My wife and I went to an upscale restaurant for dinner last weekend. I ordered my burger medium rare, but it arrived almost burned to a crisp. So I asked our server to send it back to the kitchen and requested a new one.
My wife smiled when our server left. “You know he’s going to spit on your burger, right?” she said.
“Yep,” I agreed. “Probably.”
This is not the first time we’ve had this conversation. Every meal at a restaurant, it’s a lingering fear. Were we polite enough to our server? Did we inadvertently do something to piss him or her off? Exactly how much of our soup contains bitter saliva?
I know that sounds paranoid. But you know who else was paranoid? Ken Yerdon, the 45 year-old New York man who visited a suburban Chili’s in late July and became convinced that his server spit in his soda.
He was so convinced that he took the soda to a police lab for DNA analysis, which is something only a crazy person does. But guess what? HIS SODA HAD SPIT IN IT! That’s according to court papers, because Yerdon and his wife are now suing Chili’s for “psychological trauma.”
If you believe the research— and yes, there has been academic research on “counterproductive work behavior”— only six percent of service employees admit to having “contaminated” a customer’s food. That’s according to a 2014 study by researchers from Baylor University and the University of Houston.
But according to a survey I did this week, with over three dozen friends, friends of friends, and casual acquaintances—all of whom work as either restaurant servers or cooks, in major cities from California to New York—exactly 100% claimed to have done something vile, or witnessed a co-worker doing something vile, to a customer’s food. And they weren’t shy about sharing details.
1. It Doesn’t Happen Where You Think It Happens
Yes, employees at fast food franchises are not to be trusted. But you already knew that, right? New videos pop up seemingly every week of disgruntled teens putting odious things into the deep fryer. If you’ve eaten at a fast food place, ANY fast food place, at least three times in your life, trust me on this, you’ve eaten a little pubic hair.
But bad things don’t just happen at restaurants with dollar discount menus or pictures on the menu. Restaurants that employ wine sommeliers have also been responsible for customers inadvertently eating pubic hair.
How do I know this? Because I talked to a sommelier at a high-end steak restaurant in New York—he obviously didn’t want to be named—who has been responsible for a few of those stray pubic hairs.
He recalls the event with amazing clarity: There was a too-demanding customer who kept sending back wine, and trying to show off his wine knowledge in front of his fellow diners, mostly by contradicting everything the sommelier said.
“As a special treat, I made sure they got dessert on the house,” the sommelier tells me. “And I warmed up their spoons on my balls.”
Speaking of balls . . .
2. There’s a Good Chance You’ve Eaten Something That’s Had Balls On It
In almost every case of intentional food contamination in my survey, accounting
for roughly 95% of the 40 or so people I spoke to or exchanged emails with, the
objects used to defile meals were either human spit or male genitals.
Spit, in a weird way, makes sense. It’s quick and easy, and doesn’t require a lot of creativity. But what is it about balls? Mixing a salad with your balls requires a level of balance and flexibility that hardly seems worth it. If you have that kind of core muscles, why are you working in the food industry?
Also, why no vaginas? Not a single waitress in my survey said anything about using her crotch in an act of food terrorism. But balls, oh my god, so many balls! Pork chops, onion rings, mashed potatoes, bruschetta, they’ve all been desecrated by a blizzard of balls.
One especially memorable tale shared with me—again, she asked not to be named, but she lives and works in Florida—involved an Orlando Magic player, who apparently requested too many substitutions. He wanted a chicken quesadilla with his sandwich instead of the fries offered on the menu. The basketball player in question apparently had a reputation for being demanding and rude to the staff, and a terrible tipper. The quesadilla alone wasn't the problem, it was the customer's history of douchiness.
His waitress witnessed the cook prepare the quesadilla “and then stick it in his pants and rub it on his sweaty cook crotch before plating it.”
Stories like this are harrowing, but not necessarily a reason to freak out. Although all of the servers and cooks I contacted had a story about doing foul and unspeakable things to a customer’s food, it should be noted that it was usually A story. As in, a single tale. Not numerous tales. One story about that one time they did something really, really disgusting.
Darron Cardosa, author of the upcoming book The Bitchy Waiter: Tales, Tips and Tribulations from a Life in Food Service, admits that in his 25 years of being a restaurant server—at chains like Bennigan’s as well as upscale New York celebrity-owned restaurants—he’s only abused a customer’s food once.
“I once spit in a glass of lemonade after a man called me a faggot,” he says.
His track record aside, he personally believes that desecrated food at the hands of vengeful waitstaff is mostly a myth. “It’s akin to the threat that parents make to their children on long road trips: ‘If you don’t behave, I will turn this car around and go right home!’” he says. “That hardly ever happens, right? It’s just knowing that it could happen that is enough to strike fear in a person’s heart. “
But if, like me, you’re paranoid anyway—because if an NBA player can get served a quesadilla baptized in ball sweat, nobody’s safe!— Cardosa has a few suggestions.
It’s not just about being rude. Obviously, don’t call your waiter a faggot. (Or anyone for that matter.) Don’t try to outsmart your sommelier with smart-ass comments. You should know how to live in the world by now. If you act like a jerk, you’re going to be treated like a jerk who loves the taste of balls and drool. That’s just evolution, man.
Cardosa assured me that sending back an overcooked burger probably didn’t put me in the crosshairs for an angry retribution.
“If someone is going to have their food fucked with, that person has to do something really extreme,” he says. “Simply sending back a burger that was overcooked is not going to bring out the wrath of the server. However, sending it back and saying, ‘Jeez, it’s not that hard to get this right, what are you stupid? There goes your tip’ might.”
But it’s not just about avoiding behavior that’s obnoxious, insulting, or aggressively condescending. You can also be too demanding. Even politelydemanding.
Do you have dietary restrictions? That, in itself, isn't a problem. But it becomes a problem when you say something like “I’m a gluten-free, dairy-free vegan who's allergic to all cooking oils. Why does this steak house not have anything for me to eat?”
Servers are there to assist you. But they are not there to solve your dietary dilemmas. “Don’t just tell them what you can’t eat and then expect the server to come up with a menu for you,” says Cardosa. “Do your homework before you get there. It’s your allergy, not your server’s.”
It boils down to a fundamental rule: Behave around people, even people you’re paying, with the knowledge that the world doesn’t revolve around you.
Follow that advice, and the next time you finish a delicious burger, cooked to your specifications, you won’t end up picking ball hairs out of your teeth.
As for the guy who took his soda to a police lab for DNA tests, did he do anything to deserve a spit-filled beverage? We don’t really know. We weren’t there. But we do know what he told a local newspaper about the offending body fluid.
“It wasn’t regular spit, either,” he purportedly said. “It was definitely a loogie.”
Seriously? He’s quantifying spit? We don’t know the guy, but doesn’t he just sound like somebody who needs to know the seasonality of the grass used in grass-fed beef, explains that he only eats sheep’s milk cheeses from French fermiers, and then tips 5%?