Hey Houlihan’s, gimme back my plate!

I’m convinced Houlihan’s, Ruby Tuesday, Cracker Barrel and a host of other chain restaurants are conspiring to improve my health. And I don’t like it.

I’m middle-aged, pudgy and eminently unnoticeable to the point of invisibility in most public settings. And yet I suspect they’re profiling me from the moment I walk in the door. No doubt looks are quietly exchanged, and wait staff swiftly informed: “He’s one of them.” Could be I’m even directed to a particular table or section where I can be watched just a little more closely.

Take Houlihan’s the other day. It’s not like I noticed anything different as my wife and I walked in. Despite their chronic short staffing and slow service, we generally like the place.

We were taken to what I now suspect was a designated table and given menus by a college-aged waiter, studiously careful to betray no hint that I’d been profiled. After pretending to study the menu, I ordered what I always get at Houlihan’s: the chicken finger platter with fries and peanut ginger slaw.

Houlihan’s tells us “you’d be surprised how little cooking is done at many restaurants.” The time it takes to get food to our table clearly confirms it’s being made from scratch. So, following the requisite wait, my chicken finger platter arrived at the hands of the still poker-faced waiter.

I ate in my normal way, one dish at a time. I know this seems odd to some people, including my beloved spouse. If it’s bacon, eggs, and hash browns, you can expect me to eat the food in just that order, no mixing. In the case of the Houlihan’s chicken fingers platter, the proper way to eat is fries first – dipped in honey mustard sauce – followed by chicken fingers, and finally the peanut ginger slaw.

I guess I should have seen it coming, but as I savored the first bite of slaw our waiter – now unaccountably fleet of foot – whisked my plate from the table. “We’ll just get that out of your way sir,” he soothed while retreating to the kitchen, my fork still hovering over a few flecks of slaw on the now empty table.

No doubt high fives were exchanged with co-conspirators as soon as our waiter was out of our sight. Another middle-aged man saved from packing a few more artery-clogging calories around his corpulent middle.

And, what was I supposed to do? Pull a Chris Farley and shout “lay off me, I’m starving” across the restaurant? Of course not. Being adverse to any public scenes, I put up with the humiliation as I have several times before. My small, impotent protest was a reduction in the tip.

My wife and friends tell me I’m giving chain restaurants too much credit for caring about my health. Some say it’s a matter of restaurants being too cheap to buy enough dishware for a busy evening. Others say it’s the economics of table turn, a less than subtle way of telling you it is time to go, others are waiting for your table.

I’m not so sure. I still think they’re profiling carbo-addicted, middle-aged fat men in an effort to change the world. But I guess I don’t really care, I just want my peanut ginger slaw back.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Lisa says:

    Heh. I’m not middle-aged or pudgy but it happens to me, too. Servers should always ask. Most do but there are times I’ve actually had to reach out, shouting “Wait! I’m not done!” I start feeling stingy when that happens. (No tip for you!)

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