The Serial That Takes You to Dinner
by Chef Bob Munnich
Back of the House is a real chef's fictional story about running a restaurant and the politics behind the scenes that diners rarely see.
Tom was exhausted. It was the end of another long day at the office. Jan was just as tired. They barely had the energy to turn the door knob when they finally got home.
On the way they had decided there was no way they would cook tonight. "Let's just take the kids to that new spaghetti house down the street. You know the one, Tarrone's" Tom suggested. Anything that didn't mean cooking and cleaning up was fine with Jan.
After gathering the kids, they headed out. The kids were excited; but they'd calm down by the time they got there.
They arrived to a busy restaurant. Everyone was busy running around. After they walked in, they saw a line of about fifteen people waiting patiently to be seated. They stood next to the host stand and waited for someone to greet them.
A few seconds later, a nice young lady noticed them waiting and swung by after serving a table a couple plates of pasta. "How are yaz tonight?" She took their name and told Tom it would be about a 20 minute wait for a table. Tom said they'd wait outside. It was a nice night; and they'd be back in fifteen. Tom and Jan took the kids outside. Right next to the restaurant was the neighborhood park. They would pass the time swinging on the swings. "What a great place for a restaurant," Tom thought.
Fifteen minutes passed, and Tom went to check on the table. The waitress that had greeted them was at the door and told him the table was just about ready. Tom gathered the children and Jan; and they were shown to a table in the back of the cluttered, busy but homey feeling restaurant.
"So far so good," Jan thought. "How lucky we are to have a nice restaurant right down the block from us." The park next door was nice too. The kids had worn themselves out. They were now ready to behave themselves for dinner. The waiter was a young man. He actually looked a little too young to be working. "But who's to judge?" Thought Jan.
He presented them with menus. The kids got children's menus. The children's menus were copies on white paper with coloring pictures on them. He apologized that they were out of crayons; but offered them pens as a substitute. Tom refused the pens. He could just vision the pen marks all over everything. The waiter informed them of the specials and went off to attend to other tables.
They decided on some spaghetti for the kids. Tom wanted the lasagna and Jan was going to try the Penne with sundried yellow tomatoes. That sounded interesting. The waiter returned and they ordered their dinner.
A few minutes later the waiter came by with a basket of rolls. He placed it in the center of the table and headed on his way. It was then that Jan noticed they didn't have bread plates. "Oh well, she thought." Looking around the restaurant, she noticed no one had any. They passed out the bread and got crumbs everywhere. Soon the server returned with salads.
The salads were your typical iceberg lettuce salads with an under ripe tomato and some cucumber rounds on top. The dressing was a commercial creamy Italian. It smothered the salad. The kids didn't seem to mind; but "yuck," thought Tom and Jan as they tried to eat the lettuce that protruded around the gob of dressing in the center of the plate. "Next time I'll order the dressing on the side," said Jan.
The salads were cleared and the entrees came right out. Jan's looked OK. The pasta was a little over cooked. It was edible but a little bland. The kids' spaghetti was all stuck together in clumps, but they didn't seem to mind. "They'll eat anything," Jan thought. Tom's looked like a pile of, well let's not say. The lasagna was splattered all over the plate with a sprinkling of parsley on top. Tom tasted it and pronounced it to be pretty bland. For Tom to say that, it had to be bland.
They ate what they could. The server stopped back to ask how everything was. They just nodded and he went back off to wait on someone else. The kids were behaving, and they didn't have to cleaned up after. Tom and Jan were thankful for that.
After they finished up, the kids decided they wanted dessert. The waiter showed them the dessert menu. They chose some ice cream for the kids and a "Chocolate Decadence" for the two of them to share. The desserts came and, as expected, were commercial products. The cake was even still a little frozen in the middle.
The server brought refills for their coffee and offered them the check. The bill was only $29.00! "Wow," Tom said. "What a bargain!"
"Yeah," Jan said facetiously. "What a bargain. This was a pretty poor meal."
"Service was all right," Tom argued. "The food was pretty mediocre though."
"Mediocre is an understatement." Jan added.
"You get what you pay for." Tom said. "The kids liked it."
Is that true? Does a bargain justify mediocrity? Can't you have a good meal cheap? What fills the restaurant: food, service or price? Is there a value in just satisfying the kids? Would YOU return to this restaurant?
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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