Stories of Truly Great Restaurant Customers

Illustration for article titled Stories of Truly Great Restaurant Customers

Welcome back to Behind Closed Ovens, where we take a look at the best and strangest stories from inside the food industry. Plenty of you asked for it, and today we deliver stories of really awesome customers. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.


Farrah Longley:

"When I was 16, I worked at a nationwide pancake house that rhymes with Winternational Mouse of Wan-cakes (Editor's Note: Ahh, I see someone used my idea for the International House of Mancakes. They'll be hearing from my non-existent lawyer shortly). I was 16 and very clumsy. I had a four top seated at an elevated booth whose combined ages were around 380 years. I tried to reach to the back of the table with a tray full of ice waters and OJ's for everyone, tripped, and lost balance of the tray. All of the eight glasses tipped over a spilled across the table.

As a 16 year old it was sheer torture watching these elderly people get completely soaked with ice water and OJ while trying to get out of the booth. I felt like an asshole. We cleaned everything up but they were still soaked from the waist down. We brought them hot coffee and comped their whole bill.

At the end of it I sheepishly apologized again and one of the women said, "Don't worry about it, I'm 87 years old and a lot worse has happened to me."

Jamie Leone:

"My last job in the service industry was as a bartender. I had an insane boss who would bark orders like a Russian general. We were hosting a darts/beer pong/pool triathlon at the bar that night, so we were serving food and completely packed out. Russian General comes through the crowd yelling at the staff to get more wings out, we need two pitchers over here, etc etc.

I walked a couple of plates of wings over a few minutes later and he made a fat joke about me eating the other two plates of wings by myself (I'm a vegetarian). He told me if my ass would shrink a few sizes I could carry the food faster.

One of the bros in the triathlon overheard all this, and in the middle of his beer pong game, stood up to defend my honor. He yelled at RG for a good minute about how his employees are overworked and underpaid, how we put up with his shit and the customers' shit, and that we deserve a little credit. He told the owner off, bought me a drink, and won the triathlon that night. I quit shortly after, and the place eventually got a much nicer new owner."

Brenda Daltry:

"I worked in a grocery store deli my first year of college. I'd been put on the closing shift, and it was getting kinda late — maybe 8:30 PM (we closed at 9:00). This was in Alaska, in February, during a bitter cold snap, so when a dude wearing a giant, black, puffy parka came to the counter, it didn't seem weird. He ordered some sliced meat, and I had to open a new chub (the prepackaged chunks of meat we slice from). Store policy was that a) we had to throw away the ends of the chub and b) we always give free samples of everything.

So I was about to throw the end away when he stopped me. "Were you just gonna toss that?"

"Yeah, we're supposed to."

"...Can I have it?"


I handed him the slice, and watched in fascination as he appeared to open his coat and feed the meat to his pocket. After a few seconds of confused staring, I realized what I was seeing: a tiny, fluffy black puppy, chowing down on the scrap.

The customer noticed me watching and got the guiltiest look on his face. "We just came from puppy class, and it was too cold to leave her in the car. Please don't tell on us!"

I didn't tell; the dog wasn't in any position to contaminate anything, and it was about -10° outside (Editor's Note: Someone will still lose their shit about this in the comments. I PROMISE you we'll get at least one). They left a few minutes later, warm and with half a pound of sliced ham."


Yes, I know that last one wasn't a restaurant. I don't care. You're getting four stories, don't complain.

Alice Harper:

"I spent a miserable year, post-college, waitressing at a hokey chain restaurant most known for its gravy, mass-produced "vintage" decor, and "quaint" gift shop (licorice, pancake mix, plushy farm-animal toys: that sort of thing). Sundays were our busiest days, but very hit-and-miss with tips. This restaurant attracted the kind of people who think it's okay to forego leaving an actual tip in favor of leaving a pamphlet explaining all of the ways that you, the server, are going to BURN IN HELL unless you REPENT!

So this restaurant was geographically situated in an area that is about 99% Caucasian, population-wise (this becomes relevant). One Sunday, my section is three tables: two 2-tops and one 4-top. Not ideal, but oh well. About an hour into my shift, a co-worker comes up and asks, "D'you want my 8-top?" Obviously, I'm suspicious: no one just gives away an 8-top. I poke my head around the server exit to eye the 8-top, and I see it is a couple with six children. So I ask my coworker, "What, have you had them before? Are they shitty tippers?" She looks at me like I'm an idiot and says, "I'm not helping those people — do you want the table?" Coworker doesn't even want to swap tables — she just gives me the table.

It's when I'm out there taking the family's (gloriously straightforward) drink order that I realize what just happened: my coworker meant "THOSE people" as in "I'm a racist a-hole 'THOSE people.'" As I'm putting the six milks and two sodas on my tray, a different waitress nudges me in the ribs and says, "Gotta LOOK at them first next time, honey," cackling, as if I've fallen for some kind of "trick" in taking a table of customers who aren't white.

What simultaneously happens over the course of the next 45 or so minutes is this: my co-workers prove themselves to be the most horrible people in existence, and the 8-top family prove themselves to be among the best customers I ever waited on.

Co-workers in back of house: throwing around racist pejoratives for Arabs (the family was Indian). (Editor's Note: Come on! You can't expect racist dicks to be able to tell the difference! That would require way too many functioning brain cells)

Family in front of house: children sit quietly as mother reads off their food orders, father asks if he can make substitutions in one of the breakfasts and seems genuinely thrilled when I say, "Sure!"

Co-workers: "joking" that I should spill coffee on all of them.

Family: by time food is delivered, all six kids have finished their milk cartons; mother orders more milks, I make sure she knows it's not a refillable drink so she'll be charged for six more cartons, and she says it's no problem (unlike most parents, who act as if the world owe their children endless free milk).

Co-workers: tell me I should warn management that the family is going to walk out on their bill.

Family: parents order coffees for themselves and desserts for all 8 people at the table.

Co-workers: are jerks.

Family: stacks up dirty plates, puts all used silverware in a single cup, gathers trash in one spot, and so forth, making busing the table pre-dessert a BREEZE.

Co-workers: suck.

Family: asks for boxes to bring home unfinished desserts; ends up with check of about $90.

Co-workers: continue to suck.

So the family pays up at the front and gets up to leave. When I head out to the 8-top to help the busboy, the father is standing by the table with a bill in his hand. He asks if I can make change, which of course I can. He hands me the bill and asks for ten back. Because I'm a painfully honest person, when he hands me a $50 bill, I say, "Oh, sir, you accidentally gave me a fifty," and go to hand it back to him, assuming he meant to give me a twenty. He laughs, says, "Not accidentally," and thanks me for the "wonderful meal experience."

Me? I make a $40 tip on a $90 check. Coworkers? Rake in lots of lovely YOU SHALL BURN IN HELL pamphlets. Lesson? If you're a racist A-hole, not only will you fail to make'll burn in hell."


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

Image via Marcello Krelling/Shutterstock.



Celebrity Edition!

Years and years ago, I was holding down two hostess jobs at high end restaurants in the Carnegie Hall/Lincoln Center area of Manhattan. Both places crawled with celebs.

One day, during a particularly crazed lunch, I noticed two of our favorite celebrity regulars, Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk, waiting at the crowded bar for a table. The two of them came in at least once a week. This was a no-no of restaurant protocol. Regulars get preferential treatment, and celebs are to be insulated from the hoi polloi. It turns out the maitre'd (who was a total sycophant and always up my ass about something) hadn't even glanced up from the podium when he took down their name. "Why are you waiting here?" I exclaimed. "They told us too," they shrugged so humbly it's made every celebrity I've dealt with before or since seem like divas by comparison. I immediately righted the situation and found them a table. As I was leading them over, I mentioned to Ms Rowlands that I'd just been accepted to film school and how much the work she'd done with Cassavettes had been an inspiration to me. Minutes later, to my joy and amazement, Columbo and Gloria waved me over to their table and sat me down to talk shop! They gave the most encouraging advice, and as I got up from their table, they slipped me a $40 tip (nobody tips the hostess!). And as if they couldn't be any more awesome, when they asked me to send their server over, I responded, "As you wish," and Peter Falk winked.