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I recently returned from almost two weeks in Europe along the Mediterranean Sea coast where I enjoyed incredible sights, friendly people. and amazing food. It took some time to get used to the fact that in that area of the world you are never given your check for a meal until you ask for it. You are expected to enjoy a leisurely meal with plenty of time to interact socially with no sense of hurry.

Shortly after my return, I met my friend, Amy, at IHop on Hwy K in O’Fallon for an early Sunday morning breakfast. We try to meet here once a month or so. But it had been a while since we had been together, so we had a lot of catching up to do. We enjoyed a full breakfast, caught up on our families, and Amy began looking through my photos of the trip. We were engrossed in the wonderful views I had captured, and I was sharing stories about each place I visited when the manager walked over to our table. I looked up and said “Hi,” with friendly enthusiasm, for I know this woman from the many times I have enjoyed IHop breakfast at the Cave Springs restaurant where she once worked. When I was a resident artist at the Foundry, I had breakfast each Thursday on my way to my Foundry Studio, so I became known as a regular. I continue to eat there at least bi-weekly and often weekly.  However, my greeting was met with a “Oh, hi,” because she was not there out of friendliness. She nervously began with, “I don’t want to offend you or hurt your feelings, but when people come in and sit for three hours on a Sunday morning it is a problem.”

“What time is it?” I asked.

She looked at her watch. “Almost 10AM,” she replied. “The server said…..”

My friend interrupted her with, “We got here at 8:30AM.”

“Well, if you come through the week….:

“We both work, so we cannot come through the week. We haven’t even been here an hour and a half,” I inserted.

“Well, on Saturday or Sunday staying a long time becomes a real inconvenience.”

Of course, my friend and I got our things together and left. I have to admit, though I am slow to anger, this really upset me. Perhaps it was the contrast with the service I had experienced in Europe. or maybe it was that I felt rudely and unfairly reprimanded (it could have been handled very differently), or it could have been the fact that the manager suggested we had been there three hours when we had barely been there half that time……I don’t know. But what I do know is that I felt deeply offended and will never return to that place of business.

I have before felt that the server at a restaurant was “hinting” at it being time to go and give the table to someone else, but this is the first time that a manager has literally told me to leave.
Something is wrong when we are expected to hurry in, wait to be seated and served, wait for our meal, then eat as quickly as possible and get out so that the establishment can make as much money as possible. I was there to eat, yes, but I was also there to socialize with my friend. That is why I go out to eat with a friend, to enjoy their company while someone else serve us.

I once read an article by a Canadian that the problem with health care in the US is that it is based on profit rather than taking care of people. I believe I just experienced that same out-of-balance as it applies to dining out. The problem is that getting people in and out quickly so you can make more money is more important than creating a delicious meal and a lovely atmosphere for people to enjoy time with their friends. What is eating out about?

I wonder how many other times in our hurried, profit-driven culture we put profit above serving our clientele. Our families? Even our own health? I believe this is something we need to seriously consider.