Vegan fish-eaters, glassware deep-throaters, unlocked restroom lovin’: 19 Philly restaurant horror stories

Chefs and restaurateurs very rarely call out bad behavior. That doesn’t mean they don’t save up horror stories to share with one another behind the scenes. Here are some of the best.

More than almost any other retail job, working in restaurants can be rewarding. You get to feed people who are hungry. Give drinks to people who are thirsty. Offer a slice of luxury to people who aren’t accustomed to being served, or impress sophisticates with ultimate hospitality.

Yes, working in restaurants can be very rewarding…except when it’s not.

Unreasonable menu demands. Drunken public escapades. Fictitious assertions posted in online reviews for all the world to see. It’s all fun and games until a customer makes you seething mad, and — because you’re in the service business — you can’t do a thing about it. (We’re gonna wishfully assume the retaliation alluded to in the recent South Park song about Yelpers is for comic effect only, and has no basis in reality.)

As Vetri Family partner Jeff Benjamin wrote in his book Front of the House, it was probably Walt Disney who expressed the conundrum best: “The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer.”

Chefs and restaurateurs very rarely call out bad behavior, because it just doesn’t make sense to alienate potential sources of future income. That doesn’t mean they don’t save up horror stories to share with one another behind the scenes, and we were able to trade promises of anonymity for the chance to publish some of the funniest. If you’re in the biz, you’ll nod your head and laugh (or cringe) knowingly. If you’re not, maybe consider this a lesson in what not to do.

Note: All stories are relayed as told, with the exception of light editing for clarity. All photos are real, with the exception of light editing to preserve anonymity.

The Special Diet Clan

Certainly, restaurants will make an effort to respect your dietary preferences. It would be easier if they always made sense.

Center City: Plant-Based Seafood

veganfish
Anonymous

You’re welcome in advance for the biology lesson.

Montco: The Chicken and the…

veganeggs
Anonymous

If an egg isn’t fertilized, it’s not really an animal, right?

East Passyunk: Duck Liver From the Sea

pescatarianfoie
Anonymous

Perhaps they thought foie gras was a type of fish. Granted, ducks and geese do swim…

Wash West: Shape Matters

“The most extreme ticket we ever got was a guest who reported having an allergy to flat-leaf parsley…but curly parsley was ok.”

Center City: Cold Spaghetti, Hot Tartare

coldspaghetti
Anonymous

Plus, gluten-soy-corn-rice-nut-free cooking at its finest.

The Drunkards

We get it, you’re out to have a good time. But there are limits, folks, there are limits.

South Street: Mile High Club

“I think the best was having to stop two guests from having sex in the bathroom. They didn’t even bother to lock the door. She was so high — on who knows what — that afterwards she walked through the dining room in jeans and no shirt, with just a scarf draped precariously over her shoulders. (The scarf did not conceal the Frankenstein boob job. Those girls were staring in two different directions.) This was during prime dinner hour on a Friday night. I 86’d them both [cut them off]. Then she tried to come back an hour later — her shirt was thankfully on, although it was backwards. I told her to go home and think about her life, which is what I’d be doing later that evening.”

Center City: Long Road Home

“This guest had only one sip of his martini, but was definitely already drunk. Our new bartender seems to be on top of it. She’s very sexy, with a great Russian accent, which helps her be more convincing when she tells him, ‘You got to go.’ He stumbles out of his stool, waves goodbye, and starts to head toward the kitchen instead of the exit. ‘I help you,’ she says, turning him around. Mr. Martini then falls into an empty table, but the bartender is there to catch him. I feel very good about how our new hire is handling everything, but then comes the zinger. She grabs him by the arm and says, ‘Where is your car? I walk you to your car.’” [Great job until she suggested the drunk dude drive himself home — guess things work differently in Russia.]

Fairmount: Very Attractive

“A table asked the server to give them a cucumber. When she refused, they just started deep-throating Collins glasses instead, and videotaping the whole thing. Then they started replaying the video to other customers in the dining room.”

The Picky Eaters

Perhaps you might consider just cooking at home instead?

Old City: Squiggly, Please

“Order as sent to the kitchen:

Full English Breakfast
– eggs ‘squiggly’
– burn outside
– runny inside

The guest still sent it back.”

South Street: Extra Cheesy

“This is painful, because I own a restaurant, but my wife is famous for ordering a Caprese salad with no tomatoes, extra cheese. I have tried and tried, but she just likes mozzarella with balsamic vinegar, I guess.”

Everywhere: Ceci N’est Pas un Dish

nobeets
Anonymous

So what you’re saying is…?

The Entitled

Yes, you’re the guest. But you did not just get elected governor of your own province.

East Passyunk: Skepticism Uber Alles

“Guest asks what the name of the restaurant means. The server proudly delivers the full explanation, which he has learned as part of his training. The guest replies: ‘Nice try. But I’m not buying it.’”

Center City: Make Yourself at Home

“I had a woman try to change her baby’s diaper on top of a table in the middle of the dining room. There were other guests all around — we were fully seated; it was a Saturday afternoon. When I asked her to please NOT, she got angry and said we didn’t have a changing table in the bathroom, so it was the only option available. This was in a bar.”

South Philly: Look Into My Eyes

“Guest approaches us and is inconsolable because server did not give him the requisite ‘eye contact’ when describing restaurant’s mission and menu.”

South Street: Electronics Are Scary

“When we first opened, we got an online review from a customer who complained that there were too many light switches by the front door. Didn’t quite know how to respond to that one.”

Fairmount: Greenhouse Effect

xmascactus
Anonymous

“A phone call we got in early October: ‘I left a miniature cactus on your bar. I’m from New York but I’ll be back at Christmas — can you save it for me?’”

The Hard-Knock Life

Sometimes, things just go wrong.

Callowhill: A Leg Up

“I was GM of a bar, and as we were closing up after 2 AM, we found a well-groomed 50-ish man sitting outside on the sidewalk, drunk. Turns out he only lived a couple blocks away, but he could barely move so we called a cab for him. To get the gentleman in the cab, we had to remove his wooden leg. We rode home with him, and then carried him up to his fancy loft…but we forgot the leg in the car. Our loyal cab driver came running after us calling, in broken English, ‘Misters! Misters! Do not forget your legs!’”

South Philly: Having a Blast

“A table celebrating their friend’s birthday ordered him a flaming Dr. Pepper shot. I brought it out and lit it on fire, but the birthday boy made the mistake of hesitating before shooting it — not a good idea: He lit his eyebrows and hair on fire. His friends doused him with their water glasses. At this point, he was not only scared, mad, in pain, eyebrowless and embarrassed, he was also soaking wet. At his birthday dinner.”

Midtown Village: It’s a Trap

“It was a busy Friday night in the bar, after midnight. The place was jam packed when our most popular draft beer kicked. My colleague went off to change the keg, while I stayed behind the bar. He was gone an awfully long time, and finally, I had to go see what happened to him. At the time, we were doing a DIY extermination job, and the kitchen guys would put out a ton of glue traps at the end of their night. Well, I arrived in the kitchen to find this 6′ 3″ bartender on all fours outside the walk-in box. He had a glue trap stuck to each foot, to one knee and to one hand. Every effort he made to remove one ended in another replacing it somewhere else. I could hardly help him because I was laughing so hard. Eventually I freed him, we tapped the keg, and went back to the bustling crowd.”

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