Not long ago a friend and I went out for breakfast to a ‘name’ restaurant nationally recognized, and the kindest thing I can report about this disconcerting adventure is that neither of us will ever go back to any venue that is part of this vast franchise.


Talk about a total disaster!

We went there about 10:30 in the morning, got seated, had our order taken.

My friend pointed to a photo on the menu of what she wanted, and I ordered two scrambled egg whites with no cheese or other additions, crisp dry bacon, and sourdough toast. I am odd this way, but I like my toast almost black.  And I pointed this out to the waitress, tapping the black plastic lid of a condiment bottle on the table.  She laughed.

“Burnt, right?”

“Right!  I mean that literally.”

“You got it.”

“And be sure to leave it dry.  And add some pats of cold butter.  Real butter, OK?”

“No problem!”

I used to go into a long spiel about the darkness of the toast, explaining that if I had to send it back to the kitchen, my eggs and bacon would turn cold by the time I got my toast the way I had asked for it.  “And I like the toast with my bacon and eggs.”  The understanding nod suggested affirmative comprehension, but my explanation almost always counted for nothing.  This is curiously enough typical in almost all restaurants where I’ve breakfasted. It was as though waiters and waitresses had a little pre-processor implanted in their auditory apparatus that somehow failed to register that request.  I gave up running it.

In due time a different waitress brought my order.  Eggs and bacon OK, but I asked that the unordered hot cakes with a pool of melting butter in their middle be taken away. And – true to form — the ‘toast’ was a sickly pale, in effect just warm bread.  I pointed this out, and asked if she could darken it the way I’d originally asked. No problem, and off she swept with the pieces to the kitchen.  Meantime, my friend’s order was apparently not coming.  We waited.  She urged me to start.  I did, and after more time than was decent her order that was not her order did arrive – some viscous-looking concoction of breads, fruit and whipped cream.  The error was pointed out, and, having the waitress get the menu again, we pointed out what the order had been.

“Oh, yeah,” she said, “now I remember. I’ll get that right in.”

While we waited some more, my toast arrived – dark oddly enough on only one side, but I let it slide.  Still no butter, though.

Finally, when I was about half done, the other breakfast came. The waitress apologized and said we would not be charged for that breakfast.  “Some screw-up or something in the kitchen with the orders,” she airily explained. “Thanks for your patience.”

My friend examined her breakfast, took a few bites, and then looked at me with a pained expression:  “There’s a hair on my bacon,” she said.  And showed it to me.  Sure enough, there it was, stuck in tiny grease puddle in one of the strip’s creases. (Interestingly enough, that same week [7 December] the local paper had carried an article about restaurants [ours not among them] in town that had come to the attention of the County Health Department for even less venial alimentary delicts.) I looked down at the half of my breakfast remaining and, not capable of not wondering what unadvertised addenda I had ingested so far, promptly lost my appetite.  As did my friend.  We pointed out the hair to a third waitress – the other two being nowhere in sight – and she went off muttering something about talking to somebody in the kitchen …

We left the table, and I paid the cashier the $21 plus on the bill – but were, contrary to what waitress #1 had just told us, charged full freight.  Apparently her own memo had not got around to her. (Probably hung up somewhere among those screw-ups in the kitchen.)

I remained calm on the outside, inside fuming.  While my friend went to the restroom I sat on a small couch near the cash register, idly fingering my receipt. To my surprise, it registered a charge for one person of $2 something.  I went back to the cashier and told her I’d just paid $20 whatever, and showed her the receipt.  “Oops,” she said, “I must have made a mistake.” (No chance to foist that one off on those losers in the kitchen!)  She bent over and rooted around in a large waste basket, came up with a scrunched receipt that was (thank you very much [!]) free of syrup stains and other contaminants. “Could this be it?”

I admit I gave her a dirty look.

We walked out of the place, vows taken never to return to any of the chain’s eateries.

Two final points need making.

One, this is the only time in memory that I violated my own practice when it comes to tipping, no matter what:  it was just too egregious a concatenation of operational failures to be blithely overlooked.  It is the only time I can ever recall when I left no tip at all in a restaurant.

Two, the whole experience gave me a very sour heads-up about myself: how many millions of human beings of all ages throughout the entire world that morning would not gladly, indeed with affirmative eagerness and boundless gratitude, have ‘put up with’ what we had had to if they could only have gotten our delayed breakfasts – pale unbuttered toast and hairy bacon notwithstanding.

It makes one seriously ashamed.

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