Chains lack a ‘human touch’

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

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 carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.


Merlin 3 years, 9 months ago

Slightly below the Second Coming. Now that's funny.


waltspecht 3 years, 9 months ago

I make two trips to the Olive Garden in Burlington Vermont each year when I visit my Mother. The folks there know Mom, as it is the second closest restaurant to her apartment. She claims to only go there once a month with my Brother. Yet, they greet her, and know me from my Brother each time we go. I guess Yankee Corporate Restaurant staff are more friendly than Georgia folks? I think not, it's all in the relationship you choose to develope.


Jimboob 3 years, 9 months ago

Olive Garden will be a welcome addition to Albany. I only hope they have good management thst will insist on quality in food and service.


Amazed2 3 years, 9 months ago

Carino's Italian was pretty decent for a chain when it first arrived but it degressed down my list to maybe once every 3 to 4 months if I have to go. Seems that when they first came here, managment acutally cared. The food is still ok and about par most of the time for a Chain place but Carino's seemed to like to change managers very often. With that the atomosphere of "I give a Damm" from the servers, hostess and bartenders changed to "I don't give a Damm". Admittedly, I do not go there often anymore but last time I asked to be seated in one of the large booths in the bar side it was a trip. The booth seat upostery was breaking up and in need of repair. Tables around us were still dirty with plates, glasses and other stuff from earlier diners, The bartender/server who I guess was assigned to our table actually, Hollered across the room "What yall want to drink". Also other servers would Holler their orders into the Bar from the hallway and the bartender would Holler back. They seem to talk or holler their personal life back and forth. Guess this is the Social Way of communication. They apparently did not have enough help or the help they have were Lazy cause they were always Hollering at each other about not doing stuff. In Fact our server told us some of dem was lazy. Carlton, You point is well taken about Chain Resturants. I too will probably end up at Olive Garden periodically, after all this is Albany and you either eat Gargano's, Stewbo's or Henry's unless you eat Chains. Oh yea we now have the Firegrill so now I have four locally owned on my list of rotations.


justme 3 years, 9 months ago

Just what the area needs, another restaurant to keep the fat people fat. Too bad we didn't get some type of industry here to help those folks work some of that fat off.


Amazed2 3 years, 9 months ago

While I guess I will be glad to have another alternative when I choose to eat out I doubt that we really create too many jobs with the coming of Olive Garden. Most of the new business customers will have to come from the people arleady supporting other restaurant chains and independently owned places that we have. Other than maybe a couple of managment positions the Olive Gardern will not be moving masses of people to ALbany. What it will do and this is just a fact. Basically, it is just cutting the available customer pie even thinner. Sure Olive Garden will be VERY busy for a while till the new wears off. But with GOOD management they will do well here. That said, other restaurants will struggle to make it. IF you have 500 people that ate at Olive Garden tonight that is 500 people that did not eat at their other regular place. A friend of mine in the dining business told me a few years ago that ALbany only has a certain number of qualified/good wait staff, etc. so when something new opens some quit where they are at and move to the new place. That just means experienced good wait staff are cut thinner at existing restaurants. But that is just business but Albany is not like any other city that I have lived in. I sincerly welcome Olive Garden but don't look for a bunch of new jobs here. There is only just so much business to be had and the strong will survive. Tighter operatiing cost means tighter operating budgets for the staff and customers.


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