It started with an invitation from a friend. She had a gift certificate for a restaurant, one of the popular chains. Would we care to join her and her husband for dinner that Saturday evening? We would. We did.
The place was busy, not surprising on a weekend evening, so there was a short wait before we were seated. We ordered. We waited. My friend had asked for hot tea. The waitress came by twice to say it was “on its way.” All the way from China, apparently. On the slow boat.
When eventually the boat docked—er, the tea came, it was green. My friend, who hadn’t been asked for a preference, requested black tea instead. “I’m sorry,” the waitress told her, “This is the only kind we have.”
It apparently hadn’t occurred to her that mentioning this at the time the tea was ordered could have saved time and hassle for everyone. Okay, we would get along without the tea.
Eventually, our meals came. One chicken and pasta, two shrimp dinners, and one salmon salad, which the waitress put in front of me. I am not a fan of salmon; I had ordered the steak salad. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll get that right out for you.”
Everyone else began eating. Declining offers to share, I sat wistfully watching servers trot by with plates of food. Our waitress stopped by twice to assure me, “They’re working on it.”
By her second visit, I began to assume that “working on it” was shorthand for “they’ve headed out to round up the steers, and they should be finished butchering some time tomorrow morning.”
Finally, about the time my friends were finishing their meals, my salad came. It had oil and vinegar dressing. I don’t like oil and vinegar dressing. Nor do I like the vast quantities of salad dressing most restaurants consider a serving. For those reasons, I had ordered ranch, on the side.
I told the waitress this, then realized I may have made a mistake. Having actual food in front of me at last, it didn’t seem wise to let it disappear again. “Oh, not a problem,” she said. “There’s another one ready. Really, it will only take a minute to change it.”
On that basis, I sent it back a second time. Not a good strategy. “Only a minute” turned into ten or fifteen. We occupied the time by chatting with the manager, who did her best to make soothing noises and agreed that there were problems in the kitchen. Since half the items on the menu were made with “(insert famous whiskey brand name here) sauce,” we wondered whether said problems might have been related to over-zealous sauce tasting on the part of the kitchen staff.
Eventually the third version of my meal appeared. It had ranch dressing on the side, just as I had requested. It also, I realized after my first bite, was covered with the original oil and vinegar dressing.
There was nothing left to do at this point except laugh. Then I shut up and ate. There was no way I was letting this plate of food escape. While I ate my oily lettuce and steak, my companions had another visit with the manager. She made more soothing noises, apologized, and cancelled our entire bill.
My friend didn’t receive this news with the satisfaction one might have expected. After the manager left, she hissed across the table, “Do you know what this means? I still have the gift certificate. Now we’ll have to come back!”