Running restaurants would be a pleasure cruise if it weren’t for two niggling aspects of the job: customers, and employees. Instead, restaurateurs often find themselves listening for a Rod Serling voice-over about leaving normal existence for a universe of the absurd. The aggravation is matched by bewilderment over how seemingly sane people could suffer such a nightmarish lapse.
Here, drawn from 2016 installments of our weekly Restaurant Nightmares feature, were the year’s particularly fiendish situations.
Reptiles and restaurants seldom add up to a wonderful time, be it for host or guest—or reptile, for that matter. Witness what happened when snakes appeared without warning in at least two high-profile incidents this year.
In one, a boa poked through the ceiling tiles of a Mexico City restaurant and dangled for considerable time above the clientele, its head swinging ominously from side to side. Patrons weren’t too frightened to whip out their cameras and record the incident for posterity and social media, almost always the gasoline for a restaurant nightmare.
Fortunately for the establishment, its name was not revealed, and animal control authorities arrived to extricate the five-foot-long serpent before it fell on diners.
How the snake got into the ceiling remains a mystery.
Snakes de-planed II
There was no mystery about the appearance of not one, but two snakes in a Los Angeles sushi restaurant. One, a little wiggler, was merely being handled by its keeper, who figured a $200 meal entitled him to take the snake out of concealment for some public billing and cooing. The management of Sushi of Tokyo did not agree, pointing out that sanitation regulations forbade pets from joining their masters in the dining room, be they four-legged or slithery. They asked the customer, Hiroshi Motohashi, to leave.
He did—but came back with a 15-foot python, which he hurled into the establishment, apparently for shock value.
Motohashi gave the establishment and its customers a start all right. Indeed, he hung around to witness the reaction, and even helped the police capture the bright-yellow snake.
Then, to his apparent shock, he was arrested.
Caiman through the drive-thru window?
This was clearly a year of reckoning for reptile hurlers. Among the arrests was the apprehension of a truly champion animal flinger, the young man who tossed an alligator through the drive-thru of a Wendy’s in Florida.
The gator actually got the kitchen tour late last year, but the incident didn’t burst into national attention until 2016. Part of the drama was the perpetrator’s surprise that a flying man eater would be such a big deal to the potential eat-ees, the kitchen staff and guests.
Twenty-three-year-old Joshua James had picked up the reptile from the side of the road and tossed it in the bed of his truck as he headed to the Wendy’s, where he knew a friend was working. He ordered at the drive-thru, the alligator apparently behaving itself in the back. But after James was handed his drink, he grabbed the juvenile gator and flung it.
James’ mother said her sugarplum was merely intending to play a practical joke. Instead, James was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, having an alligator in his possession and transporting the beast without the required permits.
The alligator was presumably released on its own recognizance.
Robbed during the job interview
Hiring qualified candidates is tough enough. The manager of a Popeyes in New Orleans had the added challenge of an applicant’s interview being interrupted by a robbery.
Fortunately for the store, the interviewee was made of firm stuff. Instead of running out in disgust or fear, 18-year-old Devin Washington helped manager/interviewer Danyanna Metoyer stop and hold the thief until the police could arrive.
No one was injured, the money was recovered and Washington got the job.
‘I’ll grab a uniform. And a purse.’
That wasn’t the only situation this year where a job interview ended with a robbery. An unidentified restaurant in North Palm Beach, Fla., had an easy decision on whether or not to hire a recent job seeker after the man walked out of the place with a customer’s purse.
If the place had any doubts about not hiring the applicant, the robber’s lack of smarts likely sealed the deal. Inside the purse was the woman’s iPhone, which she could trace. She fed the police the location, and the thief was apprehended.
‘Would you like fries with that? And maybe some cash?’
The drive-thru is often the gasoline fueling a restaurant nightmare. Consider the seemingly casual exchange between a customer and the drive-thru employee of a Burger King in Washington, Pa., who pressed the limits of the usual give-and-take via microphone and pass-through. Instead of providing some suggestive selling, the staffer offered some crime suggestions.
Alayna Weishner-Rush, 23, asked a couple she was serving to rob the place with her help. Then the three would split the proceeds.
Instead of complying, the couple drove off and contacted authorities, resulting in this week’s arrest of Weishner-Rush.
Her reasons for choosing that particular couple as would-be accomplices remain unclear.
Flushing a reputation
A Checkers in Cleveland, Tenn., didn’t seem like such a safe place to eat after customers using the restroom noticed that a rack of burger buns had been stored next to the toilet. Videos and photos were taken, authorities were summoned, and the situation went viral.
Checkers issued an apology for the lapse, which it blamed on the bakery that had delivered the buns to the franchised store. It assured the public the buns had been tossed before they could be used.
Somehow the notion is taking hold that restaurants are the perfect place to give someone’s hair a touchup. In one Nightmares installment, we reported that two Waffle House employees were fired after one washed the other’s hair in the restaurant’s kitchen sink. A week later, word (and, of course, an accompanying smartphone video) arose of one customer giving another a trim in the dining area of a Burger King, a few feet away from where the food is prepared.
One participant apparently offered the rationalizations that he was indeed a barber and that he wasn’t going to ply his trade regularly in that setting. He could have added that the transgression wasn’t planned; instead of throwing an actual protective sheet over the customer, the roving barber resorted to napkins from the dispenser.
Cold, hard facts
Maybe a temporary lapse in judgment prompted the employee of a Sonic Drive-In in Middletown, Ohio, to climb into the restaurant’s filled ice bin for a quick break from standing. But why, oh, why, would she have someone take a picture and post it on Facebook? Her name wasn’t posted, but certainly acquaintances would recognize her.
And, indeed, one did—her boss. He fired the unnamed employee and chewed out three apparent enablers, then proved intelligence life forms weren’t alien to the unit. The manager, unidentified in local press reports, removed all of the ice, sanitized the unit and reached out to the local health department to report the incident and ensure all appropriate safety measures had been taken.
The authorities inspected the bin and OK’d its continued use—presumably as an ice container, not a daybed.
‘I may be a terrorist. Can I get my coffee now?’
Consumers have apparently learned from countless YouTube videos and high-profile media reports that calling 911 because of a botched drive-thru or carryout order is not going to bring police intervention. So when the patron of a Starbucks in Austin, Texas, felt his coffee was taking too long to prepare, he figured the authorities would only come to his aid if he exaggerated the situation. "If I kill someone with bomb, then can you send police?" Ali Qassrawi reported asked the emergency line operator.
His ploy worked, but he ended up with a summons. And no coffee.