Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mothers, Lobsters & Buffoons

My mother's birthday is on New Years Day. We usually take her out for dinner on that day, but this year we waited until yesterday. I'm all for doing the same in the future. Everybody in town likes to go out to eat on New Years Day, and that always means waiting in line for a table, in a very crowded and noisy restaurant. Mom's taste in food is not exactly what you would call epicurean. Her favorite place to dine out is Red Lobster, or Red Slobster, as my sister calls it, so yesterday I met mom and my sister, and my brother-in-law and his daughter at Red Lobster for a seafood dinner. I don't know if was because it was a Monday evening, or because most people were partied out from the holidays, but when I got there, the place was nearly empty. It was a welcome relief from the raucous crowd we usually encounter there. My mother and sister had yet to arrive, so my brother-in-law and my niece were having a beer at the bar, while waiting for them to show up. True to form, they straggled in fifteen to 20 minutes after the appointed rendezvous time. Fortunately because the place was so empty, we were promptly ushered to our table.

Our waiter was one of those clowns, that didn't know the difference between attentive service, and intruding on the privacy of the a party he was serving. I'm sure he just thought he was being friendly, but for the entire evening he subjected us to his impertinent presence, consisting mainly of unwelcome comments, and a very lame sense of humor. Is it possible that waiters are trained to be obnoxious? We seem to encounter this type more and more. Someone made the mistake of telling him that it was mom's birthday, so when he brought her desert, he made sure to stick a candle in it, and bring several other servers with him to lead us all in an embarrassing rendition of The Birthday Song. As everyone sheepishly sang in a different key, I looked over at my brother-in-law. He was staring down at the table, singing the familiar chorus in a monotone, with his face buried in his hands! By this time of course, more patrons had arrived, so we were surrounded by a lovely little audience to witness our shame.

I don't know if you have ever eaten at Red Lobster or not, but the seasonings that they love to use in copious quantities, are garlic, butter and salt. Lots and lots of salt! I had dinner of Shrimp fettuccine Alfredo, Shrimp Scampi, and fried butterfly shrimp, with broccoli, and a garden salad with Ranch dressing. The fettuccine Alfredo and the Scampi were so salty, I actually couldn't finish them. Every time I have eaten one of their seafood platters, I've left with a taste and feeling in my mouth, that I have just eaten a large tub of salty buttered movie theater popcorn. They do have some yummy deserts though, but they are way to large and rich for just one person, especially after a full meal dripping in butter. We ordered one desert, consisting of a large slice of apple caramel crumb cake, accompanied by two large scoops of vanilla ice cream, and four spoons. Mom dug in first, and when she had had enough, my sister, my niece and I each had a go at it. My niece stopped after just a few bites. Four or five bites was enough for me, and we left the rest for my sister, who appeared more than happy to clean the plate.

We asked the waiter to divide the bill into two separate checks, so that my sister and I could pay for our mother's meal. He returned a few minutes later with two leather binders in the pocket of his apron, containing the two bills. After pulling them out of his apron, grinning and doing an impromptu juggling act with them (I did tell you he was a clown, didn't I?), he placed one before my brother-in-law, and the other before my sister. I asked my sister how much our bill was, so I could split the cost of it with her, but sweetheart that she is, she refused to allow me to pay anything! She said that I had paid for hers before, so she wanted to pay for mine this time. I thanked her, and told her that was very nice of her. Suddenly my mother chimed in, "You can leave the tip!" I looked at her with a grin and said, "Oh no mom, she said she's paying for it!" The poor old woman has never known when to mind her own business!


Naukishtae said...

Hmmm.. was it really as good as buttered theater popcorn? I have eaten at Red Lobster here in CA, albeit 18 years ago, I personally have not encountered salt to the extent that you were forced into. the meal was quite good as I recall.. but you may recall that the sleep apnea has caused terrible problems with my memory.... and I have been sandbagged into the "you can pay the tip" stick too.. also from a very helpful family member.. I think the big question is Did mom enjoy the outing? If so, then it was probably worth it..

I remember taking my adoptive mother out on quite a number of occations.. she enjoyed them, and they are probably the best memories I have of family..

Take care

Naukishtae XXOOO

Lucy Melford said...

Oh dear, it was almost a nightmare meal, wasn't it? I don't think I'll dine at any Red Lobster I may encounter in the future!

On the whole I think that nowadays restauranteurs (or aspirants to that description) are taking customer service and customer expectations more seriously, because they can then charge for the 'added value'. Wel, I don't mind an expensive meal that is hugely worth eating and a genuinely pleasurable experience. I do object to an expensive meal that feels like a con. And Fawlty Towers style snobbery, rudeness or buffoonery would be awful. Do you remember 'Gourmet Night?'


caroline said...

I got quite excited when I scanned the word "lobster" then slipped back into my pit when your misery started to show.

Caroline xxx

Sophie said...

Red Lobster has pretty much fallen into the same culinary morass that most "chain food" restaurants are in. It is simply mass produced food prepared for the lowest common denominator customer. When I am given the choice I rarely eat at the larger chains anymore, I prefer to spend my money at the locally owned places and usually enjoy the meal much more.

Melissa said...

@ Naukishtae

Yes, mom did enjoy it, and that really is what it was all about.

@ Lucy

I wouldn't go so far as to call it a night mare experience, let's just say that Red Lobster being a national chain restaurant, isn't exactly a five star establishment, but then most chain restaurants aren't. Mom is a coal miner's daughter from northeastern Pennsylvania, and even though she married a career Army officer, and and has traveled the world extensively, she retains her plebeian attitudes and tastes. Red Lobster is her favorite, probably because of its predictability. She's 89 years old now so, whatever makes her happy.

@ Caroline

It really wasn't that miserable. I always enjoy my sister's company, regardless of the situation. I'm sorry if my hyperbole pushed you back into the snake pit. Now I feel guilty. :(

Melissa XX

Melissa said...

@ Sophie

I prefer the local restaurants too, and Richmond has some pretty good ones. We don't go out that much anymore, but next time we do, I'll have to see if together, my sister and I can talk mom into going to one of them instead.

Melissa XX

caroline said...

I am with Sophie, no chains.

We hardly eat out because the disappointments out weigh the joy that you may as well spend the money cooking a feast for friends.

Then again a lobster in Brittany fresh from the sea, I would pay for that, I am dribbling.

Caroline XXX

ms.shandy said...

LOL! Your description of Red Lobster's food is just so funny! Really though, seafood should be salty. I want every bite to remind me of the ocean. :S

Melissa said...

@ ms.shandy

If you like it salty, you would like Red Lobster's Shrimp Scampi. Just make sure you order plenty of ice tea, or coke to wash it down with!

Actually I'm just used to a lower sodium diet. My sister and I have both reduced the amount of added salt in our diets, to help us retain less fluid and keep our blood pressure down. After a while on a reduced salt diet, you get used to it, and what used to taste normal to you, tastes extra salty. My mother takes diuretics, and they squeeze the excess sodium from her system, so she still likes her food salty. Often when she makes a soup or stew, the first words out my sister's and my mouth is, "Wow! That's really salty!" She always answers, that she put hardly any salt in at all. :-)

Melissa XX