10 People Share Their Worst Summer Food Job Experiences

updated May 24, 2019
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This month we’re looking back on all the strange and wonderful food jobs people have held during the summer. Whether it’s a job at a local scoop shop, a grocery store, or the concession stand at a baseball field, the skills and memories you gather in those short, hot months usually turn out to be invaluable.

Working a food job in the summer is a rite of passage for many, but as anyone will tell you it’s not all scooping ice cream and flirting with the cuties at the pizza parlor. Some of these summer jobs are plain gross, outrageous, funny, or downright weird. We asked 10 brave souls to tell us their strange and (sometimes) awful experiences with their short-lived summer jobs. Can you relate?

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Anonymous: When I was 17, I worked at a breakfast joint as a short-order cook in Rhode Island called “Anthony’s Fine Foods.” Every couple of days, we would pre-cook a zillion breakfast sausages by boiling them, to be finished on the grill later. What I didn’t expect was the in-between step — taking off the casings by rolling them like removing tiny little condoms off of breakfast meat. So gross!

Tami: When I was 17 I had a summer job at the Jersey Shore, making and selling pizza. My shoes had to be tossed at the end of the summer and I didn’t eat pizza for many years after that!

Sonja: When I was 18, I got a summer job working on Cannary Row. I ended up being the cook, waitressing, and helping clean. The owner was more than a little eccentric, but I was grateful to earn cash before starting college that fall. She grew up during the Great Depression and loathed throwing anything away, so much so that once when I was making the clam chowder in the morning (fresh from a can), she came up and dropped the remains of her Chinese takeout in the chowder. Another time, after letting us know that the health department was coming to inspect, she had us paint the walls of the storage area black so they wouldn’t notice the mice droppings. It was a memorable summer for sure.

Nicole: Despite recently having a major knife accident that left me with one hand in a splint for eight weeks post-micro-surgery, I was hired as a chef at a mansion during a yacht regatta for 20 to 40 people every night. I hired my cousin to help me while I cooked.

One night the client wanted a lobster feast for 40+, cooked outside. We managed, hours late, to cook the lobsters in a pot on the grill despite the wind, but totally forgot about making sure there were lobster crackers and picks on the table! I had to crack all of the lobsters with the magical combination of a hammer and a cleaver, getting absolutely covered in slimy white lobster gunk and juice. By the time we finished, everybody was hammered, and we were able to distract them from the delay by going straight from the grill and chopping block to the washtub bass and microphone, where we sang and performed any of their concerns away.

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Erin: I have a great story from when I was younger working for my mom who is a caterer. From about 14 years old to about 18 years old, I would help prep for a big yearly cocktail party that required about 20 ponds of shrimp. During those days, about 20 years ago, the most cost-effective way to get shrimp was to buy it in big blocks of ice with the shell-on, which would then take forever to thaw. My mom is allergic to shellfish, so my job was to chip away at that ice block of shrimp and then peel and devein every single one. It took days for me to get through all the ice and shrimp and I would smell disgusting for like a week afterwards.

Sam: I had a job in high school working at a deli. It was the shortest tenure I ever held, because by the end of lunch shift, I was fired for tasting a fry off a customer’s combination plate on the way to delivering it to him. What can I say, a guy gets hungry!

Mandy: I worked at a cute pub in the West Village. One slow weekday night, I was just finishing up with one table when two guys came in. One guy was kind of twitching and seemed a little strange but otherwise, they just seemed like two standard customers. As soon as I left their table, I heard our bartender yelp. The guys had leaped over to the table next to them and grabbed the check presenter they’d put out. It was full of cash. The two guys ran out of the restaurant. The bartender jumped out from behind the bar and started running after them. I started running after her. These dudes had gotten a pretty good head start so we didn’t come close to catching them. That’s probably for the best because I don’t know what we would have done if we had caught them. We came back in and apologized to the table whose money was stolen. They were very nice and left me a tip, since my first one had been stolen off of their table.

Sarahjane: Summers in junior high and high school I worked for my aunt in a concession stand in a busy public park in Salt Lake City.

We of course had to be trained in food handling, but I’ll never forget the horror of the time a new coworker, after having tendered cash, made a sno-cone without washing her hands or wearing gloves, then went straight to the cotton-candy machine, made the cotton candy, and handed a customer a cotton candy paper handle that was covered in blue raspberry syrup. When of course some of the cotton candy got stuck to her hand, she didn’t bat an eye and proceeded to lick her arm of the candy and say “have a nice day!” to the customer while passing it over. She was right about to go man the window again before I got the chance to jump in and remind her to wash her hands and use gloves. She didn’t keep working long; she said we were “too strict about little things.”

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Ann: I was a waitress at a Mexican restaurant in Arizona one summer in college and this incredibly hot guy from one of my classes sat down in my section. I was so excited and flirted expertly throughout the serving experience until the main course. That was, of course, when I dropped an entire plate of enchiladas down the back of his shirt after stumbling on one of my own shoelaces. Luckily, he was really nice about it but I was mortified and let’s just say we didn’t end up getting married.

Anonymous: I used to wait tables at a busy midtown restaurant that got a good mix of neighborhood locals and tourists visiting New York to see Broadway shows. I had this table full of dudes who were not from NYC but probably know more about the club scene here than your average regular. They started out by ordering “Bacardi Light,” which is just regular Bacardi. It’s a great way to flag to your server that you are going to be a lot. They were a little annoying but there was one guy at the table who was very attractive. He kept flirting with me and at one point, came to tell me what a good job I was doing. When they left, he left his name and number in the check presenter. I texted it when I got off of work, and he obviously never texted back.

A month later, my friend who waited tables with me at this restaurant had her birthday party in Murray Hill. Who was also at the bar that night? That guy who left his number, of course. My friend, drunk on birthday drinks, yelled at him in the bar for being gross to waitresses and leading me on. Not a great night for him.

Do you have any horror stories from your summer jobs? Spill all the gory details in the comments below!