in attendance, and although we never talked about it, I suspect that she decided side-eye from me would be more tolerable than listening to him bitch about being excluded for weeks on end.
The drive was three and half hours, and we left at 5 in the morning. I’m groggy and tired, and he apparently at the time was staying up all night playing Knights of the Old Republic (Editor’s Note: Nice name-drop, well-played) or something, so he’s always talkative, and at 5 in the morning, is still relatively awake. The drive is filled with riveting banter of how a libertarian government is the only way to economic lol, about how most economics professors end up becoming more conservative once you find out “how economics really work,” blah blah, them damn immigrants…the twist, here, is that this guy was collecting unemployment and living in his parent’s basement. We finally get to the beach, he chain smokes the whole time, and I decide to ignore him and go do beach things like chase birds and build lumpy castles, the kind of activities that makes you really regret skipping breakfast. Happily, she knows of this great place nearby that serves huge meals. You walk in the door, and if you like the meal course they’re serving that day, it’s $15 a head. The food, by the way, was spectacular.
Call it fortune, call it foresight on my friend’s behalf, but the servers, because there were no fripperies like menus or specials or anything, were mostly responsible for taking drink orders and bringing out the food. This was not really a place where you could ask for substitutions, or demand lengthy explanations, and fortunately for *our* server, that meant minimal interaction with us. Everything is going normally and she and I are hashing out who’s paying for who’s meal: she insists that she was the one who wanted to go to the beach, so she should foot the bill. Bollocks, I said, she drove the car and I didn’t put any gas in, so I should foot the bill, also reasons. Notice that neither one of us assumed the boy would be contributing.
This discussion gets swallowed by him talking about how he likes to deal with “waitresses”: at the start of the meal, he places a stack of ones on the table. (My stomach grows small and hard… I don’t like where this is going. My friend suddenly finds the table cloth *very interesting*.) He goes on to explain that every time a “waitress” does something he doesn’t like, he takes a dollar off the stack and puts it back in his wallet. According to him, this guarantees EXCELLENT “waitress” behavior. He ends it with, “And it doesn’t matter anyway, we live in [a state] where the restaurant has to pay them minimum wage!”
I look over and my lady friend is looking down at her phone, obviously mortified. Rather than try to parse out everything wrong with everything he’d just rather proudly stated, as though he’d solved a very difficult puzzle (in this case, how to treat other people as unpeoplelike as possible, I guess). I think I may have said something vague like, “Well, that’s one way to tip, I suppose,” and changed the subject. To my knowledge, none of the restaurant staff were in earshot when he said it, but I felt incredibly embarrassed just to be in the same room with this person. When it came time to pay, I snagged the bill, said, “My treat!” and paid with card. I think I probably tipped something like 25%. A few months after that, they broke up.

Shirley Daniels:

I live in South Jersey, where diners are everywhere. I was a broke college student, working my way through school, and serving diner food and cheap alcohol was my path to paying my bills and, you know, eating.
I worked at this diner for five years. FIVE YEARS. Because even after you graduate college, you still make terrible money! (Editor’s Note: Thank you so much for that job market, Baby Boomers)
This particular diner had a bar attached to it, which thankfully meant we were not open 24 hours! We closed at 2 AM every night and I usually had to work in the bar on my closing nights, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The kitchen closed at 1, so that everyone was ready to leave when the bar shut at 2.
So at 12:45, in walks a couple and I pray they sit at the bar and just order drinks. Just get drunk and leave me alone! But noooooo, they sit in one of the booths and want to order breakfast food.
I take their order – and I will never forget this – the woman orders a ham and cream cheese omelet. HAM AND CREAM CHEESE! I double checked with her because that is gross. And she said, already slurred, that what was she wanted.
I put the order in and tell my boss who was running the line that was indeed was she ordered. When it was ready, I brought it to the table, only to have the woman tell me it wasn’t what she wanted.
I said “Ma’am, I am sorry. You did order ham and cream cheese in an omelet. If you would like to order something else, I can get that for you. But you did order this.” I turn to get her a menu and before I knew it, she THREW THE PLATE OF EGG HAM CREAM CHEESE GROSSNESS at my head!
She starts yelling at me and the bartender about how rude and stupid we were. The bartender starts calmly telling them that they have to leave. After I ran to tell my boss, I was actually hiding in the server station because NOPE. Then they both get up and run out!
My boss runs after them, and the woman actually turns around and slaps my boss across the face! Then they peeled out of the parking lot.
The only thing I thought when this happened was that I was going have to stay late and talk to the police until like 3 AM. Which when you have an 8 AM class is probably the worst thing that could happen.
But they did arrest the two of them down the road. And I skipped class the next day.

Kate Sanders:

A couple years back I was dating this much older guy. We went out to eat at a burger/chili place that gives you a plastic number card for your table. You’re supposed to put the number card upright in a metal holder on the table, so the waitstaff know where to deliver the order — and the cashier tells us this as we order. Anyway, OldGuy orders chili, I order a burger, and we go grab a table.
OldGuy puts the number card flat on the table. I say, “I think it needs to go in the holder thing so they can see it.” OldGuy says it’s fine where it is. A busboy comes over, helpfully puts the number card in the holder, and says “this will help them find you.” OldGuy takes it out and puts it flat again. A waitress comes by and lets us know politely that the number should be in the holder. OldGuy in a deep, booming voice gasses back that “If it’s in the holder, they have to reach past my face to get it, and I DON’T ALLOW THAT.” Waitress shimmers off and I say, “Um, when the people who own the place ask you to put the number in the holder, you should probably put it in the holder.” OldGuy says, “She doesn’t own the place!”
Finally understanding the level of Monogrammed Thermosery I am dining with, I move the holder to the extreme open edge of the table where no one could possibly “reach past” OldGuy’s face, and I put the damned number card in it. When our food is delivered, overly heatlamped, some awkward half an hour later, he tucks into his chili. And he starts sweating. I mean it’s air conditioned, but the dude has beads of sweat all over his head, and it starts running down his face. He looks distressed but keeps eating until it’s all gone. Then he blinks stupidly at me and says “I think they made the chili way too hot.” I deadpan back, “Well, it is called ‘Spicy Chili.'”
I don’t know if the chili was heatlamped to death, late, and horrifically over-spiced on purpose, but I left those waitstaff a big fat “you’re awesome” tip just in case. Because, ya know, OldGuy DON’T ALLOW THAT!

Erin O’Connor:

I’ve worked in bars and restaurants for 10 years. It supports my art/writing habit. When people find this out, they just start giving me patronizing advice. I usually just let it roll off my shoulders, but I got the mother of all bullshit my last year of college.
I worked at a trendy tequila bar/restaurant in South Philly. The clientele was divided between hipsters and people who lived on the same block their entire life.
This group of six, all in their mid-30’s, comes in and is having a blast. So much, in fact, that they ignored me and every time I was at the table. They were difficult, but pretty nice so I didn’t mind. I gave them their space to have fun. One chick orders steak fajitas, the most groan-worthy thing on the menu. Everyone who sucks orders the steak fajitas. When they inevitably don’t get a fucking porterhouse on their plate, they’d complain, but what did you expect? Anyway, she waves me over and complains that its chewy. Before I can ask her if she wants me to bring it back, she thrusts her half-eaten tortilla with steak and globs of sour cream in my face and says “TRY IT. IT’S CHEWY, RIGHT? AM I CRAZY OR IS IT CHEWY?!” I politely decline, but she insists again. I make a joke about being hungry, but I’m a vegetarian and I’m getting my break in a few minutes. Everyone gets quiet and looks at each other, and she goes “just send out chicken fajitas instead.”
When I return with them, I see one of the guys coming back from the bar with a pitcher of margaritas which is just the worst. It’s our policy that table service gets drinks from the waitress because fucking duh, but tequila makes people cranky for more tequila, so people would pretend to sit at the bar and take it back to their table, screwing us out of money. I tell him that he can just order drinks from me next time (which they could have done if they didn’t ignore me all night) since it’s our policy that TABLES receive TABLE service (Editor’s Note: I FUCKING HATE TABLES THAT DO THIS, FUCK THEM SO HARD). They get pretty quiet, finish and pay. Three of them moved to the bar.
While bussing my table, I see they’ve written me a note so long it filled the comment card AND continued onto a napkin. The content of this note was the most condescending, self-oblivious, unsolicited life advice I’ve ever had the misfortune to receive. I’ve tried to repress the memory with a lot of weed, but I’ve bolded the parts that are verbatim. They’re pretty much scorched in my retinas:
Dear Waitress,
We wanted to explain why we’re leaving you a 10% tip. In the beginning, you were delightful. Blah blah blah, you changed when our friend complained about her food. When you turned down our friends food, you sent a clear message that you felt above her and her food. This saddened her because you remind her of herself at your age. She really liked you. When our friend had no choice but to go to the bar for our drinks, you scolded him about our policies. WE ARE SO DISAPPOINTED IN YOU! 🙁
We are leaving you at least some tip because it seems like you’re going through a tough time or something. Stay strong, keep your chin up, bullshit bullshit, it gets better. Perhaps you were embarrassed about the quality of the food you served, but when you learn to not let things get the best of you, you will succeed! We don’t want to punish you entirely because we’d like to set an example for you about kindness. If you could just be the server you were at the start (attentive, friendly, funny!), you’ll shine!
We hope this feedback will help you grow. We know you can do it. 🙂
P.S. You really should take up eating meat again. Millions of people starve to death every day and would gladly trade places with you.
Wheeeeeeew boy, where to fucking begin? The cutesy way they critisized/encourged me. The assumption that I must be struggling to survive. The part where I think she told me I deserve to starve to death? The opinion rape. “Dear Waitress” when my name was on top of the goddamn card. Fucking smiley/sad faces.
Honestly, I would have rather them called me retarded like that class act Kitchenette posted last week.
I cried my eyes out from the frustration of it all. My co-worker/sometimes manager snuck me a Corona and said take a break in the fridge (the best place to go after waiting table in 95 degree heat). Others told me she went back out to the woman she witnessed writing the note, handed it to her and loudly, said “we appreciate the feedback, but we are perfectly satisfied with her work performance. But I’ll pass along your complaints to her mother, just in case. Thaaaaaaaanks.” Apparently the sarcasm was so glorious, yet subtle, that other customers started giving them dirty looks. They were so stunned and mortified that they just left, full margaritas and all. So pissed I missed it.
That beer was perfection, tho.

Do you have a crazy restaurant story you’d like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens? Please e-mail [email protected] with “Behind Closed Ovens” in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!

Image via Joe Gough/Shutterstock. I could probably do two months of posts of just these at this point, I mean, Christ.

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