The title is a reference to a Jerry Seinfeld episode in which the “soup Nazi” shouts to customers who don’t follow his stringent rules: “No soup for you!”
This year Thanksgiving was more eventful than we had hoped. My wife Esther had to work until 2pm, after which we were going to go out to eat our Thanksgiving meal at a local restaurant. We thought if we waited to go till around 4pm, the dinning traffic would have lightened up. By 3:30 we were hungry enough that we decided to head out, Cracker Barrel being our destination. We knew they had a Thanksgiving meal special with turkey and all the trimmings. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into some stuffing, my favorite part of the Thanksgiving food repertoire.
When we arrived at Cracker Barrel, I knew we were in trouble when I could barely find an empty parking spot. Undaunted, I reasoned that most of the diners would be finishing up and there would be plenty of empty tables. Was I ever wrong. We entered the lobby that was wall-to-wall people. There were only two other couples in front of us to register our names with the receptionist. Could be worse, I thought. When the couple in front of us gave their names, the receptionist said that the wait would be between one to one and a half hours. I was already quite hungry. “Let’s get out of here,” I told Esther. We turned around and bolted out from where we came.
Our next stop was going to be Golden Corral, where we had eaten a Thanksgiving buffet a number of years ago. Some out-of-town students of mine couldn’t go home, so we invited them along with our son. We were hoping to find less of a zoo than at Cracker Barrel. It was all the way across town. We knew there were few options for restaurants being open on this holiday, so with expectation we headed there while our hunger increased. Esther hadn’t had much to eat since she was taking care of a client over lunch time, and knew we were going for a big meal in the late afternoon.
We finally reached the street where we thought Golden Corral was. We drove past where we it was supposed to be but didn’t see it. Was it on a different block? We turned around and retraced our route. Still no sign of the restaurant. Finally, Esther pointed to an empty building completely stripped of any identifying signage with no signs of life around it. “I’m sure that’s where it used to be!” she exclaimed. We continued on our way, our hunger augmenting. I later discovered that Golden Corral had closed its business in Harrisonburg right after Labor Day. Now what?
We passed Applebee’s, saw that it was open, and decided to stop in. We should have smelled a rat immediately when it took five minutes for a receptionist to show up to ask for our names. There were a half dozen people seated in the waiting area waiting for tables. “15 to 20 minutes,” she stated confidently. Not too bad compared to an hour and a half, we thought. It was now four o’clock. Our hunger could endure that amount of time.
While we were waiting, we noticed that there were quite a few empty tables scattered throughout the restaurant, yet no one was being seated.
The receptionist would disappear for long periods of time without seating anyone or greeting new diners at the front door. We discovered that she was busing tables as well as serving as receptionist. We were finally seated at 4:15. We looked at the menu hoping to find a Thanksgiving special. No such luck. The menu was their everyday menu. Guess there wouldn’t be a traditional Thanksgiving meal for us! I was surprised at how many other diners were eating non-traditionally. However, our increasing hunger made it clear that, turkey or not, we were going to stay put. Our server came pretty quickly to take our orders.
While we were waiting, a young couple with a small child across the aisle from us was complaining to their server. We couldn’t catch everything they were saying, but they had barely touched their food. The manager came out to see what he could do. He offered to replace the apparently inappropriately cooked food. They scoffed at the idea of waiting more time for food their order to be corrected. Apparently, it had taken an ungainly amount of time for them to receive their order. The manager reduced their bill by 50%, and they left with smirks on their faces.
Meanwhile, an elderly couple across the way kept asking their server when their food would be coming. “Will soon be up,” she answered. After three such proddings, she threw her hands up and shouted, “I have no idea! It’s Thanksgiving,” she continued. “Half of the employees who were assigned to work didn’t show up.” We could see that those who were working were stressed. The elderly couple got up and left without waiting for their food. More tables were opening up, but the line in the waiting area didn’t decrease.
I began to realize that they were only seating as many people as they could cook for. Even so, we waited, and waited some more. Esther and I ran out of chit-chat about the grandkids, got tired of playing solitaire and wished we had brought our books along to read. Our hunger continued to grow. With the experience of our neighboring diners, I expected the worst when our food finally arrived. It came at 5:15pm. One hour after being seated. To our delight, the food was good, if not turkey and the trimmings.
Normally in such circumstances, most people would give a pittance for a tip. I knew that it was not their fault, that they had to work on a holiday, and that they were overworked trying to deal with a very stressful situation. When our server brought our box for leftovers, I told her that we had put a normal tip on our credit card but wanted to give her something extra for all the things mentioned above. Her smile mitigated our inconvenience slightly and perhaps gave her something extra to be thankful for.