The Rudest Waiter In The World

“When someone is a little bit wrong—say, when a waiter puts nonfat milk in your espresso macchiato, instead of lowfat milk—it is often quite easy to explain to them how and why they are wrong. But if someone is surpassingly wrong—say, when a waiter bites your nose instead of taking your order—you can often be so surprised that you are unable to say anything at all. Paralyzed by how wrong the waiter is, your mouth would hang slightly open and your eyes would blink over and over, but you would be unable to say a word.” —Lemony Snicket, “The Reptile Room”

In A Nutshell

His name was Edsel Ford Fong, and he was known as San Francisco’s worst waiter. The man shouted at hungry diners, groped female customers, and spilled soup wherever he went. Oddly enough, Fong’s abominable behavior brought in loads of customers, all hoping for a little abuse from the rudest waiter in the world.

The Whole Bushel

When it comes to restaurants, most of the glory goes to the chefs, but really, the waiter is just as important. A waiter can make or break your dining experience, and we’ve all had those evenings where a delicious dinner was spoiled by a rude remark or clumsy caterer. But while you could probably share your own “waiter from Hell” story, none compare to the legend of Edsel Ford Fong, the rudest waiter in the entire world. (Edsel is pictured above with some of his customers.)

Between the ‘60s and ‘80s, Edsel worked at San Francisco’s infamous Sam Wo Restaurant. Located in Chinatown, Sam Wo was a pretty seedy joint one customer described as “the galley on a Liberian registered tramp freighter.” The room was cramped, the furniture was Spartan, and the food was cheap. And the silverware, well, as one Yelp review put it, “If I have to soak my cutlery in a cup of hot water, then wipe it down myself to disinfect before I dig in my meal, then I don’t mind spending a little more elsewhere.”

Nevertheless, Sam Wo attracted a wide variety of customers, from your Average Joe to actors and politicians. Why? Well, they were coming for Edsel, a waiter who’d turned abuse into an art form. Customers were often welcomed with the cheerful cry of, “Sit down and shut up!” After insulting patrons about their weight or IQ, Edsel would berate customers if they took too long examining the menu. (“What is this? A library?”) Next, he’d often screw up the orders, delivering the wrong meal to your table, but it didn’t matter. You ate whatever Edsel brought . . . or else.

Well, you ate whatever didn’t end up on your clothes. Edsel enjoyed tossing bowls of soup onto the table and watching the broth splash all over the guests. Of course, that was after he made you stand up and serve drinks to everyone in the restaurant or clean off all the tables. And if he didn’t kick you out mid-meal to make way for more customers, there was a good chance Edsel would chase you out with a broom the minute you were done eating. (That’s assuming he didn’t order you to wash the dishes first.)

The whole experience was even more, ah, interesting if you were a woman. Edsel had a bad habit of looking down dresses and making “appreciative” comments. He regularly kissed any female customers who struck his fancy, and there was even a wall of photos depicting Edsel “touching” his more attractive patrons. But despite his despicable behavior, people kept coming back for more. The man was a celebrity, and in 1982, the San Francisco Chronicle deemed him the city’s worst waiter. Two years later, Edsel passed away at the age of 55. As for Sam Wo, the restaurant stayed open until 2012 when the crummy cafe finally closed its doors for good.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: Ken Gammage
Priceonomics: The Worst Waiter in History
sfist: Sam Wo, Home To San Francisco’s Rudest Wait Staff, Fondly Remembered

  • Jimmy

    Was this an act or was he really just a bit of a twat?

    • Rusty Shackleford

      probably both.

  • OldBoris

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen ten waiters who were worse in France alone.

    • Clyde Barrow

      Never been to France, but the reputation of France’s rude waiters and chefs is world renowned. I’ll definitely take your word for it.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      if you’re american, every waiter in france is worse.

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  • Hillyard

    Only in San Francisco.
    I worked at a restaurant that specialized in prime rib and steak etc. This guy would have been (1) fired so quickly that you would have never known that he worked there and (2) gotten his ass beat from the customers for acting like that and (3) gotten his ass beat from the other waiters that depended on the restaurant’s good name to bring in customers so they could get tips to supplement their income.
    I have to wonder how many of his early customers didn’t play along and ended up smacking him upside his head.
    As novelty reasons to visit a restaurant this ranks really low.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      *only in chinese restaurants. the location has nothing to do with it.

    • Clyde Barrow

      San Francisco’s Chinatown. Come for the MSG and rude waiters, stay for really expensive parking and gang shootouts.

  • Tbernicker

    He go pee pee in your Coke

  • Rusty Shackleford

    i wonder what his tips were like.

  • aurelio9

    In about 1979, I went to Sam Wo with a Chinese girlfriend. I was wearing my army field jacket and Edsel started leering at us. I got the impression he didn’t like seeing a white guy with a Chinese girl. He came to our table and threw down a handful of wet, plastic chopsticks and tossed me a towel, and yelled: “You dry, G.I Joe!” and walked away. I should have been mad, but I actually thought it was funny as hell. Eventually, we had a good lunch and a good time. I never could decide whether Edsel was playing a part or just being an asshole.