When I was a kid, going to a restaurant was a very big deal. Of course, I grew up in a small town where folks actually cooked on a regular basis and there weren’t a dozen restaurants on every street. In fact, I doubt there were a dozen restaurants in the whole county when I was a kid.
Not that it was a bad thing. We sat down for dinner with no waiting for a table, no loud folks at the next table and no music or TVs blaring. That gave my parents a chance to ask things like how was school and did I do my homework — and it gave me a chance to practice important life skills like lying:
Oh, we had a handful of restaurants. There was always a barbecue joint opening and another one shutting down. There was a Dairy Queen on the other side of the Flint River that was probably the best — and fastest — Dairy Queen around at the time. (And I’m not just saying that because they sponsored my youth football team, the Dairy Queen Falcons. For the record, we as successful as other Falcons and were annihilated in the Turkey Bowl. At least we lost 44-0 and didn’t blow a 28-3 lead.)
When I was a teenager, some good folks from our county’s rather large Mennonite community opened a cafeteria-style restaurant with hearty food at a decent price. I had breakfast there the first day it opened after going out before dawn to see Halley’s Comet. They no longer have breakfast, but folks still come by busloads for lunch and dinner. It’s not fancy. It’s just good eatin’.
And, throughout my childhood, the world’s best little burger joint, Troy’s Snack Shack was dishing out sliders for a quarter. They’ve since gone up by a few nickels, but they still serve the world’s best little burgers and still do it faster than any chain burger joint on the planet. (Sorry, Harold and Kumar.) And Abraham Lincoln can still feed an entire family and still have a few George Washingtons left to buy homemade cookies from a sweet little old lady who sets up shop on the sidewalk a few doors down.
However, “going out to eat” was definitely not the norm when I was young. It was usually reserved for out-of-town trips and vacations. It was an opportunity to be “fancy like Applebee’s on a date night” long before that godawful earworm came out.
Things began to change, though, when I got my first full-time sportswriting gig in Valdosta, Ga., in 1991 at the ripe old age of 21. It was just off I-75, and restaurants were everywhere. With crazy sportswriter hours, I ate at too many restaurants. Way too many, and my waistline pretty quickly began to reflect that. It continued through newspaper gigs in Americus, Ga., and some town called Columbus, Ga. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps you also know that — especially on the north side of Columbus — you can’t drive 27 feet without bumping into three “casual dining” restaurants, four fast-food joints and 16 different sandwich shops (or shoppes for you uppity Southerners), each of which customers believe are completely different from the others and not just the same stuff between pieces of bread.
When Covid hit, we began eating at home nearly all the time. Now that we occasionally visit restaurants again, we’ve noticed a few changes — besides almost always wishing we had eaten at home. One of the main changes is that many have apps so that you can see their menu without having to talk to a human — something these places promote because they prefer to hire fewer humans who have bad habits like wanting livable wages and such. We recently went into a sandwich shop — this one was completely different, really — and were able to just sit down, order from their app and have it brought to the table by one of those humans working for an unlivable wage.
I like the convenience of ordering and paying on apps. I like being able to skip lines and simply sit down at an empty table. And while I’m thankful for the humans who work at these places for unlivable wages when others would rather struggle just as much financially without working, the fewer humans I encounter, the better.
Apps, though, still haven’t taken hold back home as I found out on a recent visit.
The Dairy Queen in Montezuma, Ga., wouldn’t even let me finish ordering.
“I’d like a double-cheeseburger with fries and a Diet Coke and …”
“Sir, this is a drug store now. The Dairy Queen closed years ago.”
“OK, gimme two Tylenol with Q-Tips … and a Diet Coke.”
“That’ll be $4.95. Please drive around.”
I can’t find the Mennonite restaurant’s app, and Troy’s is still cash-only, so I’m pretty sure they don’t have an app. (Wait! Breaking news alert from a reader: “Troy’s isn’t cash only anymore!!” I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this on Fox Business or CNBC! What trivial business junk are they covering?!)
Although, if a Troy’s app could get me my double-chili-cheeseburgers in 41 seconds instead of the usual 49 seconds, it’s worth considering.