Adventures in Small Town Dining

Ah, the joys of dining out in a small town! For those of you who have never been to a Genuine Small Town, you’re in for a treat. Not just bad food and indifferent service, but quirky policies and clueless waitstaff await your pleasure!

Incident one: A table to wait at while you’re waiting for a table

Friday night, Mr. Athena and I decided to go out to eat. There’s a new steakhouse in town that we haven’t tried, but being aware of the dangers of Small Town Restaurants we didn’t want to dive right in and have a full dinner. We decided to have a cocktail and perhaps and appetizer, and check out the rest of the menu and the ambiance at the same time.

We pull in around 5 o’clock, thinking it would be early enough to not be crowded. Wrong. I forgot about the New Restaurant in Small Town phenomena, that is, everyone and their brother goes to the new restaurant because they’re so damn bored with every other restaurant in town that they couldn’t get enough of the new offerings. The parking lot was packed. People milled about the entrance waiting for tables. No problem, we just wanted a drink. We headed into the bar, giggling at the gift shop near the entrance. Always a good sign when a restaurant includes a gift shop. High class, that. :rolleyes:

We get to the bar, which is about 3/4 full. Enough people to make it feel cozy, but not enough to be crowded. A bar lined one wall, a few booths, and some of those high tables with stools you see in bars. We head to one of those, and start to sit. Before we can, we’re accosted by a high-school age hostess type. “Excuse me, but those tables are reserved for the wait.”

“huh?” I don’t get it.

“Those tables are reserved for people waiting for a table. Are you on the list?”

“No, we just wanted to have a drink and maybe some appetizers and look at the menu while we decide what to do.”

“You’re welcome to sit at the bar, but those tables are reserved for people on the wait list.”

huh? Excuse me? You have tables reserved for people waiting for tables? I can understand seating dinner patrons in the bar during busy nights… but reserving tables for those who are waiting? As often happens in this town, I just see red. Once again, the owners of the restaurant have made policies that are just bound to piss off customers. I looked at Mr. Athena. He looked at me. We went somewhere else for our cocktail. In retrospect I wish I had told her to put us down for a table so that we could have our drink in peace then take off, but I didn’t think of it at the time.

Incident Two: The cook is too busy to make your food

Sunday morning, we’re hankerin’ for some breakfast. We decide to head to the local Historic Hotel, which includes a restaurant. In fact, it’s the only high end restaurant in town. Of course, this is still Small Town Dining, so what that amounts to is the food is of moderate interest, and a big dose of screwed up ambiance. The restaurant is situated in a large room off the lobby of the hotel, complete with high ceilings and the potential to be quite nice. They’ve managed to ignore this potential by painting the ceiling a particularly unappetizing shade of green, and displaying art from local artists on the walls. Now, there’s some really talented local artists in this area. They’ve chosen, however, to display pieces from the not-so-talented artists. Furthermore, this month they’ve chosen to display close-up drawings of old cars. Things like a pen-and-ink drawing of a headlight. Not only doesn’t it go with the Old Historic Hotel feel of the place, but whoever put them up has no sense of composition. Large white walls have one small picture off-center to the left. Behind the cash register is a garish purple painting of… something.

OK, enough of the decor. We sit down, and peruse the menu. It looks pretty good. I order Eggs Benedict, with the hollandaise on the side as I like just a little hollandaise, not eggs swimming in hollandaise.

We sip our coffee, and talk. The waitress brings our food fairly quickly. This is looking good! She puts down my plate. There’s no hollandaise on the eggs, but there’s none on the side either. No worries, she explains. The cook was just making it, it will be out right away.

At this point, I’m not worried. I figured the waitress was running right back to the kitchen to get the sauce, and indeed, upon leaving our table she hustles into the back. She reappears with a tray of food for the table next to us. Perhaps one of those small pitchers on the tray is my hollandaise? No, that’s syrup. OK, I’m still waiting. I play around with my hash browns. The waitress disappears into the kitchen.

She reappears again, with another tray of food for another table. Hmmm… now I’m getting worried. She disappears again. Next thing I know she’s at our table.

“Um, I’m really sorry, but I just checked with the chef, and he told me he’s too busy to make your hollandaise right now. He has to get out an order for that table of 8 over there, and it’ll be at least another ten minutes. I’m really sorry.”

I look at her. I honestly am speechless. I’m in a restaurant and the cook is too busy to make my food? I gulp, and start thinking. “Well, I wouldn’t have ordered Eggs Benedict if I knew I couldn’t get hollandaise…” I start.

“I know, I’m really really sorry. We’ll comp your meal. Is there anything else I can bring you?”

My mind wheels. If I order something different, that will take more time than hollandaise I’m sure. I look at Mr. Athena. His eggs are getting cold as he stares flabbergast at the waitress.

“I can’t really order anything else now, can I? It would take longer than the hollandaise. I want the both our meals comped. I’ll just stop on the way home to get a bagel I guess.”

“Let me get a manager” the waitress says. I look at Mr. Athena. He’s been known to make scenes. This time, he’s too speechless to even do that. He stands up and says “Forget it, we’ll just leave.”

We stand up and gather our belongings. The waitress had disappeared, only to reappear as we’re about to walk out the door. “Look what I have!” she sings out.

I look. She has a ramiken with a few tablespoons of what appears to be crusty bright yellow hollandaise in the bottom of it. It looks distinctly unappetizing. “Um, it’s kind of too late.” I say.

“I’m so so sorry!” she calls out.

We leave, still almost speechless. I’ve had really bad service before. In this town, I almost expect bad service. But this truly is the first time I’ve been to a restaurant where the cook is too busy to cook my meal!

Are you sure you don’t live in Alabama? 'Cause you just described our local restaurants perfectly! We tried eating at the “fancy” places and hated being treated like we were impinging on the chefs. Our favorite place is now a bar, but they serve real food. Shhhh we’re not telling anyone about this place for fear they’ll get ideas and start to suck.

Our town is just beginning to grow, so we now have the let’s-eat-at-the-chain-restaurant phenomenon. Then people complain when the small friendly restaurants close.

I understand your frustration but that’s just how it goes in small towns. I lived in small-town NC for 13 years and expected exactly this type of service every time I went out to eat. It’s annoying but you yourself admitted that you were already at the nicest place in town, so why leave? Going somewhere nicer? No? Why’d you go out to eat then?

Sorry, I don’t mean to sound rude, mostly because I agree with you, but you do sound a bit snobbish when relating the incidents. Might I ask what big city you’re from and what small town you live in now?

Why leave? Well, when I’m told that the chef is too busy to make my food, I take my money elsewhere. If that’s snobbish, so be it. Why’d I go out to eat? Well, sometimes I get sick of cooking. Sometimes we want to go out.

I was born and bred in this small town. I lived for a while in Colorado, and returned to my home town 2 years ago. My family lives here, my grandparents and countless aunts and uncles.

I’m not expecting every place here to have perfect service. I do, however, reserve the right to laugh (or bitch) about it when things are so wrong as to be funny. And it is funny… very few places have decent service. But some do; it’s not impossible. There’s one place in town - a brewpub - that is constantly packed. Service there is just about great all the time. I’ve also heard that they pay really well, and give benefits to their servers. I’m guessing that has something to do with the good service!

You have a choice of restaurants? There are bars there? What kind of small town do you call that?

My town has one restaurant that opens at 4:00 AM and closes at 2:00 PM. No bars, but we do have a gas station that has cokes and honeybuns and stuff.

Glory in the trials and tribulations your sophisticated life in a big city, why don’t ya? :stuck_out_tongue:

I guess it depends on the small town. We had nothing but incredibly tasty food and decent service on our trip back to Oregon last month, but then I guess Florence and our favourite ever diner on the road between Florence and Eugene don’t count that much as small town, because Florence is a tourist destination (of sorts.)

My experience with small towns back home (Tasmania) was also probably atypical, since most of them had at least one decent pub serving plain country fare with plain country service. It was the medium sized towns (pop. ~20k) that had the more dubious flashy restaurants that didn’t quite get it together. I think that’s the worst, and sounds like your experiences.

Tables for people waiting for tables. The mind boggles. The hollandaise sauce story is just plain terrible service, I don’t blame you for leaving. Not have time to cook your meal? What the…? Why have it on the menu if you haven’t got the culinary skills to get it on the table in a timely fashion?

In the great, grand city of Verbena (pop. 34), there is a restaurant where my parents’ neighbor eats all his meals. Nasty food, rude people and smells, but Mr Neighbor is about 80 and quite finicky. When the restaurant is closed for holidays, my mom will take him a plate. (He won’t eat in my parents’ house. Did I mention he was finicky?)

Mr Neighbor found a new restaurant in Cooper called the Hillbilly Cafe (I kid you not) where a waitress is currently fleecing him for his tiny fixed income. I’m just saying, they both seem very happy with this arrangement. But the Verbena restaurant has had to close down. Seems Mr Neighbor was just about the only person eating there. This place will not be missed.