Haunting Tales From the City's F&B Crowd

Haunting Tales From the City's F&B Crowd

Need a REAL scare this season? Here are the nightmare customers who plop down at our tables, storm our hostess stands, and generally leave us horrified (or in rare cases, victorious!)

By Rachel Barkley

{A native of Lake Wylie, North Carolina, Rachel Barkley graduated from the Honors College at College of Charleston with an AB degree in classics and HPCP (Historic Preservation and Community Planning), as well as a minor in creative writing. When she's not nosing around bell towers, lighthouses, and beneath church basements, she's working the F&B scene. Back in 2008, when the then-college freshman got into it, "I didn't even apply," she recalls. "The manager sat down across from me one day, asked me if I was interested in hosting, and told me to come in the following day around 5:30 p.m., and instructed me to 'wear something nice.'" Since then, Barkley's done everything in a restaurant except bartend and manage. "My chef coat still hangs in the closet next to my dresses and camo jackets. I love to cook. I still remember the first time I cut my hand while chopping a tomato when I was six. My favorite dish in kindergarten was blackened oysters. And I love goat cheese."   


Want to know why the food and beverage (F&B) people really need a drink after work? Having worked in the industry here in Charleston for the past four years, I've heard of and witnessed countless stories about customers and their (ahem) peccadillos. In other words? Nightmare customers... I compiled a handful of stories from F&B friends—both beginners and veterans. Warning: after reading these, you might need a drink yourself.

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Cheapskates

I had a man who wanted to taste three different wines from our list—zinfandel, shiraz, and petite syrah. I first suggested the zinfandel blend that we only served by the bottle, but it was $13 more than the others. He looked at the price, and said, “I don’t care for blends.” He ordered the cheapest one after instructing his business partner on the difference between the wines. ‘So, if you knew the different between the grape varieties, then why did you need to taste them all?’ I thought. I should have charged him $5 for a wine tasting.

I remember all those who left the tip space blank on the check, or worse, struck a line through it with the pen. It’s only happened twice, but I still remember them. Here’s an idea. Next time you go to a restaurant and stiff an employee, I’ll come into your place of work, and I will not pay you for your products or services. What if that really happened? Anarchy!

I waited on a couple one night for four hours. They just wouldn’t leave. They ordered bottle after bottle of wine—drank three between the two of them—and he kept saying, “Even though we’re retired, we still gotta work to eat, you know.” I nodded with a half-smile because I knew this couple had stiffed my friend the night before.  He said it over and over: “We gotta work to eat. We gotta work to eat.” At the end of the night, around 9:30pm, he left me $8 on $90, which means I made $2 per hour. Gee golly, I can pay for the gas to go home!

The Inept (lacking sense or reason)

After running food to a table of four, I asked if there was anything else they needed. One man looked at his plate, looked at me, and said, “I wanted NO sides with my ribeye.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good ribeye, but if sides come with it, I usually don’t complain. I told the man that on the menu, it says that our ribeye is served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. He huffed and said, “Well, I guess it’s alright, but I’ll have to tell you, I did not order fish with my starter salad.” I looked at his empty salad bowl, and wasn’t sure I understood. “Sir?” I asked. “Look, see here,” he said. “Look at this raw piece of fish.” “There?” I asked. He nodded. I think I may have snorted in an attempt to hide the laughter. “Sir, that’s a tomato.”

I had a lady insist that we should validate her gift card, which was a picture of the restaurant’s sign on a piece of paper, like the flimsy 8 ½” x 11” paper you buy in the 100 packet at Staples.

After the food had been set on one of my tables, I walked over after a few minutes to check on everything. “I did not order my tuna rare,” said the lady. “Well m’am, on the menu it says ‘seared rare tuna.’ I can have our kitchen cook it more if you’d like.” “No, that’s alright. I don’t care for this. I ordered it because I thought it was an endangered species. I’ll have the pasta dish instead.” While standing there trying to understand, I finally realized that she read the menu as seared rare tuna. I just walked away.

The Know-It-Alls

I was hosting on graduation weekend—Saturday afternoon brunch—when a tall man with grey hair walked in with an angry look on his face. I was hosting two dining rooms, the phone was ringing constantly, and people were lined up out the door for their reservations. The man looked down at me and said, “Do you people not answer your phone? I called for a table of eight five minutes ago!” I assured him that I was trying my best to answer the phone while seating everyone at the same time, but that the wait time for eight would be at least an hour and a half. “What about all these empty tables? There, or there!” he said, pointing to the tables around the restaurant. “They have all been reserved, sir,” I explained further to him. “This is one of our busiest weekends of the year, and other people have made reservations since January.” “Well, I’m just livid, where’s your manager?” he asked. I called my manager to the front, he shook the guy’s hand, and they walked to the back of the restaurant while the rest of his family stood outside. About 45 seconds later, the man rushed by me out of the door. “What did you say to him?” I asked my manager. “I told him he was being rude and obnoxious, and he needed to get out of my restaurant.” I smiled. Victory!

Just a simple rule of thumb: if you don’t know how to pronounce it, don’t say it out loud. Ask your server, that’s what they’re there for. They’re smarter than you think. Some of them even went to college!

A couple walked into the restaurant one afternoon, and I noticed that in the number with their reservation, the area code read “919.” “How was your trip from Raleigh?” I asked. I explained that I had noticed their area code and that I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. We talked a little bit about the school until the lady said, “Wait a minute, and now you’re a restaurant manager?” quite pretentiously. I looked at her in amazement, as if to say, ‘Who are you to judge? What do you do for a living?’ “Actually, I own this place, m’am,” I told her, and took them to their table. “Enjoy your meal.”

Please do not interrupt me while I am saying the specials, or I will put you in time out.

Author's Note: I'd bet tomorrow night's tips that these are just the tip of the iceberg. Got a horrendous, hilarious, terrifying F&B story to tell? Send it to Grit editors at emcgauley@charlestonmag.com. We'd love to put together a Part 2 ...