Congratulations to you. You must be doing something right if people are willing to put up with the lousy treatment, and to actually pay you for it. You have a really great marketing team, I guess.
On Monday, it was my birthday. We had a bunch of gift cards to chose from, and I let my kids decide where we should go out to eat. They chose Applebee’s. We have had fun and good food there in the past, so we went for it. It must have been “gift card Monday” –you know, that first Monday after Christmas when everyone goes out to eat to use up their giftcards– for when we arrived at 6:30, it was already very crowded and we were told we would have a 30 -35 minute wait. We weighed our options and decided that 30 minutes was manageable, and we squeeeezed into the already tight lobby area, to wait it out.
Now 30 minutes may not seem so long to you and me, or to my husband who started reading a book on his PDA, but to a small child (or even a big one) 30 minutes in a very confined space with nothing to do is like an eternity. I tried to cheer them up and make it a little more fun when they were whining and complaining. “Remember when we were at Disneyland and we waited all that time in line to ride the new Finding Nemo ride? That was a longer wait than this, and it was raining? Remember?”
Only grumbling from the masses.
“Or for Tower of Terror. That was kind of a long line, right?” I tried lamely to continue.
“That was a short line, mom.”
Tough crowd. Well, never mind, then.
About 40 minutes into our 30 minute wait, I searched my purse for some kind of food for the poor kids, who were REALLY hungry by this time. All I had were Altoids, which don’t do much for the hunger. I encouraged the kids to stretch their legs and go for a little walk to the bathroom. My five year old had really had it by this time, and he looked at me with all the menace he could muster and said, “WHY DID YOU BRING ME HERE?!” I tried to tell him that I had wanted to go to Olive Garden and YOU KIDS were the ones who voted on Applebees, but really, what’s the point. I sat on the floor and held him in my lap and tried to comfort him. “Do you want to hear a story?” I asked.
“No, I want some food!”
I lost track of how many “How much longer”s it was before they finally allowed us to sit, but by 7:30 we were squished into a too tight booth. We are a family of seven people, and the only thing they had for us was a four person booth. No WAY were they going to let us have a larger table, because it was still SO crowded. There was some arguing over where everyone was to sit, and some changing sides. Since there were no chairs and no hooks to hang our coats, and I wasn’t about to put my wool coat on the floor, I held my coat on my lap, hoping there was nothing gross or disgusting on the bottom of the table.
Soon our sweet but frazzled waitress was there to take our drink orders. The poor thing was so busy with so many tables to wait, I really did feel bad for her. It only took a few minutes for the kids’ root beers to arrive, but she didn’t have the chocolate milk for the other two. She said she’d be “right back” with it. We ordered our dinners and tried to have some fun while waiting. I mean, we were finally sitting down, right? But my youngest two kids still didn’t have drinks, and after 15 more minutes, we finally managed to stop our sprinting waitress and ask about the chocolate milks. She gave us a confused look and said, “I got those out, didn’t I? I’m so sorry! I’ll get you those in just a minute.” I again felt bad for her, and wondered if I could just walk over and get some drinks myself to save her the trouble. But soon someone else brought two kid size chocolate milk, which helped placate the hungry little ones for a little while, at least.
To kill some time, somehow we got on the subject of weird things you can do with your face. We had a fun contest to see who could wiggle their ears, roll their tongue, raise one eyebrow, flare their nostrils, etc. Soon we were all laughing and having fun, although still hungry and squished.
The people sitting in the booth behind us had had enough. I kept hearing remarks like, “This is ridiculous! We’ve been here TWO hours!” I think they were a couple with a two year old and another mom with a two or three year old. They had been pacing the restaurant, trying to keep the hungry kids happy. Finally they left in a huff. “We’ll go to McDonalds!” they said to the kids. I didn’t blame them for leaving, really. How long can you expect a hungry two year old to behave? I felt a little bad for the waitress when they brought out their food a few minutes after they had left. But I wondered what they had ordered and who was going to eat that food.
We had reached the point of EXTREME hunger by the time they brought our food. But imagine my little boy’s face when he was handed his plate of Kraft macaroni and cheese, but no fork. His sister was SO lucky–she had ordered a hamburger and could eat it without silverware, but here he was, without even so much as a french fry to scoop up his mac and cheese. I’m not joking when I say it took us 5 more minutes to track someone down who could give us the precious silverware. And they weren’t going to give us more than we REALLY needed, either. “Oh,” said the server, “how many of you need silverware?” Well, all of us, wouldn’t you think? But no, they only had enough silverware for the people who actually NEEDED their fork, and couldn’t just pick up their food. Forget napkins for everyone. I usually like to ask for extra napkins, since we do have a bunch of kids, and I’m a fan of napkins, myself. But I wasn’t going to mention that to the waitress or server–if I could even find one.
After we finally had food AND silverware and were all devouring it like hungry hyenas, the waitress came by to ask if the food was all right. She hadn’t wanted to stop by BEFORE. Probably because she was scared we might just eat her. I’m sure she’s seen her share of hungry people before, and she knows to avoid them, if possible. My husband reminded her that it was my birthday and asked if they did anything to celebrate birthdays. “Sure!” she said. I have to say that my trio platter was delicious and filling. The kids enjoyed their burgers, although my son’s “Frito chili burger” had chili but no fritos. Oh well, just eat it, we had told him. My husband’s steak was good, and the macaroni and cheese was…well, just like the macaroni and cheese that we make at home, but it only costs me 50 cents for the whole box, instead of $2.99 for a plate of it.
Then it arrived–the Birthday Freebie! The coveted brownie, ice cream covered creations that the whole family can take a bit of, and …what? What’s this? A shot glass filled with ice cream and hot fudge? And one spoon. “Usually we have the waiters come and sing for birthdays,” apologized our poor waitress, “but they are all too busy. So… Happy Birthday.”
Oh, the disappointment. It’s my birthday, for heaven’s sake. I’ve waited 365 days to be treated like someone special, and this is the free dessert you bring? We all took a bite (with the one spoon. One of the lucky ones who had a fork used their fork) and the “special dessert” was gone in seconds.
Now, Applebee’s–I know you can’t pack any more people into your restaurant. You’ve tried. I know it’s not your fault that everyone and their dog decided to “eat good in the neighborhood” that night. I understand.
But when a family goes out to eat, and is willing to part with over 50 of our hard earned dollars, they expect to be treated better than mere cattle. May I suggest you call in a few more waiters or maybe another cook so that people aren’t waiting over an hour for their food. Or maybe give the kids some crackers or a basket of bread to nosh on while they are waiting. A little bit goes a long way to assuage the hungry and the grumpy. And your birthday treatment? Well, let’s just say that when my precious one day a year, right after Christmas birthday comes around again, I won’t be spending it with you.