Last weekend, the New York Times sent its esteemed restaurant critics out to regular ol' chains — Applebee's, T.G.I. Friday's and Outback Steakhouse among them — for a piece they called "Déjà Vu Dining." Also last week, we checked out the book The Year of Yes — a memoir written by a Manhattanite who, for a year, said "yes" to every date she was asked out. And then, inspiration: We decided we would say yes to every suggestion and upsell made by our waitress at a T.G.I. Friday's. We would stay, eating and drinking and yessing until we were too full or too drunk to stand up on our own. Yes.
Saying you do or don't like chain restaurants is a double-edged sword. If you like them, you're a sellout simpleton. If you don't, you're an elitist foodie. We'd pick a neighborhood bar and grill over a Neighborhood Grille & Bar© any day, but hey. That's just us. Spoofing chain restaurants and the stereotypically perky employees who work there has long been a punch line. But perhaps no chain has suffered more merciless jabs than T.G.I. Friday's, which is precisely why we choose to go there.
We arrive at Friday's South St. Louis County location mid-happy hour. It's the place we went before our senior-year homecoming dance, back when going to Friday's did indeed qualify as a big night out. There are middle-aged people who are waiting to be seated in the foyer, and we wonder if this is a big night out for them. But then we hate ourselves for being condescending toward them. Who do we think we are? Soon, we're whisked away by hostess who is downright effervescent: Have you visited us before? Well, welcome back! Are you celebrating anything special this evening or just grabbing a bite to eat? Cool! Enjoy your meal! It is impossible not to like her.
A friend of ours swears that when she worked here years ago, part of her job was to offer an alcoholic drink and an appetizer to every of-age guest no matter the time of day: "So I'd get these women in their seventies who'd come in for lunch at 11 a.m., and I'd have to say, 'Would you like to try our Ultimate Margarita and pot stickers?'" And all of us would groan in sympathy for her.
But tonight, we're counting on our waitress to suggestive sell. It's absolutely imperative to our goal of saying yes to everything she offers, and she delivers. "Would you like to start off with one of our Long Island iced teas or a margarita? They're a dollar off during happy hour." "Yes, we'll have both." "Salt on your margarita?" "Yes." So far, so good.
Our table for two is somewhat of a tight squeeze. But then, it's hard not to feel at least a little crowded when the tchotchke surrounding us includes an old-fashioned school bell, a lone letter "P," a baby carriage, a plaque advertising Verna underwear and a composite picture of the 1926 graduating class from the Indianapolis College of Pharmacy, all in varying shades of bronze and sepia.
Our Ultimate Margarita appears. It comes in a largish traditional marg glass, a blue swirly design snaking up the side. The drink menu tells us it's made with Cuervo Gold tequila and a mix of lemon, orange and lime flavors. Slices of orange and lime are huddled a long wooden skewer that spans the top of the glass. We're glad we said yes to this: It's not breaking any new ground, but it's pleasant enough. "Can I get you any appetizers, like our spinach dip?" "Yes," we spit out almost before she can finish the question.
The workers aren't the easy targets we were cynically hoping they'd be. They aren't flamboyant. They don't wear flair anymore. They're just good, attentive servers. Truth is, they're just as eager to say yes as we are: "Yes, you can split an order." "Yes, you can sub in fries for onion rings." Yes, yes, yes. We volley back: Yes, we'd like another water. Sure we'll try the Brownie Obsession. "Hey," our friend whispers across the table. "You're answering too fast. She'll think it's weird." We tell him to get his own damn column and continue drinking our margarita, secretly hoping our waitress asks if we'd like just one more.
Got a drink suggestion?