Monday, November 9, 2009

Let's Hear It for Buffets and Chinese Delivery

(This post is a modified version of an earlier article)

I love to eat out. Food is definitely my weakness. God forbid that I ever end up under a mountain of insurmountable debt. But if I do, people will likely find me comatose under a pile of credit card bills filled with charges to Ruby Tuesdays (awesome ribs), Mexican restaurants, and enough Chinese delivery to put me in the running to be our nation's next ambassador to Beijing. Still, as much as I love it, there's no getting around the fact that eating out changes drastically once you become parents. No more hitting restaurants around 7pm for a slow-paced and enjoyable meal. Appetizers and intelligent adult conversations as you wait for your dinner become things of the past. Now you find yourselves battling senior citizens for the best seats at places that offer early bird specials. With kids, going out becomes a major logistical operation. there are diaper bags, bibs, strollers, and hand wipes involved. The word buffet takes on a whole new meaning. Buffets mean no waiting. No waiting means less screaming, fewer emotional meltdowns, shorter periods of scrutiny from bothered co-patrons, and less money spent on sedatives to calm your parental nerves. If you're lucky, you can be in and out before your kids ever realize that they've missed the opportunity to become a public spectacle.

Oh sure, Meredith and I occasionally attempt to eat at a restaurant where the waiter or waitress actually takes your order and brings your food to the table. But with three small kids, such outings are far from fun and relaxing. Loaded down with diaper bags, collapsible strollers, booster seats, and enough hand sanitizer to sterilize an operating room, my wife and I lead our tiny troops out of our minivan and into the unsuspecting establishment. Once inside, we immediately see the hostess' face turn white with dread as I utter the words, "Howard, party of five." The five to ten minutes that we wait for our table seems like an eternity as we try to keep our impatient little bunch together. Like alternating goalies in a Stanley Cup final, Meredith and I take turns attempting to keep our crew in check between our dancing bodies and a corner of the all-to-small waiting area. Finally, just when we can't deflect another puck, the hostess leads us to our table. Passing young dating couples, friends enjoying an evening out together, and various others just trying to savor a quiet meal, I can see the look of Dear God, No!! in their eyes as they spot our boisterous brood heading for their area.

Once seated, Meredith and I zip through the menu as quick as we can. Our waitress barely has time to say, "Good evening, my name is..." before we hit her with a whole list of drink and entree orders. Sorry, no time to order drinks, appetizers, and main dishes separately in our parental world. After ordering, we try in vain to manage the madness of spilled drinks, overturned salt shakers, multiple bathroom trips, and little people enamored with the sound a metal spoon makes when banged repeatedly against a restaurant table. All the while, the restaurant's liquor and beer selection grows more and more appealing with each passing moment.

Finally, our food arrives. Meredith and I get the kids served as fast as we can. Then we proceed to down our meals at a rate rivaled only by starving refugees. It's not that we're hungry, it's just that we know the window for escaping without a major kiddie meltdown is rapidly closing. Once finished, my wife and I grab our macaroni and chicken-finger covered children and break for the door.

One paid check and a hectic journey across a busy parking lot later, our little platoon is back in the minivan. Mission accomplished. Troops fed. On the surface, Operation Meal Out was a success. But it will be hours, if not days, before Mom and Dad recover from the traumatic ordeal. I still love eating out. But since my current insurance plan doesn't cover emotional therapy, I think I'll stick to the buffets and Chinese delivery until the kids are older.

No comments:

Post a Comment