Thursday, October 13, 2011

How Patriotic Is Your Favorite Restaurant? Do You Care?


     Enough, already. I am a wee bit embarrassed that the town next to my hometown in Alabama . . . Oxford . . . is making national news over a flag fracas. The little suburb of Anniston (that is going to get me into big trouble) has a lovely Olive Garden restaurant. My husband and I frequent it, and are always happy with the food, atmosphere and service. It's a typical Darden restaurant, run with efficiency and respect for its patrons. 

     It is currently under attack along with all other Olive Gardens for this appalling reason (my tongue is firmly in my lasagna-lovin' cheek): a local Kiwanis club booked the place for a meeting, and they were told (gasp!) that because there is no private meeting room, the facility was unable to accommodate their request to display an American flag.

     Double-gasp. The enraged meeting planner raised all kinds of fuss over this, and now the corporate vice president of OG has to come to Alabama and make a formal apology.

     Really, folks?

     Online commentary on this story has run the gamut from, "Boycott Darben (sic) restaurants!" to "Olive Garden is anti-American!" to "My dad (brother, uncle) served in the Army and I will never darken their door again."

    Calm down, please. Untwist your knickers for a moment and answer these simple questions:
  • Do you want to walk into Olive Garden for lunch and see a Nazi flag? A banner for the thing that offends you the most deeply? A sign denouncing your particular ethnicity?
  • Do you think it is unreasonable to fail to check in advance on a meeting venue's rules of display, and then denounce them for failing to honor your demand upon arrival?
  • Is there a graceful way to say, "I understand, and we will book our future Kiwanis meetings elsewhere—keep your breadsticks."?

         In one of the more amusing offerings I saw after the story broke, a woman accused Olive Garden of failing to offer Southern hospitality. She must feel it is incumbent upon every public restaurant south of the Mason-Dixon line to bow to the every whim of its patrons, y'all. Maybe serve complimentary sweet tea and hush puppies to the neo-Nazi group that dropped in last Thursday.

         All of this reflects badly on a local establishment that bends over backwards to please its customers. (I am one, and I have witnessed it.) It reflects badly on my beloved home state and its vociferous citizens. It reflects badly on those who fail to understand that this is, after all, America—we love our flag, but it doesn't have to be displayed everywhere (men's room?), nor should it be.

         I have arranged a number of meetings in my day. One thing I always did was inquire in advance about full accommodation of my group's needs. One person's failure to do so does not give anyone the right to demonize Olive Garden.

         If you will excuse me, I have some spectacular leftover Lasagna Rollata al Forno waiting in the kitchen. From the doorman's greeting through the nice conversation with an employee on the way out the door last night, I had a perfectly wonderful meal at the Oxford Olive Garden. In fact, I noticed several employees wearing American flag lapel pins as they usually do.

    Love from Delta.


    1. Got to disagree with you on this one, Beth. Exactly who did Olive Garden feel they were going to offend by displaying the American Flag?

    2. It's not like that, David. This Olive Garden has a policy against hanging ANY banner or flag of any kind - they are not equipped to do it, and have no private meeting room.

    3. It is a weak policy at that. (I do love the way you write though girl!)

    4. I have attended many service club meetings in my life, and they usually took with them an American flag (and usually a state flag) on freestanding poles. When I was in the service, between missions to Southeast Asia, I was on temporary duty in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1971. We were asked to leave one particular night club because we were in the uniform of the United States Air Force. We understood exactly why. We were in Germany and this was an anti-American establishment. I am sure the Kiwanis Club had a freestanding flag. Not being allowed to display the flag of our country is only catering to Un-American sentiment. If they have a policy against flying "any" flag or banner, just who do you think it is aimed at?

    5. It is not aimed at the American flag, for heaven's sake. At worst, this was a miscommunication, and it has been readily addressed.
      When we were there, I mentioned to our hostess that I had been following and commenting on the news story online. The manager joined us a few minutes later out of curiosity. No one could be more patriotic than he (a member of his family just returned from fighting overseas) or more appalled at the way his establishment was being portrayed.
      Simply put: there was no place to put a flag or banner in a crowded restaurant. Now I am sure there will be a corner of the room dedicated to that purpose. After all this absurd publicity, I sincerely hope we won't see ten lunatic fringe groups trying to hang a banner there.

    6. Let's get this straight, Beth. We have NOT seen any proof that Olive Garden does in fact have any kind of banner policy. All I've read is people have said they were told there was some such policy. Third hand rumor at best and certainly not a fact.
      According to the press release A POLICY was misinterpreted by the local manager. Although we haven't seen the exact wording, the press release from Olive Garden was very clear on this point. The problem was at the LOCAL level and not with Olive Garden's general policy as a whole.

      John Johnson