Servers face a lot of flack from customers. It seems everything is their fault all the time. Some people take dramatic actions and go out of their way to berate servers and food service workers. Food industry workers share outrageous stories about times when customers were completely out of line. Content has been edited for clarity.
“I worked at a local tourist spot as a food services supervisor, and we had a few different food outlets in the park. As a supervisor, I’ve had to deal with all kinds of challenging customers, including some who have turned out well. Communicating with deaf customers, a Korean group that wanted 200 bucks worth of hamburgers (twice) went well. Something that did not go so well was when a customer, who wanted a free bottle of water, screamed at me, a man accused me of discrimination, and a lady said abusive things because she lost two bucks in a vending machine. I’ve received all sorts of silly food requests/complaints. Fun times.
One of the dumbest ones I came across, though, was dealt with by a co-worker. Near the very end of the day, a lady came up to our fish and chips window and ordered a four-piece chicken strip combo. She said she wanted it split four ways for her four children.
My co-worker said sure but informed her that since the combo just came with small fries, that meant each of those four portions would include just one chicken strip and a few fries. He repeated it a couple of times, but she impatiently told him that was okay. When she came to pick up her order, she was irate.
From the sounds of things, she wanted each of those portions to have at least two strips and a small fries, even though she was only willing to pay the price of a single combo. She screamed at my co-worker, told him he was incompetent, and all kinds of other things. The fish and chips place is in a remote location from the main kitchen, so there was no manager there, just supervisors. She wasn’t willing to pay more, though, and my co-worker wasn’t about to make her more chicken strips and fries for free. Finally, he told her the outlet closed and that if she had any more issues, she should take it up with the manager.
She left, and he closed the shutter. But then she came around to the side door of the building and screamed at him some more. Even when they closed the door, she waited for them and followed them across the park when they walked back to the main kitchen where they were able to meet up with the manager. They asked her to leave the park. We didn’t allow meal-splitting anymore. If customers wanted something split, we’d give them plates and knives, and they could do their portions.”
Cook My Bagel
“I worked at a soup and sandwich cafe for three years while I was an undergrad. Good job, easy money. Anyways, we offered quick breakfast options like bagels and cream cheese, breakfast sandwiches and burritos, and quick two-egg breakfast with toast, hashbrowns or grits, etcetera. We also offered a one-buck small cup of coffee because Starbucks was two blocks down, and my manager was like that. The business broke even on the coffee, not hoping to profit. We were just trying to get people in the door and serve quick, good food. It was that kind of place.
A super-yoga soccer mom started coming in every morning to buy a coffee. She would bring in her bagel and her cream cheese, and then she would purchase the coffee. But then she would ask us to toast her bagel and put her cream cheese on it for her. She expected us to run the food out to her as we did for every other paying customer. While she was purchasing her coffee, she would ask that we put on new gloves while preparing her food. Okay, fine. Not a big deal the first few times- because the owner (a working manager) was trying to keep his customers happy all the time.
However, this budding new cafe was starting to increase in business exponentially. This bagel lady started coming in every single day. The boss grew a little tired of her request because after all, he wasn’t seeing the benefit of selling her a one-buck cup of coffee and having us prepare her food for her. The woman didn’t tip either, however, because my boss always lived by the ‘The Customer is always right method, he did this.
She came in on a Saturday morning once thinking she got special treatment because she was a regular customer. Then she decided she would skip the line and put her bagel on the counter near the register. She waited in line, purchased her one-buck coffee, and noticed her bagel was right where she left it, untouched.
She said, ‘Excuse me, I expected this to be toasted and ready when I purchased my coffee. I come in all of the time, you should know me by now. I am one of your most frequent customers.’
So I said, ‘Yes, Ma’am, my apologies, I did not see it. Here is your coffee and I will bring it out to you in a moment.’
She replied, ‘I just don’t understand you people sometimes- so incompetent and rude to your customers. This is the kind of behavior that leads to disease and sickness in restaurants.’
I didn’t realize my boss was standing over my shoulder during this encounter. He sort of pushed me out of the way, grabbed her bagel (ungloved hands) took a bite, went to hand it to her, dropped it, and asked her to leave with a mouthful of bagel. Then he went to his office and closed his door while still chewing the bagel.
My boss came out and said, ‘Coffee is now two bucks.’
Blue Steak, Please
“Two older couples came in. For the sake of clarity, I will call the two women ‘Nice Nicole’ and ‘Mean Mandy’.
I knew the table was going to be difficult when Mandy presented me with a handful of coupons. I explained that I could only take one coupon per ticket, as was printed on the coupons themselves.
Mandy threw two coupons at me and said, ‘Split our checks, then.’
She told Nicole they could just pay two separate checks, whatever people do all the time.
Mandy proceeded to drink Dewars on the rocks until she was completely out of it. When she ordered her steak, she asked me to have it cooked ‘blue.’ She flipped out when I told her we didn’t do blue steaks and she instead ordered a very rare steak. Her husband ordered salmon. I was given very specific instructions on how to cook both entrees. Nicole and her husband looked mortified.
Mandy got her food and promptly flipped out because it was not ‘blue,’ even though she was totally clear on the fact that we didn’t do that at the restaurant. My manager, an experienced chef, went out of his way to make the woman a blue steak and served it to her himself. It was the third steak we cooked for her. Mandy lectured me for 10 minutes (I am not exaggerating) on what a terrible server I was, how the restaurant was a piece of trash, etcetera. She ate all of her steak and half of her husband’s salmon and complained that their food was inedible. She demanded their entrees be taken off their bill.
I was fuming at that point, but the manager still comped their meals. I took the check to the table for Nicole and her husband to pay. She lectured me again about the terrible service I offered. After another 10 minutes of being scolded, I calmly told her how I understood she was upset, but I didn’t prepare her food and served her exactly what she ordered.
Mandy demanded to see the manager who cooked her food. She also lectured him and said she was a professional chef and was appalled at our inability to prepare a blue steak.
The manager offered her a job at the restaurant since ‘we didn’t know what we were doing.’ Mandy flew off the handle and stormed out. Her husband followed meekly in her wake.
Nicole and her husband left me an immense tip. They were embarrassed by their friend’s behavior, and could barely look me in the eye. They left and I started cleaning their table.
Nicole came back, pressed an additional 20 bucks into my hand, and whispered, ‘I’m so sorry about the way she acted. If I’d known she would be that way I would have just fed her at my home… But she’s a chef, and I don’t know how to cook.’
She gave me a hug and left.
A few weeks later, Mandy came back and was out of it on Dewars on the rocks again. She ended up standing on her tiptoes and screaming into the manager’s face in the middle of a packed dining room because there wasn’t cottage cheese on the salad bar. They banned her from the restaurant.”
“I used to work at a Luby’s in San Antonio at the ToGo counter a few years ago. For those not familiar with Luby’s, it’s a cafeteria-style restaurant where you go through the line and tell workers what you want and your plate is passed down. The ToGo counter is the one area of the job where you have actual, meaningful customer interactions, and I always tried to do a good job and be nice to the customers.
My worst customer was this middle-aged guy that came up through the drive-through in this old truck without stopping at the menu to order. I asked how I could help him, and he said he got a steak the day before. He said when he tried to eat it, it was just bloody inside. This sounded pretty weird because all of our steaks were cooked medium well unless otherwise requested, and there was solid quality control (there had to be considering the volume of food we put out). I asked if he had the steak, and he said he threw it away and kept telling me how bloody it was.
It just so happened I was the one who worked the drive-through the day before except for one hour while I was at lunch, so I figured my coworker (on lunch at the time) had served him because I hadn’t remembered him. I went to get my manager, and this guy was just getting angry. We asked him for a receipt and to tell us exactly what was wrong with the steak, and he started getting very upset with us. He claimed he was there every other day (false) and started telling us he was going to call our upper management.
He’s been holding up the drive-thru at that point and refused to pull around and come inside. My boss finally gave him another steak to appease him and apologized to him. I would have never given him that steak after the way he was treating us.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
“I was about six months into my first job waiting tables at a brand new country club. It was the club’s first Valentine’s Dinner, and we were doing this four-course/two-choice thing to simplify everything as we were completely booked in advance. I had been given a pretty good-sized section with 12 tops and a few sixes and fours when suddenly I heard that one of the other waiters had up and quit an hour into service. Turned out he had this big plan to propose to his girlfriend, but the manager didn’t seat her and her family in his section. Guess who got his tables clear on the other side of the restaurant?
It was crazy. They underestimated the number of times people needed to eat and move on. The second and third sets of tables had been waiting to be seated for about 45 minutes to an hour and were already really angry. My second 12 top was seated, and we started to run out of some of the course choices. The icing on the cake was that half of the couples only spoke German. I think those were the first full-on Germans I’d ever met in my life.
I fully admit that it took a while to get their food out. The kitchen was deep in the weeds, and I had seven other tables. But I was very apologetic and focused most of my attention on them. I could tell they grew frustrated by the wait time and the fact that I couldn’t effectively communicate with half of the couples.
After dinner was complete, one of the English-speaking gentlemen took the time to tell me in front of the whole table how I was the worst waiter ever, and that it was sad that I couldn’t do something so simple correctly. He went on to say that I should find another line of work. All I said to him was how I was sorry for everything and I apologized for how he felt that way.
As they left, another gentleman who had been to the club pulled me aside and apologized for what his friend said to me. He said it was obvious the problems they experienced were beyond my control, and he saw that I did everything I could to make up for it. It turned me around, but the previous comments were some of the most humiliating things a person has ever said to me.”
Not So Chill Sunday
“In the early ’90’s I was a waiter at Friendly’s. On Sundays, I worked all three shifts: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sunday nights were particularly brutal because it was our busiest night, yet we were always understaffed due to people not showing up, and I was tired from a long day.
Every Sunday night, this large group would come in with about 20 plus people. They would come in at the tail end of the dinner shift, just as I was about to pull myself out of the weeds, and they would ask for me to be their waiter. Then, if they couldn’t get five tables near each other, they would spread out all over the restaurant into other waiters’ zones but still insist on me being their server. They would act disappointed, and in some cases, annoyed that I didn’t remember their drink preferences from previous weeks. They would place their beverage and food orders, then get up and change tables. Not to mess with me, they were just being sociable with each other.
Then they would get fussy with their orders. Something was wrong or undercooked. Or they didn’t think it would look like that, so they would ask to order something else, etcetera. It was hard for me to tell if I got an order wrong, or if maybe I had the right order for the wrong guy because they wouldn’t stay in the same seat throughout the experience. It went on and on. They were, per capita, the neediest customers I had to deal with all week, and there were 20 of them all at once. Every. Freaking. Sunday.
Don’t even get me started on the mean cooks who couldn’t get the orders right. Let’s just say Friendly’s doesn’t exactly draw the best and the brightest, and only the dumbest ones showed up Sunday nights. I was too poor not to.
So here’s the kicker: pamphlets. That’s what they tipped every week, plus about five bucks in change.”
What The Heck, Man?
“I used to work in fast food. We would regularly have people from construction crews come in, and one person would usually end up ordering for the entire group (anywhere from five to 20 people). Often, these guys wouldn’t speak English, so they’d come in the store, we’d bust out the picture menu for them, and things would go pretty smooth.
Every once in a while, though, these guys would decide to come through the drive-thru, and that was always an ordeal. If you’ve ever tried to take and order from someone who doesn’t speak English, who is ordering for 15 people, and is talking through a drive-thru speaker, you’ll realize it is one of the most frustrating experiences out there.
One day, this guy was trying to order and just kept yelling, ‘two-four-four’ over and over and over.
At first, I thought he was ordering a number two meal and two number four meals, but he was not. He got more emphatic with his shouting. So I looked through the menu and found an item priced at 2.44 bucks and thought that might be what he wanted. I was wrong again. He yelled for a few minutes more, and then just started going off on me in Spanish.
Meanwhile, I was yelling back all through the drive-through speaker, ‘I don’t speak Spanish! I don’t know what you want! Come order inside!’
After a few minutes of this, I realized it was not going anywhere and started helping other customers. He eventually gave up and decides to come inside, but not to order. Oh no, it was too late for that. This guy came in irate and was yelling and screaming profanity at everyone behind the counter. The funny thing is he was cussing and yelling at us in English when he came inside. Oh, you speak English now all of a sudden?? What the heck, man?”
“Just the other night this happened to me. Some customer came into the kitchen and started yelling at the waitress; full-on no holds barred yelling in her face. The guy and his table full of other rude people all ordered Spiced Ribs, Chalupa Seafood baskets, T-Bones, and Rib-eyes. As a cook, the more advanced the meal, the more I love to cook it. You come into the restaurant and order the fanciest, most gourmet thing on the meal, and I love to do it. That’s why I’m there. I like to hone my skills, and I like people to appreciate them.
What you don’t do, is come into the kitchen mid-peak on a Saturday night because your food is 40 minutes late. 85 other people are waiting to eat before you. You came out tonight to have a good time and eat, and I get that. It’s not fun seeing other people get their food before you; I get that as well. They ordered a cheese dip that we heat in the microwave, which cost six bucks. Sorry that it’s easier to make than the high-menu stuff you’re ordering. That is no reason to call a perfectly innocent teenage girl rude names in the highest angriest voice you can muster.
My chef, a typical Gordon Ramsey type, flipped out and lobbed a plate onto the floor. He smashed it as ceramic shards and nacho remnants scattered and exploded everywhere.
He started taking steps toward the guy and said, ‘Who do you think you are? This is my kitchen, and we are making your food!’
This angry guy backed down, and the upstairs manager was coming downstairs scared out of his mind because no one wanted to mess with the chef. He and I are in each other’s good books, but he is one scary man. Because I’m a male, and punch-ups beat cooking, I started following behind him as he approached the other dude. He very quietly sat back down and tipped generously apparently.
This was awesome, because I’m in Australia, and you aren’t even really supposed to tip here.”
Count Her Coins
“I used to work at McDonald’s during high school. You really see all kinds come through there. A couple of stories come to mind.
The first was when a lady came through the drive-thru and ordered three large chocolate shakes. It was a pretty rainy day out (relevant). I filled the order and passed it to my manager who happened to be working the window at the time.
The lady rolled her window down about six inches and extended a hand to take the shakes. My manager pointed out that the cups were pretty tall, and she’ll have to roll her window down all the way so that they fit. She insists (rather loudly) that it was fine because she didn’t want to get wet.
Never mind that there is a little roof over the window, sheltering it from the rain. She took the first shake, rotated it about 70 degrees, and put it in her car. She repeated this process for the second one, except she smashed the lid against the window in the process. Of course, the flimsy plastic lid popped off, spilling shake all down the side of her car, both on the inside and the outside. She flipped out. She was yelling at my manager about how he didn’t put the lid on all the way, calling him stupid and all sorts of other things. He handed her a big stack of napkins, put on his best smile, apologized, and made her a new shake. She got way better than she deserved.
Another lady came through the drive-thru at 12:15 on a Saturday. Pretty much the busiest time there was at our store. She ordered about 20 bucks worth of food and pulled around to the window.
The cashier said her total, and the lady handed her a big bag of unrolled coins, saying something like, ‘I think it’s all there.’
The cashier called the manager, who politely told the lady that we were very busy and couldn’t count out all of those coins right then. He asked her to pull off to the side so the people behind her could get through while we counted out the change. The lady lost her mind and started complaining about how she was there first, and everyone else could wait until she was served. She again assured us that all of the money is there, and was angry that we wouldn’t just accept her giant bag of coins as payment without counting it first.”
Why Is He Getting Involved?
“I used to work at Starbucks. My store was by the beach and very busy in summer. You could wait in the register line for up to a half hour or even 45 minutes. It was not like we were messing around back there; we were that busy.
So, the thing about Starbucks is, that people forget that the line to wait for the drinks is going to be a while too. You still are going to wait for a bit even after the register. All of a sudden, you waited in line for 30 minutes, and your drink was supposed to be done lickety-split.
We had a party of several high school-age girls getting frappucinos, and they’d waited in line for a while to get them. So they were annoyed. This one chick, in particular, was acting like an entitled little brat, riding me and watching me like a hawk while I made these drinks. Asked me if each next drink was hers.
Finally, I told her something like, ‘I’m going as fast as I can. We’re very busy, and your drink will be out as soon as possible.’
Her father heard me say that and decided I was being sassy (I wasn’t) and threatened violence.
It never came to that. I ignored the man just like I ignored his daughter, made the drink in order, and gave it to them. But man, threatening to punch some 19-year-old kid that’s half your size over the wait for a frappucino?
First. World. Problems.”