Was it too much to ask for? Seriously?
Earlier today my friend Linda and I were wandering around running various errands when we decided to treat ourselves to lunch.
Reasonable enough. But where?
El Tapatia? closed.
City Cafe? closed.
Hong Kong Buffet? closed.
Normal Family Restaurant? too normal.
Olive Garden? bingo.
After all, Olive Garden has a really cool lunch special … all-you-can-eat Soup, Salad and Breadsticks. All for $6.
Cheap at twice the price.
My mouth started to water … their Garlicky Breadsticks … tasty Italian Salad … and a choice of several excellent Soups … Italian Wedding, Chicken & Gnocchi, Pasta e Fagioli, Minestrone and my favorite … Zuppa Toscana.
We quickly dismissed the fact that neither of us was Dressed for Success. I, in my NPR logo sweatshirt , jeans and ski parka … totally appropriate for my radio shift tonight. Linda, in her warm shirt, jeans and alma mater jacket … totally appropriate for running around town.
Plus the fact that it was almost two … and the lunch rush of uber-elites would be over.
Of course there was no parking spot close to the door … Heaven forbid. And, as we walked the lengthy distance to the door through the sub-zero wind chill, our hair was whipped into a very non-wonderful look.
But again … no matter … all they really should care about is whether we had money, right? Service with a smile and all that.
I had a twinge of sentiment entering the Olive Garden as I remembered an old dear friend of mine who used to work there who has since passed away. She took pride in her work and took being a waitress to an art form. Usually all the workers there were well-mannered, polite and courteous … providing an excellent culinary experience.
You notice I said usually.
No. Today we were seated way in the back … by the kitchen … and our server … Mr. Important … came out and tossed a few menus down on the table. I say Mr. Important not only because that was his demeanor … too important to be serving us … but also because I don’t recall him mentioning his name like they usually do.
“Do you want to look? Or do you already know what you want?” he snarled. Those were the words he said. The look and the tone said “Oh great. I get these two raggedy old women. So much for my tip.”
Now the ironic thing about that is the fact that not only am I a generous tipper, but Linda spent a huge portion of her working life as a waitress. So she not only knows how important tips are, but she tends to give huge tips as well. And she knows good service.
Which this was not.
We both said we were going to get the Soup, Salad and Breadstick Special … and asked what kind of soups were available today.
“Oh” he sighed heavily, ”let’s see. There’s Wedding Soup which is like chicken broth, there’s Vegetable Soup, Chicken and Dumpling soup and Potato and Sausage soup.”
“Well?” he snapped … looking at me then Linda … “Soups?”
Oh gosh … were we inconveniencing him?
“There was a soup I always got here, and I can’t recall the name. But you didn’t mention it. A cream soup with potatoes?” I said.
“Oh Zuppa Toscana? That’s Potato and Sausage.”
Now, forgive me if I am wrong … but isn’t part of that whole ambiance thing of the Olive Garden the fact that all the dishes have fancy-schmancy Italian names? And part of what you pay for … even if it is just $6 … is the atmosphere?
“Okay, I’ll have that.” I answered.
“And I’ll have the wedding soup.” said Linda.
No more than a minute later out came Mr. Important … and threw down the salad, a basket of breadsticks and two bowls of soup.
“Do you want cheese on your soup?” he said, with undue emphasis on the word want. So again, those were the words. But what was implied was “Are you really going to make me grind this stuff onto your soup? Or are you going to cut me a break here?”
In all fairness, the soup was great. And it got there quickly. And I bit into the breadstick and looked to put the two parts down on …
No bread dish.
Had they stopped using bread dishes?
I looked around at all the surrounding booths. Everyone else had bread dishes.
“That’s odd,” I said to Linda “usually they have bread dishes here.” at which point I saw Mr. Wonderful in the doorway … rolling his eyes … and he quickly came back with two bread dishes which he silently tossed toward our table top and quickly turned to walk away.
Aren’t they supposed to put them where they go? Maybe I am expecting too much.
So we separated the bread dishes and used them.
At this point, Linda got a very strange look on her face. And reached up to remove a small piece of wood from her mouth … which had no business being in her soup.
When Mr. Important came by to see if all was well, Linda asked to see the manager. She wanted to let someone know that this had happened so they could check for more wood. And being familiar with kitchens, she knew it could have been part of the soup base by accident. And not everyone is as easy-going as we are.
At this point, Mr. Important introduced us to a very friendly smiling round-faced young man named Johnnie.
“Johnnie will be your server from now on. I’m leaving.” said Mr. I sourly.
Fine by us.
And suddenly the earth shifted … or something … and the service became the kind that we usually had at the Olive Garden. Even better. Johnnie did the Olive Garden proud.
“And would you two ladies like to try one of the other soups, perhaps?” smiled Johnnie.
“I see you have had all the salad. Why don’t I go get you another one?” he added.
“How about some cheese on everything?” he laughed when he returned.
“If you get a chance,” said Linda “could you please ask the manager to come out?”
Almost immediately a pleasant woman appeared at our booth.
“I found this in my soup and I just wanted to let you know … so you could check and make sure there wasn’t any more in it.” said Linda.
At this point the manager sprang into action. “Oh I am so sorry that this happened to you. Are you all right? Did you break a tooth or anything? I will talk to the culinary staff immediately. There is no excuse for this. I insist that I comp your meals.”
“Well, that wasn’t really what I had in mind … I just wanted to let you know …” said Linda.
At this point I felt a need to tell her how good of a server Johnnie was.
And I did. At great length.
“He was just wonderful” I finished. “As opposed to the other gentleman who first waited on us.”
I couldn’t help it.
I love to tell managers about the great jobs their employees do … and often do just that. But Mr. I … he was … well, I am sure she will do whatever needs done on that as well.
“Yes, Johnnie is a wonderful person. We like him here a lot. And I insist that you both order a dessert to-go … on the house.” she said.
A free lunch? And free Black Tie Mousse Cake?
Thank You Olive Garden.
Johnnie got a ten-dollar tip.
From the two raggedy old women. Who also told his manager what a good worker he was.
Some days it just makes me smile.