Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October 1st Challenge

Hi it’s Christina –

Good Morning! Happy first day of October – there are now thirty days until Halloween, fifty-seven days until Thanksgiving, eighty-four days until Christmas, and only ninety days until the end of 2014. Cripes!

I shall warn and apologize, in advance, because a goodly portion of this blog is going to be a bit of a rant. Early last evening, Dani and I were watching Castle re-runs on TNT, and a commercial came on for Olive Garden. The food looked SO good, and I commented on it. Dani said, “Let’s go.”

I hemmed and hawed a little, because I had dinner planned. We were going to have ham, sweet potatoes, broccoli and corn, but I hadn’t started making it yet. I should have stuck with my plan, but instead, I told Dani to call her dad to see if he wanted to go out to dinner. Surprisingly, he said yes.

We arrived at the Bridgewater Olive Garden, on Route 202, at 7:15, and were seated immediately. Then again, it was a Tuesday night, so this shouldn’t have surprised me. Only a dozen or so tables were occupied. There were four wait-staff, two greeters, and a manager, that I saw right away, but who knows, there could have been more. Great, we can get in, eat, and get out quickly.

It was funny, at their front counter, they have a fishbowl filled with business cards. You drop your card in, and you could win a free lunch. So I dropped my card in – what the heck, right? I start following the host to the table, but I stop when I feel a little tug on my purse. Dani was reaching in the outside pocket to grab one of my cards so she could drop on in. She stopped and we all laughed when she realized I had already put one in the bowl. Although they would never admit it, my kids and I do think a lot alike.

Anyway, we’re seated and given menus, and Paulie asks me, “So what looked so good that we had to come here tonight?”, and for the life of me, I hadn’t a clue. Nothing, on the three different menus they gave us, looked overly appealing. After several minutes, a rather frazzled looking waitress comes over to greet us and take our drink order. Paulie got a beer, Dani a soda, and I asked for lemonade with light ice, explaining the cold hurts my mouth. She said no problem, but asks if raspberry-lemonade was alright. Sure, fine, whatever, I like raspberry-lemonade.

While we’re waiting for our drinks to arrive – and the bread sticks – don’t they usually plop those amazing bread sticks on the table almost as soon as you sit down? – we continued to peruse the menus. We each make a decision, pile up the menus, and put them on the edge of the table – that’s the international signal for “We’ve made our selection”, right?

With no menus or drinks to distract us, we begin to take in our surroundings – the teenage girl in the dollar store tiara probably celebrating her birthday (why else would she leave the house in a tiara?), the obnoxious five-some at the table next to us – two couples and mom – also celebrating a birthday, the broken cheese grater shoved under a picture, the plate on the wall that wasn’t hung straight. I could go on, but you probably have guessed, I had ample time to notice my surroundings.

The waitress finally arrives with our drinks, takes our order, and returns relatively quickly with our salad. Paulie asks about the bread sticks, and the waitress tells him she has to go get them out of the oven. She will bring them over in a few minutes. Yummy, fresh from the oven bread sticks. I take a sip of my lemonade and wince. There’s a difference between light ice and no ice at all, especially if the drink is actually warm. Warm lemonade – YUCK! How can it be warm? Don’t they keep it in the fridge?

We eat our salads, and I pile up our plates and forks and leave them at the edge of the table – the international signal for “We’re Done”, right? Paulie leaves to go to the loo, leaving Dani and me at the table. A few minutes later, the manager is doing the dining room stroll, and asks us how we’re doing. I said, “Fine, but bread sticks would make it better.” She said she would go and get us some, and then dithered over whether to take our salad bowls away. Really? It should have been a reflexive response, especially for a manager.

She took the bowls and disappeared into the kitchen. Shortly, she returned with a basket of three bread sticks, wrapped in a paper napkin. Three? Paper napkin? Really? And to top it off, the bread sticks were dark brown, hard, and over-seasoned. What the heck? Such a disappointment, but I guess we really didn’t need the extra carbs.

Paulie returns from the bathroom ... and we sit ... and we wait. The obnoxious five-some’s phones are ringing, and they are yacking on them, making them even louder and more obnoxious than they already were. These people were my age and older, not some young kids. You would think they would know how to behave in a restaurant.

Between the ruckus the people next to us were making, the piped background music which was set too loud, the other patrons talking, and the general noises a restaurant brings, it was difficult to hold our own conversation. By the time 8:30 rolled around, and we still had not been served our dinner, we had had enough.

I went up to the counter and asked them to make our order to go. I complained that waiting over an hour for our food was ridiculous, especially since they weren’t busy. Do you think the manager apologized? Do you think she had offered a free appetizer or dessert to say they were sorry for the inconvenience? Do you think she offered to adjust the bill in any way? Then she had the nerve to give me a dirty look when I only put $5 as the tip – for a waitress who DIDN’T DO ANYTHING.

Even though she did nothing, I still left her a 10% tip, which was much more than she deserved. I waitressed for eons. I know how tough a job it is, and because of that, I am a notoriously generous tipper. If you smile, are polite, and honestly try, even if you make a mistake, you’re getting 20% from me. If you provide exceptional service, you’re getting more.

If the tip is one of those automatically calculated into the bill jobs, I’m palming you an extra five or ten. That’s just the way I am. For the most part waiters and waitresses bust their butts, and are not amply compensated, especially if they get stuck with below average tippers. Their hourly rate is usually between $2 - $3 an hour, and they are relying on their tips to bring them up to minimum wage.

Anyway, after my encounter with the never-should-have-been-promoted-to-a-manager, I reached into the fishbowl and retrieved my business card. I wasn’t coming back to this Olive Garden, even if the meal was for free. Then I went outside and waited with Dani, leaving Paulie to retrieve the food. Fifteen minutes later, he finally emerges from the restaurant, claiming the delay was all my fault.

You see, they apologized for taking so long, they were waiting for the stuffed mushrooms to cook. Really? I don’t know about you, but I have made stuffed mushrooms on several occasions, and they have NEVER taken an hour to cook. They are an appetizer item for goodness sake. They cook fairly quickly.

By the time we get home, I am so aggravated, I really didn’t feel like eating, but because I had ordered fried calamari, which does not reheat well, I didn’t have much of a choice. I had to eat them. So I grab the container of calamari and the little tub of marinara sauce they provided with it, plop into the chair in the living room, and turn on NCIS: New Orleans.

I’m focusing on the show, really not paying any attention to my food, and I take my first bite. It’s under-cooked. Sorry, for me, under-cooked squid is called bait, not a meal. How can a supposed chef, trained in Italy, screw up calamari? It’s practically a no-brainer. You bread it, you toss it in the hot oil, and when it turns a beautiful light, golden brown, you take it out.

I closed the calamari back up, and decided to try the stuffed mushrooms. Now, usually when you have a seafood based stuffed mushroom, the seafood inside is crab meat. Well, that is not the case in Olive Garden’s stuffed mushrooms. Instead of crab meat, they use clams, but hey, that’s okay, I like clams. Let me rephrase that, I like clam meat, not the sand and grit that comes from not properly soaking your clams before cooking them.

Paulie and Dani didn’t even touch their dinners last night. Let’s hope their eggplant and lasagna are better than my calamari and stuffed mushrooms. Lesson learned. If I am in the mood for Italian food again, I’ll head to Carrabba’s Italian Grill and steer clear of Olive Garden.

You can’t say I didn’t warn you. I hope you have an extraordinary day, and happy writing!

Your Next Challenge:

If (s)he had only listened…

You have ten minutes (be honest). There is no right or wrong, just write. Spelling and punctuation don’t count, and NO ONE is allowed to criticize what someone else has written. Go.