I was recently on a trip. My friends and I attended our tenth PAX East video game convention. It was a lot of fun, as it always is, but the organizers couldn’t compete with the dining experience we had on the way home.
Let me set the scene. The trip involved four of my friends. After four straight days of waking up bright and early, walking the show floor for 8 hours, sitting in a crowded tabletop area playing board games for six more hours, then getting back to bed at 1-2 am to wake up for another full day, we were all fairly worn out. One of us split off to drive separately, leaving me and three friends less than an hour into a four-hour drive from Boston to New Jersey. If our estimated travel time was any indication, we would not arrive at the first of our three destinations before all but the fastest of fast food restaurants were closed. It seemed like it was the best idea to pick someplace local. Someplace we didn’t have at home. Someplace with character.
We chose wisely.
Now, the eating establishment and individuals involved may not be terribly pleased with being associated with this anecdote. The experience was unconventional, which doesn’t always sit well with management. So we’ll call the restaurant… Spiffy’s. We show up and sit down. A waitress appears. She slaps down our menus and starts taking our drink orders.
We’ll be calling the waitress Mitzy. She is a young woman, and as we will soon discover, she comports herself with the manner of a spy attempting to infiltrate our country and learn our ways. It is clear that Mitzy is new. She’s not fully versed in the menu, and she’s having some trouble getting our drink order down. Part of this is a language barrier. She has an accent that none of us can fully place. Various guesses since then have spanned an assortment of Spanish-speaking countries, but also credibly reached out into Eastern Europe. If you’d heard her, you would understand.
In her defense, some of her difficulty also had to do with our complex order. A mango iced tea for one of us, a Green Tea Bubble Tea and a water for another, another Green Tea Bubble Tea and a diet root beer for another, and for me, a regular root beer (a rare indulgence for me).
Mitzy is very friendly, peppering the order-taking process with terms of endearment. “What do you want, honeybunch? What about you, Sweetie Pie?” But the first indication we’re in for a ride is when she takes the appetizer order.
“Do the nachos come with meat?” We ask.
Mitzy leans forward.
“Do they?” she says mysteriously.
“I don’t think it says they do, but is there an option?”
“We can do whatever you want. We can make it happen. This is America,” Mitzy says.
“Uh. We’ll just get it regular then. And I’ll have the pot pie. Does that come with one side, or two?”
She leans closer still. “Does it?”
The words are drenched with mystery. She is clearly asking us.
“I think it does. I’d like the fries and I’d like to upgrade to the Smoked Gouda Bacon Mac and Cheese.”
Mitzy leans entirely across the table to get a good hard look at the menu.
“Smoked… Gow-Dah. Yes. We can do that for you. Absolutely.”
“Great. And can we have waters for the table?”
Mitzy speaks magnanimously, as though she is deigning us worthy of her favor. “Yes! Everyone gets waters. Waters for the whole table so everyone is nice and happy.”
At the risk of spoiling some of the mounting suspense, three of these waters will never arrive.
She vanishes. When she reappears, she has complimentary salty snacks for the table, and she has got our drink order right. Frosty mugs for root beer, diet and regular. Green Tea Bubble Teas. Mango iced tea. Again she vanishes.
We snack on the food and enjoy the drinks. The Green Tea Bubble Tea is, to put is lightly, baffling. Delicious, but unlike any beverage any of us have had. There is definitely a Green Tea element, but also a fruitiness. We are curious.
When she next returns, she stands at the edge of the table, arms crossed. Almost stern. “So? How is everything?”
“We were curious about the Green Tea Bubble Tea. What is it, exactly?”
Now, granted her uncertainty on the specifics of the menu, we weren’t terribly confident she’d have an answer for us. The moment she realizes the question, she lights up.
“I’ll tell you all about it. You can make it at home!”
What follows is a downright comprehensive description of preparing the drink. “You take regular tea bags. Four or five. You can do black tea, but green tea is better for you. Healthy green tea. You make the tea like you make tea…”
After a minute of detailing the process of iced tea preparation, she moves on to the special steps.
“You put ice in a glass and you pour on orange juice.”
At this point she needs props, so she grabs my half-empty mug of root beer and pantomimes the pouring process.
“You pour on the orange juice. You pour in the tea, and then you have the green tea drink. There are mango bubbles too, but at home you don’t need to use those, because who knows what they are or how to get them or how to make them?”
She sets my mug down and smiles. Customer satisfaction achieved.
“Anything else? You want more snacks?” she asks.
“No thanks. The nachos will be fine.”
Mitzy’s expression freezes. Deep introspection flickers across her eyes. They widen slightly, then quickly narrow in hopes of disguising the moment of realization.
“Yes. The nachos. Which will be here very soon.”
She vanishes. Whether or not the nachos were a part of our official order prior to this point is a matter of continuing contention amongst the group. Regardless, they are the next thing to arrive. Piping hot, fresh out from beneath the broiler.
“Careful, careful. Hot, hot, hot,” Mitzy warns, hot-pads in hand. “This pan is very hot. Just like your waitress.”
Again she pauses. Surely this very hot pan should not be placed directly upon the table. Fortunately, Mitzy is nothing if not ingenious. She balances one half of the burning hot pan on my root beer mug (clearly a valuable tool for waitressing). With one hand free, she drops the hot pad onto the table, then grabs my knife and pokes it through the handle to use as a tool for transporting the sizzling pan.
Triumph. She vanishes without comment or fanfare after her complex and death-defying maneuver.
We enjoy the nachos for a minute or two. Once again she returns. Arms are crossed. Face is stern. She surveys the table, providing each of us with a glancing side-eye. She leans forward. When she speaks, her tone is sly, perhaps suspicious that we are keeping something from her.
“Do you li-i-ike i-i-i-it?” She asks low enough for it to be a secret for our ears only.
“It’s very good,” we assure her.
She seems unconvinced. More contemplation of her enigmatic patrons. Then, realization dawns. She doesn’t try to disguise it this time. In fact, she punctuates the moment of discovery by delivering a slap to my shoulder with the sort of force normally reserved for congratulating a new father. She dashes off without further comment. When she returns, she has the appetizer plates which may or may not have been intended for the table several minutes earlier. Oversight rectified. She departs.
Minutes later she returns. Her order book is in hand. Her expression is thoughtful.
“We have a problem,” she warns, with all the gravity of a military commander discovering a traitor in the barracks. “You. You ordered the pot pie. We do not have it. You. You also ordered it. We do not have it. You. You ordered the Pub Dip. We do not have it.”
She presents a set of menus. “You have to try again.”
Rather than allow any doubt, she has brought backup: Bob, presumably the manager of the establishment.
“Sorry, the menu is new, but it technically starts tomorrow.”
Bob leaves. Mitzy does not. She is ready for our corrected order. The onus is on us to provide it in an expedient manner. From her expression, she is clearly counting on us to hold up our end of the bargain.
“I’ll have a burger.”
Eyebrow raised, voice drenched with the tone of a teacher delivering a pop quiz.
“The same burger as your friend?” she asks.
“Does that come with French fries?” she asks.
“I believe it does.”
Mitzy is unpleased with my lack of conviction, but allows it. Next.
“I’ll have the ribs, with a side of mashed potatoes and a side of mac and cheese.”
Eyes narrow. She’ll not be fooled this time. “The special mac and cheese. Gow-dah.”
A knowing nod. Noted. “And you?”
“I need more time.”
“This is the second time I have had to take this order. I’m not coming back a third time.” Mitzy is not angry or rude. She is simply stating facts.
After a brief attempt to make a selection within the stated time limit, Mitzy magnanimously grants more time and departs. When she returns, the order is delivered without mishap. Chicken fingers. Honey mustard on the side. Noted.
For a disquieting amount of time, she is absent. When she arrives again, she has most of the food. But not the chicken fingers.
“You wanted chicken fingers? Barbecue sauce on the side.”
“Sauce on the side, yes. But honey mustard.”
“I told the kitchen this, but they put sauce ON your chicken. That is their mistake, not mine. New chicken soon.”
“You ordered the special mac and cheese.”
“Do you like it?”
Having just received the food, the side dish is untouched.
She remains silent, measuring us with her gaze. This has not met with her satisfaction.
“I’m going to try it right now.” He eats some mac and cheese. “It’s delicious.”
This is sufficient. She departs. Three of us start eating. The food is exceptional, and the burgers include a ramekin of unidentifiable sauce. It is yellow, certainly mayonnaise-based, but otherwise evading classification. We resolve to seek the same level of definition of this sauce as we received for the tea. Before long, Mitzy arrives. Before we can ask our question, he holds out a salad.
“Because of the chicken problem, this is for you.” She presents the salad to the un-served member of the group. “It is healthy. Lots of mushrooms. Enjoy it.”
We resolve to do so. But first, the sauce.
“Excuse me, what’s this sauce?”
Mitzy is aghast. Surely we are trying to fool her into providing privileged information.
“Why are you asking me about the sauce?” she asks, her tone at the very edge of scolding us for the audacity.
She raises her head and her voice.
“Bob! They want to know about the sauce.”
Bob returns and identifies the sauce on the burger, not the dipping sauce. I will be taking the mystery of the dipping sauce to my grave, it seems, as Mitzy once again vanishes before further interrogation can attempt to dislodge this secret.
She returns, plate of chicken in hand. “You wanted chicken fingers, yes?”
“You wanted it with the sauce on the side, yes?”
“The kitchen has fixed the mistake.”
Mitzy places down the chicken.
“I wanted honey mustard.”
Mitzy considers the statement. “This is my mistake. The kitchen made one, I made one.”
She takes the bowl of incorrect sauce and reappears in moments with the correct sauce.
“Here you go. Correct?”
“Yes! Everything is excellent.”
She nods. Once more, she leans in. It is beginning to feel as though she is conspiring with us. Against whom we are conspiring is a secret equal to the nature of the dipping sauce.
“It is my third day here. It is my second day after training. This is why I am so very bad at this. Enjoy.”
It wasn’t an apology or an excuse. It may as well have been an interesting bit of trivia to enrich our day.
She vanishes. When she next arrives, she is dancing to the music in the restaurant. She does so with an unselfconscious ease that makes us question whether it is a faux pas that we aren’t dancing as well.
“Do you need anything?” she asks.
My friend has finished his tea. “Can I get a water?”
“You can get whatever you want. Do you want it to go?” she says.
“No, I’ll have it here,” he says.
She gives him a doubtful look and fetches her pad. “What would you like, sweetie-pie?”
“… A water.”
“What do you want, though?”
It is at this point relevant to address that all four of us at the table are from New Jersey. If you’ve never been, a few linguistic oddities that are prevalent. There are no dogs in New Jersey. There are dawgs. We do not drink coffee in New Jersey. We drink cawfee. We don’t eat chocolate. We eat chawcolate. And thus, the word “water” does not rhyme with “otter” there, it rhymes with “daughter.” Thus, we request water, she hears order. She thinks my friend is, in the middle of a meal, ordering a second meal, and she is perfectly willing to take said order, once we actually pick something.
I realize the issue.
“He’d like a glass of wotter,” I say, with emphasized articulation.
Mitzy identifies the issue and briefly muses upon the cawfee, dawg, chawcolate dilemma. She then looks at me. More carefully concealed realization.
“I am going to bring you something,” she states ominously.
Once more, she vanishes. We all make eye contact. In a rare occurrence, we all realize that none of us has any idea what is about to happen. Most of the time, in a restaurant, either you are asking for food or you are receiving it. I now only know that I will be receiving something, and based upon Mitzy’s almost magical disconnection from expectation, she could easily be bringing me an emu to ride and it would be perfectly appropriate.
She returns, more dancing (the song has not ended). In her hands are four wet naps. She slaps them down in front of each of us to the rhythm of the song. Her finger singles out the rib eater.
“When the food has a bone, you have to use your hands. When you use your hands, you need a wet nap.”
Wisdom dispensed, she departs.
It is at this point necessary to make another brief aside. Next door to the restaurant is a super market which is relatively rare in our area. The afore-mentioned rib-eater needs to head over before they close to grab some stuff that we will have difficulty getting at home. He does so.
Mitzy returns, and his absence does not escape her notice.
“Where did he go?” she asks.
She has ceased to attempt to conceal her suspicion of us at this point. We are clearly up to something nefarious.
“He went next door.”
“For what!?” she demands.
This is a dueling glove to the face. We are ordering food from her, and then one of our group leaves to seek food elsewhere? Inexcusable infidelity.
“He needed to buy some groceries,” we explain.
Anger shifts instantly to uncontrollable delight. “He is sitting here eating and then he is thinking, ‘Tomatoes, potatoes…’”
She walks away laughing. It is unclear to any of us if there had been another reason for this particular visit.
The meal is now approaching its conclusion. Our grocery shopping friend has not returned yet, but Mitzy has. She has a sly look on her face. The conspiracy into which we have been recruited is deepening.
“I have something for you,” she says to me.
“Oh boy!” I proclaim in a mixture of anticipation and concern.
She produces dessert menus. An almost disappointingly waitress-like act.
“You can have anything on this back part. You can order anything else you want from the rest. I can bring you the whole menu and you can order anything from there. Anything. This is America!”
We fight a short, vicious battle against the temptation of the peanut butter chocolate delight, but we prevail.
“Nothing. Just the check. Thanks.”
She disapproves. “I was hoping you would add more food to my check.”
Her honesty is refreshing, but unpersuasive. Our friend returns. He is chided for his departure.
“You didn’t need to go buy ice cream, we have desert here,” she says, revealing her guess regarding his reason for shopping.
Soon, it is time for the check. I shout “Books” three times and snap it up. It is an inside joke regarding tax write-offs. Mitzy does not appear confused or curious in the slightest despite the non sequitur. I fill out the check while she watches. Never have I had a waitress present for the tip-calculation process. I write the word “CASH” on the tip line, and inform her of the intention.
She nods as I reach for my wallet. So far, this meets with her approval. I throw down a twenty. This exceeds twenty-percent of our bill. Mitzy stares at the twenty long enough to perform that calculation.
“Do you want change?” Her intonation matches that of a gambler seeing one’s bet and raising it significantly.
She takes the twenty and makes a sing-song sound of extreme approval. The transaction is now complete. Relieved of professional obligation, she abandons the last crackling veneer of waitress/patron etiquette.
“So!” She says with a clap.
Her hands sweep vaguely around the group and settle on the one woman in our party.
“Brothers, friends, husbands?” Mitzy asks.
“This is my husband, those two are friends.”
Mitzy turns to the former-shopper. “Single?”
“No, I’m married. Jo is single.”
She makes a similar sound of sing-song approval and, for the first time in my life, I receive a downright predatory glimpse.
“Get those digits, Jo,” my friend recommends.
Mitzy laughs. I blush furiously and excuse myself to the bathroom. My friend adds five dollars to the tip.
This is where the experience ends for me, though for my friends it went on a bit longer. Apparently Mitzy was moved to profane delight by the fact that we were from New Jersey, and that we had been attending a convention. There were probably other fun comments exchanged before we finally got to the car.
You may not be as entertained by this recollection as we were by the actual experience. To be quite frank, you couldn’t be. I loathe the phrase “you had to be there,” but in this case, Mitzy’s delivery and manner was 180% of the reason we were so delighted. She was entirely genuine and sincere in everything she did. I hope she rises in the ranks of that restaurant. I hope she ends up doing training. Making hiring decisions. The world needs more Mitzies.