All is grace. I can hear Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts saying this on the video while peaceful piano music plays in the background. She tilts her head just so and her soothing voice convinces me I can discover the blessings even in the most difficult of moments. The pictures from her farm of fields, children, flowers, and home-baked bread inspire me to rest in God’s goodness.
Then reality sets in like a dense fog on the rocky shores of Maine’s coast. The misty foreboding walls speak of dangers that lurk within. The music doesn’t just fade. It comes to a grinding, cacophonous halt.
This summer I created a mental bucket list. One of the items on my list was a trip to a nearby town to visit an old-fashioned ice cream and burger establishment that is over 100 years old. Saturday night my husband and I decided to take my boys and my mom to eat there, then go play Putt-Putt afterwards. I don’t know if my first bad decision was the bucket list or trying to actually fulfill it. The following account of events chronicles what must be one of the worst dining experiences ever. I relay it to you to the best of my recollection. Hang in there to the end for the valuable lesson!
We enter the ornate door with a good deal of anticipation. The ambiance strikes the senses immediately. An old-time soda counter lines the wall to the right. Wooden tables with heart-shaped wire backed chairs line the left side. Exhilarating circus-like calliope music pipes in from an antique organ in the back room, a foreshadowing of the experience we are about ready to have.
Our family waits for a few minutes for the hostess to return to her podium. She appears, asks for the number of our party, mumbles something and walks toward the back room. Several customers stop her along the way. Glassy eyed, she returns apologizing, “I’m sorry. I’m really overwhelmed at the moment. Let me take you to your table. I don’t have any menus for you right now.” Really? Did the customers eat them? We follow, the blind leading the blind. This should have been our first clue to run for our lives.
Seated at the table we try to take in the sights around us. Several minutes later a waitress comes by to take our order. Of course, we don’t have menus. She rolls her eyes, runs to grab some, and offers to take our drink order. Before I can order for the boys she abruptly leaves with no indication of where she is going. A few minutes later she brings back our waters and we proceed to go ahead and place our food order.
Jason takes the boys to a mini museum in the restaurant to look around. Our waitress returns with Joshua’s drink, but not Austin’s. My mom asks why things are so chaotic. Her reply is this: “I’ve been here since 11:00. I went on break and when I came back everything was a mess. Customers are mad and I’m losing tips. I only get three dollars an hour for wages and when people use their credit cards the tips go on my check and it gets taxed. I’m not making hardly anything. But it’s okay, I love the people.” Odd response, but now we’re feeling a little sorry for her, clearly a tactical maneuver.
The hostess wanders from a back door and without question looks as if she has been crying. The stress in the room is palpable. Our waitress comes back and says she’s confused. She can’t remember if she took our order. Just one more bad sign. Ten minutes later she returns and asks what we are waiting for. “Um, our food,” we reply. Several minutes later she reports that our food will be ready in five minutes. Thirteen minutes later we still have no food and the people who came in well after us are eating. Austin breaks down in tears and begins to sob. “I’m so mad at them, Mom!” he wails.
Jason finally reaches his breaking point. We’ve waited for our food over an hour at this point. Up until now we have entertained the boys by letting them draw on the back of their placemats, pointed out interesting things in the restaurant, played several rounds of Would You Rather and finally resorted to games on the cell phone. He goes to stand at the counter where they ring out the checks because no one is around anywhere else. My patient husband, who rarely even raises his voice, flags down the waitress and firmly asks to speak with a manager. “Oh, is there a problem?” she replies. What???? No, we’ve been sitting here for over an hour just to drink water.
We wait for the manager, and finally Jason has to threaten to leave all while the waitress insists she has done nothing wrong and gives him a great deal of attitude. The manager miraculously makes an appearance and apologizes profusely. We discover our waitress had neglected to put in our order until 20 minutes ago. Miss Manager promises our food will be ready momentarily and of course it will be free. She’ll bring us a snack in the meantime.
The manager brings out the food. Three plates on a tray. One. Two. Three. There are five of us. “Oh no. I’m worried. Why do I only have three plates?” Hmmm, I wonder! She heads to the back again. Miss Manager returns and laments, “Folks, I just can’t fix this. I only have orders for three people. I don’t know where the other ones went. I can have your food for you in about five more minutes and I will also give you a gift certificate for a future visit, although I don’t know that you care to return at this point.” That was the understatement of the night.
The rest of the food finally comes out. We finish our meal. The waitress never apologizes and the manager never returns with the promised gift certificate. Our family makes a dash for the door and hears choirs of angels singing when the door shuts behind us.
I do have to say I sincerely hope this experience was an absolute exception to the norm. The establishment was lovely, the bus boy worked his tail off, and the owner obviously took great pride in the details. Honestly, it felt like one of those hidden camera experiences or a restaurant version of the Twilight Zone.
I fear reading through this experience may have exhausted you nearly as much as the actual experience exasperated us. Thanks for bearing with me until the end. Maybe now you feel a little bit of our pain.
Grace presents itself hard to extend at times. I find grace easier to grant to those who readily and bluntly admit their mistakes. Everyone fails. Not everyone admits their failure. We would have felt much better if the waitress at any point had communicated what had happened and admitted she blew it.
When you fail, don’t be afraid to fess up, especially when your kids are involved. Your example will set a precedent for a lifetime of making conflict at least a little bit easier to handle.
The biggest tragedy of the evening? I wanted to go there for the ice cream. Do you think I had any intention of ordering dessert at the end of my meal? I’m sure their ice cream is fabulous. I may never know…