“What do you want to eat?” My husband, Val, stood at the front door, keys in hand.
“Whatever. You pick.” Over the years, I’ve learned to mask the fear of eating out with a shrug of a shoulder and a smile. “What sounds good to you?”
Like most married couples, the rundown of the impending restaurant list loomed over our heads.
“How about a sandwich place?”
“No.” I shook my head. “We had Hoagies the day before yesterday.”
Another shrug followed by a head shake.
“What about biscuits and gravy? You always like that?”
A deep sigh crept inside me, waiting to escape my lips.
“Then what do you want to eat?” The corner of his lip twitched in that ever so patient way he has of mulling over the list of food topics. “How about Chili’s. You love their potato soup.”
He’s right, as usual, I do love their Loaded Baked Potato Soup. “Okay. That sounds good.”
The drive, a hop and a skip from the house, gave me time to ponder what I really wanted to eat. A creature of habit, I rarely stray from a normal routine. Heck, my kids and husband even know what I’m going to order at the handful of places we eat. Actually, I’m more than sure the waitstaff does, too, which is sad in itself.
Settled in the restaurant, in the booth, we always seem to be seated at, which we refer to as our table, a new waitress approached with a smile on her face that touched the twinkle in her eyes.
“What can I get you two to drink?” The waitress placed two menus on the table.
The menus, slick and clean, displayed an array of enticing foods; foods I’d never tried before because of the allergies.
“Tea with no sugar.” Val picked up a menu and started browsing the options. “And some nachos . . . beans and cheese only, no meat. And some jalapenos . . . make that lots of jalapenos on the side.”
“We can do that.” A smile danced across her lips. “What would you like to drink, ma’am?”
“Tea with creamer.” Sucking in a deep breath, I prepared for the long-winded conversation about to take place; the list of the offending food. “I have several allergies . . . peanuts, paprika, beef, black olives . . .”
“That’s okay.” The waitress grabbed the kiosks and brought up the allergy menu. “Let’s see what’s on the list.”
“Okay.” I half-heartedly skimmed the options with her; however, my eyes were drawn to the opened menu. To be more precise, they were glued to the lunch special section; one picture in particular—the chicken fajitas. “I never eat anything different.” The deep-seated sigh, the one from earlier, finally escaped my lips. “I’ll just take the potato soup.”
The waitress, in tune with the happenings at the table, turned her attention to my menu. “What were you looking at?”
“The chicken fajitas. But I better play it safe and eat the soup.”
“Let me find out from the kitchen what’s in them.” With that, she walked away. However, she soon returned with the manager in tow.
I had run into the manager, Mary Cervantes, before, and she’s one of the reasons, a big reason, why I eat at Chili’s. For one, she runs a clean and friendly establishment, and she’s always personable. And no matter how busy the restaurant is, she continuously has a genuine smile on her face.
“I hear there’s a food allergy at the table.” Mary approached the booth with that telltale smile that makes a patron feel welcome. “And I hear you were thinking about the fajitas.”
“Yes. But I’m sure there’s paprika in them.”
I went through the allergy spill again.
“I will just play it safe and eat soup like I always do,” I replied.
“Well,” said Mary. “We can steam the onions and bell peppers to avoid cross contamination, and cook the meat in an individual skillet without the normal spices since they contain paprika.” She paused for a moment and seemed to be taking in the nervous energy I was exuding. “And I’ll personally cook the food.” She paused, again, allowing me time to absorb her words. “What do you say? Would you like to try something different today . . . the chicken fajitas?”
“Yes. I would.”
It wasn’t until I uttered those three words that I realized what I truly wanted to eat. I wanted something different; something outside of the norm for me, which is actually, a scary feat for an individual with several food allergies. Especially, for a person who has been intubated twice because of those severe food allergies.
Mary Cervantes held true to her words. She even brought out my dish, personally, which I can honestly say, was the best tasting chicken fajitas I’d ever had in a restaurant.
What made them special to me? It was the fact, Mary took customer service to a whole new level. As a manager, she listened to both the health needs and food choice desire of her patron, and she created a tasty dish, which is why, I’ll continue to eat at Chili’s; her Chili’s.
People like Mary Cervantes are the best part of humanity because they care about others. She didn’t have to do what she did. No. She could have just let me go with the tried and true soup, which is good by the way. However, she took the time to ensure my dish was safe to consume. Now, that’s superior customer service.
Please note: the dialogue is a fictitious recreation of the actual event as I recall it.
April A. Luna
April A. Luna (also writes as Michelle L. De La Garza) is an American freelance writer and poet, who lives with her husband and children in Texas.