Marcia and I enjoy going out to eat about two to three times per week, sometimes more. After church on Sunday is one of our “automatic” times, and normally with Marcia’s brother Mike. Marcia and I both worked in restaurants in our younger days. Marcia’s mother and some of her aunts and uncles, and a grandfather owned restaurants, and she worked in her mom’s restaurant a lot, and sometimes she would go to her uncle’s restaurant and work. I started working for a now defunct full service steakhouse when I was 16. By 17 I was in charge of the kitchen, which essentially included placing food orders with vendors, checking in food deliveries, and lots and lots of cooking. Shortly after turning 18 I decided that college was more important, but at 19 a summer job got me back into it for three months…and an offer to stay on. I then had a decision to make…pay and go into debt to attend college, or get paid and learn how to run and operate a restaurant. After another semester in college in Iowa, I choose the latter shortly after I turned 20, returned to Sacramento and worked for the next 10+ years. I went from being Head Cook again, to Assistant Manager, to Manager, to General Manager, to being a General Manager training new Managers. I also worked in San Jose to help out with a struggling restaurant there for two different 13 week time periods, and helped open a newly remodeled restaurant down in Southern California. My average work week was around 55 hours. I was lucky if I got two days off in a week, and lucky if I got a full week’s vacation during a year. By 31 I was back in college at a University (4 years to finish Bachelors and get Masters), which led my career in the Public Library field for the next 23 years in Arkansas.
So it is with that background from which we enjoy our meals out. Sometimes we just enjoy each other…sometimes I just can’t help but watch what is going on. We have been served a few times by my daughter Stephanie, who no longer works in the restaurant business, but did pick up the trade from her mother (first wife who was one of my waitresses many years ago) and I. Sometimes it is that restaurant experience which instinctively kicks in when things are not going so well at one of the eating establishments we are at…like today.
I am not going to name this place, but it is one we have been to before near our church in Palm Harbor (it was NOT Mama Maria’s, our all time favorite, thank goodness). For the first time in how many years, they give us a pager when we arrive…yet there are empty tables. A wait of 10-15 minutes is what we are told. My instinct kicks in…so I am watching the staff, other people waiting, listening to what staff are saying to each other. I first think that they are waiting for more staff to show up at 11:00 – it was 10:47 when we arrived. By 11:00 I hear staff say that the kitchen is 14 tickets down, and people’s orders have been in there for 45 minutes. I also noticed a manager has arrived on the floor, and they are not sitting people due to the kitchen ‘s problems. At 11:08 I go up the hostess and ask her how much longer, and she says they are not allowed to sit people without the manager’s permission. I ask to speak to the manager.
He comes up front and I explain that sitting at a table drinking something is way better than sitting in a waiting area, could we be seated since it has been 20 minutes after being told a 10-15 minute wait.
He agrees, but said the waitperson won’t be able to take our order until he gives the OK.
I ask, “How long?”
“It could be 20-30 minutes.“
“Oh, the kitchen is that far behind? “
“No, they are just transitioning from breakfast to the lunch/dinner menu.”
Hostess says, “No sir, they are really, really behind…they are not going to dinner menu until noon now.” He looks at me with that look of, 'Guess I don't know what's going on around here.'
I hand them the pager and we leave.
Now we typically really like this place…it is large, has good food, the staff is normally real nice. I have had to talk to a manager a few times due to “new staff” not allowing us to sit in our normal, out-of-the way section where it is quieter for Marcia’s nerves (having MS is difficult in large, loud areas). Or when they would not allow me to order a hamburger 15 minutes prior to the lunch/dinner menu starting. Each time the manager rolls his eyes like, “I don’t know why the staff has to act this way…”, and I apologize for bothering him but I knew that the staff was not giving me the right answer. I remember my days long ago working in this 'mad house' of an occupation. Having customers say, on a rare occasion, "I use to work in a restaurant and you are doing it all wrong!" I also remember the times when customers let me know about a problem that I did not know existed...and how much I appreciated that so that I could rectify the situation. I also know that I always made things right when we screwed up...and all restaurants do screw up from time to time.
The good news, restaurant ways, we finally made it to a Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Saturday night. This is a place I have wanted to visit for well over a year, but the closest one to us is 10 miles away. The way it goes there is you pick your burger or hot dog or sandwich (see menu). Toppings (shown below) are free. So if you want Bacon and Cheese Burger, you order a Bacon Cheese Burger, and select your toppings…I got Lettuce, Pickles, Tomatoes, and Grilled Mushrooms. We shared a Large Fries, and next time it will be a medium because the large was like super super large. We both had a shake, and like the burgers, you can pick any number of ‘Mix-Ins’ such as: Coffee, Oreo Creme, Salted Caramel, Double Stuff Oreo, Vanilla, Strawberry, Peanut Butter, Cherry, Banana, Chocolate, Malted Milk and Whipped Cream. Burgers are double patties…you have to order a small buger to get a single. Needless to say, we were stuffed when we left, and about a third of the fries, despite the good taste, went into the trash.
We will go back to both places…however we may wait until we get back from our next trip to visit our Sunday disaster place. We also made a date with our next door neighbor Mary, who turns 80 next Sunday…we are taking her out on March 1st for lunch at her restaurant of choice, Outback Steakhouse. Hmmm…March is just around the corner, and we leave on the 16th. WOW!!!!