Not so hospitable – waiters on their restaurant horror stories

Stuart Heritage
Photograph: JackF/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This weekend it emerged that the restaurant chain Wahaca asked a waiter to pay back part of a bill after his customers left without paying. Although Wahaca later decided against doing so – blaming the incident on an “internal communications issue” and amending its eat-and-run policy – it shows that service-industry workers have got it bad. The Guardian asked readers for their experiences. Here are some of the most egregious responses, which have been published anonymously at their request.

Responding via the Guardian’s reader call out:

‘He told me I had to pay the table’s bill or I couldn’t leave’
Late 2017. I was new at TGI Fridays and had my first runners. They’d been a nice enough table, but they’d been angry at the long wait for food and then, when it came, the food itself. That was a regular thing. At the end of the night, I was cashing out and one of my managers came over to discuss the run. His management style was horrid – putting people down, patronising them, goading them in front of customers – and he hated me. He told me it was my fault and I had to pay the table’s bill or I wouldn’t be able to leave the restaurant. I voiced my disapproval, but he stood his ground and so I began to count the £70 bill out of my tips and own money. It was only when another manager intervened and spoke to the first manager and said that wasn’t store policy that I realised I was being bullied. 22-year-old man, London

‘I had to mop up a pool of a blood with one-ply tissue’
I worked part-time in a restaurant while studying in college. The manager took a strong dislike to me because I was a little bit less experienced than the other waiting staff. On a particularly busy night, I heard him scream at me from across the restaurant – a drunk man had fallen from his stool and hit his head and split his lip open. Blood was everywhere, and my manager told me to clean it up. When I asked for gloves and a mop he gestured to some kitchen towel before disappearing behind the bar downstairs. Naively, I did it, as I didn’t want to lose my job. I had to mop up a pool of this drunk old man’s blood with one-ply tissue, on my hands and knees, in a busy restaurant. It was humiliating and I only realised how dangerous it was when a man who was drinking there approached me, told me he was a nurse and warned me to never let them make me do something like this again. I quit soon afterwards, but it haunts me to this day. 23-year-old woman, Dublin

‘She told me I needed to be prettier to be such a bad waitress’
During university, I worked at a small independent restaurant in south London. On one Sunday I had a customer who insisted on being seated in the closed part of the restaurant and then called me incompetent because I had to set up the table. She was a nightmare for the entire meal. By the time dessert came round, she had told me multiple times I needed to be far prettier if I expected to be such a bad waitress and still wanted a tip. I brought the desserts for her and her two male companions up a rickety staircase and she asked for dessert forks. I didn’t think we had any, but offered to check our own cutlery and with the restaurant next door. I had to inform her there were none available and she pushed the table away from her, got up and swore into my face, asking me how it felt to be “stupid and incompetent”, then giggled with her friends. She tried to get the dessert taken off her bill because she couldn’t eat cheesecake with a normal fork and, shockingly, didn’t leave a tip. Curiously, she returned multiple times, though. This restaurant also tried to get away with not paying me the minimum wage for a 21-year-old because “I had already signed a contract” when I was under 21. 26-year-old woman, Wakefield

‘He was very distressed that we had run out of vinegar packets’
I worked in a fast-food restaurant at a tourist attraction. One busy summer day we ran out of tiny vinegar packets. One smartly dressed gentleman was very distressed by this, becoming extremely passive aggressive and holding up the queue with a monologue about how much he had paid to get in and expected everything to be “just so”. About four hours later, as I was cleaning a table, I realised someone was standing next to me. I looked up to see the same man from before, holding a single vinegar packet between thumb and forefinger. “I just thought I’d bring this to you from the [restaurant in other part of attraction]. You know,” he placed it on the table as if it were the golden idol from the first Indiana Jones film, “in case someone asks. 26-year-old woman, Edinburgh

‘Only female staff were asked to do cleanup’
Working at a hotel in 2011: my tips were kept by management, a male manager kept calling me “good girl”, only female staff were asked to do “cleanup”, and one set of customers asked me if I “knew the difference between France and England”. When I asked why, they said: “Had you known, you wouldn’t have brought me French [mustard] when I asked for English.” I lasted two months before I was sacked and evicted (I lived on the premises) on Christmas Eve. I had been in the country for only three months at that point. 35-year-old-woman, London

‘Dishes had names like Good Girl or Bad Boy breakfast’
Last year, I was working in a brand new pub. It was modern, well decorated and seemed like a really nice place. The issue was the clear sexism of the place. There were neon signs that said things such as “kissable lips”, “sexy face” and “glamorous girl”, as well as dishes with names like Good Girl or Bad Boy breakfast, Naked, Dressed or Topless burgers. To make things even worst, it was a sports pub. The amount of shaming comments female waitresses and myself experienced every day from clients, because of the name of dishes, was absurd – from “I’d rather my waitress was topless” to “Are you a good girl?” I had no chance to defend myself as they were my clients. I couldn’t get out of that place any quicker. 20-year-old woman, London

‘Inside the empty crisp packet was an overfull nappy’
In the summer of 2014, I waited tables at a zoo restaurant. I will never forget serving one demanding table of two young families who had been incredibly demanding and complained about a range of issues – mainly the price – throughout their meal. After they exited I loaded up the rubbish on to a tray and, just as I was about to carry it all to the kitchen, a bag of crisps fell on to the floor. I bent down to pick it up and quickly realised that inside the bag was a warm, overfull nappy and a note saying “Thank you” accompanied by a smiley face. 25-year-old, Norwich

‘They repeatedly pushed glasses off the table’
When I was working at a popular Italian pizza chain in London, on one occasion, a group came in, extremely drunk and obnoxious from the start. They carried on drinking and, after they repeatedly pushed glasses off the table, causing them to smash, we told them we would not be serving any more wine until they had finished their meal. They swore at my manager and told us all that we couldn’t tell them what they can and can’t do because they were 25, work really hard in the week and deserve to get drunk at the weekend. Every waiter in the restaurant at that point was doing a 12-hour shift. 27-year-old man, London

Responding via Twitter:

‘I expected a short break to cry in the bathroom’ … a barmaid (posed by a model). Photograph: YakobchukOlena/Getty Images/iStockphoto

“A customer gave me a £10 tip, which I was initially thrilled with. He then told me that when he eats out he ‘starts at £20 and deducts £1 per slip-up’. My 10 ‘slip ups’ ranged from the food taking 12 minutes to come to the stitching on my apron being frayed …”

“After my bar hit a certain head count, we had to switch to plastic cups for safety reasons. When I handed a man his pint of lager in a plastic cup he spat at me and called me a bitch. I walked off to tell my manager expecting a short break to cry in the bathroom, but he instead made me go back to the bar and apologise to the man.”

“We were filmed constantly. The owner was completely open about the fact that he, his wife and their adult daughter would watch the footage in real time at their house and ring in to question micro-decisions we made throughout the evening (‘Why did you just fill up his water glass? I hope you pushed the expensive wine before serving them the house just then’).”

“There was a colleague who used to pick their nose and wipe the contents on the bathroom wall. It was once my job to scrape them off with a knife into some tissue.”

“When I was a teenage waitress, the tricky, ‘charismatic’ gentleman who had been celebrating his 80th birthday went to kiss my hand at the end of the meal. He then sucked several of my fingers before I could shriek, ‘They need me in the kitchen!’

“When it came to settling the bill, the customer I was serving said: ‘Girls always come running when there’s money involved’, then screwed up the bank notes and threw them at me.”

“When I was 15, I worked in a cafe. A woman carefully brought her tray back to me. ‘How rare! What a thoughtful gesture!’ I thought. Her child had puked all over it, so she was bringing it to me to clean.”

“I worked in a restaurant in a hotel. One of the chefs had an aneurysm and died when he went to find something in the fridge. The owners insisted that dinner service continue, and that his body be taken out to the ambulance through the back entrance, by the bins.”

“As the only English woman working in an Italian restaurant, I was subject to some low-level sexual harassment. When I complained, I was told not to be so English about things.”

“A while back we hosted a work party. After the party, I was clearing up and saw a water jug underneath the table, hidden out of sight with a weird substance in. I picked it up and sniffed it. It was someone’s vomit, and I almost vomited myself. So I never sniff anything that looks weird now.”

“Girls weren’t allowed to take orders, deliver savoury food or accept tips. We were only allowed to clear tables, bring drinks and deal with desserts.”