Wednesday, March 07, 2007

From DCFUD - A Rant by the Five Paragraph Bitter Food Critic

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This weekend marked the 34th anniversary of my expulsion from my mother's womb. Friday and Saturday night were set aside for my friends; Sunday was reserved for my mom and uncle, neither one of whom can do shots like my buddy Jeff at the Science Club. My family took me to an anonymous suburban chain restaurant. No sooner did we enter when all the servers gathered together, began clapping semi-rhythmically, and sang their restaurants' version of "Happy Birthday" to a large group gathered for a child's birthday. I shuddered in the same way that I shuddered when I watched the movie Saw - I knew it was fake, but I was scared anyway. My uncle, never an example of tact, tells our server at the anonymous suburban chain restaurant that it was my birthday, and asked what treat I'd get. The young lady, barely college-aged, went into some script I'm sure all the servers there had to memorize, asking me "So, how old are you on your big birthday, big guy?"

Lady, I'm 34 frickin' years old. I've been able to drink legally for since you were in kindergarten. My insurance rates don't get any lower, and I've been able to rent a car without a parent's signature for nearly a decade. My next "big birthday" doesn't come for another 21 years when I'll be able to get cheaper coffee at participating McDonald's.

I hate that fake birthday singing in restaurants. I was in kindergarten when the old Farrell's ice cream parlor in Tyson's Corner had a bunch of singing servers, fireworks, a possessed player-piano and circus sound effects go all Britney Spears-crazy for kids' birthdays. I watched a poor little 3 year-old soil her new dress in fright and embarrassment on her birthday. I felt so bad for that little girl, and while I knew nothing of post-traumatic stress syndrome at the time, I knew a girl who'd need therapy when I saw one. Therefore, on my list of Top Three Annoyances in Restaurants, it ranks up there with Nextel phones going off and screaming, sugared-out kids with no parental supervision. For the record, "food poisoning" and "bad food" would be #4 and #5, respectively. I can understand why Chuck E. Cheese does it, and talented singing is part of Mimi's in DuPont's charm. But when I was a server, bartender and ultimately manager, my one consistent question during job interviews was "is this a restaurant that sings for birthdays?" If so, I moved on. A free dessert or a small discount is one thing; making a public spectacle and whittling down my dignity is quite another.

Is it just me? Do people actually go to anonymous suburban chain restaurants specifically for the birthday singing? What are they thinking? "Nothing reasserts my status in the universe than having a motley group comprised of 19 year-old single moms too naive to use birth control, 21-year-old college students worried about midterms, jailbait hostesses wearing slutty dresses that'd make Lil' Kim blush and table bussers who aren't 100% sure of the song or the language, sing a corporate version of 'Happy Birthday' that really doesn't sound like the real song and includes more hand-clapping and some sort of embedded advertisement to me in an anonymous suburban chain restaurant decorated to resemble either a yard sale gone mad or a Gulf Coast beach because I'm too lazy to actually travel to a real yard sale gone mad or a Gulf Coast beach and receiving a complimentary calorie-laden dessert?" It's about the best I can come up with...unless these are the same people who delight in camping out for tickets for the inevitable "American Idol All-Stars" tour because they really felt their phone calls made a difference whether or not that plucky young hillbilly from Kinhump, Tennessee, with the 36D's and the 36 IQ got propelled into the Top 8.

By appealing to her logic - spending time singing that song to me wastes valuable minutes better spent at other higher-maintenance tables and thereby increasing whatever tips the generally-weaker-tipping-Sunday afternoon crowd offers - I was able to ward off her underpaid cult of clappers. And, given the mega-portions of food the anonymous chain restaurant served, there was no need for the complimentary calorie-laden dessert. Truthfully, I think she enjoyed not singing almost as much as I did. I know it was only one restaurant on one day, a small victory, but a victory nonetheless for those of us who like to dine in relative peace and anonymity.

Normally I assign Whammy! points in this space, but the anonymous suburban chain restaurant is exactly what it is, the food is exactly what can be found at any other anonymous suburban chain restaurant, and the food tasted exactly what you'd expect from an anonymous suburban chain restaurant. No Whammy! was earned; no Whammy! will be given.

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