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Sticky situation - What do you think

An incident occured today in the restaurant where I work, and I wanted to see if I could get some non-restaurant workers input. Essentially, a waiter and a kitchen guy were goofing off during lunch service(we have an open kitchen). The waiter(21 years old lovable but kind of clueless)threw a penny through the kitchen window at the salad guy. Salad guy,(typical 17 year old kid), threw a piece of cucumber at the waiter. Said piece of cucumber hit a customer seated near the kitchen. It is unclear exactly where the customer was hit, but it seems it was either his chair or perhaps his coat. He definitely did not take a direct hit. The customer was VERY MAD, and rightfully so. Nobody wants to be hit with a cucumber while dining. The owner severely reprimanded the two guilty parties, and made sure the customer knew this. Both the waiter and the salad guy apologized to the customer. The owner also apologized profusely and bought his lunch and the waiter personally bought their drinks. At the end of the day, the customer was still mad and shocked about the incident as was his dining companion.

I think that the customer had every single right to be totally PO'd about the situation when it happened. I also think that the restaurant did everything they possibly could to make it up to him. Clearly everybody cared about the situation and everybody bent over backwards to make up for it. The customer, at that point, should have just let it go.

What do you think? I'm not asking about how to deal with the staff members; they have both been dealt with. For the record, this was lunch at a cute little cafe in a very small town.

Also, as an amusing yet fitting aside, the penny showed up in someones salad tonight at dinner. Luckily, it was a laid back regular who know all of the staff quite well and was able to laugh it off. The waiter may not fare so well.

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  1. I think the restaurant handled the situation beautifully. Especially considering the type of establishment and the ages of the "perps," I doubt I would have been that upset as a customer. I can't imagine what else the manager could have done other than fire the two on the spot and/or flog them in public.

    1. So you're at lunch at a small cafe, nothing fancy I assume. A cucumber lands on your coat. Would I be surprised? Wonder what the hell was that for? Yes. After finding out it was two young guys goofing off and not a cucumber directed at me I doubt I could still be mad, especially if the owner did what was described. I mean really, it was a cucumber that I doubt would even stain anything. Maybe if it were a juicy tomato or a raw piece of meat, but really that mad over a cucumber slice? I'd have to say throw a cucumber on me if that means I get a free meal and free drinks.

      I remember what it was like to have a job through school and having friends at work. Yes we goofed around and I understand the situation.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Rick

        Couple of points.
        Was there an offer to clean the coat? Why didn't you guys look for the penny?
        That aside, It's hardly life or death! My son is head chef/kitchen manager of a small restaurant at the age of 21. I'll forward this to him to get his take.

        1. re: Oakland Barb

          No, there was no offer to clean the coat. It was a piece of cucumber, not a glass of wine. Plus, it was entirely unclear what the cucumber actually hit. But really, a piece of cucumber hitting your coat and then falling to the floor is hardly a cause for cleaning. yes, the penny should definitely been looked for. Probably, the salad guy was so crazed by being chewed out by the owner that he forgot about that step. The owner should have remembered, but he was a bit pre-occupied with the situation at hand. But yes, the penny should have been fished out. I only added that bit for amusement purposes. Perhaps only those in the biz will understand that humor.

      2. I think the owner and restaurant handled things properly and made sincere ammends with the apology and buying the meal.

        Yes, the diner was rightfully mad but com'n, if he's still mad after an apology and a free meal and drink (for a flying cucumber slice) he either lacks a bit of humanity, was never young and stupid, has other issues or has unbelievable standards.

        Hanging onto anger while dining is a big karmic no-no in my book. Makes the food taste bad and not good for the digestive track.

        1. If the guy was an adult, he would have told the knuckleheads that he’d be back next Wednesday and see if they could get him another free lunch with-out getting fired.

          1. I agree with everybody that it sounds like the situation was handled as well as it possibly could be handled and if the customer still chose to remain angry, then there's nothing else you can do--move on. And out of curiosity, as it's a small town, was the customer and companion known to you and if it's a small enough town, where else is he gonna go!

            1. I think you did everything you could after the incident. I believe the key would have been to not goof off with customers in the place. That said, the customer might try ordering a sense of humor next time.

              1. A customer is not required to bring a sense of humor to dine at a restaurant. I would, most of the time, but I realize that some days are the "some of time" for other people. These customers could have had a bad day for other reasons, and not be inclined to display their ordinary sense of humor. It is *never* for anyone in the restaurant's employ to question that. Full stop.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Karl S

                  I agree with Karl S. I would have let it go (even though I'm not a big fan of flying food), but as those in the retail business say ..."The Customer is always right"

                2. TDhe customer was an a-hole....

                  1. I agree that the situation was handled as well as possible. Having said that, I could have very well reacted as the customer did because I HATE HORSEPLAY WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING!! It makes me nuts. No good comes from it and while I am easy going about most things, I would have lost it if this happened to me, because it's not about the cucumber or the penny but about people acting like idiots.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Janet from Richmond

                      Janet... ITA... I'm VERY easy going and while I don't think it something worth being fired over, I DEFINATLY would have been steaming myself...


                    2. Personally I think they dodged a bullet. If I had found a penny and especially if I bit down on one while eating me salad, no amount of apologizes and drinks would calm me down.

                      That being said with the exception of not finding the elusive coin I think the restaurant did everything possible it could to appease the customer. Certainly one can’t blame him for being mad despite their best efforts.

                      1. I believe it depends on the day. The customer might have "had it up to here" with other things and that was the last straw. I think everything was done properly. The penny could have hit someone in the eye as well. I certainly would have been upset to find it in my salad though.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Linda VH

                          It's all in fun, until someone loses an eye.

                            1. re: bryan

                              Off-topic, undoubtedly, bryan, but that's the funniest post I've seen on Chowhound in a LONG time.

                              1. re: Dave Feldman

                                bryan's comment made me laugh out loud, but your response really sealed the deal....

                        2. I have to say, my first thought was "Where is the penny?" Glad nothing worse came of that.

                          I would initally be ticked, but after profuse apologies, then it is only the customer that is to blame for being mad.

                          1. I think the initial incident was handled well but there should have been much better follow-up. The penny in the salad is disgusting.

                            1. It seems that the restaurant did everything possible, but I would still extend the option of cleaning the customers coat. I know it was only a piece of cucumber, but the cost of cleaning a coat is still a inexpensive gesture.

                              Did the customer who found the penny in their salad get offered a complimentary meal?

                              Some people are almost impossible to please and no matter what you do they still will not be happy. It seems that you did everything possible. You might send a carefully worded card to the home to apologize, but that would be the limit.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Kelli2006

                                Did they at least get to keep the penny?

                              2. The only thing I might have done differently is fire the two guys involved. No drama scene for the offended customer's benefit, just quietly at the end of the shift. Horseplay in a kitchen is dangerous, as an owner or manager I wouldn't take the chance that immature stuff like that would happen again. And, but for a couple of instances of luck, it could have been worse.

                                1. The resto should have offered to clean the coat, no biggie but a nice gesture as well as offer a return on the house to prove that flying food not the resto MO. Customer within his right to be angry, but Very Mad sounds like he was having a bad day or trying to impress his "Let's Do Lunch" companion.

                                  Penny eater should likewise be comped, plus winning a free penny-less meal in the future.

                                  Culprits should be quietly let go at the end of the shift. No wiggle room when this many people effected by such childish behavior.

                                  1. Culprits get canned on the spot AND the cost of the customer's meal and drinks PLUS a comped return visit gets taken out of their paychecks. Does't matter how "loveable" they are. I guaran-damn-tee that if the customer hadn't been hit, the waiter would have tossed something back and things would have escalated from there.

                                    Penny-eater comped. Fact he's a regular makes no difference.

                                    1. Some ppl need to loosen up, so u got hit with a cucumber, the restaurant made it very clear they were sorry, what more do u want??? I think he should've gotten over it, clearly its not the end of the world, why make everyone feel as tho they still owe u something, it just goes to show that they're some ppl you can NEVER please, no matter what u do. Those of u that dont agree with that statement......are THAT person and u really need to learn to relax.

                                      1. Okay, first things first. We have to assume we have all the facts. No previous incidents at the restaurant. No bad day, etc.

                                        I say, what the manager did was fine. I'd have let the two go after their shifts. At the very least a day suspension and probation.

                                        But c'mon, this guy needs to lighten up already. Were it me, I may have laughed or even thrown the cucumber back. For god's sake what was his meal gonna cost him anyway?? It's not like that sushi joint in NYC with the $350 tasting menu.

                                        Some people are on this planet to drag the rest of us down I think.

                                        Maybe he and they guy in Tampa can dine together in the future.


                                        1. After reading all of these I went back and only read that the OP stated he was VERY MAD.

                                          Question for OP, did the guy say anything, do anything, tip badly or not at all, or was this a guess. Maybe the guy has a sour puss all the time.

                                          A little help from OP please?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: jfood

                                            he was definitely very mad. The owner spoke with him at the time of the incident and also after their meal was finished and they were on their way out the door. He had calmed down some, but was still pretty po'd. He WAS civil, though. It is certainly possible that he is just a sour puss. The owner mentioned that they seemed to be a bit more upscale than our usual clieentele. They did tip the waiter fine, but only after ensuring that he hadn't been the one who threw the cucumber. Obviously, they didn't know about the penny that preceded the cucumber.

                                          2. Last month, we had nearly the same thing happen at a fast food place in rural Utah. Food was being tossed around and well, we were nearly hit.

                                            To me, it represents a lack of management involvement in the facility. However, it was noting that couldn't be solved with a call to the Corporate 800 number.

                                            Too much horsing around in a kitchen with knives, fryers, etc. usually leads to disasters.

                                            1. The sticky situation is still sticky only because of the victim's (person hit with cucumber) perception of the whole incident. Take the laid back regular - I think it's WORSE to find a dirty penny in my food than to be physically braised by a cucumber. And yet, the regular laughed it off.

                                              There were probably a lot of factors for his continued resentment, such as his own ego, and possibly his need to look 'righteous' before his dining companion. In any event, it's over, and your restaurant did its best to compensate, so now it's your turn to change your perception and look at the situation as something no longer "sticky," but a good lesson for the restaurant staff. (although apparently they still horsed around because the penny showed up later...)

                                              1. Dressing. Perhaps there was dressing on the airbore cucumber in question. If so that could in fact leave a very nasty stain. Even if the victim was not directly hit there could have been secondary splater which also could stain.

                                                So yes they should have offered any dry cleaning if needed.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: Withnail42

                                                  there was no dressing on the cucumber. We aren't really sure it hit the coat at all, and if it did, it didn't stick. The cucumber ended up on the floor. I think offering to pay for the coat cleaning is a little bit absurd. I know it makes a good impression, but things like that lead people to think they can get anything. If I spill a drop of water on your sleeve while refilling your glass, should the restaurant offer to pay for the shirt to be cleaned? No.

                                                  1. re: hilltowner

                                                    Unless there was a definite tell tale cucumber spot on the coat then you are correct; dry cleaning not necessary.

                                                    As for the ‘drop of water example’ we are in a gray area. True stuff does slip, drop, spill whatever in the course of a regular service. It happens. However there is a big difference between a mishap during the normal course of service and employees taking it upon themselves to send various commodities airborne.

                                                    1. re: Withnail42

                                                      yes, clearly there is a difference. I was just trying to say that customers have become a whole lot more demanding of unnecessary services/comps than they used to. We comp generously, but so many people expect free food or drinks for very minor things that really shouldn't be an issue. I blame this, in part, to restaurants overdoing it to appease their fussy customers who then expect over the top service everywhere. Nothing in life is perfect, certainly not the average, or even above average restaurant. I could go on, but that topic is probably good for another thread.

                                                      1. re: hilltowner

                                                        Hilltowner, could you actually start a thread about customers increased level of expectations in terms of service? I think things have gotten out of hand, in terms of expectations, from what I read on these boards and I would love to hear from people in the industry.

                                                2. In my opinion, the fact that he was hit by a cucumber is immaterial. My gripe would have been that the owner/manager was allowing such unprofessional behavior on the part of the staff to take place while people were trying to have lunch. It would suggest to me that if the owner/manager has no better control than this, there are other facets of the business that aren't being controlled either, such as sanitation.

                                                  I am not a big stick-in-the-mud, I know that young people will be young people, and that having fun at work is not a crime. I would not have made a scene, but I probably wouldn't go back to the restaurant either.

                                                  1. "It was a piece of cucumber, not a glass of wine": That is a huge presumptuous leap you are making about other people's view of their property (in this case, clothing). Maybe that was his new Valentino coat, and dam straight he would be leapin' lizzards mad. Or maybe it was an old cheap coat, but it doesn't matter. The fact that there was even a possibility that the coat got hit means that the dry cleaning offer should have been made.

                                                    The penny in the salad is not only disgusting but I imagine would violate your local health code. Currency is filthy.

                                                    And I agree with the above posters that the restaurant management needs to do a much better job of managing its employees.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: slacker

                                                      Why blame it on the manager? More then likely he/she didnt know what was going on and it would be impossible for employees to be supervised 100% of the time. Usually this type of thing happens as soon as the boss turns their back. Maybe this is the first time joking around was taken to that extreme. Its very hard to judge unless you know all the fact.

                                                    2. It's fine to have a personal opinion that the diner should just laugh it off. As a professional, however, it is not for you to decide whether the diner was justifiably upset or not. Whether it was diva-esque is beside the point. Casual or not, the fact remains that the diner was upset as a result of juvenile behavior that has no place in a professional kitchen, and certainly not within view, earshot, or reach of customers.

                                                      An offer to have the jacket cleaned should have been made and a return visit should have been offered on the house. If that wasn't enough, the customer should have been asked what could be done to remedy the situation, and a reasonable request met.

                                                      1. No, the customer was being a jerk. I guess he feels he's very important.

                                                        Secondly, the OP said it "MAY" have hit his coat. A quick look would show if there is any visible sign of impact. This is a piece of cucumber. It doesn't stain. It's gonna leave a bit of a water mark at best.

                                                        Thirdly, everyone is assuming the hit on his jacket is what got him so mad. Even though there is absolutely no evidence from the OP to suggest this is true.


                                                        1. Although I'm NOT an non-restaurant worker I'd like to say that this has gone on in almost every restaurant I've worked at. (And most would be considered fine dining establishments) Didn't matter on the age or the position of the employee. The only difference is that I've never worked at a restaurant where the kitchen wasn't blocked off by either a door or some type of screen. (I'm not making excuses) True, this behavior is childish, but does occur. And for the record, no one has ever gone as far as to play with knives, fire, etc. where someone could actually be seriously injured.

                                                          IMO the owner handled this appropiately. Made the guilty parties apologize to the customer directly. Firing them? Come on!!! Everybody has done something in their life they wish they could undo. The customer was over-reacting.

                                                          As far as the penny goes...Totally unacceptable. Had a simular incident occur in a restaurant I worked at years ago. A screw which had broken off from a metal cooler lid ended up in a customer's food. Totally by accident, nobody saw this happen. I will say that the "tacky" owner didn't even offer to comp the meal. This owner should be glad it was a "regular" and that the penny wasn't swallowed or broke a tooth.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Phoebe

                                                            yes, we were VERY glad it was a laid back regular. We did pay for his meal, of course, though he did eat the entire thing.

                                                          2. This is ridiculous. Why should anyone NOT get upset at people throwing things that hit them, but especially at a restaurant where you are a paying customer. You go to a restaurant for FOOD, not to be assaulted by vegetables.

                                                            The original post even said that the two culprits were "(21 years old lovable but kind of clueless) & (typical 17 year old kid). It is an obvious lack of maturity.

                                                            They were wrong and the customer had every right to get mad, some people just blow things off easier than others. It is not for us to tell him that he shouldn't be too upset.

                                                            I have worked at many different types of restaurants where we occasionally goofed off, but totally out of range of customers.

                                                            As for the penny, that is disgusting. Money is so dirty and the customer should have been comped & one in the future. What if he had swallowed that?

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: Main Line Tracey

                                                              As I stated in the original post, he had every right to be angry. Nobody wants a piece of cucumber thrown at them. My point was that I felt the restaurant treated the situation as well as any restaurant could. The owner personally apologized and comped his meal. The server apologized and personally bought his drinks. I just feel that after all that, the customer could have realized that this is not a regular occurance at our establishment, and everybody was properly aghast at the turn of events and that it would not happen again. In the end, it was just a piece of cucumber. And also, it probably did not actually hit the customer. If it did hit the customer, it would have been towards the back, not a full on assault. Now if it had hit him in the face... Bottom line - lesson learned for two young employees. And two customers who will probably never come back, though we sincerely hope that they do.

                                                              The penny - yeah, I can't defend anyone for that. It IS disgusting. I almost didn't bring it up because I know how disgusting it is. Yes, the customer was comped though he didn't want us to. Some people are more laid back than others. Most of our regulars are, thank goodness. He and his wife are in at least three times a week. They are treated very well, so no need to worry. They were in last night; as was the penny thrower, and mostly they just made fun of him for such stupid behavior. In this case, there are no hard feelings. And yes, we are very thankful for that. It could have been a whole lot worse. But, in restaurants, as in life, things happen. Just not usually dirty pennies.

                                                              1. re: hilltowner

                                                                You left something off the bottom line: a LOT of free, negative word-of-mouth publicity about the lack of professionalism in your establishment as offended customers relate the tale to their friends, relations, acquaintences, and co-workers who will repeat and embellish the tale among the circles of influence, all of whom will be disinclined to vist your establishment in the first place.

                                                                1. re: mclaugh

                                                                  True indeed. Luckily, we do have a pretty good reputation in these parts, and that means small town of around 1800 surrounded by smaller towns. It may hurt us in the larger towns that are 45 minutes away that we also get business from. Trust me, nobody has taken this situation lightly.

                                                                2. re: hilltowner

                                                                  Amen to your lines "But, in restaurants, as in life, things happen. Just not usually dirty pennies." If only people knew what REALLY goes on in most restaurant kitchens. You'd never eat out again. A dirty penny being the least of sanitary issues, etc. Doesn't matter how fancy the place is. Remember Anthony Bourdain's book from a few years back??? This goes on everywhere!!!