There is an old lady who comes into the restaurant every week to take herself out to dinner. She is always alone and I imagine that her cats are sitting at home anxiously awaiting her return. She doesn’t talk much and she never smiles. Even though she always asks to hear the specials, the only thing she ever orders is the roasted chicken off the menu. Maybe she is hoping that one day the special will be roasted chicken therefore making her boring meal of roasted chicken something special after all.
Today she seems even quieter than usual. Her mood, never exactly upbeat anyway, seems dark. Perhaps one of her cats had a hair ball on her favorite crocheted doily or maybe she just realized that Andy Griffith died sealing the fate of the Matlock reunion show she had been hoping for. Whatever the reason, grumpy old lady seems even grumpier. As per the norm, she eats in silence without the comfort of her cell phone to play Words With Friends or an iPad to update her Twitter. She simply eats and stares blankly ahead. I have learned that she is not a person who needs to be engaged in conversation. The most basic of service points is all she needs. Just fill her water, take the order, bring her food and her glass of Cabernet, ask her if it’s okay and let it be. After she has cleared her plate leaving only the tiniest bone of the airline cut chicken breast which appears to have been sucked clean of every morsel of protein, she throws caution to the wind and asks me what’s for dessert.
The world stops spinning on its axis.
Birds begin flying backward.
Cows jump over the moon.
I make it through a brunch shift without catching a buzz on mimosas.
“Tonight we have three desserts; a chocolate pot de creme, panacota with raspberries and blackberries and a fresh blueberry sauce and finally a banana bread served with candied walnuts and a toffee sauce.”
She grunts. “Is the banana bread warm?” She grunts again and I wonder if her underwear is as clean as it was only seconds before.
“Yes, ma’am, the banana bread is served warm. Would you like-”
“Banana bread.” Grunt. “Yes, banana bread.” Grunt, grunt.
I no longer wonder about her underwear and begin to worry about the chair seat itself.
Five minutes later, I see that the dessert as been placed on her table and she is taking her first bite. I am busy and unable to get to her make sure that everything is alright, but I see her wave down the other sever and hand him back the banana bread. Perhaps she grunted too hard and now she needs her dessert “to go” so that she can go home and have some quality time with some Baby Wipes and Murder She Wrote reruns. A couple of minutes later, I see the runner take the banana bread back to her table and I decide to go make sure everything is a-okay. Because I care so much.
“How’s your dessert?”
“Well, it wasn’t served warm.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I lied. “It usually is. I guess I just assumed. Well, I see that it’s warm now.”
“It’s still not warm. I sent it back and it’s still not warm.” I waited for a grunt that never came.
“I’m sorry,” I lied again. “The chef puts it in the oven to warm it up but maybe it wasn’t in long enough.”
“Well, the oven’s broken,” she said.
I know the oven is not broken for it is the same oven that roasted the chicken she had just devoured. It is the same oven that is making the kitchen too hot and requiring me to bring Cokes to the cooks. It s the same oven that I want to put my head in.
“I don’t think it’s broken and I can put your dessert back in it if you like.”
“It’s broken. Forget it. It’s fine.”
I retreat. She said the magic words that allow me to remove myself from the situation: “It’s fine.”
She asks for her check and she leaves money on the table and quickly leaves. When I go to clear her table, I am greeted by a 30% tip and the remainder of the not warm banana bread that is covered by a napkin. The temperature of her dessert was enough to keep her from eating it and I felt bad. There was so much more I could have done to make her dessert more appealing, like take it to the microwave in the break room and nuke it for three minutes, but she said it was fine. She will return, I’m sure. I look forward to her next visit. I long to make sure she has a satisfactory dessert experience and I am eager to hear the grunts that fill my ears with joy, but the thing I look forward to the most is that 30% tip.