Restaurant Employees Who Were In Way Over Their Heads

In Depth

Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. This week, we’ve got the post I swore I’d never write: stories of hilariously bad service and employees who had no idea what they were doing. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.

For the longest time, I said I’d never write this post. My reasoning then still holds true now: the vast, vast majority of bad service stories are just plain boring. Most break down to “this one time, I ordered no mayonnaise on my sandwich, and when my sandwich came, IT HAD MAYONNAISE ON IT CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?!?!?!?!?!” However, after a year’s worth of collected stories, I finally have enough actual interesting stories to make a go of this. So enjoy it while you can, because you won’t be seeing it again any time soon.

Len Kelly:

I was the assistant manager at a salad/sandwich shop. We offered several combinations of both, but only carried three types of salad lettuce; romaine, mixed greens, and spinach. So one day during our downtime I was busy making the schedule in the back. I only had one other person on staff — we’ll call him Travis. Travis and I heard the door chime go off. I know Travis isn’t the best front of house worker, but I was so close to finishing the schedule and it was just one person, so I figured he could handle it. A couple of minutes go by, I print and post the schedule and proceed to check on Travis.
When I get to the line I see Travis staring at the menu on the wall struggling to make the one salad. He sees me and proceeds to ask: “What kind of lettuce comes on a Classic Spinach?”
Me: Travis, it’s a Classic Spinach.
Travis: Romaine?
Me: Travis, it’s a Classic Spinach. *emphasizing the word spinach more*
Travis: Mixed greens?
Me: Travis it’s a Classic Spinach. *really emphasizing the word spinach*
Travis: Romaine?
At this point the customer and I are really laughing at Travis, especially since he went back to the first wrong choice when he only had three options. The customer left us a nice tip in the tip jar. Travis and I later told the story to rest of our staff, and “Romaine” became an inside joke amongst the staff.

Kinja user SparksinKY:

My husband and some guys from this film crew he was working with went to Waffle House in a very small town in Kentucky after wrapping. It’s after midnight, about 10 people, and they’re the only ones there.
They start to order, but the waitstaff will only take one order at a time. So someone would say “I’d like some scrambled eggs.” The person would write it down, silently hand that to the cook, and the cook would stand there and watch the eggs cook. The person who took the order would also just stand there too waiting for the cook to finish. This proceeded with every single order. They took one single food order at a time and cooked each item one at a time. Totally silent.
At another point, one of the guys asked for a water refill. The waiter picked up the cup, set it down on the bar and then just started staring off into space. The guy asked him again. The waiter picked up the cup, made it in a little further down the bar, and then just set it down and stared off again.
My husband describes the whole two hour experience as if the entire staff had never been inside of a restaurant before and had no idea how typical restaurant experiences were supposed to work. Or drugs.

Dana Willoughby:

My husband and I were traveling through the Midwest and stopped at a Cracker Barrel. We had been on the road for several days, and had our fair share of the standard franchise food, so went a little off our beaten path with this choice. It was close to the hotel and we just wanted to get some food and hit the sack.
For some reason we were both compelled to order steaks. I like my steaks medium rare, but have found so often that restaurants undercook steaks that I order mine medium. I’m ok erring on the side of more well done than still mooing. My husband also likes his steaks medium rare and orders them that way.
The waitress, a young woman probably about 20 years old, takes my order first. She gets my side orders, but doesn’t ask how I wanted the steak cooked. I was a server in a steakhouse for a couple years; the knee jerk reaction to a steak order is “how would you like that cooked?” I preemptively tell her to prepare it at medium. “Oh, that’s how most people have it cooked, so I don’t ask.” I ignore her stupid comment. She then goes on to tell me, “But I once had one customer order it medium rare!” My husband and I exchange glances and we all have a little chuckle as he then orders his steak at the almost unheard-of temperature of medium rare. Hahaha, you eat your beef raw, haha.
And then ironically, they burned the shit out of both steaks anyway. (Editor’s Note: *pointedly stares at people who get angry every time I mock Midwestern food sensibilities*)

Daniel Blake:

One of my sons has some food allergies. As a result, we’re careful to chose places to dine out that we know can handle his allergies without too much trouble for either him or the restaurant.
For his birthday a couple of years ago he told us he wanted to go to a new restaurant that had just opened nearby. It’s part of a chain, so we knew it was a place that had an allergy menu available and had been able to handle his dietary restrictions in the past without issue. The restaurant had just opened, however, so we were a little wary that the new staff might not be ready. Still, it’s what he wanted for his birthday so we decided to try.
When we arrived, we asked the hostess if they could make sure we got an allergy menu when we were seated to save the server having to go track one down later. She seemed happy to accommodate and made a note. About 10 minutes later we were seated. They forgot the allergy menu. The server apologized and went to go find one. About 5 minutes later the server returned, having been unable to find the allergy menu. While the server had been gone, we had looked on their website and found a version there. It wasn’t quite the same, but it was close enough that we were able to find something that he wanted to try.
We all ordered. They had an appetizer slider plate that my son wanted, and we added a side of fries. He’s allergic to milk and nuts, so we asked that there be no cheese on the burgers and confirmed that the fries weren’t cooked in peanut oil.
A couple minutes later the server returned and said that he couldn’t have the sliders because the buns weren’t gluten free. He doesn’t have an issue with gluten, and we’d never said anything about gluten. We said that as long as the online menu was accurate, and there was no cheese on the burgers, he’d be fine. The server apologized and headed back toward the kitchen.
A couple minutes later one of the cooks came to the table and apologized that they didn’t have any gluten free buns and he wouldn’t be able to have the sliders. We again said that our son didn’t have any issues with gluten and never said that he did. We said that we just needed him to hold the cheese. Since he was there, and we’d not had the best of luck, we asked if he could just double check the buns to make sure they were dairy free as their online allergy menu indicated. He seemed to get it, and headed back to the kitchen.
A couple minutes later one of the managers came to the table to apologize that they didn’t have any gluten free buns and that our son wouldn’t be able to have the sliders. He had with him the allergy menu and was ready to suggest some alternatives. We told him that gluten wasn’t an issue. If we could avoid dairy and nuts, we’d be fine. We looked at the allergy menu together and confirmed that if they took the cheese off the sliders, we’d be fine. He apologized for the confusion and said he’d make sure that the kitchen got the order correct.
As he headed back to the kitchen, everyone else at the table received their food. Our two older sons were hungry, so they started to eat. My wife and I waited for the birthday boy to get his meal. When his sliders arrived we could see the melted cheese before the plate even hit the table.
Back to the kitchen it went. The manager came by the table to check and make sure that everything had been taken care of correctly while they remade his sliders. When he found out about the error he apologized and told us he’d be sure to take the charge for his meal off the bill.
The sliders did eventually arrive about five minutes after our two older boys had finished eating. They forgot the fries. My wife and I ate our by then cold meals along with him. The manager made another pass by the table to make sure things were correct and again offered his apology for the earlier confusion. To make up for it, he offered to buy us a birthday dessert. He confirmed that the allergies were to nuts and dairy and headed off.
Our server — the same server who had also been sure to note that our son was allergic to dairy and nuts — arrived a few minutes later with the manager’s make up birthday dessert — an ice cream sundae served on a chocolate chip and walnut cookie, covered with a huge mound of whipped cream.
They ended up paying for the entire meal, and my son still calls it the restaurant where he gets to eat free.

Mallory Morgan:

I was out to dinner with friends at a casual chain restaurant, and one of the members of our group had a shellfish allergy. When the server came to take our drink order, my friend informed her straight away that he had a shellfish allergy, and so none of the food for our table could come in contact with any surfaces or oils or anything used to prepare shellfish.
The server listened politely, then smiled and reassured us that the only shellfish prepared in the restaurant was shrimp, and that the shrimp were all shelled prior to cooking, so we shouldn’t have any issues.
No one at our table said anything about it. We just thanked her, and she left to take care of our drink order, and the rest of her service was great.

Lara McMurtry:

I was working at a local pizza place/sub shop in my small New England town. I thought I’d get bored standing at the counter and taking orders so I insisted on working in the kitchen despite the fact that I was a little 18 year old girl and the townies I worked with in the back sort of hated me on principle. I spent most days making a lot of tuna salad subs, which for some reason people were constantly ordering. At least 10 or 15 tuna subs were ordered per day.
The thing my fellow kitchen workers and I bonded over was a mutual eye-rolling towards the one girl who worked in the front most of the time. One day she picks up the phone and it’s a customer asking a question. She calls out to us in the back, and says, “Guys, do we have tuna fish?”
We’re all rolling our eyes like WTF because she takes orders for tuna subs all day and we’re up to our knees in tuna salad back there. We’re like, “Um, yes we have tuna.”
And she goes, “Oh, I know we have tuna — but do we have tuna FISH?”

Carla Teller:

I was ordering lunch at Noodles & Company. That day I was getting over a stomach bug, and when I’m sick, diary and I don’t get along. I don’t really remember what I ordered but I said, “that doesn’t have dairy in it, does it?”
The teenager behind the register gave me a completely blank stare and said, “What’s that? Is it like gluten?” He was 100% completely serious. He didn’t know what dairy was.

Do you have a crazy restaurant story you’d like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens (on ANY subject, not just this one)? 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 vsl/Shutterstock.

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