Just when I thought my OGBs (Original Guest Bloggers) had abandoned me, S.A.M. sent me this.
5679 Poplar Avenue
I never considered my family of origin to be Chain Restaurant People, even though we spent more than our fair share of nights at our local Applebee’s and Pizzeria Uno. That was mostly because at least two of us worked at the mall at any given time and not out of a general fear of independently owned eateries. Whenever my parents or sister have come to visit us in Memphis, we’ve always ventured out and enjoyed the less established establishments. (My dad still mourns the loss of Hattley’s Garage.) So it was somewhat surprising when, after enjoying an evening with Cha Cha and Pops at the pool of Auntie K and The Commander’s hotel, my family voted to eat dinner at Olive Garden.
The Admiral and I were a little confused about the decision, but we deferred to our out of town guests and the dining needs of their one-year-old. They figured a chain would be the kid-friendliest option, and I remember the anxiety of taking a toddler out to eat, so we agreed. So we drove out into the rainy east Memphis night toward an Olive Garden so new it didn’t show up on either The Admiral’s or The Commander’s GPS units. We sighed as we passed numerous other, superior restaurants—Ciao Bella, Blue Plate Cafe, even Corky’s—and pulled into a packed parking lot.
And then it all began. From the moment we stepped inside, our evening was pocked with problems ranging from the annoying to the incomprehensible, the first of which was looking around at a restaurant full of empty tables and being told we’d have a 25-minute wait. Okay, we let it slide, maybe they were understaffed. Pops went off in search of some friendly diners who might loan out a breadstick for our starving waifs, but within about five minutes we were informed that a table had become available. We rejoiced. Prematurely, it turns out.
It’s hard for me to even remember all of the things that went wrong after that, but in general summary, every single part of our dining (okay, eating) experience was marred in some way. Our server came to the table but didn’t get our drink order. Then she got our drink order and vanished. Our strangely delayed breadsticks and salad came before our drinks did, and we were done with the first basket and bowl before we had beverages. Then when they did arrive, she forgot half of them and got my dad’s wine wrong. His “house red” came out looking a lot like a rose, and tasting even sweeter (in a bad way).
Of course, being the Midwesterners that we are, we didn’t say a thing about it. Pops didn’t send his wine back, and Auntie K didn’t complain when the server came back three times without hers. Although she did gently point out that her daughter’s milk was still missing from the table. I think it took a full six visits before our server had all of our drinks in front of us. Well, except The Admiral’s water. That never came.
Somehow, the children—Mr. Baby, Miss M and 15-month-old Cousin A— were surviving this total customer service meltdown. Even though it was way past his bedtime, Mr. Baby was hanging tight in The Admiral’s lap. Miss M was somewhat diverted by the kids’ menu activities, and Cousin A was making slow enough progress through the breadsticks and salad toppings that she didn’t seem to notice the general air of exasperation. By the time (most of) our food arrived, they were eager but not yet hysterical.
We dove at our entrees, so excited to see our food that we failed to notice that Cha Cha was missing her ravioli. The server said it would be right out, and being the gracious grandmother that she is, Cha Cha told us all to go ahead and eat. We figured her food was right behind ours, so we all dug in. By this time, I was nursing Mr. Baby and eating my chicken parmesan with one hand (a situation I never envisioned in my future when my high school boyfriend and I used to go to on our “fancy” dates; you know, the ones that involved thirty hard-earned dollars from his job at Applebees!). Miss M ate about half a bite of her macaroni and cheese (“I don’t want the round kind!”—it was shell-shaped), having filled up on breadsticks and black olives over the previous 90 minutes. Pops finally noticed Cha Cha languishing and offered her some of the molten cheese appetizer he’d ordered for dinner. As I was finishing up my second chicken filet, the non-punctual pasta finally arrived.
I’d say Cha Cha’s meal just barely beat the check, but of course, it took at least two more trips to our table before our server gave us the chance to pay her. As far as I know, the processing of Pops’ credit card went okay, but I’m going to suggest he look over his next statement just in case. The server offered to bring us to-go boxes for Cha Cha’s leftover ravioli and Miss M’s untouched macaroni. And then she vanished into the ether again. We were creeping up on two full hours of Olive Gardening when she came back with one box. Weaker diners would have just given up right there, but The Admiral was on the verge of leaving town for the week and we couldn’t spare a lost meal. So we waited some more. And—need I say it?—some more. We finally escaped into the night just shy of 9:30pm, our stomachs full and stoicism intact.