Five Minutes to Closing

Whether it’s pizza work or something else, if you’ve worked with the public … you probably know how difficult those last minute customers can be. In this case, one ended up rewarding us with humor.

Hot wingsThis is a funny story about human nature, customer service, and really hot buffalo wings. I’ll never forget an amazing and true pizza story that happened five minutes before closing. It was the marvelous year of 1993 and I was 23. I’d been working through college as a Pizza Hut shift manager and they’d transferred me to a city, Lake Forest to be exact, where they couldn’t find a closing manager who wouldn’t steal from the till. Apparently recruiting from day-labor zones wasn’t going too great for them. Anyway, they pulled me in and the story that follows should ring true with anyone who’d worked retail or food service with that glorious lot we all know as “the customer,” I hope you enjoy it.

Pizza Hut closed around 11-12 depending on the city and the business at those hours. This particular one closed at 11pm and so the closing cook and drivers started getting all the closing jobs done about 9:30-10p. This was for obvious reasons, if we had it all done at 11, they could leave and I could stay 20-30 more minutes to make the deposit and head home myself. Anyway, this was the routine and as most people in customer service jobs know: routines often change :)

Our entire make-table was cleaned and the food was all stored in the walk-in fridge. We kept a few things out just in case like a box of pepperoni, some shredded Mozzarella, a couple disks of crust, yadda yadda. You learn the basic ingredients the late nighters order. When the clock showed 10:55pm we thought an 11pm close-up was eminent … then the phone rang. A collective sign rang out among the four of us in the store. It was an order for one order of buffalo wings. These cost under the bare minimum of our delivery cost so we told the customer they needed something more to get it delivered. We all hoped that would turn them away (my apologies to my old Pizza Hut superiors but sometimes $3.99 wings for the company minus labor and costs just isn’t worth it at five minutes to close.) Nonetheless, we took the order anyway and got ready to send it through.

That was when the drunk customer began to get surly. He said in a gruff husky voice: “Make these wings hot doggonnit! You guys never make ’em hot enough!

I explained to this customer that our wings are prepared commissary so all we do is cook them. We have no ingredients to make them hotter or milder. He of course carried on that was all BS and he wanted his wings hot. Mind you by this time it was after closing and his order was about $5.99 which he would have delivered and most likely not even tip the driver. I told him I would see what i could do. As I started his order I was dreaming of getting home in time to watch the end of Johnny Carson.

As I started puttng the frozen wings into a pizza pan, I glanced up and had an evil thought. Sometimes those make your life miserable but other times they make a good life story! I saw the giant jalapenos can we used to fill out ingredients table with. I recalled THE JUICE we strain off. I told my night cook Julio to pour the straight jalapeno juice over the wings before and after the cooking process and then put them back in for 3 minutes after that.

Long story short, I got a call as I was sealing the deposit bag. Does anyone know what I am talking about? The plastic things that can only be sealed once and if you mess it up you have to use another one? Anyway, amazing how I jhad not remembered those up until now. Back to the drunk wing customer: He called me and told me he wanted my boss’ phone number to thank him for the best wings he’d ever had and to give me some form of recognition.

I gave him the 1-800 number. Hung up the phone. Laughed a good laugh and ended up getting a Big Mac and missing Johnny Carson that night. It all reminds me of a Tale of Two Cities opening line by Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times it was the worst of times.”

Whether it’s pizza or something else, if you’ve worked with the public … you probably know what that means.

Author: Damien Riley

I'm an online diarist, blog film critic, & podcaster. My views on films and life are often 'left of center' on, but I have respect for other viewpoints. I married my high-desert princess (now my queen). We have 3 children.

5 thoughts on “Five Minutes to Closing”

  1. My husband worked at Pizza hut as a delivery guy while in college! He hated the customers who called right before closing.

  2. That sounds so gross to me. But hey, if the guy was happy, that’s all that matters I suppose. :) I’ve had so many psycho customers I am so glad I don’t do retail or restaurant stuff anymore!

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