Friday, November 03, 2006

A Weekend for Parents

Last Friday, I managed to sneak out the front doors at 2:00 to wend my way down to the booming metropolis of Belton, Texas. The Eldest Aardvark Child goes to school in Belton and it was Parents Weekend.

Last year the whole family was there, but since the Youngest Aardvark Child had a band competition on Saturday, Mrs. A and I decided the best strategy was to divide and conquer. So, this year it was just me and the EAC. Or, more accurately, me, the EAC and her good friend she hangs out with a lot – who’s parents weren’t coming for Parents Weekend and so we just kind of adopted her. I guess that would make her the Adopted Aardvark Child, or just the AAC for short.

The first order of business when I arrived was to hit the registration table to pick up the stuff I had already paid for, mainly a dinner ticket, a breakfast ticket and a ticket to the football game Saturday afternoon. Naturally, they were selling assorted merchandise, and just as naturally, I had to buy some – a hat for me and a matching hat for Mrs. A. Then we had to stop in and see the EAC’s advisor, who also happens to be her boss for her work-study job. He seems to be a nice guy, even if he has an 18” pony tail (Art department), and somehow I managed to work that usual Aardvark magic and turn the whole encounter into a string of uncomfortable chit-chat punctuated by awkward silences.

“Sooooo, well. It’s nice to have met you. I guess we’ll be going on to dinner now, right girls? Right, well, ummm, anyway, it really is nice to meet you and, ummm, well, we’ll be going now. Right.”

At least there’s no question where the EAC gets her social graces. (hint – not from me)

On to dinner. And, unsurprisingly, the decision was to NOT use the ticket for the meal I had already paid for. We piled into the car (with me wearing my cool new hat) and headed North to Temple, Texas which is just a mile or so up the freeway. On the way to Temple we decided that IHOP was a place that would satisfy everyone’s cravings. Mmmm…pancakes. We walked in the door in front of three senior citizens and managed to get seated at a table by the slack-luster staff. He managed to mumble, “Your waiter will be with you shortly,” and shuffled off. A couple of minutes later he did manage to find his way back to take our drink order, though he made it clear that he was only doing that to help out. As he sat the drinks down, he again mumbled, “Your waiter will be with you shortly,” and then promptly disappeared a second time.

As we sat and waited, I noticed several things. One was that the place really wasn’t that busy. There were only about six or seven tables containing about 20 diners. There was a teenaged girl waiting on some tables and a mid-thirties guy, who I pegged for a manager type, was helping a table in the corner. Add to that the slacker that seated us and brought our drinks and the kid that was chit-chatting on the phone at the front, and you’d think that you might have some decent service. HA!

I really should have seen it coming, and even after I did, I never really thought that it would actually arrive, you know? What really set off the alarms was the posture and speed of the manager. He led by example and unfortunately his example consisted of a hand-in-the-pocket slouch combined with a what’s-the-point-to-it-all-anyway shuffle and a stare-at-the-floor point of view. Now, I know it’s not reasonable to expect that everyone who works in a SERVICE industry, like say – a restaurant, to actually be enthusiastic about service 24/7, but I do know that if you can’t at least muster up a little pride in what you do, you’re probably not going to have too much success in delivering at even rudimentary levels. Yeah, you might have to serve up Rooty-Tooty Fresh and Fruity’s all day long, but that was the gig you signed up for and if that beats you down, brother, it’s time to move on.

(steps down off soapbox)

Anyway…

We waited. And waited. And looked around trying to make eye contact with someone, anyone. And waited. And waited.

Now part of that time waiting was spent in conversation and giggling, so it wasn’t all bad. When I saw the seniors who had been seated after us get their food, I knew it was time to go. I threw a couple of bucks on the table to pay for the drinks and we got up to leave. Still, no one working even noticed. I’m convinced I could have pranced around the room in a spotted leopard-print leotard and no one would have called 911 to report the crazy man. I sent the girls on to the car and went back to find the manager. He was standing, slumped against a register.

“Excuse me, are you the manager,” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“I just thought you might want to know that we’re leaving. We’ve been sitting waiting for someone to come take our order for 20 minutes and this young man here,” – points to slacker standing nearby – “told us twice that someone would come take it shortly, and shortly never came.”

I turned and walked out. No apology, no ‘how can we make it right’, no nothin’. Not that I expected anything. I think they were just glad to see us go without making a big fuss. (Too bad I didn’t have my leopard-print leotard with me.)

We went down the street to Fazoli’s and ate Italian. The service and service staff there were like night and day to IHOP. I’ll eat there again even if I did think the lasagna was a little salty (and for ME to say something’s salty, well…) because the overall experience was such that I’ll give their food the benefit of the doubt.

Next: La Mancha es muy bueno!

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