Saturday, February 18, 2017

We Walk into a Neighborhood Bar on Valentine's Day

Applebee’s on Friant Road, Fresno
When I worked at a hotel with a restaurant, I used to talk to the wait and kitchen staff about the best times to go out to eat. They all agreed there were two days one should not go:  Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Even in the best of establishments, the influx of diners means the quality of service will go down, the prices may well go up, and there’s even the chance of the kitchen running out of menu items. The wait staff I’ve known also complained about “amateur diners” who only go out on those special days, slowing up the evening for everyone as they puzzled as if the menus were cryptograms. (And even worse in the staff’s opinion, amateur diners are lousy tippers.)

With this in mind, on Valentine’s Day we went to Applebee’s.
As we drove, Mindy was getting directions to the third Applebee’s we’ve visited this month. (Having avoided Applebee’s all last year while we were visiting bars in every state, we decided to devote February to the bars at the ‘Bee’s.) Her phone was telling her there was a traffic situation we’d have to work around.

As we pulled up to the restaurant and began taking our outside photos, we noticed a television news vehicle near the front door. I wondered if they were doing a human interest story about Applebee’s on Valentine’s Day, which might be interesting to learn more about.

That was not the case. As we approached the front door, we saw police vehicles in the street and professional-looking photographers (they had tripods!) on the sidewalk, so we knew something else was up. Mindy asked one of the police officers standing in the parking lot what was happening. He said he’d heard there was a “domestic disturbance.” Inside we heard some discussion among the Applebee’s staff about what was going on. They’d heard stories about a stabbing across the street. (Which apparently was closer to the truth). All in all, it seemed to be an event that didn’t fit the theme of the day.

We’d expected that talking to people and asking our usual questions would probably be challenging on Valentine’s Day. Couples probably wouldn’t want to talk to us, and if there were single people, they probably wouldn’t want to talk to a married couple who, after thirty years, can still be nauseatingly gooey with each other. (As a single woman at the bar proclaimed, “It’s not Valentine’s Day, it’s Singleness Awareness Day. I saw that on Facebook.”)

Still, when we got inside, we saw tables with families and tables with couples, but the bar didn’t have many potential folks for chatting with. Right after we sat down, the other three people at the bar left.

Fortunately, the two women (Kourtney and Candis) tending bar that night were friendly. We were served our two drinks. (We’re ordering a Long Island Ice Tea and a Mudslide every week through Applebee's month.) From our unscientific observations, this week’s drinks seemed to have more alcohol in them than the past couple weeks.)

Kourtney and Candis were happy have snagged some Hershey’s Kisses. Apparently the week before, they had missed out on candy -- and everyone knows that Valentine’s candy is more tasty than ordinary candy. (By the way, two of my favorite Holidays are November 1st and February 15th, Cheap Candy Days.)

I asked Kourtney how it was to work Valentine’s. She said it was generally one of the three busiest days of the year (Mother’s Day and Veteran’s Day are the other two). I asked her about Veteran’s Day;  she explained that Applebee’s gives veterans free meals on their day. She said the day of the week a holiday falls on makes a difference (though, of course, Mother’s Day is always on Sunday, so brunch/lunch is always a nightmare...not her words). She said if Valentine’s falls on a Friday or Saturday, they get slammed. But since this Valentine’s was on a Tuesday she said, “When I came in it looked busy like a Friday. But a lot more couples, more two tops.”

We told Kourtney about our blog, and she was willing to answer our two standard questions. As  for “What made a good bar?” she said, “Friendly staff, good happy hour.” She said that it was a real plus if there were “good sports on TV.” On the “what makes for a good church?” question, she said, “I have gone to church my entire life.” She had high praise for the current pastor of her church. She said he was very personable and knows “every single person” by name. He has a good sense of humor, calling the choir in their red robes during the weeks prior to the Super Bowl, “the Red Zone.”  He “keeps it lively, keeps your attention,” Kourtney said.  

She said she also appreciates her church’s “good sense of community.” She mentioned how the church recently bought a new refrigerator for a someone in the church who needed one, and how they were helping another family in the concrete business through the rainy season. “It’s good knowing the money isn’t all going straight into the pastor’s pocket but is going to the community.”

The other bartender, Candis, said she didn’t go to bars very often (she was, in fact, pitching in behind the bar that night instead of waiting because someone had called in sick). She was still willing to answer our questions and said the important thing for a good bar was the “atmosphere.” She can be uncomfortable going in a bar, so she appreciates a place that is “friendly, fun, warm with a comfortable feeling.” She said she doesn’t go to church very often either, but it is important to her that a church be friendly and welcoming as well. She recalled a time that she went to a church that had a great choir that drew her (and everyone else) in, making her want to sing along.

It was nice to meet such “sweethearts” behind the bar (I’ll be interested to see whether this term will make it past Mindy’s editing, but it seemed to fit the theme of the day) [now I have to leave it, I guess -- ed], who made our evening a pleasant one. And though we didn’t eat at Applebee’s that evening, we were happy to see that there wasn’t too big of a Valentine’s crowd at Arby’s. We had a coupon.

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