Laura and I have a standing rule. We never visit a new restaurant until after it’s been in business a couple of months. Last night we violated that rule, and were reminded as to why we had established it in the first place.
The new Olive Garden is a welcome addition to the Cherrydale area. There aren’t many nice restaurants on that side of town. Subsequently, when it opened last week, crowds from Berea and Travelers Rest flocked in. We were in the mood for soup and salad, and since it was fairly early on a Thursday evening, we figured we were safe.
When we arrived at 5:15, the crowds were already gathering. We managed to find parking, pushed our way through the throng, and asked about the wait. They said only 15 minutes, so we added our names to the list and headed to the bar. Our bartender was talkative, and actually full of info about various martinis and gins. It was a pleasant wait as we enjoyed our drinks and watched Oklahoma vs Alabama on the TV. Soon, though, our little pager buzzed indicated a ready table. This is where things started to fall apart.
At the host station, we were told, "one moment, please." That "one moment" dragged on and on as we stood awkwardly until I finally asked, "Well, do you have a table for us, or not?" One gentleman sporting braided beads in his hair, replied, "That’s rather rude, isn’t it?" To which Laura replied, "It’s rude to interrupt our drinks when there isn’t really a table ready." We were finally seated at a large booth that was supposed to seat six. The hostess that seated us asked if we would prefer to move to a smaller booth when it was available, to which we replied, "Absolutely not. We’re not going to get settled just to have to move again." The restaurant probably would have preferred to have us at the smaller table, especially considering the growing number of people waiting for tables. But they had screwed up and called us away from a pleasant time at the bar, so we were determined to keep our table.
Our waitress arrived all out of breath, complaining about problems with another party. Apparently one of her tables had a child with allergies to egg, and she had taken on the responsibility of finding something this kid could eat. She continued to apologize profusely, even though she hadn’t been late. We ordered our soup and salad.
Since we had ordered a light meal, our food came out rather quickly, each time accompanied by more apologies and flourishes. It was very tasty, and as we enjoyed it, we had time to watch what was happening around us. The table situation continued to go downhill. I counted no less than five employees standing around the host table doing absolutely nothing. I don’t know if their purpose was to seat the guests as they arrived, but there seemed to be little of that going on. Or, at least, not enough to keep that many people busy. While our food arrive quickly, the same couldn’t be said for the people behind us. They were seated and had ordered before us, but we got our food much, much sooner. When their salad bowl finally arrived, there were apparently pieces of cellophane mixed in with the greens. Not good. That table was not happy, to say the least.
As we ate, someone kept coming by to clear away our dishes. It was almost as if he were rushing us to finish. First, it was annoying, then it became humorous. We decided that since they wanted us out so they could get to our large table, we would linger a bit and have dessert.
Our waitress had already dropped off the check, but we were able to catch her attention and order a piece of tiramisu to split. It arrive with the usual fanfare we had come to expect from this waitress. We had taken a few bites when she came back by and proclaimed…
Tirimisu is my favorite. I bake a lot and finally learned how to make it myself. They’ve got great tirmisu here. I used to get it at the Fresh Market until I learned that they got their frozen, and it wasn’t fresh after all.
Of, she said this as we were inserting forks into semi-thawed tirimisu here. Not frozen? Yeah, right.
It’s obvious that the Olive Garden doesn’t quite have its operational procedures down pat yet. However, I’m sure things will settle down, and service will improve. Despite the chaos, our food was good. We’ll give it several more weeks before we try again, though.