“When you’re here you’re family!” goes the old Olive Garden slogan. Though not exactly a place known for its authentic takes on Italian cuisine, the good ole OG is a place where you can affordably drown yourself in spaghetti, never ending breadsticks, and gallons of cheap vino. To the American suburban family it’s just about heaven on earth nestled between the local Target and Home Depot. Cheap, tasty, and delightfully kitschy.
But despite how much we love carbs and perverse amounts of cheese, how far are we willing to go for oodles of Zoodles primavera with chicken? Hassling the waiter, maybe? A good ole vino-fueled rage perhaps? Well, how about death? That always pairs well with lasagna and endless soup.
Somewhere in suburbia, one dedicated family is about to test the lengths one will go for a free meal. At the receiving end of this family of brats is their unfortunate server and also our narrator, Sam. Sam is a 22-year-old guy six months into his stint at the local Olive Garden. So far he’s enjoyed his time working at the restaurant. The pay may be paltry, but at least the people are nice and hours flexible. This would all change for Sam though on one fateful busy Saturday night when the suburban Joneses from heck decided to pay a visit.
Sam was working the Saturday closing shift that day, something that anyone in the service industry will tell you is super hectic, but this day was a different kind of busy. Tonight the restaurant has customers waiting upwards of 45 minutes for a table. As to why someone would wait this long for dinner at Olive Garden is anyone’s guess, but as Sam will soon find out he’s not exactly dealing with normal people tonight either.
The next group is a large family so the staff push two tables together to make an eight seater. No problem for Sam, now he only has one table to bus instead of two and he gets the combined tip of that table. Sweet.
As Sam gets ready the hostess warns him that this family is a bit uh…cranky. You see people tend to get angry and impatient when they’re hungry, a phenomenon known as the hangry affect. But this doesn’t phase Sam one bit though, he’s dealt with hangries before. He’ll just kill them with kindness and rake in that sweet, sweet tip retribution.
“The family consists of an older couple in their mid 50’s-ish, their three adult sons (the youngest being in his mid 20’s) and the two older sons partners,” describes Sam “There is a worrisome look on her face as she lets me know they are going to be a handful.”
Sam delivers some refills at another table, takes a deep breath, then walks over to serve the family. He tries his usual lines and greetings, offers wines samples, asks about drinks. The only response he can get is from the mother who looks up at Sam “with flaming daggers spewing from her eyes.”
“That would be great,” she scoffs, “since that idiot up front left us waiting for almost an hour.”
Sam apologizes graciously and assures the lady that he’ll be speedy with those drinks. Sam even convinces the bartenders to bump up the party’s drinks. He’s back in under two minutes with seven sodas, eight waters, and two margaritas. Not too shabby, Sam.
The mother is impressed by this and the air of crankiness at the table begins to lift as they unwind. With that, Sam asks if anybody is ready to order. The mother and the youngest son have a few questions about the food and Sam is eager to answer.
“We want LOTS of pasta,” pleads Karen, “I mean LOTS of CHEESE.”
“And none of that weird alfredo with the soggy spinach in it, ya hear?” she adds.
LOTS of pasta with LOTS of cheese. Well, good thing this is literally an Olive Garden.
Sam recommends his personal favorite which is also the cheesiest, noodliest thing on the menu, the five cheese baked ziti.
“YES” the mom proclaims, veins bulging from her forehead “That is DEFINITELY what we are looking for, LOTS of pasta with LOTS of cheese. You are such an attentive waiter. Thank you!”
Sam being the sweetie that he is, blushes like a schoolgirl at the shower of compliments.
“I bring out their salads, get refills, and my nightmare table is happy… like happiness if bubbling from this table. In my mind I’m like, ‘BOOM, I’m a rockstar, I turned the entire mood of this table around just by being my usual helpful self, who’s awesome? This guy, that’s who.’”
These people wanted oodles of noodles and by golly he was gonna give it to them. It was smooth sailing over here at table eight. Sam just defused a ticking time bomb of a family like a champ.
Take a bow, Sam. You’ve earned yourself some serious kudos…for now.
The family ordered so much food that Sam needed another server to help him bring it to the table. Everyone is still beaming and happy but there’s something kind off here. Sam’s spider senses go off. He notices a strange look on the son’s face as he plates the table. A scary grin…a devilish smile ala Jack Torrance in The Shining.
“Okay…” thinks Sam, “Well, that’s weird.”
He thinks nothing over it as asks if anybody needs any refills and continues his victory lap. Nothing can stop Sam right now. Our boy is walking on air.
“I head to the kitchen to pick up an order for one of my other tables,” retells Sam, “I’m back there for about three minutes when I heard a commotion coming from the dining area.”
Sam’s heart was about to sink. He rushes through the swinging kitchen doors to find the youngest son keeled back in his chair. The boy’s eyes bugged out his skull and rolled backwards as his face turned blue. Pink hives materialized all over his neck. Panic swept the entire dining area.
The mother was now frantically beating her son over the back to dislodge whatever was blocking his windpipe. This was a server’s worst nightmare. Sam went into panic mode but he did what anyone would do in a life or death situation; he pulled out his phone and dialed 911.
Sam’s finger is about to land on the green send button when miraculously (!!!) the boy suddenly stops choking. The mother turns to Sam and like a flamethrower vomiting hellfire yells, “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?”
“Calling an ambulance…?” Sam exclaims, exasperated.
“YOU THINK I CAN AFFORD AN AMBULANCE JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE INCOMPETENT?!”
Karen looks crazedly at Sam then screams the Sacred Words, “Can I speak to your manager this instant?”
A hush falls upon everyone in the restaurant. The words hang in the air like smoke.
Sam ran to his manager’s office like his life depended on it.
“At this point I have no idea what the heck is going on but I’m not going to start questioning things now. The store manager and assistant manager are both in the office going over schedules for the next week, I explain there is an emergency but the woman doesn’t want to call 911 and instead is demanding to speak to the manager. They ask me to stay there and rush to the dining room,” retells Sam.
Sam sat tight in the office for what seemed like hours. The waiting agonized him. He was having a panic attack trying to recount what he just saw. Was the boy allergic and didn’t know? Could it be the oregano? Did he choke on something?
Sam’s manager came back just as livid as the mother.
“WHY WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THE ZITI TO SOMEBODY WITH A SEVERE ALLERGY TO PASTA AND CHEESE?!” she screams.
“Wait, what?” says Sam, honestly dumbfounded.
“They said they told you their son had a severe allergy to pasta and cheese and you recommended the ziti?!”
Sam blinked. He was still trying to wrap his head around the level of malarkey he was getting fed.
He had a flashback and thought back to a distinct moment he had with the lady earlier:
“We want LOTS of PASTA,” said Karen with that crazed look in her eye,“and LOTS of CHEESE.”
That lying hag. Now it all made sense.
At this point Sam is beyond flustered and takes a deep, deep breath.
“They never said any of that!” Sam explains, “In fact they specifically asked for which dish had the most cheese and pasta. I’m pretty sure they are just doing this for a free meal, why would someone deathly allergic to pasta and cheese even come to an Olive Garden?”
Sam’s got a point there, Ms Manager.
But she isn’t having any of it. The manager is now red faced and seething steam from her nostrils. Not looking good.
“I DON’T CARE,” she screams, “EVEN IF THEY DIDN’T SAY IT YOU SHOULD’VE KNOWN BETTER!”
“HOW WOULD I HAVE KNOWN, I’M NOT A MIND READER,” Sam yells back.
The manager takes a deep breath and drops a bomb on Sam: “You are going to be paying for their meal from your tips, and after your shift you will be let go with a formal reprimand.”
The only thought in Sam’s head was “OH HECK NO.”
That table had rung up over a $200 bill and Sam currently made $3 an hour plus tips, given it was the early 2000s. Sam mustered the last bit of courage he had from that stressful night and looked his manager straight in the eye.
“Go eff yourself,” he snapped, then left the office.
It was as if a weight had been lifted off Sam’s shoulders. He dunked his hand into the complimentary candy bowl at the desk and grabbed a fistful of Ande’s mints (“They’re good, sue me.”) and ended his last shift at that godforsaken Olive Garden. On his way out he saw the entitled family at their table, laughing their heads off like jackals. The group shoots Sam the smuggest smiles he’s ever seen and in the middle of the bunch is the boy giggling, his hives now completely gone. Sam promptly smiles, waves, then flips off the family of con artists as he walks out the door.
“I have no idea what happened after that and honestly I don’t care. In one night I went from having the most supportive job I’d ever had to having my entire world turned upside down,” admits Sam.
One day you’re enjoying your new job and coworkers then the next you’re getting swindled by some customers and your manager out of your 9-5. It may sound like the end of this story but there is more to Sam’s benefit.
Unemployed and with rent due, Sam thought about begging for his job back but instead never looked back. About a month later he joined the army, which he says was actually “100 times better” than being a server. I guess Olive Garden was rougher than having a drill instructor yell in your face. Go figure.
While in the service, Sam rose up the ranks and became a successful interpreter; all the aspects of human interaction without the hangry customers trying to bite your head off. As for the red-faced manager, Sam later learned that she was terminated a few months later after being investigated for embezzlement. Justice served.
But what about the crazy family? Impossible to say according to Sam but one can be sure that pack of liars are out doing other incredible acts of stupidity for free chain restaurant food. Though the experience left a bad taste in his mouth Sam learned a lesson in empathy for servers.
“To this day if I see a server getting berated or treated like trash I will go out of my way to talk them up to their manager and leave them a better tip if I can.”
Sometimes living your best life is the best revenge, that’s certainly something that lasts longer than some free pasta.