Stories of Unexpectedly Great Restaurant Customers

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 stories that did not turn out as expected, thanks to surprisingly great customers. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.

Karen Janikowski:

I was waitressing at a high end chain steakhouse right outside of DC in Tyson’s Corner for a little while before heading back to graduate school. It was mostly business dinners and banquets with the occasional date night, but overall, mostly wealthy guests. One busy Saturday night around the holidays I was working a pretty decent section, a few bigger tables and a couple two tops. As most servers can, I am able to read a table pretty quickly and know what I’m in for, but one three top still surprised me. It was three younger guys, very socially awkward and either really high or really paranoid. Now I’m a decent looking 23 year old woman, can hold a conversation with just about anyone, but these guys were just not biting, not even making eye contact. They all stuck with sodas (with lots of refills) but went all out with whole lobsters and ribeye steaks and lots of sides. I didn’t think too much of it, just assumed it was daddy’s money or they were programmers of some sort.
When it comes time for the check (totaling well over $200), there was only one guy at the table, I figure the other two are in the bathroom. I dropped it, went to check in a table for literally a minute and when I look back and the table was empty, now I know something’s up. I quickly check the book and see they left three fucking dollars, total. So I booked it out of the restaurant just in time to see the guy turning the corner and run into the waiting car with the others. I’m not one to back down easy so I chased after him and stood in front of the car only to have them narrowly miss me as they hightail it out if the parking lot. I was pissed, and am pretty sure said, ‘come on, are you fucking kidding me’ in front of a group of accountants that were waiting for valet after their holiday banquet. They could tell that the guys had just stiffed me on the bill (and almost hit me with their car) so one of these fine CPA’s asked how much the check was for and they proceeded to all pull out their wallets and throw in a total of $120 to cover whatever tip I had missed out on.
These lovely mathematically adept angels saved my night and my faith in humanity.

Deedee Williams:

My boss is one of those guys who thinks that belittling his staff in front of customers makes him look important. In reality it makes him look like a jackass and we even have a few Yelp reviews that back me up there.
Yesterday I had a couple ladies at a lounge across from the bar. It was pretty quiet in the restaurant so when I bumped a glass and it landed on the tile floor, the shattering sound was pretty obvious. The owner came running over, demanding to know how many broke (one cheap champagne flute) and how it happened. I went to the back to grab a broom. When I returned I heard him telling the ladies how we don’t appreciate how much it costs him when we don’t pay attention, we don’t respect him, etc. I could see them recoiling but I couldn’t really do anything about it. They had already paid their tab for one round of drinks and were ready to leave.
After they left, I bussed the table, picked up the credit card slip and saw that on top of the +20‰ tip, they added “$5 glass in case he charges.” I wanted to run after them and hug them, but they were gone. Also, that would be weird. But if you are reading this, you angels somewhere in Brooklyn, you are amazing and the next round is on me!
Before anyone asks, I only put through the original $4 tip, not the additional $5. I knew he wouldn’t charge me. Berating me is enough payment for him and their sweet act of kindness was worth way more than $5 to me. I did make sure to put the credit card slip right at the top of my closing paperwork so he couldn’t miss it. He didn’t say anything the day after, but he was uncharacteristically nice.

Sharon Sacre:

I used to be a hostess at TGIFriday’s, two women came in with a gaggle of children and asked to be seated. I did so. They ordered food, ran our server all over the place, but all was well until the check came. They called me over to ask me what “gra-twy-tie” was because they hadn’t ordered it. I explained that since they had a party of 8 or more that the GRATUITY was automatically included. They asked that I remove it as they were on welfare checks and could not afford the charge. Open mouthed I gaped at them in disbelief, but I called my manager over and he removed the charge.
After that they happily paid and left the server a tip that was much larger than what the gratuity was supposed to be. Apparently, they thought the gratuity was some kind of fee, not something to pay as a tip to the server.

Kelly McAdams:

I work at a long standing local surf and turf restaurant in San Diego. Big sailing following, and the place pretty much looks like a nautical TGIFridays. We get a lot of varied clientele but a lot of young sailors and tourists. One night a foursome (two couples) comes in for drinks and I could tell that we weren’t their first stop. They were very friendly but kind of difficult to corral into giving me their drink order. I finally get the order and grab the drinks from the bar and head to deliver them. I’ve been waitressing a pretty long time and have gotten really good and the cocktail back bend to place the drink down while gracefully holding the tray in the other hand. Except for this time. I place down one of the women’s drinks and I must have startled her because she turns as she was gesturing with her hands and knocks my tray.
The next three seconds happen in slow motion. I see the glass of red wine start to wobble. I’m rendered immobile do because the woman’s drink is still in my hand. To my horror, I see the glass of red wine start to topple over. I also see the other woman look up at the tray as all of this is happening. I see the entire contents of the glass splash all over the other woman’s FACE. Her FACE. I spilled an entire glass of wine on this woman’s face!
I’m horrified. Her friend is horrified. I start apologizing profusely as my coworkers run to the back to contain their laughter. If I could pick any person in the entire world to spill a glass of red wine on, this is her. She started laughing and excused herself to the bathroom where she cleaned up a bit and then came back out and drank a few rounds with her friends. She wasn’t even mad. She almost seemed to enjoy it. They even left me a 20% tip.

Keith Villiardo:

Over a decade ago I worked at Tim Hortons. Near the end of my lustrous career I had a drive-through customer who asked for his coffee “stirred twice clockwise, three times counter-clockwise, and four times clockwise.” I was so enamoured with the request that I followed through, and after giving the man his coffee and confirming (with an ear-to-ear smile at the novelty) that I followed the stirring instructions, he took a quick sip, exclaimed “Perfect!” and promptly slammed down a $3.00 tip on a $1.80 drink, before driving off.

Colleen James:

I used to work in a pizza joint in my hometown at the middle point of driving to shopping areas (also a mid-point between two Universities). One night, about 10 minutes before closing, a bus pulled into the lot. There were about 50 people on the bus, and they were hungry and tired. It was another hour or two to the town where they were headed and no other open places on the way. My manager and I were there alone. She, being a generous soul, let them in and told me I had a table.
We pulled tables into a U and I asked them what they would like to drink. It was as if they had elected one person as a spokesperson for everyone (Editor’s Note: Don’t take this as a complaint. This is fantastic and I guarantee every server wishes more tables did this). They kept the order simple (10 cheese pizzas, 10 pepperoni) and Pepsi. I flew around, getting drinks in front of everyone, ran into the kitchen to help the manager get the food into the oven and cutting pizzas as they came out. I kept checking in on them and refilling drinks, smiling and chatting with them. When they finished, they had left a tip under the plates they had neatly stacked (and cups as well) and given my manager a $100 tip, and a nearly 100% tip for me as well.

Kelli Kagan:

So I used to work at this little family owned brunch and High Tea place in Seattle. The decor was very lovely and extravagant (it looked a lot like the inside of Versailles) and it was EXPENSIVE. This establishment also attracted a pretty unusual customer base: elderly ladies who lunch, bachelorettes, enthusiastic wives with less enthused husbands, women with broken dreams (“I never got to go to Paris because my husband left me for a fucking cocktail waitress, so this place is my little slice” — actual quote), you name it.
One day while working the lunch shift a man and his daughter came in for high tea. They were a particularly interesting two-some as the daughter looked like our average customer (all done up with bows and lace and whatnot) while the father…. didn’t. He had long, tangled hair, cut off jeans and a thermal long sleeve- all COVERED in mud and paint. I grab some menus and because I’m an asshole I think “Wow, isn’t this sweet? A working class dad bringing his little girl into a fancy restaurant, even though he can probably barely afford it” (again, I’m an asshole).
I seated them and the daughter ordered the high tea for kids and the dad ordered a soup and salad (The two cheapest things on the menu). “Good for him!” I thought “Ordering the cheapest things on the menu so his daughter have an expensive tea sandwich platter—NEAT!” (AGAIN, I’m an asshole).
I bring their food and they proceed to have a blast. My service to them is a little inattentive and (to my infinite shame) a little cold, as I have already made up my mind that- because of his looks- he will not tip well. They are nothing but polite and courteous when I clear their plates and bring the bill, which came to around $37 dollars, give or take. The dad drops two $20’s and I proceed to go get change. I figure he will just leave me the meager change as a tip and go. But that’s not what happened.
He fiddles with the checkbook a little more, gets up and says “Thank you” and he and his daughter walk out hand in hand. Much to my surprise, I discover two additional $20 dollars bills in the checkbook waiting for me.
The next day is a particularly stressful Brunch shift and I am facing the wall away from the door, when my co-worker runs up behind me and says “Oh my god, you’ll never guess who’s here!” I ask who and she says “Eddie Vedder! Like from Pearl Jam!” I turn around and look at the two people in the door, and I swear to god the only words I can think of is “This is some motherfucking Cinderella shit right here” because standing in the doorway is the working class dad and his daughter from the other day, only now, he is wearing really nice jeans and a nice button up and is- not in fact a working class dad- but EDDIE FUCKING VEDDER FROM PEARL JAM who voiced my childhood and WHO OH MY GOD I LOVE!
Of course they are seated in my section and I get to wait on them a second time, KNOWING HE IS FREAKING EDDIE VEDDER, and as you can guess my service in disturbingly more attentive. Again, they are nothing but polite, and AGAIN at the end of the meal he leaves me two $20 dollars bills. So, in closing, don’t judge a book by it’s cover because that book might be Eddie Vedder, so don’t be a judgmental dick.

Valerie Vanezzi:

I’m a bartender at a popular neighborhood bar in NYC. Most of the customers are regulars (like, been over to my house for dinner ‘regular’), it’s a pretty relaxed atmosphere and very low-tech. As such, credit card tabs are just credit cards clipped to an index cards with the customer’s name written on it and the things they’ve ordered.
It’s a Friday night and I have just come on after the day-bartender. A woman on the end of that bar flags me down and orders a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and tells me she has a tab. I ask for her name, but she doesn’t have an open tab. (Editor’s Note: You have to wait for it with this story. Read it the whole way through if you want your faith in humanity restored. Trust me)
So I go back and say “What is your name again? I can’t seem to find your card.”
She replies, with a massive eye-roll, “I gave it to the other bartender. It’s over there with the credit cards. Do you see the credit cards?”
I’m a little taken aback, but respond, “Yes, I see the credit cards, but yours isn’t over there. The only tab I have with Sauvignon Blanc on it is for fake-name-that-I-made-up-for-legal-reasons. Are you sure you have a tab open? Is it possible your drinks have been on your friend’s tab?”
“No,” she says, “I handed it to the other bartender. I physically handed him my card and watched him walk over there (gestures to the place where the credit cards are), and put it down.” She says all of this very slowly, and mimes ‘walking’, and ‘writing’, to further emphasize her point.
We then engage in a painful back-and-forth in which she insults me loudly, while I do all of the following:
—I once again go through all of the tabs we have open.
—I check to make sure two credit cards aren’t accidentally clipped together.
—I check to make sure all of the credit cards tabs have the correct names written down.
—I call the previous bartender to ask him about the card, he doesn’t answer.
—I check all of the previous bartender’s credit card receipts to see if her card has been processed, and he erroneously gave the card to another customer.
—I go through all of the lost and leftover credit cards we have — and I find one with her surname and think “Aha! Mystery solved!” I bring it over and ask if this is her card and she glares at me “No, that’s not my card. Can you read?” At this point I’m sort of in awe at how much of a bitch this woman is. Seriously, the shade this woman is throwing is worthy of a Bravo Reality TV show.
—I check the floor of the entire bar with a flashlight, while she loudly comments that it couldn’t be on the floor, and that this is all a waste of time.
—I check the bathrooms with a flashlight.
—I look underneath the register.
—I get down on my hands and knees and look underneath the cooler.
—I even go down to the motherfucking basement to see if it somehow fell down the stairs and ended up there.
—And finally I ask her, just to be sure, to check her wallet to see if she has it. You know, just in case. Sauvignon-Blanc-Bitch flatly refuses to even look.
Now, losing a customer’s credit card is a big deal. You can get fired for this – which is totally reasonable. But at this point I have spent 45 minutes, on a Friday night, being harassed by a customer and looking for a credit card that even she admits I have never laid hands on.
And so I say, “Well, that’s it then. We appear to have lost your card. I am very sorry about this, all your drinks are on us.”
She scoffs “Obviously. I mean, how would I even pay you?”
And now I go back to doing my actual job.
A few minutes later I hear someone yell “OH MY GOD, I AM SUCH AN ASSHOLE.” I turn and find that the source of this exclamation is none other than mean-lady-who-drinks-Sauvignon-Blanc, she is staring at me, eyes wide with horror, holding a credit card in her hand. I just start laughing. I laugh like a crazy person. I laugh all the way back to rude-lady-who-now-realizes-she’s-a-jerk.
I’m still laughing when she says “My friend said I should check my wallet, just in case, and it’s here. I gave the other bartender my work card, which doesn’t have my name on it,” she mumbles, “it’s the one with fake-name-you-made-up-for-legal-reasons.”
She looks down at her card and says “I am such an asshole. I am such an unbelievable asshole. I was so rude to you! Oh my god, I was such a bitch… The look of shame on her face was absolutely priceless.
And here is where mean-white-wine-lady-who-was-super-rude redeems herself: She starts listing all of the mean things she said to me/about me, and individually apologizes for each of the undeserved jabs (“Oh no! I said you were dumb. But I’m actually the dumb one!”), and asks how she can make it up to me.
I tell her not to worry about it. But she isn’t satisfied with this. So, twenty minutes later she appears with a pizza and presents it to me. “This is to say I’m sorry. It’s an apology-pizza.”
And now apology-pizzas are a thing. (Editor’s Note: Told you)

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! Also, you don’t need to hide the name of the place with some goofy pseudonym. You can just say it. It’s cool.

Image via Anna Hoychuk/Shutterstock.

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