I’m not a big fan of eating at restaurants. For the most part, I find restaurants to be over priced, uncomfortable, and the food less than appealing. Don’t get me wrong, there are some I do enjoy going to now and then. But they are local spots with a certain flavor to them. Places where you are getting true local food and it’s cooked by an individual, not according to some preset instructions handed down from the corporate warlords. But even still, with the prices they charge, and all the fat, salt, and other crap they put into the food, I prefer to eat at home with my own cooking.
However, since I’ve been stuck up here in a non tropical environment, living with family, it’s become the norm to eat out at least three times a week, sometimes more. I wouldn’t mind except here in this shithole town, there are no local restaurants, which is probably a good thing since local fare would be the Pa. version of surf and turf, carp and groundhog. Instead, we are surrounded by every chain restaurant known to mankind. For seafood, go to Red Lobster. For Italian, Olive Garden, and so on and so forth. These places are all cookie cutters of all the other chains. You can walk in, the layout is identical, and the food is the same, bland, over salted, over fatted, and over priced slop they serve at all the other outlets.
For the locals, those who live here and have the all the culinary knowledge of a farm animal, these places are the equivalent of fine dining. In their minds, these monuments to junk food are as good as it gets when it comes to eating fancy. You can bet when they go on vacation, these people will hit the same restaurant chains in whatever place they go, simply because it’s familiar to them, and they are afraid to expand their tastes for fear they won’t like something because it isn’t actually pictured on the menu. It’s sad because they are missing out on some real out of the way gems, especially in the Keys when it comes to local spots. But, it’s their loss.
Said chain restaurants do a bang up business here. Both Red Lobster and Olive Garden have people waiting in line for a table every day and especially on weekends. No small feat considering they are competing with dozens of other chains in the area. Everyone pounces on the local ads in the paper for any coupons for discounted or free meals. A trip to one of these places is a highlight of the week. If you want to impress a date, you go to one of these, it shows refinement and good taste. Um, yeah. Anyways, the menus get shuffled around now and then but it’s all basically the same crap, just arranged differently on the plate. Yet, talk to anyone and they will tell you it’s the best the world has to offer.
I have begun to not go out to these places when invited, even if I’m not paying the tab. Much to the dismay of everyone, I told them I just don’t like the damn food. It’s bland, unimaginative, and I just don’t like sitting in some sterile, fake atmosphere for 2 hours waiting on all the slop to be delivered. For example: Red Lobster has a nautical theme within it’s walls. Pictures of seascapes, bits of boating stuff hanging from the ceiling, little anchors and sailboats on the napkins. All I can think of is sitting in the open air under the tiki roof at someplace like Hogfish where one can watch the shrimp boats come in and out of port, and if you are sitting in the right place, maybe have one of the local cats come up by your table for a visit and share a bite of shrimp with you. It’s real Keys dining and you are seriously missing out on something special if you come to the islands and don’t seek these places out.
But perhaps the one thing which has been really aggravating me lately with the chain ‘dining’ experience, has been the waitresses. If I go to a locals place in the islands, chances are pretty good the waitress, or waiter, is also a local, whom you may well run into at a watering hole later on. Instead of some starched, corporate mandated uniform, they are dressed like everyone else. Fishing shorts, flip flops, maybe a t-shirt from the restaurant. They are friendly, talk to you like you are an equal, and if you ask them anything out of the ordinary beyond your menu choices, like for instance, who has the best deal on a fishing charter or such, they will answer honestly with a smile. You can joke with them, share stories, and they are more than happy to join in. While they are working, they are also socializing. They know a friendly waitress/waiter who goes beyond just taking orders and delivering food, gets more better tips. For the good ones, they make a pretty damn good living at what they do.
But the wait staff at the chain restaurants, not so much. My last two trips to chain restaurants just plain pissed me off. Especially the last one a couple nights ago at Olive Garden. The waitress was one of those who talks down to you like you are a 2 year old. It was all, “What would WE like to drink?” or “What would WE like to eat?” or “Would WE like dessert?”. I wanted to ask the condescending bitch if she was planning to join us at the very uncomfortable booth but I didn’t want to cause a scene being I was with family and they were paying the check. What I really wanted to ask her if “We would like a slap upside the head if WE didn’t start talking to us like adults.” It really pissed me off. We are grown adults, (well, maybe not me, but still) and we were all older than this fat whore, so why is she talking to us like she is addressing a kindergarten class? When I complained after we left I was told, “Oh, she was just being friendly.”. No. She wasn’t. She was being snide and condescending. And if it happens again, unlikely as I doubt I will go back, I may just say something.
I partly blame the bitch because I’m guessing she hates her job and takes it out on the customers, but I also blame the corporate warlords. They train these worker bees to be obedient, follow a script, and never, ever deviate from said script. They are there for one purpose and one purpose only. To get the customers to buy as much food as they possibly can. Extra drinks, expensive entree’s, and over priced desserts. Hint: Never order dessert at a restaurant. Not even Key Lime Pie. Get it someplace else to have at home.
Said wait staff is trained to only do as they are told. Wear the correct uniform, be polite, get the orders, deliver said orders, get the bill paid, get them out and get the next group in. No different than an assembly line. So in the process of being pressured to bang out as much money as possible per table, the staff abandons any personality they may have. They talk in a monotone, scripted voice, overly polite to the point where it becomes insulting, and either intentional or not, become very condescending to their customers. The entire restaurant experience at these chains is predictable and unimaginative. You already know what the food will taste like before you go in. You won’t remember anything special about the meal until later in the night when you are sitting on the toilet questioning your life choices. Eating at these chain restaurants is no different than eating at a glorified school cafeteria.
If you get nothing else out of this post, other than indigestion or explosive diarrhea, take this bit of advice. If you are going out to eat, seek out the local spots. Add some adventure to your culinary journey. Stay away from the cookie cutter, same on both coasts and in-between unimaginative menus. Take a chance when you go someplace on vacation or out of your comfort zone. Ask the locals where a good place is to eat. Ask any of the Fritter fans who have come to visit me about where we went. Life is too short to put up with crappy food and snotty waitresses.
Are WE ready to go get something to eat now?