Prologue - How to Get Your Food Spit In

The events in this prologue are absolutely true. So true, in fact, they have happened to me more times than I can count. Some of you will read this and think Maria and her families are obnoxious. Some of you will read this and see Maria as a perfectly reasonable patron who simply has high standards. I leave that for you to decide. If you see Maria as obnoxious, you have probably worked in the service industry. If Maria seems reasonable, you have probably had your food spit in by an enraged cook or server. 

It was nearly ten o’clock when Maria and her two children entered the restaurant’s parking lot in their black Ford Explorer. It was a hot and humid night in early August and back to school madness was just around the corner. The Explorer was packed to the roof with shopping bags from Gap, Old Navy, and Staples to name a few. Maria decided to do school shopping for her children earlier this year in an effort to avoid the inevitable craziness that ensued in the malls, retail-clothing outlets, and office supply stores in the area. This was the first year she had brought her children along to pick out their binders, notebooks, folders, and wardrobe for the rapidly approaching fall. Her oldest, Susanna, had just turned eight in July and was impatiently awaiting the start of third grade at the local elementary school. Maria’s youngest, Jack, was a winter baby and had just missed the November birthday cut off for kindergarten this past year. He was starting school in September. Truthfully, Maria enjoyed the shopping more than her children did. Maria had decided to bring her children to the Dead Animal Steakhouse for dinner as a special treat for good behavior during the marathon-shopping excursion. The children were famished and so was she.

As Maria approached the host stand she realized no one was at the front desk. A large plaque was mounted to the front desk reading “Please Wait to be Seated”. She checked her watch. 10:03 p.m. She quickly glanced at the hours of operation stickered to the window of the front door. “Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily” it read.

“Mommy, I don’t think they’re open,” whined Susanna.

Susanna and Jack were tired and it was beginning to show. Jack sat on the floor with a frown on his face. Maria did not reply and began frantically looking around the restaurant. The restaurant was largely empty except for a few occupied tables clumped together in the center of the restaurant. Maria waited a few minutes. No one appeared to seat them. It was now 10:06 p.m. Suddenly a man in a white shirt, blue tie, and black dress pants walked his way up to the front of the restaurant. The man was tall and balding with slate blue eyes. He could have stood to lose a few pounds and walked with a tired posture that betrayed a long day of doing exactly what he was about to do: deal with an angry guest.

“Hello mama” the man began.

“Hello. Table for three?” Maria asked in the sort of way that is not so much a question, more of a demand.

“Oh, I’m sorry mama. We’re actually closed” the man explained.

“Closed? What time is it”? Maria asked knowing the answer.

“It’s after ten ma’ma”. Susanna and Jack let out a grown. “I told you Mommy,” informed Susanna.

“We have been waiting at the front door for over ten minutes. We are very good customers in this restaurant” replied Maria threateningly. Her first comment was less than truthful. The second was entirely accurate and the man knew it. He had seen Maria, Susanna, and Jack in the restaurant many times before. The man chose the path of least resistance.

“Hold on a moment” the man said with an exasperated gasp. The man disappeared into the restaurant. He re-emerged a few moments later.

“Right this way” he beckoned.

The restaurant was virtually empty. It must have been a slow night Maria thought. She was always impressed with the sheer amount of detail that went into the decoration of the Dead Animal Steak House. The walls were covered with a variety of artifacts that would be at home in a hunting or skiing lodge nestled deep in the mountainous wild. Guns (disarmed of course), skis, sleds, stuffed animals, chandeliers made from antlers, wood carvings, and old photographs of men on hunting trips with the spoils of a true aim ensured that ever corner of the restaurant was interesting to look at. The floors of the restaurant were finished with an ancient looking hardwood that accentuated the hunting lodge theme. The restaurant was situated as to have a westerly exposure resulting in some of the most dramatic sunset lighting you’ve ever seen. Someone had definitely sat down and thought about the design of this place before they built it thought Maria. While the décor kept Maria interested, it was the talking animals that kept the kids happy. Several animals in the restaurant would occasionally light up and sing a little song or perform a dance number much to the delight of most of the younger patrons. It was much akin to a rustic "Chuck E. Cheese" only with steaks instead of pizza. Susanna and Jack couldn’t get enough of the huge talking Buffalo near the back of the restaurant.

After a few short steps the balding man pointed to a table near the front of the restaurant. Several other tables were seated around the table. Maria knew this wouldn’t do.

“Here you are mama,” he said.

“Oh” Maria said with a disapproving tone usually reserved for her children. “Well, do you think we could sit over there?” pointing at a completely empty area of the restaurant directly underneath the talking, singing, dancing, stuffed Buffalo. For a moment a flash of something crossed over the man’s face. It might have been anger or exasperation. Whatever it was, it passed quickly and the man said with a sigh “Whatever you like ma'am”.

They walked over to the table and the man set up three sets of silverware, an adult menu, and two children menus.

“Enjoy your meal. You’re server’s name is Luke. He’ll be right along,” the man informed them.

“Good, because we’re starving,” replied Maria. Maria sat down and opened her menu. The children followed suit.

“Mommy, where are the crayons?” asked Jack. Like many children his age, Jack loved to color. The children’s menus at the Dead Animal Steak House were perfect for such an activity. Maria scanned the table. Three silverware rollups, one adult menu, two children menus, salt, pepper, and a sugar caddy. No crayons.

“We’ll ask our waiter when he comes over,” she told Jack.

“Mommmmmy….” whined Jack.

“Hello and welcome to the Dead Animal Steak House, my name is Luke and I’ll be taking care of you this evening,” said their server. It would be charitable to call this delivery monotone. The server had appeared out of nowhere. Luke was an average looking guy. He was about 5’10” and maybe 180 pounds with brown hair and green eyes. He was dressed in a manner similar to the other servers in the restaurant. He wore brown boots, khaki’s, and a denim button down shirt. Around his neck was a bolo necktie with the Dead Animal Steak House logo. His nametag was pinned to this denim shirt. It read “Luke”. Maria noticed the nametag.

“Is Luke your real name or just a nametag they make you wear?” interrupted Maria.

“It’s my name when I’m here,” replied Luke. He had definitely been asked that question before. Luke continued. “Our featured appetizer this evening is the Stunning Onion. The Stunning Onion is a 23-ounce Spanish Onion that is sliced like a flower, battered, fried, and served with our Stunning Onion sauce. As you can imagine, it’s a vision of health,” said Luke. Maria was busy with her menu. She didn’t seem to notice the lighter moment. Luke grimaced and continued. “Our featured entrees this evening are…”

“MOMMY… Crayons” said Jack interrupting Luke. “Oh, Do you have any crayons?” asked Maria. Without missing a beat Luke unrolled the silverware in front of Jack. A small box of crayons appeared.

“There we go,” said Luke. Jack grabbed the crayons and began coloring a moose on the front page of the menu. Susanna unrolled her silverware and also began doodling.

“Our featured entrées this evening are the…”

“Mommy, look what I did! I finished the maze!” said Susanna pointing to the puzzle on the children’s menu. Maria ignored her child’s outburst.

“I think we’re ready to order,” she said. “We don’t need to hear about the specials. We get the same thing every time.”

“Ok” said Luke with a hint of irritation in his voice. “As long as I’m not rushing you,” said Luke as he pulled out a pad and paper. “What can I do for you?”

Maria pointed to Jack. “What would you like sweetie?” Maria asked Jack. Jack shrugged his shoulders and continued coloring. “Would you like Mac and Cheese or Chicken Fingers,” asked Maria. Again, Jack shrugged his shoulders and continued coloring. “Jack,” said Maria running out of patience, “what do you want for dinner”. Jack shrugged his shoulders again. Maria turned to Luke and said, “He’ll have the Mac and Cheese”. “NO,” shouted Jack. “NO!” “Chicken Fingers then?” asked Maria. “Cheeseburger” said Jack matter of factly. “Are you sure? Last time you didn’t eat it,” asked Maria. “Cheeseburger,” said Jack as he returned to his coloring. “Bring him a “Cheeseburger then,” said Maria as Luke crossed out “Mac and Cheese” and replaced it with “Cheeseburger” on his pad.

“What would you like Susanna?” asked Maria.

“A salad,” replied Susanna foregoing the typically fare for a child at Dead Animal Steak House.

“Do you have any salads on the children’s menu?” asked Maria.

“Actually, we don’t but I can bring her a small house salad if she likes for $2.99,” said Luke.

“Is the salad large? Is it too much for her?” questioned Maria.

“No, I think it will probably be just enough for her,” responded Luke.

“Ok, bring her a salad then. The $2.99 salad,” said Maria.

“Would she like a garden or Caesar salad,” asked Luke.

“What’s the difference?” asked Susanna.

“The Caesar salad has romaine lettuce with Parmesan cheese, croutons, and the Anchovy based Caesar dressing,” replied Luke. “The garden salad has…”

“Anchovies? In a Caesar salad?” interrupted Maria with indignation in her voice. “Do you really put Anchovies in your salad?” asked Maria.

“The dressing has an Anchovy paste as one of its main ingredients,” tiredly replied Luke.

“What are Anchovies?” asked Susanna.

“Well she’ll have the garden salad,” replied Maria for her daughter.

“What are Anchovies?” repeated Susanna.

“They are fish Susanna, OK? Fish,” tensely relied Maria.

“Fisheys…That’s just gross,” chirped Susanna.

“What type of dressing would she like with her garden salad,” continued Luke.

“What do you got?” asked Susanna.

“We have Ranch, Blue Cheese, Russian, Zinfandel Vinaigrette, Italian, Oil and Vinegar, Honey Mustard, and Parnassian Peppercorn,” replied Luke.

“I’ll take French,” said Susanna.

“Actually,” explained Luke, “we don’t have French”.

“What do you have again?” asked Maria this time.

“We have Ranch, Blue Cheese, Russian, Zinfandel Vinaigrette, Italian, Oil and Vinegar, Honey Mustard, and Parnassian Peppercorn,” replied Luke, again.

“She’ll have Italian,” replied Maria for her child.

“Mommy no! I want Honey Mustard!” pleaded Susanna.

“She’ll have Italian,” confirmed Maria.

“I want Honey Mustard!” cried Susanna becoming desperate in her plight.

“Susanna, the last time we were here you cried for Honey Mustard and you didn’t like it,” said Maria with the patience of someone who has been having exactly this type of argument over the past several hours.

“But I like Honey Mustard!”

“You don’t like their Honey Mustard!” said Maria.

“Yes I do!”

“No, you don’t!”

“Yes I do!” screamed Susanna with tears welling up in her eyes.

Maria turned to Luke. “Could you please bring her Italian and Honey Mustard. Both on the side.”

“Sure,” replied Luke as he scribbled “Honey Mustard/Italian/side” on his pad. Susanna, sensing victory, smiled and returned to her coloring. Her tears disappeared rather quickly. Maria gave a frustrated sigh.

“They are getting tired,” explained Maria pointing in the general direction of her children.

Luke smiled and asked “What can I bring for you ma’am.”

“How is the Chicken Salad,” asked Maria.

“It’s pretty good actually. It has Iceberg and Romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, croutons, cheese, egg, and some very thin strips of cabbage and carrots. It also comes with your choice of salad dressing,” replied Luke.

“What are your dressings again?” asked Maria.

“We have Ranch, Blue Cheese, Russian, Zinfandel Vinaigrette, Italian, Oil and Vinegar, Honey Mustard, and Parnassian Peppercorn,” replied Luke for the third time.

“Ok, I’ll have the Chicken Salad with Oil and Vinegar on the side. But,” stipulated Maria, “I don’t want carrots anywhere near my salad.”

“Unfortunately ma’am, our salads are premixed with the carrots. All of our garden salads have carrots in them. We really can’t take them out” apologized Luke.

“You can’t take them out?” replied Maria with a hint of disappointment.

“No, I’m sorry,” replied Luke.

Maria sighed and turned her attention back to the menu.

“Well, I don’t want that then,” snapped Maria. “I guess I’ll have the 7 oz. Salmon then,” with a tone that clearly indicated it was her second choice.

“That comes with the mashed potatoes and the steamed vegetables. Is that all right ma’am?” asked Luke.

“What else do you have instead of the mashed potatoes?” asked Maria.

“We have baked potato, rice, beans, French fries, and coleslaw” answered Luke.

“I’ll have the Cole Slaw instead of the potatoes then,” said Maria.

“Great,” replied Luke. “Can I get something for you all to drink?” asked Luke.

“I’ll have a hot tea,” said Maria. “The children will have Pepsi.”

“Actually ma’am, we have Coke products,” said Luke.

“Ugh,” replied a disgusted Maria. “Fine, two Cokes for the children.”

“Mommy, I want chocolate Milk,” said Susanna.

“Fine,” said Maria with tension in her voice. “Give her chocolate Milk.”

“Ok then. I’ll be back in a few moments with your drinks and some bread,” said Luke. “I’ll be right back.”

A few moments passed. Luke brought over a Coke and a chocolate milk in small children friendly plastic cups with detachable lids. The cups were red and white with dancing Bears, Raccoons, Moose, and birds of all varieties adorning the sides.

“I’ll be back in a few moments with your bread and your hot tea ma’am,” said Luke as he walked away from the table.

Five minutes later, Luke emerged from the kitchen with a cup of hot tea and two loafs of bread with butter. The Dead Animal Steakhouse is known far and wide for its excellent tasting bread. Some people actually patronize the restaurant solely because of the honey wheat bread served with any meal.

“OHHHH…. Bread!” squealed Susanna.

Luke set the bread and hot tea down on the table. “You’re meals will be out in a few minutes,” said Luke. Luke set ketchup and steak sauce with several extra paper dinner napkins on the table as walked by. It was 10:19 p.m.

Several minutes past. Thirteen to be precise. Maria looked around the restaurant at 10:32 p.m. and noticed her family was the only table left in the entire restaurant. Must have been a slow night, she again thought to herself. The bread was completely devoured and the children were still starving. Maria didn’t notice the huge pile of crumbs that has accumulated under her youngest chair.

“Mommy,” asked Jack, “where’s my dinner?”

“It’s coming Jacky,” answered Maria hopefully.

As if on queue, Luke appeared from the kitchen holding three plates on his arms. Maria was always amazed at the way the servers at the Dead Animal Steakhouse carried plates. Instead of using trays, like many restaurants Maria had visited, the servers here stacked plates up their arms. Once she had even seen a particularly tall server carry five dinners on one arm. It always seemed like a miracle when the food reached the table without first hitting the floor.

Luke arrived at the table and handed out the food. First a Cheeseburger to Jack, then a garden salad with Honey Mustard and Italian to Susanna, then a seven ounce Salmon with Coleslaw and vegetables Maria.

“Enjoy your meal. I’ll be back in a few moments to check on you,” said Luke. With that he disappeared into the kitchen.

Trouble started immediately.

“Mommy, I want Ranch dressing!” cried Susanna.

“Susanna, you asked for Honey Mustard,” replied Maria.

“I don’t like this Honey Mustard!” Susanna informed her mother at such a volume that the entire restaurant would have been aware of her keen distaste for Dead Animal Steakhouse Honey Mustard if anyone else had actually been in the restaurant.

“Susanna, I told you that when you ordered it,” replied her mother.

“Mommy, where’s my sauce!” This was Jack.

“Sauce, what sauce?” replied Maria.

“My sauce!” yelled Jack. “Barbeque!”

“Our server will be right out. He can get whatever sauce you want,” said Maria.

“My Ranch dressing!” said Susanna.

“We can get your dressing too,” replied Maria.

Satisfied for the moment both children went to work on their meals. Maria cut into her Salmon. Luke appeared out of the kitchen.

“How is everything folks?” asked Luke.

“Actually we need a few things,” replied Maria with a serious tone. “Don’t all your burgers come with Barbeque sauce?” asked Maria.

“None of our children meals do actually but I would be happy to bring some to the table,” replied Luke.

“I could have swore they did. Anyway, Susanna needs some more dressing.”

“More Honey Mustard? More Italian?” asked Luke.

“Ranch actually. She doesn’t care for the Honey Mustard or the Ranch.”

“I see. Ok then. A side of Ranch and a side of Barbeque then?” said Luke.

“Yes. And, I hate to be a pest, but my Salmon isn’t cooked,” said Maria obviously saving the best news for last.

“That’s no good,” said Luke. “Let me take a look at that,” said Luke. Maria showed Luke the insides of the Salmon she had just cut into a moment before. The center was light pink.

“Ahh,” said Luke. “We cook our Salmon to medium rare here,” said Luke matter of factly.

“What does that mean? Are you saying you don’t cook your Salmon all the way though?” asked Maria with an edge to her voice.

“No ma’am. All I’m saying is that all of our Salmon is cooked exactly the way yours is. If you would like me to put it on the grill a few moments longer I would be happy to. Just so you know, the Salmon will dry out extremely quickly the longer we cook it for. Many of our guests prefer their Salmon medium rare,” said Luke with a surprising amount of poise.

“Most of your guests eat raw Salmon?” asked an increasingly agitated Maria.

“Let me put that back on the grill for you ma’am,” said Luke ignoring Maria and her increasingly confrontational tone. “I’ll be right back,” said Luke.

As Luke walked back to the kitchen with the Salmon, Maria fumed.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing. Raw Salmon! Who eats raw Salmon!” asked Maria. Jack ignored her and continued eating his children’s meal. Susanna looked impatiently at her mother.

“Where is my Ranch dressing Mommy?” whined Susanna.

“The same place my Salmon is,” quipped Maria. “I swear, this used to be the best Steakhouse in the area. The food and service has really gone downhill. They can’t even get Salmon right! How hard is it to cook Salmon!” Maria asked the air. “I don’t know Mommy,” said Jack.

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