THE BLOG
09/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Too Big to Care

I am not a fan of chain restaurants. It isn't that I don't like the food, or think I am "above" eating in them; I love drive-thru burritos, and chicken Caesar wraps that are the same from coast to coast. Oh, and don't even get me started on how Happy Meals have saved my life when with nieces and nephews. No, it isn't the food that gets me, or the atmosphere for that matter, canned as it may be, since I like clean places, and chains are usually the cleanest. No, what gets me is the fact that most chains have crappy customer service, because they aren't required to do any better. After all, a company with millions of customers, even in this economy, isn't required to care about one or two. Or, in this case, fourteen.

My husband comes from a large family that tries to get together at least once a month. Due to the large number of people, and varying tastes, that usually means we end up at one of the many chains that populate Utah. Yesterday, to meet to review pictures from Grandpa's 80th birthday party, the choice was Olive Garden. That is when I learned that hell serves delicious breadsticks.

With a party the size of ours we usually try to make a reservation. However, the OG does not accept them. They don't even want to be warned. When I called I was told they were "never busy at that time" and that I "shouldn't worry." Nevertheless, my husband and I got to the restaurant 15 minutes early, only to find his sister was already there, and had put our name in. The wait was supposed to be less than a half an hour. We thought we were golden.

Then an hour went by, and the real adventure began.

I could go into details here, but I won't. Suffice to say, there were many, many excuses, my minor blow up asking for the name of the regional manager, and three, count them, three, free appetizers. Then there were lost orders, long waits, mixed up dinners, and a family member left to watch as we all ate and then asked him to put his dinner in a box because the kids were about to explode.

At the end of the meal I walked out ahead of the family because I thought I was about to explode. And that's when I noticed it: nobody cared. It wasn't just the restaurant treating customers shabbily, it was the other way around as well. I overheard two waitresses talking about how they had been stiffed by mid-size parties. I saw a couple simply walk away from an enormous amount of food debris left on the floor by their toddler. And I saw a table of teenagers run their fingers over their glasses, creating that galling, high pitched noise, despite the fact it was obviously bothering other diners. That's when it came to me: no one cares. If it is a chain, no one thinks they are accountable for their behavior. Everyone believes they are anonymous, and absorbed into the crowd, and therefore have no real responsibility to behave.

It almost makes me think that Locavores should stop pushing the global warming issue, and start pushing the manners issue. Of course, what do I know? I am only one person, and the Olive Garden certainly won't miss me. And as long as I eat at other restaurants owned by their parent corporation they won't care.

Should we?