Sunday, January 18, 2009

I learned something today: Don't eat at Mama's Boy.

Dear Mama’s Boy waitress,

You might be confused about why I left you a $1 tip for an $18 meal. After all, I’m sure people usually come to this place and gush about the unique atmosphere, which is so completely different from, and therefore much more awesome than, those crappy chain restaurants like Waffle House and IHOP. I’m sure that among those of you who share the tip, I’m now known as the cheap bastard who doesn’t appreciate the wonder that is Mama’s Boy. Or maybe I’m just the cheap bastard who doesn’t appreciate you. Let me assure you: I do appreciate both your individual contribution and the collective efforts of the Mama’s Boy staff to combine decent food with terrible service.

First, we waited an hour. Generally, I’m a reasonable guy, and I understand that it might take a while to accommodate a group of eight people. Then again, several groups of four came in after us, and got seated before us. Since all you did was put two four-person tables together anyway, I’m not entirely sure what took so long. Still, I wouldn’t hold that against the waitress – it’s not like you control the tables.

Once we sit down, I’m not really that impressed with the menu. In fact, the menu itself is irritating me. As I’m reading through the seven or eight choices, it becomes clear to me that you actually have three dishes: eggs and cheese with a biscuit, eggs with salmon, and granola hippie crap. (On that last one, I know you have a more detailed description of it on the menu, but trust me – anything where you lead off with granola is your standard hippie crap.) The fact that you have the items in those dishes arranged in slightly different ways doesn’t make them different meals. The egg and cheese sandwich is the exact same fucking thing as the egg and cheese with a biscuit – you just put the eggs inside the biscuit.

Perhaps if I had been sitting here thinking, “Gee, I’m in a hurry, I can’t take the time to eat the eggs and the biscuit separately,” I’d see why it’s worth it to pay a couple extra bucks for the “sandwich” option. Then again, if I were in a hurry, I wouldn’t have waited an hour for the opportunity to read this menu. So really, crap like this really just comes across as insulting to my intelligence.

And while we’re on the subject of the menu – can you folks update the damned thing? The menu says that the “breakfast scramble” comes with cheese grits. I grew up in Georgia, so I’d probably enjoy the cheese grits, even if that’s not what drew me to Mama’s Boy. However, if I had been looking forward to the cheese grits, I’d be a little disappointed when the cheese grits came out as hash browns. This obviously wasn’t a mistake with my meal, but a mistake with the menu, since the guy across from me ordered the same meal (which is bound to happen when you have only seven meals on your menu) and also received it sans cheese grits. Apparently, the cheese grits, while on the menu literally, where never on the menu figuratively. Errors like these make me think that you guys aren’t really a detail-oriented business. First it’s the menu being inaccurate, then the cook isn’t washing his hands, and the next thing you know, there’s a fingernail mixed in with the granola hippie crap.

A more substantive menu misrepresentation was the corned beef hash. It has frequently been my experience that when I go to a highly recommended little diner like this, I’m probably going to leave hungry. After all, to maintain that trendy atmosphere, you’ve got to find money in the budget for pretentious art work, and nothing makes that easier than overpricing a small portion of food. Having learned this lesson several times in the past, I ordered an extra side dish of corned beef hash.

Ah, corned beef hash – tastes great, sounds like something you made by throwing together the random crap left in your pantry. This is a dish that requires little to no effort coming out delicious – you can get it out of a can, and it’s usually pretty awesome. So I’m a little impressed that Mama’s Boy managed to ruin it by taking a plate of hash browns, throwing in about four chunks of corned beef, and listing it on the menu as “corned beef hash.” While not as egregiously misleading as calling hash browns “cheese grits,” you have given me hash browns with corned beef chunks, not corned beef hash. Maybe studying the law has made me oversensitive to misuses of the English language, but you folks are pushing it.

Now, all of these issues aside, I'd still be perfectly willing give you a nice tip for good service. I’m not the kind of petty asshole who would take out my frustrations on the waitress for things she couldn’t affect. I’m more like this kind of petty asshole.

I’m no Steve Buscemi. I’ll put aside my problems with tipping in general, and I’ll do the 15% if you do a competent job. Not even anything special. Still, maybe you could have come by the table within 5-10 minutes of us sitting down. This is a small diner with about ten tables total, hence the hour-long wait. To attend to the eight or nine different groups of people eating, there are at least two other waitresses that I’ve seen, a hostess, a host, and a server. Shit, there’s almost the same number of employees in this place as there are customers. Frankly, I'm confused about what’s keeping you.

We waited about fifteen minutes to get water after being seated. It was nice of you to put carafes of water in front of us several minutes before bringing any glasses with which to drink it; that way, we could anticipate how great the water would be eventually. (Actually, come to think of it, many of us were hung over, so this might actually be less “nice” and more “cruel.”) All the same, I would have preferred you bring the water glasses first, and then the carafes to refill it.

Then again, since your hostess came by to apologize for the lack of silverware, maybe you didn’t have the glasses available. (And seriously, you folks ran out of silverware. You’re a restaurant. Exactly how low were your expectations for yourselves that you thought you’d only need enough silverware for one meal, rather than different patrons eating several meals in succession?)

Also, you skipped me at first when you were taking drink orders. You went directly from the person on my left to the person on my right. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but you’re already making some sort of salary for just showing up here -- the tip is for you not doing things to piss me off. And you can meet my low bar for not getting pissed off by just doing your job competently.

Near as I can tell, you weren’t really even doing that. The hostess brought us silverware. Some other dude brought out the food. Your job appeared to consist mainly of taking our order, then emerging from the kitchen at random intervals to peer over the crowd, looking lost, without actually coming by the table to check on us. I’m simply baffled at what you might have been doing at the time. But I am fairly certain what you weren’t doing – earning a tip.

I’ve actually been more generous than Mr. Buscemi there would have been. I very often tip waitresses who refill my coffee, say, once. You offered to refill my coffee at the end of the meal. At that point, you probably would have been better off not reminding me that you’d neglected to do that at any time in the previous thirty minutes when it actually mattered.

Yes, the food was fine. Your biscuits were delicious. Everything else sucked. And since the biscuits lasted about 45-50 seconds and the stuff that sucked continued off and on for an hour, I’m afraid you’ve become one more data point in my research project documenting how small, independently-owned dinners suck. Good day, miss, and be glad I didn’t have any loose change handy.

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