The Myth of Spitting in Food

Myth: waiters spit in food all the time.

Myth: waiters spit in food all the time.

The recent article I wrote for CNN’s Eatocracy, 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Blame the Waiter, generated hundreds of responses with a sharp divide between the “get a real job” comments from most customers to the “everyone should wait tables for six months of their life” comments from most waiters. The comments were all pretty mundane but one person by the name of Thomas had this to say:

I have a harder time respecting wait staff when on these forums there is always a post about spitting in food. If servers want to be treated as professionals, you might want to stop posting about messing with people’s food. It makes it sound like the profession is staffed by immature children.

I hate to admit it, but I think Thomas is right. Can’t we all agree that spitting in the food of a customer is a veiled thereat that most of us would never even consider doing? It’s sort of a restaurant myth that it happens all the time. I’m not going to pretend that it never happens because, let’s face it, sometimes customers can drive us to the very edge of our sanity and we struggle to retain some kind of control over the situation. Howeber, I would venture that most people who have waited tables have never actually spit into someone’s food.

Full disclosure: I did it one time and I felt really bad about it. It was over twenty years ago and the man called me a faggot and I spit in his lemonade. Yes, it was immature of me, proving Thomas’ point that the profession is sometimes staffed by immature children. I was barely 22 years old when I did it. You can read that tired story here.

The point is, I have been serving for twenty years since then and have never even considered doing it again. So why do servers always threaten it? Maybe it’s the same reason that parents tell their kids things like, “If you don’t behave, you’re not going to be allowed to use the computer for a week.” The parents don’t mean that most of the time, it’s just something they say so the kid will pick themselves up from the puddle of disaster they have melted into. It’s a veiled threat. The movie Waiting had a mantra in it: “Don’t fuck with people that handle your food.”

We all like to pretend that we would do these horrible things, but the truth is most of us are too humane to follow through on the threat. Aren’t we? Well, aren’t we? Let’s forget that a man called me a faggot twenty years ago and I felt alright spitting in his lemonade, because he totally crossed the line and was asking for such behavior. For the most part, when a customer really pisses us off, all we do is go into the kitchen and call the lady a bitch or the man an asshole and then maybe we don’t fill their water glass anymore. Some of us take out our frustration by writing a blog for five years. Servers aren’t scrambling around hocking up loogies to deposit into soups and gravies and I have never seen someone intentionally put hair into food. I have seen a server pull a hair from a plate of food as he was walking to the table and then serve the food anyway, but that’s a big difference, right? It’s not like I put the hair there on purpose or anything. I was just saving the customer from discovering it and therefore doing the customer a huge favor.

Servers spitting in food all the time is a myth just like so many other myths of the restaurant industry, like that man telling you he’s going to take really good care of you and that he’s a big tipper and then leaves 10% or the woman who says that her children are very well-behaved and then ten minutes later you’re peeling them off the walls. Just because people say something does not mean it’s true. The next time you hear a server saying that he will spit in the food if someone is rude to him, just know that it’s something he’s saying to try to gain some power. It’s a threat and very unlikely to happen, right? I am right, aren’t I?

Just don’t call me a faggot and then order a lemonade.


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30 thoughts on “The Myth of Spitting in Food

  1. Neal

    i am now a computer network specialist, and almost at retirement age, but I worked restaurants for about 25 years. I mostly worked at pizza places, classic cafes, and late night spots. Most were mom and pop places. In that time, I saw four “incidents.” that would qualify as food tampering. One was when a cook intentionally burned a customer’s chicken, another was when a pizza maker, working in a hot kitchen, was dripping sweat on the pizzas he made, and a third was when we had a guy microwaving pizza sauce, before puting it on the pizza, so that after it cooked, the sauce was so hot it burned people’s mouths. The fourth was the worst. We had a couple of drunk and obnoxious guys in. they ordered a pizza to go, and then decided to open the box and eat it there, to screw the waiter out of his tip. They were crude and nasty, as well as loud, so I asked them to leave, at the request of my boss. When they refused, my boss went back, got a couple of bartenders and insisted. The two obnoxious guys insisted that we re-wrap their pizza. I took it back to the kitchen, and a few seconds later, the bartenders and the boss came back and asked for the pizza. The took turns honking and hacking up phlegm and then then invited me to do the same, which I refused to do. I was appalled and disgusted. Everyone in the business hears stories about these things, but this was the first (and only) time I had actually seen it. I did not want to go back out of the kitchen, so my boss too the pizza out to the two guys. At the time, oi thought I was blameless because I didn’t join in, but I probably should have stopped them or said something. That was just wrong.

  2. Landlord

    Yes, some waiters do spit in food. I have a renter (YR) who told me she was upset at her last restaurant job in Waukesha Wisconsin when a couple would not give up their table for her parents. YR said she requested the table since it was her parents’ anniversary. When the couple would not give it up, YR said she proceeded to spit into their salads prior to serving. She didn’t feel bad about it at all. In fact she repeatedly said to me, “But it was my parents’ anniversary,” as though that justified it. She has proven herself to be vulgar in several ways and I’ve issued her a notice to vacate. And guess what… she may be moving back to the same area and working in the same restaurant. She claims the manager is holding the position for her.

  3. lazy46

    I worked in a fancy restaurant it was a wedding hall & restaurant……….. The cooks/chef would stir the soup with the dirty broom that was used to sweep the kitchen & bathroom floors it was filthy! Plus, the waiters dd spit in foid & drinks its common immature, unprofessional & disgusting! It actually happens all the time & it doesn’t matter how expensive or fancy the restaurant or wedding hall is…….. And, its not just the waiters so being nice to a waiter wont solve the problem its the cooks & kitchen staff also!

  4. SecretSally

    As a teen and in my early 20s, I waited tables in multiple casual dining restaurants. When faced with uniquely difficult customers (name calling or extreme rudeness), I did spit in food. Multiple times. I don’t feel bad. I do still eat in restaurants, I just treat staff well.

  5. Joshua A.

    I’ve rarely had food returned to me. When it is, it’s usually not cooked correctly, and hopefully it’s just undercooked so I can take it back to the kitchen for a minute. If they ordered it medium and it came out well-done I will offer to take it off the check and have it re-done.

    Now, OTOH I had that exact thing happen to me when I was out to eat. I showed the server my steak, which was clearly well-done and told her I know this isn’t your fault and she offered to have it re-made. Unfortunately we were in a rush so I just ate it and I wish she had offered to take it off the check (or discount) because I would have tipped her the extra as well as my usual 20+%. Anyhoo, neither myself nor my co-workers have ever spit in food.

  6. maxi

    I have NEVER even felt tempted to mess with a guest’s food – it’s unprosessional and gross. I have been waiting tables on and of for 10 years and unfortunately I have seen it done once. A table was sat in a server’s section and these people used to bully him rotten at school so this server saw a way to secretly get them back. I didn’t agree to it and he was only 19 at the time. I hope he wouldn’t do something like that now…

  7. Jason

    I agree 100%. I wish our fellow servers would stop even joking about spitting in people’s food. The last thing you need is a rookie co-worker or a guest over hearing you and thinking you’re serious. When people come in to dine they are trusting that we WON’T do something to their food. Once you break that trust or give people a reason to doubt then guests become afraid to complain about anything or even dine out at all. Personally, if something is wrong with a guest’s dinner I’d rather hear about it so I can fix it and save their night (and my tip) than have them suffer in silence because they are scared someone might do something disgusting to their food if they complain.

    Making threats of, or telling stories about, adulterating people’s food only hurts our industry. You’re never going to scare people into tipping you (or even being decent human beings), but you can certainly scare away potential customers and “joke” your way out of a tip.

  8. KrissyC

    Dont get lemon in your water .I have worked as a server for over 20 years in at least 4 different restaurants and I can assure you out of all the servers I have worked with.. and thats hundreds I can count on 1 hand the ones who do not grab the lemon with their hands and plop it in your drink.
    I would never spit in someones food.. but I have 1) took the seediest lemons for an annoying lady who wanted water extra lemonade shaking her sugar packets and made sure there were a few seeds from some other lemons in her free lemonade, 2)I have taken silverware and wiped it on my apron when a customer returned water spotted silverwear 3 times ( my apron is probably much dirtier than the water spots were3)I have also removed hair from food when i saw it. but i would never put anything nasty in someones food or take anything off the floor .

  9. Penny Tipper

    Just talking about it releases the frustration, so you don’t actually do it, right? Right?

  10. Tipsykit

    I haven’t spit in anyone’s food, but I will admit to “accidentally” dropping a drunk guy’s toast on the floor by the dish pit before serving it to him after the third time he tried to grab my ass. I am sure the massive amount of alcohol already in his stomach killed off any germs on it anyway. Also if someone asked for “extra” ranch dressing and were being jerks, I would bring it out in a soup bowl with a cheery “here is your extra ranch, just let me know if you need any more!” (Cue the rest of the people at the table making fun of the jerk and his bucket o’ ranch for the entire rest of the meal.)

  11. William C.

    If you’re an asshole to me, hell no I will not contaminate your food. In extra special scenarios, I might make your coffee half caf or put a few ounces of diet in your regular coke, but that’s about it. Usually, yeah, I just give the bare minimum service, and I might find things that I can upcharge you for (those things you’re supposed to but sometimes don’t). Generally, though, I’ll find ways to spend as little time at your table as possible, because, let’s face it, you weren’t going to tip well either way.

    1. Ted

      “few ounces of diet in your regular coke”

      As someone allergic to phenylalanine (sugar substitute in Diet Coke), that could get you into serious trouble when your customer is going into anaphylactic shock because you decided to screw up their order on purpose, especially if it was found out you did it intentionally instead of just a mistake.

  12. Linzi

    Nope, never did it, never saw it done. There are far more mature ways to annoy someone, as Server Scorned says. My personal favourite is to sail past and say “I’ll be right with you!” I can keep that up for HOURS before I actually go to the table. I’ve also been known to hoard checks in order to delay their meal (followed by “I’ll be right with you!” when they’re trying to flag you down to find out where their food is).

  13. Melissa

    THANK YOU!!! Honestly, every time I see a comment about spitting in people’s food it makes me sick. Doing ANYTHING bad to their food makes me sick! It’s even more disturbing when an actual server says it. I have never, in my 20-plus years of working in restaurants, have NEVER witnessed anyone putting nasty shit in customer’s food. The servers who are commenting about it, “if that guy did that to me I would of spit in his food” give the rest of us GOOD servers a bad name. And to the customer:::no, we don’t mess with your food. Be a dick all you want, Karma is a bitch and will get you in other ways. I don’t need to spit in something that you’re going to digest. SERVERS: stop being so disgusting! If you are doing this you’ve got something wrong with your heads. Even if your just TALKING about it. Get help! With all the diseases out there today? Ewwww! Thanks Bitchy!

  14. cathy

    The sad thing is that people think this is an OK joke.. people go on and on about how people should tip and then say something like this.. ‘don’t mess with someone that handles your food” a direct threat.. they see no problem with letting others that they themselves might mess with someones food if they think that person will not tip them what they think they should get or hasn’t tipped them what they think they should get.. what type of person does that make them?? “tip me or I might spit in your food”? how proud they must be for saying that.. they go on about how evil the no tipper or bad tipper is, what kind of person are they now??

  15. Louis Wing

    I’ve worked in both restaurants (fine dining and casual) and some bars too.. never seen anyone spit in anything.

    I agree that this is a perceived threat, but nobody really goes through with it.

    I would say that if a customer pisses off their server, you can count on every other server hearing about it! Certainly that customer is going to be called a “douchebag” in the back of the restaurant, maybe even get spilled on (accidentally, of course), but no spitting.

    I think movies like Casino make this a popularized move, but in real life you wouldn’t see this.

    BTW – the guy who called you a faggot and then ordered a drink from you… had it coming to him.

  16. Serenity

    Nope, never seen it. I have seen servers mess with other servers personal food as a joke, but even that is stuff like putting a ton of Tabasco on something, etc. No matter how mad I’ve ever been at someone, like another poster said, they just stop getting refills, and I basically give them the bum’s rush offer of dessert, etc., just a “here’s your check” when they’re not quite done yet :). I would never allow someone to tamper with food, and report anyone who did to management.(well, if I really didn’t like the employee, but I’m assuming I wouldn’t like someone who was capable of such immature behavior). And honestly, if a customer is being an ass to me, I refuse to lower myself to that level…it makes me feel a lot better to just know that I’m a better person than they are, and that they are in the unfortunate position of having to go home with themselves.

    1. The Prozac Queen

      I know this is old, but…

      That’s what I do too. I’ve heard of servers intentionally holding a check or taking their sweet time with someone so their food gets cold, but I usually do the opposite-do things faster-so I can get them the hell out of there and away from me!

  17. Christine

    Worked at a Sheriff’s Office in California for a number of years – large county, large offices, a Rehab Center AND a Jail, both of which employed cooks and had trustees to help those cooks.

    We were always told to be leery of the salad dressings and the soups if we ever had a meal while visiting either facility, but the jello cake was fine.

  18. Ida

    29 years in the biz and I’ve never done it. I saw a cook do it once because he disliked the man who ordered the food but I threw it out and told him I would tell our boss if he didn’t make it right

  19. Shasta

    I once spit in another server’s milk shake .. she had been tormenting me for years..she totally deserved it and I do not regret it.

  20. aurora

    Shhhh, don’t tell them that! That’s the only impetus they have to be nice to their servers!

  21. Server Scorned

    20+ years and I’ve never seen it done. I’ve heard stories about Visine being put in people’s drinks to give them the runs but again, I’ve never seen it. Probably just talk. Personally, I like to get my little serving revenges in less detrimental ways. For example, a difficult customer who orders coffee will get a cup filled to the rim so there’s no room for their cream and sugar. Or if they ask for a free refill in a ToGo cup I will cram that sucker full of ice so they get maybe one sip out of it. Silly and immature? Maybe, but at least it’s not harmful, right? Right?!?

  22. Anon

    Ok – maybe I have licked the rim of a coffee cup because I just couldn’t take it anymore! But never have I EVER seen anyone or have myself actually spit in or on anyone’s food or beverage.

  23. annon

    Nope. 30 years and I’ve never seen it. Been mighty tempted, but that had nothing to do with the customer sending it back. It was more of a “This guy ehff’d me & my family over big time and I wish I could just loogy in his food!” But I did not–and if I don’t go to heaven for that one, nothing will get me in! haha


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