Yesterday, my wife and I had lunch at PF Chang’s. My wife likes the place for its ginger broccoli chicken, but for me it’s a little too sterile, too corporate, too Caucasian.
I prefer our neighborhood Chinese restaurant, where the vegetable pot stickers have been the Special Of The Day every day for five years. Where all the employees are Asian and a few even speak English. Where every time I order takeout over the phone I’m told it will be ready in 20 minutes (seriously, make it one order of sesame chicken or a meal for six brigades and it’ll always be waiting for you in 20 minutes, with plenty of extra soy sauce packets).
The only thing the two restaurants have in common is the pre-wrapped fortune cookies, where the fortune has been replaced by a never-witty aphorism (“memories are important”) and your Lucky Numbers.
At Chang’s, blond and perky Ashley The Waitress approached our table, introduced herself and asked, “Are there any allergy or dietary restrictions I should know about?” That’s the sort of personal information I’m rarely asked for, outside of the clipboard questionnaire at the doctor’s office (right under “have you ever had whooping cough or been bitten by a venomous snake?”).
Either Ashley also works part time as a physician’s assistant and forgot where she was, or it’s another step forward in the Nanny America crusade.
We used to be responsible for this ourselves. If you had an allergy to shellfish, or peanuts, or dairy, or you were a vegetarian, or kept kosher, it was up to you to be careful about the food your ordered. If you had questions about certain items on the menu, the burden was on you to ask about them.
Not anymore. Now, Corporate America is watching out for you or, more likely, they’re watching out for their bottom line.
No doubt, someone went to PF Chang’s and was served a meal containing a food ingredient they were allergic to. After the customer had a negative reaction, they filed a lawsuit, claiming that the restaurant had been negligent in not disclosing every tidbit of every dish. That willful act and disdain for the customer’s personal health regime — combined with deep pockets — made the company liable for a nice big settlement.
Ashley’s question allows the restaurant to rebut your negligence claim by showing that they care enough to ask right up front, thus putting the ball back in your court, where it belongs.
Since the only thing that restricts my diet is the lack of food in front of me, we enjoyed a normal meal. When we finished, Ashley put our leftovers in to-go boxes at table side (“see, we care so much about you that we don’t do this in the ladies room like we used to!”). Then she put those boxes into a bag, folded the top down with Stepford neatness, and turned it so the PF Chang’s logo was facing us.
There, printed under the logo, was the perfect bookend notice to Ashley’s opening question: “For your safety, please refrigerate as soon as possible.” That’s a good reminder, because I do have a tendency to leave leftovers in the trunk of my car for two or three weeks before eating them.
Thanks for looking out for me again, Nanny Chang!
Unfortunately, those promised Lucky Numbers did not yield me a big Powerball win, so my attorney is currently planning legal action against the fortune cookie company, its distributor, and PF Chang’s China Bistro. We’ll have the paperwork ready in about 20 minutes.