I truly do appreciate your restaurant. You are clearly welcoming to children, without completely catering to them; you offer good service and good food. Your wait staff is very efficient without seeming hurried.
We arrived before the crowd — a mother with very young children always plans to arrive well before the crowd. Nanny was with us, too, for which I was grateful. I had two children, a 3-year-old and a 15-month-old; a diaper bag; a Dora Backpack full of crayons, toys, and stickers; my purse; Nanny’s purse; a Toys R Us coupon book; and a bright green Backyardigans bucket with a few odds and ends that my 3-year-old decided were vital to her dining enjoyment.
Some odds and ends to which she was very attached. A plastic dinosaur, some toy binoculars, a couple of crayons, and, most importantly, the “music box” from this skirt, on the far left:
As I’ve mentioned, most of your staff are just great. I have never complained about the servers or the service when I’ve eaten at your restaurant.
Your bus boys, on the other hand… Well, let’s just hope that the one I met today was not representative of your table-clearing crew.
You see, when children are done, they are done. You’ve probably seen it countless times. So when children are done, it’s a scramble. Get the bill, pay the bill, get the kids in coats, leave a tip, remember the take-home, and so on. Most importantly, don’t forget the stuff you brought with you.
Today, we briefly forgot the bucket. We didn’t even get out the door before I realized — er, well, Nanny realized — we didn’t have it.
I popped back to the table, but it had already been cleared, cleaned and reset. So I sent one of the (slightly vapid, but still nice) teenage girls at the front counter to ask the bus boy for it.
After a few minutes, the bus boy came out with the bucket. Whew, I thought.
I peeked in it. No toys. Uh, oh.
“I rinsed it out real well,” the boy was telling me. Excuse me?
“There was a crumbled up children’s menu in it,” he explained. “So I just threw it out. But I rinsed it out with hot water real well.”
“Where are the toys that were in here?” I asked. I have to admit to being a little bewildered. He threw out the entire bucket?
“Oh.” Pause. “Well… I just saw the children’s menu. So I threw it out.”
In the meantime, Monkey was waiting patiently (read: jumping up and down, yelling “my bucket! my bucket!”) for her bucket. I handed it to her.
She eagerly looked inside.
And then looked at me, clearly as bewildered as I felt.
“Where are my toys?”
Now, Olive Garden, I don’t know if you have children of your own. You certainly are family-friendly, and you treat children very well. You seem to encourage your staff to be very child friendly. Lord knows, they have to be. In the room I was in today, there were seven children under 4 years old alone (including mine). Their tips are probably dependent on treating kids well.
How was I supposed to answer that question, asked by my child, her blue eyes clearly pleading with me not to tell her the truth.
It’s true, we did leave the bucket behind while we went potty, changed diapers, and generally got ready to get back in the car and head home. We were probably away from the table for five minutes.
It’s true, the lunch rush was well under way, and I know a quick turn-over is vital to your business.
It’s true, my 3-year-old undoubtedly threw her menu in there on top of her toys when her food came.
But, how much time (and, I’m sorry, intelligence) does it take to throw out a menu, and give the bucket, with toys, to the front of the house in case a distraught parent came back looking for it? Thirty seconds? Fifteen? Or just put the whole thing aside until the rush was over or a parent came asking for it?
I wanted to say to my very sad child, “Honey, I’m sorry. This boy was so very busy he didn’t take the time to check the bucket for toys. Actually, he probably didn’t think once before just tossing the whole thing in the trash. I’m not really sure where his mind was. But it certainly wasn’t on anything as trivial as a child’s bucket and whether or not it contained some well-loved — and soon to be sadly missed — toys.”
I had to apologize to Monkey. Your staff had already returned to work. I promised to replace the toys — we are going to the toy store tomorrow, on, until that moment, an unrelated reward errand. And it’s not as if anything was too expensive.
I think I can afford this whole set of dinosaurs:
I am sad about the hokey-pokey music, however. The skirt was a gift from her godparents. I will have to buy another skirt, and that’s okay. But now I will have two skirts and only one music box.
But that’s not really the point. The point is: I don’t think they should have been thrown out in the first place. A little extra time, a little extra effort — admittedly, on my part, too — could have prevented this whole tragedy.
Oh, well. Done is done. I certainly won’t be leaving anything behind — at any restaurant — next time. But please keep this in mind, and maybe have a little chat with your bus boys.
One person’s trash, after all, may be a child’s treasure.
Red Pen Mama