Restaurants are ripe for embarrassment. From ordering the wrong thing to spilling a huge glass of wine on yourself, restaurants are practically a minefield of awkward situations. If you’ve ever had a particularly cringe-worthy experience in a restaurant, know that you aren’t alone.
These people hopped online to share their embarrassing restaurant tales and the answers do not disappoint.
1. Girls’ night out
“It was a girls’ night out and we started the evening at an Asian restaurant. New to the group, Tami (who is a basic burger and fries kind of gal) did not want to cause conflict by suggesting a different eatery. So, although nervous about the menu, she joined us for dinner. Everyone else seemed well versed in foreign cuisine. Being a vegetarian, I easily found an entree without meat.
Tami, however, was beginning to panic. She had avoided ordering as long as she could and now the waiter along with all of us girls were looking at her. She held up the menu to cover her mouth as she asked if they had any American food, like French fries.
‘No ma’am, I’m sorry,’ was the waiter’s reply.
Not being able to pronounce the unfamiliar items, Tami pointed to a dish that seemed fairly close to a salad.
I didn’t realize how particular my friend was about food until that night. After each ingredient was translated into laymen’s terms, Tami whispered her requests for certain items to be left out of her dish.
One by one the waiter began serving our meals, and with each plate set on the table, we ‘Ooooed’ and ‘Ahhhhed’. The restaurant was known for its elegant display of main courses. Tami got her meal and it was also beautifully displayed, but her dinner had only one ingredient; lettuce. All the other items were omitted to accommodate her picky taste.
I knew what was going on now, but others started questioning her, saying they hadn’t seen her dish on the menu.
‘What is it?’ someone asked. Tami dodged the question as her head strained in all directions to find the server.
‘Excuse me,’ she said, ‘I’m sorry to be such a difficult customer, but do you by chance have any ranch dressing?’
The young man tried to cover his laugh with a cough and chuckled, ‘No.’
Tami, wanting to fit in on her first night out with the girls, sure made an entertaining first impression. With a defeated look on her face and slumped shoulders, she took in a deep breath, exhaled slowly and began eating the plate of lettuce with her chopsticks.”
2. Just that?
“Some years back, I was in Amsterdam for a few days, for a training course. I went out to a restaurant near the hotel for dinner. In spite of the fact that many Dutch people speak excellent English, I managed to find a place where the staff either couldn’t or, as it emerged, didn’t want to do so. My Dutch is non-existent.
The menu was very brief. Perhaps half a dozen items, none of which meant anything to me, with the exception of ‘biefstuk’ which looked enough like ‘biftek’ for me to take a gamble that it was a steak. I ordered it and the waiter asked if that was all I wanted. Well, I assume that was what he asked.
After repeating this a few times in Dutch, it was apparent that I had no idea what he was saying, he sighed and asked ‘That is what you want?’ I confirmed that it was.
I wondered how hungry I looked, but said that I only wanted that menu item. Pointing at it and smiling, to emphasize my selection and minimize the chances of anyone spitting on ‘the pushy guy’s’ food before it got to me.
He looked at me like I’d asked him if fairies would be cooking it and walked off to the kitchen. Shortly thereafter, he came out of the kitchen with a huge plate. I mean, this was more like a serving platter than a dinner plate.
He put it on the table, smiled and walked back to the bar area. The chef had come out of the kitchen with him and was leaning on the bar, watching me. The waiter joined him and they both stood there, in silence, staring at me as I ate my meal.
Well, I say ‘meal’. It was actually a small steak. Maybe four ounces. No fries, no salad, no vegetables, no garnish. Just a small steak in the middle of a plate that, one assumes, was used for comic effect. You could have fitted ten steaks the same size on it. I’d ordered a steak and received a steak. Presumably, elsewhere on the menu, it had listed the various side orders available, but as he’d asked ‘Anything else?’
as opposed to ‘What would you like with it?’ I hadn’t twigged that was what he was asking. I think he knew what I thought he was asking, but found it amusing to feign ignorance.
After a few minutes, he nudged the chef and came over to ask if everything was okay with the food. He did this in Dutch first – just in case I’d learned the language since ordering or in case I’d known it all along and he could catch me out, as per ‘The Great Escape’ – then in English. I said all was good. He asked if I was sure. I said I was. He smiled and sauntered back to his friend. Once back at the bar, he whispered something and they both giggled.
I ate my food in silence, aware of two pairs of eyes watching me the whole time.
The one good thing about the meal being so small was that I was done and out of the restaurant in record time. I feel that the lack of a tip was more than compensated for by the entertainment value I so clearly provided.”
3. The Waldorf Salad
“At my previous job, we were on site doing an installation, and the lady that does the documentation was with us. She was kind of a ‘know-it-all’ and could never admit she was wrong. She was also a bit overweight. Both of those play into the scene.
We had all worked late with only a very small lunch, so we were basically famished. We went into a steakhouse, were seated by a friendly waiter, got our water, etc.
Then came time for ordering. Everyone ordered a steak. But the lady looked at the menu and said: ‘I’ll just order a salad – I need to watch my weight.’
The waiter asked her which one.
She said. ‘I’m really trying to cut back. I’ll have The Waldorf Salad’.
The waiter looked like he’d eaten a lemon. ‘The Waldorf Salad – that has…’ he started.
She got all mad. ‘I KNOW what a Waldorf Salad is! You don’t need to tell me! I want the large size!’.
He just stepped back. ‘Yes, ma’am. One large Waldorf Salad coming up’. So we all got our steaks. And then he brought out this giant bowl, that probably had about two pounds of Waldorf Salad in it. If you haven’t eaten one, it’s basically a dessert.
It’s apples and nuts and various other things all doused in a giant helping of Mayonnaise and sugar. About a gallon of it.
‘Your Waldorf Salad, Ma’am,’ he said, smiling. Hmmm. Not the garden salad she was thinking of. 63 carbs and 683 calories per serving. And 6 servings of it! We all just grinned.”
4. The first date
“It was the first date and we went to a very nice restaurant that she recommended because she went there often. When the waiter arrived to take our drink order she ordered a drink of some sort, and not being one who particularly likes the taste of any adult beverages, I ordered a Smith and Currans (aka Smith and Kearns). For those that don’t know, it’s a sweet drink made with Kahlua and cream.
After I gave him my order, his immediate and somewhat aggressive response was, ‘That’s a woman’s drink!’
said loud enough to be heard at nearby tables.
That set me back on my heels and, frankly, set the tone for the rest of the evening. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t know what to say. Not surprisingly, our first date was also our only date…”
“In 1976, I went to New York for the Democratic National Convention. I was pretty much a hillbilly — even though I had lived in Houston for three years, I was essentially still an East Texas hick.
I wandered into a very nice restaurant, basically just following in the trail of a raft of self-important politicians, none of whom looked like this was their first time in Manhattan.
I was shown to a table and given a huge menu that weighed about five pounds. I had enough money on me, but I was a trifle shocked by the prices, so I looked for something under $30 and I settled on steak tartare.
The waiter came — in a tuxedo, looking more like a royal retainer than the waiters I was accustomed to — and I said, I’d like the steak tartare, please, and iced tea.
Still holding his pad up by his chest, he very discreetly looked around, quickly glanced down to assess my rube wardrobe complete with convention credentials. Then he leaned pretty close and said quietly, ‘Sir, you do know that steak tartare is really raw hamburger?’
I replied, ‘Uh, no.’
Still very quietly, he says, ‘May l recommend the Salisbury steak?
It’s really the same thing, but the beef is cooked.’ Then, and I swear he looked around again to see if anyone was listening and said, ‘It’s just three dollars more.’
So that’s it. I was pretty embarrassed, but I was way more grateful than embarrassed. As I recall, I tipped $9. Which seemed a very great deal at the time.”
6. The whole fish
“I was in Sicily at a seaside restaurant. I was an American student in Italy, dining with eight other student travelers.
The air was open, linen white cloths on the table, magical purple night sky in the backdrop, and a handsome waiter with prominent and attractive Italian features.
I knew being so close to the sea I needed to order some sort of fish entree or I would be missing out on the traditional local fare.
I point to the menu and ask the waiter, ‘Quale preferisci?’ (Which do you prefer?)
Complimented by my question to ask his preference, he straightens up with flattered pride and clicks into action, choosing a fish for me.
As I continue to take in the magnificent atmosphere, I am chatting with the lovely girl next to me.
The food starts to come out, one by one. The handsome waiter comes over to me, ready to present the dish he chose for me. He leans over and gently places the dish in front of me. It was a whole fish: face, fins, and all.
But, I don’t remember its whole face nearly as much as I remember the eye staring back at me.
Yes, I know, silly American doesn’t know what international fresh, fine dining looks like. I wasn’t accustomed to getting mean mugged by my dinner.
I look back up at the waiter. He is beaming, waiting for a pleasing reaction.
I give him one of course, with delighted smiles I thank him for his choice. I am not one to offend.
As the fish and I are having a staring contest with the napkin upon my lap, I hear a little gagging sound.
‘Oh my God, are you going to eat that?’
I forgot the girl next to me was a staunch vegan. The ‘don’t kill a fly’ kind, let alone a precious fish with what once was beaming happy eyes, frolicking in the ocean.
For her, it was the equivalent to tearing into the flesh of Dory from ‘Finding Nemo’.
Knowing my vegan dinner neighbor was not able to withstand its cold dead eye, I try and cover up the eye with a potato.
It doesn’t work. She gets up and moves to another seat, and for a moment, I was embarrassed. Especially because I didn’t quite know how to eat a fish with eyes, bones, and skin intact.
It was a fleeting moment indeed.
I ate all of that fish, despite her gagging, even from another seat.
If you thought that wonky fish eye was going to stop me from tearing into some Sicilian delight, you were mistaken.”
7. From a small town
“I grew up in a small Midwestern town, so naturally, if we went out to eat anywhere, it was at least a 20-mile drive. When I was around 8-10 years old, my family decided we would enjoy dinner at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in the next town over.
I think there were maybe around 15 four-top tables total in the place.
The food was decent enough, and obviously, my family enjoyed it every now and then.
Whelp, that day I knew one thing – I wanted to try to use chopsticks. I had talked about it for the entire 20-minute drive over.
I talked about chopsticks as we sat down.
Naturally, when it came time to order, the waitress asked me what I wanted.
I said, ‘Chopsticks.’
That answer threw her for a loop. She rephrased it by asking something like, ‘What else would you like?’
Again, I reiterated my original statement. I wanted chopsticks.
A few more minutes of this back and forth continue, including my parents trying to clarify and get me to place a real food order. Eventually, the waitress gave up and walked away to put in the rest of the family’s orders.
I was pretty proud of myself. I would get those chopsticks!
Sure enough, when the food came out, the food was presented to the rest of my hungry family as the waitress placed my desired chopsticks in front of me.
I turned bright red and wanted to just leave the place. Consider it a grade school light bulb moment. I realized what I had done. My parents had their laugh and asked me what I wanted to eat. The waitress was standing by and took my real order.
It came out faster than ever (thanks, waitress)!
Of course, to really put the icing on the idiot cake, I tried chopsticks and found them to be difficult (shocking, I know). I ended up using a fork after all.
Let’s just say that it took years for my family to stop making fun of me!”
8. He advised against it
“I’m not a very sophisticated eater, but I do at least pride myself on being able to enjoy most foods, so when I went to a Korean restaurant and the waiter advised against the dish I had chosen, I considered it a matter of pride.
I thought I must have chosen something so esoteric, so exotic that he didn’t think a simple Australian like me would be able to handle it. I wanted to prove him wrong. Even when he came back to specifically say that even the chef wanted to warn me about my choice, I didn’t waver.
In fact, I grew truly intrigued about what was soon to be presented to me.
Now, perhaps you’re imagining that in the end what showed up on my plate was so bizarre, or maybe so spicy, that I ended up with something absolutely inedible.
Nope. What I ended up with was a pile of the blandest, most tasteless boiled meat that I’ve ever had. It really was just a slab of grey meat, with nothing accompanying it. In retrospect, I assume the waiter was trying to tell me that what I’d ordered wasn’t really a meal as such, but rather some sort of side dish that was intended to complement other foods.
It wasn’t bad.
It was certainly edible. But it was possibly the most boring ‘meal’ I’ve ever had, and it was particularly disappointing as it was one of the very few opportunities I’ve ever had to eat at a relatively decent restaurant in a big city.
My girlfriend at the time was with me, and I already felt somewhat unsophisticated compared to her. This didn’t help.”
“My fiancée and I decided to go to McDonald’s on a weekend with a friend and his fiancée. I knew about my wife’s likes at the restaurant, meanwhile, the other couple was trying to figure out what to order.
So while they were deciding I went to the counter to place our order, soon my friend’s fiancèe joined me at the counter, so after placing my order I asked her what she would like to order.
That was the time when two new burger variants, Mexican and Lebanese, were introduced (we’re not from the US).
She immediately said, ‘I would like 1 medium Mexican burger and 1 medium Lesbian Burger.’ The girl from the counter and I were both like ‘Excuse me?’ She still not realizing what she just said again repeated ‘1 medium Mexican burger and 1 medium Lesbian burger.’
I was unable to control my laughter and before I could say anything someone from behind shouted: “She wants 1 Mexican burger and 1 Lebanese burger.’ That was the moment when it dawned to her that she had been pronouncing Lebanese as Lesbian.
It was surely an embarrassing moment for her.”
10. Cold soup
“One summer evening, while in college, I took a new girl out on a date to one of my favorite Mexican restaurants. She was incredibly attractive and beautifully dressed. We both were in our early twenties.
We started out by ordering drinks.
I ordered a marg, and after some lengthy indecision, she proceeded to tell the waiter that she wanted a ‘Cogg-Nack on the rocks.’ It was pretty obvious that the Hispanic waiter was holding back a grin while I just looked back at him, sheepishly.
With this kind of a great start, I couldn’t help but think this was probably a fairly accurate preview of what our evening’s dining experience was going to be like. Fingers crossed, nonetheless.
Part of her meal order was ‘Gaaz-paacho’ (her pronunciation of Gazpacho) soup and when it was served, she indignantly complained that her soup was cold and loudly asked, ‘what kind of restaurant IS this?!’
After I and the waiter convinced her that it’s supposed to be that way, she turned to me and said (equally loud), ‘Well, I guess what can you expect from people that can’t learn to speak English and don’t they know that soup is supposed to be hot?’
Yikes! I frantically hoped I could find a trap-door to fall through, though I’d have been happy to just crawl under the table and disappear…
She suggested that I order some ‘Naa-Choze’ (her pronunciation of Nachos), after which I shared with her, and, for the time remaining, we somehow got through the rest of dinner without her instigating any additional drama.
Yeah, she was a real gem, and, in case you’re wondering, in spite of the fact that she was super hot, there WASN’T a second date…”
11. Pata ≠ Pato
“When I was still fairly new in Mexico I went out to eat with a friend. There was pozole on the menu, a delicious stew made with meat, veggies and hominy.
The menu listed one made with ‘pata.’ I ordered it.
My friend asked ‘Are you sure?’ I replied, ‘Yes, I love it.’
When it arrived I said, ‘That looks like a pig’s foot.’ My friend replied ‘It is a pig’s foot. That’s what you ordered.’ I confused the word ‘pata’ (which means ‘hoof’) with ‘pato’ (which means ‘duck’) which I thought I was ordering.
It was ok. Not a lot of meat on a pig’s foot though.”
12. Not bread
“Our department had a tradition that on the first day of work a new employee would be treated to lunch at a restaurant, at some place off-site instead of the company cafeteria. I was a manager in those days and enjoyed this little activity.
We were located in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County and there were lots of interesting little restaurants down by the beach.
One of my new employees was a really sharp young lady from my alma mater.
I took her to a French place. It was not a good decision. As she scowled at the menu and flipped the pages I discovered that she was not an adventurous eater. Not only did she not find the items very appealing, but she also had trouble finding anything that she considered edible.
Finally, she said that she would order the little pastries that were strangely listed under the main courses. When she placed her order my jaw dropped, and I interrupted and insisted that she select something else.
After the waiter departed I quietly let her know that ‘sweetbreads’ were not the dainty little pastries that she imagined but rather a type of organ meat.
Fortunately, our little lunch experience didn’t prevent her from having a successful and productive career at our company.”
13. Rude waiter
“In the late 1970’s, with several fellow young colleagues, I was taking a technical course at an IBM office in San Francisco. At lunchtime, our little group went together to a creperie near the IBM office.
I had never had crepes before. The menu listed about 30 dishes, each a crepe stuffed with something different.
Being a pizza lover, I spied ‘sausage and tomatoes’, and thought that might be tasty.
The waiter came to our table and took our orders.
He took mine last. ‘I’ll have the sausage and tomatoes crepe’, I bravely said. The waiter then loudly replied, ‘Yuck! The chef will hate you!’ I was mortified; I don’t remember the actions of the others in the group but I imagine they laughed.
It gave me a very bad feeling about French restaurants for some years afterward.
Why would a restaurant put an item on a menu and then embarrass you when you order it?”
14. Prom night
“Like many Americans, one of my first experiences at a ‘nice’ restaurant happened before a high school prom. Prom is one of those rites of passage that involve formal dress, and since this was the ’80s and I loved Madonna, I was also wearing dangly rhinestone earrings and satin elbow gloves.
Not the best outfit to eat a messy meal, but how was I supposed to know what was involved in eating a lobster.
I was feeling self-conscious anyway. Although it served lobster, the restaurant was on the casual side of fancy, and our prom crew was by far the most formally-clad people in it. I order the lobster and was horrified when, minutes later, the waiter came up and wrapped this plastic thing around my neck.
The lobster bib completely covered up my dress, making me look like a two-year-old at a New Year’s Eve dinner.
Trying to actually eat the crustacean was an ordeal in itself, especially when I was trying to avoid getting my gloves dirty, and keeping my rhinestones out of the way.
All the other kids at the table looked elegant in their tuxedos and bow ties, their graceful jewelry, their wrist corsages, while I sat there sweating in my plastic lobster guard.
Though the lobster was delicious, I was too embarrassed to really dig in, though I like lobster and I’ve had it several times — bib and all — but never on a formal occasion.”