For the past dozen years or so, I have spent Christmas Eve with my parents - usually at a restaurant. It is nice - no worries about dishes, just relaxing and enjoying each other's company before the round of Christmas Day family visits.
When Laura and I became a family, she of course became part of this tradition. And witness to my stellar failures at having a 'local' holiday event.
There was the Christmas Eve we went to a local (now closed) restaurant - with reservations - only to discover that they were sending the kitchen staff home and could offer us sandwiches. This was the same day Laura and I learned that our beloved dog was out of remission and only had a few month to live. I spent half of that "meal" sobbing in the ladies room.
Another year for Easter, I booked a reservation for a holiday buffer at a location near my parent's house - they ran out of food, piled dirty dishes on unused tables with table cloths draped over them and the chef got into an argument with my Dad about whether the meal was turkey or chicken. Oh my.
Another Easter, we expected a holiday buffet and ended up with the baseball game day meal because it was .. well, game day. Apparently, no one told the webmaster or the perso who took my reservation.
This year, we bunted and went to the Olive Garden near my parents house. Yes, the food is a little predictable but it is reasonable and each of the four of us can find something we like well enough. Or so we thought.
I went off my usual menu and ordered a steak in part because it was a holiday and in part because I need to consume more iron laden foods. While the accoutrements were delicious, the steak was like leather (I went for medium well) so I hesitantly sent it back. I don't normally mind sending back food, but it was a holiday so I felt a little bad. That was compounded x20 when our server - I'll call her Amy - urgently "proved" to me that she had placed the order correctly. Even as I assured her it was fine, a simple mistake - she confided (or let slip) that it was a fireable offense.
I was horrified! I didn't want someone to be fired on Christmas Eve over a steak dinner - that's like Bizzaro-World A Christmas Carol! So when my father admitted that his chicken was too dry, I urged him to remain mum and he agreed - as a working class man, the thought of someone losing their job for a simple error on a day like Christmas was anathema.
However, our eagle eyed server noticed the pile of burned chicken on his plate and confronted him about it - he reluctantly admitted it wasn't satisfactory, but assured her that he was fine and plenty full. After all, this same server had spent precious minutes helping him sort through the table sweetners because he was having trouble discerning "white" (sugar) from "yellow"( Splenda) on the cute little packages. Amy promptly marched the manager over to apologize to my Dad who was very gracious (and probably relieved not to have Round 2 of "Turkey v Chicken" holiday debate.)
The rest of the meal passed in peace. I felt very bad for our server - even if she was not really supposed to tell me that little tidbit, when I posted on Facebook later many of my friends told me similiar stories from this chain - disciplinary action about not hustling the wine samples, etc. It seems that they should put more emphasis on quality control in the kitchen, right?
I ran out to our car to get our server a stocking stuffer gift and left her a big tip. The manager took care of my Dad's meal and I received a complete steak dinner to take home (I was full by the time they prepared me a new steak.) I can't help but wonder if someone in the kitchen lost their job last night. The table next to us was complaining about cold food.
I don't want to be obnoxious on a holiday - I'm sure everyone wants to be somewhere else. I'm sure it isn't fun trying to live up to people's expectations of some sort of festive holiday meal of yore. In spite of overcooked steaks and chickens, I'm choosing to remember a young woman who took the time - in the midst of her concern about her job - to help a customer find the sweetener packets he needed without making him self-conscious about it. I'm choosing to remember a server who made sure the company did right by us even when we didn't draw attention to a poorly prepared meal. I'm choosing to remember that I can have a meal, leave a big tip and hopefully make it a little better.
Lesson for me? I probably need to learn how to cook at least one holiday meal!
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