Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Should've Been a Quiet Lunch

I don't eat out very often. One reason is because I can't afford to, even though I do have a wish list of restaurants I'd like to try. Another reason is because it's easier and faster just to get one of those ready-made meals at the supermarket after a long workday. But a major reason is because more often than not, there are annoying people at many of the restaurants I go to. (Side note: Yes, I am easily annoyed. But I also admit that at times, I too can be annoying. But I try not to be annoying in public places, at least.)

Do you ever encounter people who have an adverse effect on your restaurant meal? It doesn't matter whether you're at a four-star restaurant or McDonald's; all it takes is just one person to ruin the whole atmosphere and experience for everyone.

Yesterday I decided to go to Panera for lunch. I was happy because I had just come back from the Borders on Michigan Avenue, and I'd bought Jen Lancaster's My Fair Lazy for 63 cents! I had a 40% off coupon and a gift card, so it was a pretty rockin' deal to get a hardcover by my favorite author for less than a dollar.

Even though I love the food at Panera, I don't go very often; every time I go there are some people there who make me lose my appetite.

When I placed my order, the cashier asked, "Would you like to add a cookie to your meal for just 99 cents?"

"Sure," I said. "I'll have a chocolate chip cookie."

The cashier looked down at the basket of cookies in front of the register, and said, "Aw, there aren't any chocolate chip cookies left, are there?"

"No, but there are some over there," I said, pointing at the pastry case where there was a stack of cookies on a plate.

He didn't move from the cash register, though the plate was less than five steps away. "Yeah, but it's easier just to get a wrapped cookie." Right. It's SO HARD to step over to the plate, put a cookie into a bag, and hand it to me. He called over to one of the other cashiers, who tossed a wrapped cookie in his direction, even though I really wanted one of the cookies that were already out. They're crunchier. I like crunchy.

Once I got my food, I looked around hopefully for one of the smaller, comfortable booths. But they were otherwise occupied by the people with laptops who finished their small beverages an hour ago but clung firmly to their tables and ignored the people with full trays of food in their hands. So I sat at a table in the center of the restaurant. It just happened to be within eavesdropping distance of a guy yelling into his cell phone. As I've written before, it's hard to avoid eavesdropping on people's cell phone conversations, especially when they talk really loudly.

"Can't you do SOMETHING for me?" he yelled at the poor customer service rep on the phone. "I only used that stupid lawn mower THREE TIMES and it broke down! I need a lawn mower for this summer!" And I need a lawn mower for your FACE, I thought. "I can't believe you're telling me I'm out of luck. I mean, I don't think a lawn mower should BREAK DOWN like that when I only used it a couple times! Can't you talk to your manager for me?"

Can't you shut up? I tried to focus on my sandwich and my book, but Lawn Mower Guy kept yelling. His voice carried over every other conversation in the restaurant. I fet sorry for the person he was berating . Lawn Mower Guy literally yelled for fifteen minutes straight, until he finally ended the call.

But he didn't stop there. No. He started cursing and saying "lawn mower" over and over again while he looked around, as if he expected the rest of us to commiserate with him. Oh yes, we all feel so sorry for you. And I totally want to talk to you about your broken lawn mower. That's just the WORST THING EVER to happen to someone. The kind of guy who would yell at a customer service rep for that long with complete disregard for other people eating lunch is totally my dream guy! I might as well cancel my online dating membership right now!

Lawn Mower Guy finally left, but I cringed when I saw a familiar person walk in. I see her almost every time I come to this Panera, and she freaks me out every time. She always wears this ball gown that's more appropriate for a night at the theater than an afternoon meal at a cafe. But that's not why she's weird. She's weird because she wanders around the restaurant and examines each person's table and meal with this glazed look in her eyes.

This time she walked around the restaurant and oh, JEEZ! It looked like she was SNIFFING each person's food! I concentrated on my book, hoping that she'd skip my table, but she didn't. She leaned forward and inhaled.

I didn't look up, but I thought, Get your nose away from my food! She finally sat down at her usual spot by the window, but kept looking around while everyone else avoided her gaze.


At least the food was good.


  1. People on phones in public. I could rant about this. Cell phones are great, but sometimes they feel like a curse. It scares me when I see a driver talking on a cell.

    The "weird" woman the way you describe her seem to me to perhaps be "mentally challenged."

    What an interesting lunch hour! Well written scene.

  2. Mmmm Panera. I haven't had that in years, I wish we had them here!

  3. I wish there was a Panera near me. Of course, I'd pass on the ball gown sniffer.

  4. Ha!

    i have a panera within walking distance to me, though i rarely eat there because after working so many years at starbucks, i just don't feel right handing my money over to companies that don't care how unprofessional or rude their staff is.

    crazy lady with the ball gown would be VERY hard to ignore. in fact, you prolly would want to keep one eye on her at all times.

  5. Aw, I feel your pain! I hate when people are so insensitive to the noise factor and disturbing others around them. I'm sorry to hear your lunch wasn't so great!

  6. I think people that talk on their cellphones in public are rude to begin with, especially when they talk LOUDLY! I don't want to hear about your lawnmower, dude. I've also overheard conversations that were just as loud & topics include not finding a babysitter, banking issues, motion sickness, it's endless.

    Is there a park nearby where you could enjoy a quieter lunch? That's my preferred option.

  7. Hi Ann,
    Drivers who talk on their cell phones scare me too, especially because they're usually the ones who don't yield to pedestrians.

    Hi Mei,
    Panera is good. That's why I keep going there; their desserts always make the day sweeter. :)

    Hi Rebecca,
    I'd pass on the sniffer too, but she is always there. I should just try going to a different one, but then again I have a long list of shoulds.

    Hi mi,
    Usually the staff at this one is pretty nice; it's the occasional customer like the lawn mower guy who is more likely to affect the atmosphere.

    Hi Talli,
    Well, the food was pretty good, actually. And that did help make up for it, a little. Especially once I ate the chocolate. :)

    Hi notesfromnadir,
    I could go to a park nearby, but once I get my food I'm usually intent on eating it right away. I think I'm kind of like Homer Simpson in that respect.

  8. ...hopped over from Lola's blog...and glad I did:)

    Funny stuff. Says something about warming up a nice meal over your own stovetop...with no chronic sniffers looming.

  9. I've had problems with undercooked food, bad staff, and rude people nearby (especially cell phone users), but a sniffer is a new one. Your posts make me afraid of and curious about visiting Chicago!

    Have people over for a dinner. Then you'll get to control your meal.

  10. Hi Elliot,
    Thanks for coming to my blog! I've tried using my own stovetop, but every time I do I end up setting off the smoke detector.

    Hi Theresa,
    I would have people over for dinner, but they might not want to come back again. I'm a terrible cook. I can't even heat up frozen pizza correctly; I always end up burning it.