All You Can Eat

Sometimes we have an experience so wonderful that all the other ones are terrible. Ruined, simply by relation. Sad.


In the small town where I live, fine dining is, well… relative. I had a friend who moved away to a larger city, and when they did, one of their boys asked, “Do they have a Sizzler?” The assumption being that Sizzler is the epitome of fine dining. Where I live, there are a few places that are different from the Western norm: Steak and Mexican food. I’m okay with steak. I love cows and chicken. Mexican food does not sit well with me. I eat a taco or two about that same amount of times a year. I’m getting off point. Let’s get back to it.

Once, many years ago, my wife and I (on one of our regular marital dates) found ourselves at our Sizzler (‘fine dining’—we like it). At that time, I loved their steak and all you could eat shrimp option. I would order a medium-rare steak and ask for them to keep bringing me plates of shrimp until I said stop. The server would always smile, give me a wink, and say, “You got it.” But, they never did. Never. Except once.

Like I had already mentioned, once, many years ago… So, there we are, my wife and I, sitting at the table. The lovely waitress doing her best to stay on her feet with all her tables full—much like the rest of the restaurant. This lovely young lady was probably in her late twenties, early thirties, and it was obvious that she was either starting her family—or just adding to it. At any rate, this nice lady was working her darndest to keep everyone happy. And, she was doing it. Everyone was happy. Drinks were always filled. Empty plates were cleared quickly. This woman was constantly moving. She came and went, nonstop. In and out of the kitchen. Table to table. Cindy and I were situated so that we could see the whole thing. We were impressed.

It’s funny because this is the one time when I asked my server to keep the plates of shrimp coming until I asked her to stop, she actually did. She kept those plates a-comin’. I would be picking up my last shrimp and before I could dip it in the cocktail sauce, my plate of shrimp tails would be gone and replaced with a fresh plate of newly battered and fried shrimp. She would bring my new plate on her way to trade out my used, dirty plate. This nice woman was fantastic. A wonder. Always smiling. Always happy, Always moving. Always taking care of everyone. And still, very, very pregnant.

Cindy and I were amazed.

At what I thought was my last plate, I had just leaned over to tell my wife that we needed to get our waitress’s attention before she went back into the kitchen so that she would not bring out another plate of food for me. Too late. Bam! New plate. “Here you go. And, I’ll just take that one for you.” Our waitress had appeared out of nowhere with another plate of shrimp for me, a soda for someone else, and a plate of something for another table. We were able to stop her before she moved on (she was in full-swing server mode), and let her know that the new plate was going to be my last. She smiled and asked, “Are you sure?” “Yes. Thank you. You’ve been incredible.”

I had to pack down all that new shrimp. I couldn’t let that nice lady think she had worked so hard for nothing. Now, we had a new problem. We needed more money. We had never had such great service before. Especially on a night as busy as that one. We scraped up every bit of loose change we had in our pockets. Located any loose bill that we had not intended on spending. We didn’t have much money at that time in our lives to begin with. This was a well-I-guess-it’s-burgers-and-fries-for-six-months-since-we-ate-here-tonight kinda date. I went out to our car and dug around for loose change between the seats, and found some on the floor, in the glove box, and in the ashtray. When all was said and done, we left a two-inch pile of change and all the bills we had, along with a note that read something like: “You were the best server we ever had. Nobody has ever taken care of us like you did tonight. This is all the money we had, you deserve more. Thank you.” And then, we left.

After that experience, I thought it could happen again. Maybe. Hopefully.

A year or two later (I think about a year) my wife, myself, and a husband & wife couple that were our mutual friends, all went to dinner together, at a Sizzler—one that was not the one of which I previously spoke of. No, this one was different. A different location. A different set of people. A different set of circumstances.

Once again, I asked for a steak—medium rare—and the all you could eat shrimp. Once again I asked our waitress to keep bringing me plates of shrimp until I ask her to stop. Once again, the waitress smiled, winked, and said, “You got it.”

Our food came. My steak and my first plate of shrimp arrived. The steak was gone and my first full plate of shrimp. No waitress. after several minutes I finally flagged down another server to find our server so that she could bring me another plate of shrimp. She did. Much later, after the rest of the dinner company had eaten—and wanted to leave—I spotted our waitress and asked for another plate. Eventually, it arrived. Long story short, I left hungry.

Yeah, I know, the two experiences aren’t necessarily fair to compare. And, this isn’t about trash-talking a reputable steak house. I like Sizzler, I do. You don’t have to, that’s okay. This is about how a person can experience the same thing and yet have very different outcomes. And, I guess it is also about how we decide to receive those outcomes. We can either be bothered by them, or we can accept it for what it is: an event, an experience.

So, while I could be depressed every time I go to Sizzler because I will never again have that magical never-ending plate of shrimp (which is fine, seeing as I no longer enjoy eating shrimp), I would rather look back at a point in time where I had a magical never-ending plate of shrimp (which is fine, seeing as I no longer enjoy eating shrimp). I think we all need to keep that in mind more. The whole perspective thing. Are we going to be angry forever about something that happened in the past? Are we going to constantly lament the loss of a person, pet, or whatever? Or are we going to rejoice in the fact that something special came our way? Or that someone who meant something to us crossed our path?

Several months ago I read something that was shared on Twitter, that has stayed with me. While I both like and hate Twitter, it has brought some poignant moments and thoughts into my life. One of which went something like this: Someone had posted regarding the death of a loved one. As I read through the wonderful thoughts and kind words of intended inspiration for those that lost, as well as the wonderful words that described the individual who had died, I felt impressed to add a simple support of love for those who were experiencing this tragedy. I also mentioned that the individual seemed like someone pretty special. The original person who posted responded with something like this, “Thank you. I am just grateful that God was willing to share them with me.”

Share them with me…

What a beautiful thought. What a profound sentiment. Shared. Not lost. Not gone. No cruelty or anger. Sadness, yes. But acceptance also. The person was grateful to have had someone shared with them. It was such a sweet thought. Yeah, so, maybe we need to share more? Maybe not be so negative when something unexpected crosses our paths that could be negative? Maybe we need to be more grateful that we had something, or someone, shared with us? An opportunity to grow. A chance to learn. A moment to experience. Maybe? Probably.

All this was brought back to my memory (and thoughts) because, the other Friday night (date night!), as my wife and I sat in our van, in the parking lot of that same first Sizzler, Cindy was looking to see how much cash she had on hand. She found a $20, some ones, and a fiver. “That’ll do it,” she said as she pulled out the would-be tip of five from her purse.

“Are you sure? How do you know our service will only be worth a five-dollar tip?” I playfully queried.

Cindy gave me her trademark are-you-serious? look where her right eyebrow raises, her head tilts down—just a titch, her mouth almost makes a half-hearted, suppressed smile and her eyes tell me, “You’re an idiot. But, I still love you.” She then pocketed the bill and we went inside to dine. In the end, she was right. And, it was still too much.

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