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 have one of my favorite topics: stories of some of the most bizarre things ever consumed by restaurant customers. As always, these are real e-mails from real readers.
When I was in high school and college, during the summers I worked as a server on the boardwalk. Typical restaurant that you would find on the boardwalk at the Jersey shore (breakfast in the am then switches over to cheesesteaks, gyros, French fries, pizza etc). Living in a vacation destination, where about 85% of the restaurants close in the winter time, I did as most the locals do and worked as many doubles as humanly possible in the summer months.
I remember one day where I was only scheduled to work to 4, I was so excited I wasn’t working a double that I didn’t even care that my last table before I was cut was an 8 top that was sat at 3:50. I went to my table, and they just ordered pizza. GREAT! This would be an easy table, and I could finish my sidework (carrying up huge boxes of cups and other paper products from the basement) while they were eating.
When the pizzas were done, I brought the food to the table along with a basket where I put everything people might ask for to go with their pizza. Garlic, parmesan cheese, oregano, red pepper flakes, extra silverware and napkins. Knowing I was going to be down in the basement for 15 minutes I even brought the weird but still common requests of hot sauce and ranch. I wanted to cover all my bases.
My table was happy and I went down to the basement to do my sidework. Then I heard my co-worker yell down the stairs to me, “CASSIE, YOUR TABLE SAID YOU FORGOT TO BRING OVER PIZZA TOPPINGS—THEY ARE ASKING FOR YOU!”
Shocked, since I literally brought the table every single thing in the restaurant that one would put on a pizza, I went back upstairs and over to the table.
“There’s no jelly on the table,” they told me.
“Jelly?” I asked, thinking I heard him wrong.
“Yeah, You forgot the Jelly.”
A moment’s pause before I asked again: “Jelly?”
Now looking at me like I’m an idiot, they repeated, “Yeah, you forgot to bring over the Jelly.”
I just had to ask again, because wtf, “Like, grape jelly...?”
“Obviously,” the man said smugly, looked at his wife, and rolled his eyes.
I went and got the jelly packets (which were taken off the tables and put away in the serving station— because BREAKFAST WAS OVER) and brought them to the table.
And that’s the time I watched a group of 8 people spread grape jelly all over two pizzas and happily eat them.
I was working in an upscale restaurant that specialized in fresh seafood. Check averages pushed $200 for two, so the tips were good. Now, I get that some people can’t eat seafood; either they’re allergic or they just hate it. Which is cool, but why the fuck would you come to a seafood house, then?
One night, I have one of these tables. They first bitch about all the fish. I’m crying inside but don’t say anything as I point out sub-10 dollar items on the back of the menu that are not fish or fish-like. Took them 20 minutes to decide on some horrific cheese-covered thing that was apparently French or something. Whatever. Within 20 seconds, their order was being assembled.
Every 20 seconds, the man stretches his neck and starts looking for his waiter (which is me). Before he can turn the other direction...I’m there. “Mother likes her food very hot,” he says. He’s already told me 4 times, so the 5th should really make me remember.
“Yes sir. Absolutely,” I say or, something equally as ass-kissingly sweet. “Right out the saute pan,” (lol, it was all pre-made and largely microwaved).
It was served in a special dish that sat inside a broiler so the food would be extra hot. The cook tops the French Gloop with a fistful of cheese and I watch it melt. I grab the dish with tongs and chuck it on the tray. Ten seconds later, it’s in front of mother.
“Oh no...this simply is not hot enough,” says Pa.
I make some remark about re-doubling my efficiency. I then serve it three more times with the same result . “Oh...mother likes her food hot. Mother likes hot food. Food....hot food...mother must have it,” I had to endure every permutation.
The cook (who is also my stoner buddy) is at this point genuinely confused. “Dude...that shit will not get any hotter unless we flambee the fucker and you serve it on fire. Lucifer doesn’t eat food that hot.”
At this point, I come up with a plan: we’ll heat the serving dish until it’s on the verge of melting (or fracture). The radiant heat alone would cook a steak to well-done in under a minute. We leave this dish under the broiler until it glows dull red. Half of the gloop burns away instantly so we add another bag. The cheese is the temp of lava and literally boiling. We add another fistful just in case. My fear is that when I place this in front of mother, the tablecloth will burst into flames. She’s got a can’s worth of hairspray on her blue-haired head, so she’ll likely blow up as well. This would cost me money. (Editor’s Note: Oh my God that sentence is every server I’ve ever known in a nutshell.)
Finally, I place the dish in front of her like it’s radioactive. Fuck, it probably is. And for the 4th time, I mention that the outer dish is very hot...do not touch the very hot outer dish.
Of course, she grabs the dish with both hands. I can hear the skin sizzling. She can’t pick it up though. Know why? BECAUSE SHE BURNED THE SKIN FROM HER FINGERS AND THUMBS! She’s essentially pan-seared her hands and fingerprints with it. I’m waiting for her to start screaming, or maybe pass out into a bubbling cheese magma in front of her.
She sweetly tells me it’s “perfect” and dishes out half to Pa (yes, they split the entree). They seemed to enjoy the whatever-it-was, and each other’s company. And neither seemed to mind the odor of human flesh that perfumed my station. I did manage to up-sell them dessert, which brought the check total to $30.00.
They left a pair of 20 dollar bills and told the manager I was a very nice young man.
(Editor’s Note: If you read this story and are planning on leaving an outraged comment because “THEY TRIED TO INJURE THAT POOR WOMAN,” please to go fuck off now.)
The summer after my sophomore year of college, I stayed in my college town and got a job Cold Stone. One of our regulars was a woman that worked at a car dealership down the street from the store, whom we all called Caramel Lady. Caramel Lady would come in every time and order a Gotta-Have-It size sweet cream (gross) with caramel and graham crackers.
The first time I was working and Caramel Lady came in, I didn’t know she was a regular, and I was working alone behind the counter. She ordered, I started making the thing, and once I was done drizzling the correct amount of caramel into the ice cream, she just stared at me. I asked her if everything was ok, and she answered “could you put more in?” I said sure, no problem, and put a little more into the mound of quickly melting ice cream when she said “more.” I do more. “Keep going.” I kept going. My hand was starting to cramp from squeezing the bottle, which is half empty by this point. Eventually I twist off the top and dump the rest of the caramel on the pile of half-melted ice cream. “Oh perfect,” she answers. It was essentially milky caramel soup at that point.
She asked for a straw after I tried to hand her a spoon. (Editor’s Note: I’m trying desperately not to vomit right now.)
I work in a small natural foods co-op in a pretty small, progressive city. Most of our customers are pretty nice, if not a little eccentric. The bulk of our “problem” customers are folks who are scared of all GMO’s and gluten without knowing why or what those things are. Twice a week, I tend to the “hot bar,” which is a small island of hot buffet-style food on one side and a cold salad bar on the other.
One evening, I came out to wipe off the bar (something I have to do every 30 minutes or so, because apparently adults can’t serve themselves food without smearing it all over) and there was an abandoned tray of food on the salad bar. It was a simple tray—a small bowl of clam chowder and a salad of spring mix, broccoli, peas, and onion. Food is often abandoned at the bar, because people realize they forgot their wallets or suddenly decide they don’t want it—whatever. I cleaned up the bar, but decided to leave the tray, just in case someone came back to claim it.
Five minutes later, I came back to replace some plates. The tray was still there. A few minutes after that, I came out to replace some napkins, and it was still there. It had been a slow day, and there was no one—NO ONE—around. I shrugged and took the tray back into the kitchen, behind the deli counter. It is normal practice at our co-op that food like this gets “staffed,” as in, it’s up for grabs for employees. I asked my fellow deli workers if they wanted soup or salad (this is when I poked at the salad with my finger and contemplated eating it). One of my coworkers picked up the bowl and took a sip. Just as she was making a face and saying, “Ew, it’s cold,” I heard a man’s voice: “Where’s my tray?!”
An older gentleman came rushing up to the deli counter. I came out to the deli counter to apologize, realizing what I’d done. He barely let me speak. “Where’s my tray?! What happened?!”
At this point, he’s getting loud, so I came around the deli counter to speak with him, attempting to pull him away from other customers. “I’m sorry, sir, the tray had been there for almost ten minutes—”
“Where is it?”
“I believed it was abandoned so I took it back to the kitchen—”
“Did you throw it away?”
“Well, no, I gave it to staff—”
“So where is it?!” He’s stomping around in a place, getting pretty worked up. I felt like I’d run over his dog.
“It’s in the kitchen, but staff has touched it. I would not feel comfortable selling it to you, but—”
At this point, he pulls out a line I’ll never forget: “This is a TRAVESTY. Someone should PAY FOR THIS.”
Keep in mind, he has not paid for this food. Also keep in mind, we can easily replace all those items. I even offered to get him a bowl of soup and make him a new salad myself, but he sort of behaved like he couldn’t hear me.
Finally, he says he wants to see the tray of food. I tell him again that I can’t sell him food employees have touched, but he insists. I finally cave, telling him I’ll go get the tray of food from the kitchen. I go and retrieve it, only to turn around and find HE HAS FOLLOWED ME into the employee-only kitchen. I’m so stunned by this that I have no words when he looks at the tray of food and says, “That’s fine. I’ll take it.”
He plucks the tray from my hands and pays for it, then eats it. My coworker’s LIP GLOSS was still on the rim of the bowl. I never saw that guy again, and I have no friggin’ clue what was so special about that small pile of food.
I worked at a Friendly’s in NE Ohio and we had a dessert called a Blondie, a white brownie on vanilla ice cream covered in a white chocolate sauce. It was a pretty popular item.
One of my guests, a regular who usually ate alone, ordered a Blondie every time he came in. One night, one of our line cooks was sick and the guy who usually worked the grill was also making desserts for the first time. He was an experienced cook and had no problem whipping up just about anything on the menu. So the guest ordered a Blondie, as usual, and about five minutes after I ran it to the table I heard the chef yell, “FUCK.” He tracked me down and asked if I took the Blondie out. I said yes, of course, and he asked me to check in on the table. Turns out, the white chocolate sauce was pretty close to the sour cream on our line.
So I checked on the guest, not wanting to give anything away, and I asked if everything was okay. He asked if he could talk to the cook. My stomach dropped. I told the cook, who took off his apron and came out to be reproached. By this time, every bite of the Blondie has been eaten.
The guest said that was the best Blondie he’d ever had, then ordered one more.
I worked in a shitty pizza place that pretends to be upscale by being more expensive and offering “hand tossed!” salads and gluten-free pizza. I was taking a phone order one day, and this lady wanted a salad with basically everything on it.
“Yes, I’d like tomatoes, onions, garlic, artichoke, pepperoncini, cranberries, cheddar cheese....” She named a billion things and I punched them all in.
“Would you like spring mix or iceberg lettuce?” She ignored my question and kept naming random vegetables and items to be thrown in her salad. So I just punched spring mix, figuring there’d only be space for three leaves of it at this point anyway, and went on my merry way.
A while later, she picked it up, took it off to her cave or mansion or wherever to eat it. Then, my boss got a very, very angry call. He summoned me to the back to ask about the order.
“This lady just called...she said you put lettuce in her salad.”
“She said she ordered no lettuce.”
“Uhhh...nope, she definitely never said that, because I would’ve remembered that, because that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Well, I had to give her a refund and a gift card to calm her down. She was really upset, she said she can’t eat lettuce.”
I worked as a cook for an entire year in a middling, remotely-located restaurant about 45 minutes out of Portland, Oregon. We served standard fare to a lot of the strange locals in the area; sandwiches, burgers, steaks, and pasta.
One of our burgers, called “The Hangar,” featured a 1/2 lb patty, ham, bacon, and egg on an over-sized bun. Nothing original, but it was pretty popular.
A customer started regularly frequenting the place and always ordered “The Hangar.” His demand was always the same: a barely-grilled hamburger patty, and he wanted the egg cooked so over easy that the whites were barely formed.
It was so disgusting: the patties are almost an inch thick, and this guy wanted me to grill each side for about 5 seconds, that’s all. The surface of the patty wouldn’t even get that hot.
One time I “overcooked” his burger by accidentally leaving it on the grill for a few extra seconds, and he wanted another. I couldn’t actually tell any difference between the rejected patty and the acceptable one—both were completely pink.
So, in short, he ordered this mess once or twice a week, raw burger and under-cooked egg. I always imagined what eating one of those was like; there was practically no resistance when he would bite down because nearly everything in the burger would be so soft. I would imagine the soggy pink stain that the patty must have left on each un-grilled bun. I think this guy must have had a death wish.
A few weeks ago I was at one of those rich hippy type coffee shops in Oregon. I was waiting for my order when an older, rich hippy type ordered an Americano. There was a grind-your-own-coffee grinding machine near the counter. The Americano guy licked his finger and put it into the pile of old grounds that accumulates at the bottom of a store grinder. He proceeded to lick the grounds off his finger, then do it again. He continued to do this until they gave him his coffee, after which he scooped up the rest of the pile of grounds and put them in his drink.
As a sophomore in university, I worked at a small but busy movie theatre in the downtown core of an east coast Canadian city. I was training during Oscar season, and during my first night working cash at concessions, I encountered who will forever be known as Nacho Cheese Guy.
Nacho Cheese Guy approaches the counter and rudely informs me that he would like a tray of nachos. I asked whether he would like cheese or salsa with those, and he just yells “CHEESE!” at me. Our standard 7oz Nacho tray comes with two yogurt tubs of heated cheese sauce that resembles plastic more than an actual dairy product. When I present NCG with the tray, he yells at me “I ASKED FOR SEVEN CHEESES.” Appalled, I ask him to please repeat how many he would like, and he confirms that he indeed wants seven tubs of cheese sauce.
I bring NCG an additional five cheese tubs, and before paying for his order, he proceeds to take the lid off of each container, squeeze the sauce onto the nachos, and hand me the crushed, cheese-covered container. At this point, there are approximately 100 people in line for concessions behind him, however NCG is oblivious to this. He just keeps handing me empty cheese tubs as I watch in horror as he piles this goopy plastic cheese-like mess on top of his nachos. Because the concessions bar is so narrow, there is no room for an actual garbage, so all trash gets thrown on the floor.
After five absolutely revolting minutes, NCG pays for his soggy cheese-drenched nachos and wanders off to watch his movie. For the rest of the night, concessions staff were slipping around on the sauce covered floor. At the end of the night, I stayed 20 minutes late scrubbing dried plastic cheese off of the floor.
This happened at a Subway in the food court at college. I was next in line behind this woman who wanted a sandwich, but wanted to substitute in lettuce for the bread. I know other sandwich places do offer this, but Subway does not.
Sandwich Artist: “I’m sorry, but we don’t think I can make that for you, we only have shredded lettuce.”
The artist offered to make her a salad, it would have all the same ingredients she wanted, just not in sandwich form.
Woman: “No. I don’t want a salad. I wouldn’t be able to finish it. Can’t you just wrap lettuce around the meat?”
Artist: “The lettuce comes to us already shredded.”
Woman “You don’t have any in the back”? (referring to heads of lettuce)
She had to explain this to the customer multiple times. As a compromise, the woman had the sandwich artist get a small paper tray and layer deli meat and vegetables between layers of shredded iceberg lettuce. She topped her “sandwich” with ranch dressing and left. Probably to go question her life choices.
(Editor’s Note: Hah, no, that would require an ounce of self-awareness.)
I work at a popular Mexican restaurant in the Hamptons, so I get my fair share of spectacularly rude “city people” during the summer months. Mostly just people who want gluten-free everything and have to make 85 different adjustments to the menu. People also struggle with basic Spanish vocabulary and an understanding of basic Mexican dishes, so I have to do a lot of explaining—the differences between burritos and enchiladas, etc.
The most notable failure to understand the basics of Mexican cuisine, however, belonged to a middle-aged woman who informed me she wanted a cheese quesadilla, but without cheese. I made multiple attempts to explain to her the difficulties inherent in that request, including a reminder that “queso” is the Spanish word for “cheese.” I also told her this was basically the equivalent of ordering a grilled cheese sandwich without cheese. She was undeterred. So I walked back and told the chef. He shrugged and simply slapped two dry, toasted flour tortillas together and put them on the plate along with the side of rice and beans that comes standard with every meal.
She, of course, sent it back and ordered something else.
In college I worked at a fast-casual restaurant similar to Panera, where most of the orders moved were soups, salads, and paninis. We were instructed, when running the register, to cater to any customer’s needs/requests for an order, and some of the more absurd ones were handled by the manager himself so he could properly make-up a price for the order.
One day I’m working the register when a woman asks to see our vegetarian menu, which I’m happy to provide. After looking it over, she asks for the spinach salad.
“Oh, and no bleu cheese crumbles either.”
“And can you leave off the strawberries?”
“What are your dressing options?...hm...no I don’t think I’ll be needing any dressing.”
After a few more requests and substitutions I look down at my screen and see that what she has ordered is a long plate of raw spinach leaves and a side cup of sliced almonds. Seriously, I’m not anti-vegan or anything, but Jesus Christ lady. There’s gotta be more interesting options here.
Well, about 40 second later, her “salad” is “finished” being “prepared,” and since it’s a slow day, I’m lucky enough to bring her order to the table.
As I approach her table, I fail to notice that she chose the only fucking table where the fan was pointed directly at it. Just before I sit her plate down, the breeze takes the entire bush of dry, raw spinach and the cup of sliced, dry almonds and blows them all over her, her friends, and the table. In my shock, I also drop the plate and a side that I’m carrying for another guest.
We move the fan and get the food to her, but Christ if that wasn’t the dumbest order I’d ever taken.
I was raised as a non-violent person. Eleven years of being a line-cook has pretty much squashed that non-violent instinct, but it’s still there. Basically, I’m not the sort of person who actively fantasizes about murdering people on the reg, I promise.
There is one customer I would gladly tear apart with my own hands.
This woman seems to think the menu is there for suggestion purposes only. Now, full disclosure, we have a build-your-own-bowl option where all the customer has to do is circle their choices on a slip, hand it to the server, and bam, I will give them precisely what they ask for. I feel like that should satisfy people who want to go ‘off menu.’ The paper sheets have a ton of options on them, and there is no good goddamn reason you should need to go off-book here.
She does. Every time.
She wants kale without garlic. Not raw kale. Not dehydrated kale chips. She wants our garlic-braised kale without garlic. Okay, fine, I keep the kale and garlic separate before I make a batch, no big. She wants it hot, fine. No, it wasn’t hot enough last time. Uh, okay. But wait, she wants no oil. Okay, fine, I’ll add a little water to the pan and heat it up that way. Now she thinks the kale is too wet, and she wants it in a separate to-go box. We charge for to-go boxes. She doesn’t want to pay the twenty-five cents. She still wants her kale on the side. She wants to know if I can wrap it up for her in something.
She wants quinoa, but she only wants HALF a portion. She doesn’t want any of our sauces on the side, she wants lemon juice. When we tell her—every time—that we don’t have lemon juice, but we have limes, she says, ‘fine’ and then gets mad and demands to know why we’ve given her some lime wedges on the side. She is a crazy person, and she eats at our restaurant at least once a day. I think she gets into these long-ass conversations with our poor counter-people because she has no actual friends and her family doesn’t want to talk to her either.
Kinja user boomitsthatgirl:
I currently work at a cava bar. Cava is a dry, crisp sparkling wine from northern Spain—there are really no types that are sweet, though. That’s the important thing for the purposes of this story.
So I had a table of four ladies last night that wanted rosé cava. I recommended a particular bottle, and they went for it. It was one woman’s birthday and she asked me how old I thought she was. I didn’t even have a chance to deflect (early 50s, for sure) before she lifted her leg up and placed it behind her head. Good start.
The last of their party arrived and after sipping her cava, she asked me for a shot of grenadine. I told her I didn’t have grenadine. She was incredulous. I calmly explained that our only cocktails were gin and tonics. Sorry! Then she asked for St Germain. I informed her again that we had a very limited amount of spirits, because we didn’t have a cocktail program. I asked her what she needed it for so I could help her find a solution to whatever she was trying to accomplish. It turns out, she liked her wine sweeter and wanted to pour grenadine or St Germain into her wine. Into. Her. Wine.
When they found out we didn’t have dessert, they sarcastically asked for a bowl of sugar. I brought them one and some spoons with a sly grin, thinking they’d find it funny that I took their joke seriously. They were legitimately excited and each began spooning the sugar DIRECTLY INTO THEIR MOUTHS. They then left to get “real dessert” after finishing the bowl.
(Editor’s Note: Pretty sure they actually left to get Diabeetus.)
I worked at a decent sized movie chain in my high school years and in the summers of my college years. Having worked there for a number of years, I was one of the senior staff members that worked the ticket booth, concessions, and ushered (cleaned theaters). Most nights I was put on usher duty, but when things would get busy, you would need to be flexible and be able to help in the ticket booth or concessions when the lines were getting long.
One Friday night in the summer, things were getting crazy (as they do right around 6:30 every Friday night) and after cleaning a few theaters, I saw the crazy line at our concession stand. I went in the back, washed up, and came into the concession area. I floated (food prepping for a cashier that takes the order and deals with the cash) for the nearest cashier I saw as I walked out. The first couple orders were quick, but then a woman walked up to the register. “One large popcorn and a large diet soda” she told the cashier. “But I want butter in layers,” she said, and turned to me.
I knew what she was asking for. Layering the butter was often asked for; we would put a couple scoops of popcorn in, add butter, and throw a couple more scoops in before adding some more butter. The record before had been four layers of butter in between popcorn...before this beast. I put in a full scoop and she immediately stopped me. “Can you start with some butter on the bottom?” While I know this butter slop will eventually drip to the bottom of the bucket anyway, I also know the customer is always right, so I emptied the popcorn and started over. “Sure, ma’am.” I added a little butter to the bottom and then a scoop of popcorn. “More butter there.” she says.
This went on for 11 layers of butter between popcorn. When I got to layer 9, I saw the popcorn near the top start to bob, much like a buoy in a wavy harbor. I held back from warning this woman that we do not have a defibrillator outside every theater, and kept going until I got to the 11th and final layer. Feeling the weight of the bucket, I knew we needed reinforcement, so I doubled up the bucket (even though the buckets were how we kept stock numbers).
I handed over the bucket(s) and she proceeded to eat the popcorn in handfuls while paying. While this is nothing we hadn’t seen before, it was the oily butter dripping down her face as she handed over the credit card that I hadn’t seen before. Luckily, since I was ushering, I got to go into the theater where she had been afterward to find the bucket(s) ready for cleanup. There sat a doubled up large bucket that was 1/6 filled with butter topping and a few popped kernels floating on top. The first bucket had ripped at the bottom and the second bucket I put in was starting to buckle, but we got it to the trash in time. The armrests of the chair were coated in the butter topping and the floor had to be mopped in her row and the row in front of where she sat (somehow this butter traveled all around her). To this day, I can’t smell theater popcorn without gagging a little bit thinking about this woman.
At least she ordered diet soda.
Do you have a crazy restaurant or other food-industry story you’d like to see appear in Behind Closed Ovens (on ANY subject, not just this one)? Please e-mail WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with “Behind Closed Ovens” in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!
Note: I do not want poop/vomit stories. Please stop sending me poop/vomit stories. Also, if your stories are not food-related in some way, I am unable to do anything with them. Sorry.
Image via Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.