Today the family and I had to make a trip down the highway so that I could look at and test some self-service dog washing tables. I'd really like to open my own self-service dog wash in our town but I don't have the money to open the type of store I want. Plus, I don't want to take out a loan. I already owe the government enough money on a bachelor's degree and most of a master's that I'm not using, so I'd rather not have any additional debt if I can help it. The system I tried was nice but operated too much like a car wash with the timer clicking away at the same speed regardless if you had a teacup poodle or a mastiff. You couldn't judge how much it was going to cost to wash and dry the dog -- and "dry" was only implied. Air came out of the hose but if you expected a dog with short or long hair to be dried you just might as well put all the money in your bank account into the machine first because it was going to take a long time. I'd rather have a self-service dog wash where there are tubs and professional dryers (that work) and the people pay per pound (of the dog, not themselves). Then they're not rushed and making a huge mess and the dogs are actually cleaned and dried well enough you wouldn't be afraid of putting them back into your vehicle if you still had a nice interior. However, self-operating machines like that may be what I'd have to get if I can save/raise the money. But I'd certainly make the pricing a bit more reasonable and fair.
So, after getting Celeste cleaned, we decided we should grab some lunch. We decided to go to The International House of Pancakes (IHOP) because (1) it was close and (2) it's cheap. Plus, the restaurant has carpet which would prevent Celeste from getting greasy or having whatever the last person swept under the table instead of actually cleaning stuck in her newly clean fur. The restaurant was not crowded and we figured it would be a good place to pop in, grab a quick bite, and then head out on other errands before returning home.
I should have known once I walked in the door that it wasn't going to be good. The cashier and the hostess immediately began making "boo-boo" faces and voices at Celeste, trying to get her attention. I ignored what they were doing, in the hopes that they would stop, and told the hostess that there would be three of us eating there today. She asked if we wanted a table or a booth. I said a booth because it's easier for Celeste to hide out-of-the-way and she won't accidentally stick a tail or paw into traffic (which can happen under some very small tables). The hostess looked around and said, "Well, we have a table." I replied, "Then why did you ask me what I wanted if there really is no option?" She looked puzzled and handed a wet towel to a waitress and told her to clean off the table at a booth in one of the sections. We looked around the corner and noticed that she was cleaning off a table that was next to four other booths that were not occupied. I chalked it up to the fact that the other section might not be staffed at that moment or that they've got some weird seating ritual at this particular IHOP and waited.
The waitress came back and said that the table was clean. She looked at us as if she expected us to give her a gold star or something. The hostess said that we were next to be seated (there wasn't anyone else around waiting to be helped). Then the two of them debated over who would take us to our seat. The waitress grabbed the menus and asked us to follow her (like we're going to go somewhere else). As we reached the table, she looked down and said rather loudly, "Oh! I didn't see the dog! I didn't know you had one with you -- I'm allergic to them!" I gave Celeste the command to find her spot under the table and reassured the waitress that she wouldn't be in contact with the dog at any time during our meal. That didn't appease her and she repeated that she was allergic to dogs.
Now, just for clarification, unless the other person is so allergic to dogs that it would send them into anaphylactic shock, typical allergies to a dog (fur, dander, etc.) which does not create a life-threatening situation is not an excuse to prohibit a person with a service dog from entering an establishment. She could whine about it all she wanted, but I was well within my legal rights to have her with me. As she continued to complain I interrupted her and told her that Celeste had just been bathed, would not be moving from the spot in which she was currently laying until I command her to when we're leaving, and that we were staying right where we were to eat. I wasn't rude about it -- I just spoke matter-of-factly and even heard someone from another table comment that I was right.
So, after this our drink orders were taken and we didn't see the waitress again for quite some time. Other people were finally being seated in the same section. I began to watch to see if she was their server as well or if someone else was assigned to those tables and would we receive our items before the newcomers did. After seeing her running back-and-forth between the kitchen and what I assumed to be the supply closet to get disposable cups, she finally brought us our drinks and took our food order. Husband, Youngest Son and I began to secretly place bets on how long it would take two omelets and some pancakes to be made and delivered to us.
When after a while she returned with our food, we looked at it and could tell something was wrong. Husband and Youngest Son touched their pancakes -- cold and hard. Even the scoop of butter they put on the top of them wasn't beginning to melt. My omelet looked done but the cheese on top of it wasn't melted. Youngest Son even touched his eggs and said they were cold. We asked the waitress to return and told her that the food was cold. She said that the plates were hot and couldn't possibly understand how it could be cold. Husband asked her to touch the pancakes, to which she replied, "We're not allowed to touch the food." He stuck his finger into the stack and told her that they were cold all the way through. When she began to argue that they couldn't be cold, I reached over to Youngest Son's plate and picked up his two over-easy eggs and held them up for her to see. No yolk breakage. No heat coming off of them to burn my fingers. If you'd seen them you would have thought they were a practical joke piece.
She took the food back to the kitchen and then returned saying that she'd touched the food when she got back there and it was cold and she didn't know why and that she would tell the manager. She also said that within 10 minutes we'd have fresh, hot food. We did get hot food -- in less than 4 minutes. And it looked as if it was slapped-together just to get it out of the kitchen. Nothing was placed neatly on the plates or cooked the way we asked.
We took the food and started eating because by now we were starving. Others in our section told us that the restaurant had been having issues and they weren't surprised to see us sending food back. The first question that crossed my mind was, "If you know the restaurant is having issues with people sending food back, why are you here?" but I didn't ask it.
As we ate, we tried to stomach what we had and laughed when the pancakes that Husband ordered split apart as if they had been frozen previously and barely reheated. I guess the "International" part of IHOP is imported pancakes because every one was identical, right down to the dark coloring you'd see if they'd been done on a griddle. I've made quite a few pancakes in my time and I've never been able to get them all identical.
We continued to eat and a gentleman walked up behind Husband and asked if things were okay. No name tag. No identification of any kind. Husband asked who he was and when he identified himself as the manager, Husband said he wondered when he was going to show-up to see why we were upset with our meal. The gentleman looked puzzled. He had no idea we were upset. The waitress rushed over and told us that she had told a different manager and apologized to this manager for not making him aware as well and then began to describe all of the previous events to him. He asked if we wanted new plates of food, which we politely declined and explained that we weren't from that town and needed to get back on the road to finish errands and return home and waiting again for new food would put us even further behind schedule.
Husband and I have always joked that we're just cursed to receive bad food and/or service at restaurants. There was a time when Youngest Son was still an infant that we went to the same restaurant three times because they kept inviting us back for free meals after (1) I was poisoned by dishwashing liquid that had been spilled on the fish I ordered and (2) when we came back for the free meal after that incident a bee was found curled-up (and dead) inside a leaf of lettuce in Husband's salad. The manager of that restaurant admitted that they weren't making a better impression on us and was soon replaced. Sometimes we laugh when we're out because a manager will walk by our table and ask us how we're doing but not say anything to other diners. We wonder if they've got big pictures of us up in the kitchen warning them that we've had crap service at other corporate chains and to be on the lookout for us.
The manager said that he would look into what happened and disappeared. We started to eat as fast as we could because we didn't want anything except to get the heck out of there and back on our way. The manager returned and attempted to pick up the ticket that the waitress had laid on the table after bringing the second attempt at our lunch. Husband slapped his hand down upon the ticket and said that we would pay for our food. The manager looked confused and said that he wanted to pay for the meal. Husband said that all we wanted were two things to happen -- Number 1, for the employees to do their jobs and get it right because without customer satisfaction there won't be customers and then they won't have a job; and Number 2, for the employees to be advised on how to properly act around a service dog because they are working dogs and are not to be distracted when doing their jobs. The manager insisted again on paying for our meal, but we weren't going to allow it. We ate the food, so we should pay for the food. That always shocks them because a lot of times they're used to someone just trying to get a free meal. If we couldn't afford the food, we wouldn't be there in the first place. Plus, the bottom of the ticket has the order number and the 1-800-number the corporation wants customers to call to answer a survey and give comments on our visit.
And trust me, we will.