Baby, in a world without pity, Do you think what I’m askin’s too much? I just want something to hold onto, And a little of that human touch. — Bruce Springsteen
If we still had town criers, or better yet, if Paul Revere — the colonial American patriot, not the organ player for Paul Revere and the Raiders — were still doing his thing, I can just imagine him spreading the glorious news in Albany: “The Olive Garden’s coming! The Olive Garden’s coming!”
I don’t know what it is they put in those breadsticks, but obviously it’s something that’s resonated with the people of Southwest Georgia because the announcement of the pending construction of an Olive Garden restaurant here ranks maybe only slightly below the Second Coming and just ahead of world peace on locals’ thrill-o-meter.
(Full disclosure here: Count my folks among the thrilled. There have been a number of Fletcher family trips planned with an itinerary that included lunch and/or dinner on the hallowed ground of the O Garden with a complaint from the smallest that breakfast couldn’t be included as well.)
Me? I’m not that big a fan. (Blasphemy!) Nothing against the restaurant ... its food is fine. It’s just that when you slow down enough to pay attention to some of the less glaring aspects of life, you realize there’s more to it that a bottomless salad bowl or an endless soup tureen.
Frankly, since I don’t have very much of it to go around, if I’m going to shell out my money to have someone else prepare my meal, I want to go somewhere where people know who I am, that old “Cheers” thing about “where everybody knows your name.” I find a friendly waitress who knows I like the gravy but not the onions and peppers more appealing than fancy wall hangings and the correct “ethnic” music playing on the sound system.
Sure, the people who will work at the Olive Garden (All Praise!!) — or at other chain restaurants that will open in the area for that matter — will be mostly local, and I’m sure part of their training will be in customer courtesy. But the bottom line will be in efficiency, in the tried and true methods that have made the company money over the years.
There’s nothing wrong with that; business is business. But when it comes to corporate America, there’s always a bottom line.
I’m just one of those folks who’s more impressed with places where the staff recognizes you and does everything in its power to make you feel welcome, feel more at home. I’ll take the personal touch over the corporate touch any day.
And, while you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll have more than my share of meals at the Olive Garden (idea for money-making T-shirt “ILOVE OLIVE”) — after all, I don’t want to be kicked out of my own home — when I’m dining alone I’ll more likely be eating at Carter’s Fried Chicken or House of China II or Picnic Pizza or Cafe 230 or the Cookie Shoppe or Carter’s Grill & Restaurant or Gargano’s or Terry Lee’s Olde World Sandwich Shoppe or the downtown Pizza Shop.
Those are some of the places that, when it comes to the restaurant experience, you get the best of both worlds: quality food and service and a bottom line that allows a little wiggle room for the personal touches that once were vital to an establishment’s survival.
Many say in today’s fast-paced world, such “niceties” are no longer necessary. Maybe not ... but I’ll take one of Terry Lee’s caustic-but-never-insulting jokes over just the right ambient lighting any day.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.