from the vault: the excellence incident

This was originally written years ago, when I was still finding my personal narrative voice, and still enjoyed the beefy goodness of a slaughtered bovine creature with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. I've cleaned it up and meddled with it a tiny bit, because I can't resist meddling with things.

Many moons ago, my wife and I found ourselves at a Black Angus restaurant.

I’d like to welcome back those of you who just picked yourselves up off the floor. I don’t know what we were thinking, either.

Anyway, the waitress came over to our table after our food had been delivered, and asked, “Is everything excellent?” I could hear the italics.

I know that this poor girl was just doing her job, just as she’d been when she tried to upsell us on “a half-carafe or perhaps a full carafe of Fetzer merlot” but something inside me snapped. Before I could stop myself, I heard the following come out of my mouth: “Excellent? Excellent? No. It’s fine, and in fact I’ll even tell you that it’s nice, but excellent? If I said 'yes', I’d really be devaluing the whole word — and concept — of ‘excellent.’”

Anne gasped. A busboy three tables over dropped a stack of plates. The muzak was interrupted by the scratching of a needle across vinyl.

Remember in Cable Guy, when they’re at Medieval Times, and Janeane Garafolo looks at Matthew Broderick and just says, “… dude?” and we all know that he’s the asshole? Yeah, I was the asshole.

We all looked at each other, shocked, wondering what would happen next.

"He's not usually like this," Anne said.

"Hey! Don't apologize for me!" I said. Then, "I'm not usually like this."

"Uh-huh," she said, and disappeared into the kitchen.

"We're not getting dessert," Anne said. "In fact, we're not getting any more food that anyone in this restaurant other than us will get close to."

"That's probably a good idea."

We finished our meal, and I apologized again for what would become known as "the excellence incident." When I paid our bill, I over-tipped the girl as penance for my transgression, which I decided was intended as a lighthearted little joke that went awry between my brain and my vocal cords. But I did not — and I will not — waiver on the question of excellence. A man must stand for certain things, and I have chosen this. I have chosen to stand fast on the question of excellence.

The drive home was quieter than usual, until Anne turned to me unexpectedly and said, “Excellent? We’re at Black Angus. Let’s try for adequate and go from there.”

“Well thanks for speaking up for me when we were in there,” I said. “It was excellent that you had my back.”

33 thoughts on “from the vault: the excellence incident”

  1. Is that what you would call a w00t-FAIL? w00t for speaking your mind and FAIL for being harsh.
    As Lazlo said in Real Genius “Well then I’m happy and sad for you.”

  2. I remember one time at Famous Dave’s, when I was living in Wisconsin, I had a waitress come by and ask me if everything was all right. (Not excellent, though.) I had already eaten most of my food at this point (it was very good) but I told her, “No, it tastes HORRIBLE! I can’t stand it!” And I thought she would get the joke when she saw my empty plate but instead she looks like she’s about to break into tears and says “Really?” I had to assure her I was joking. I think I left a larger than normal tip that day as well.

  3. That’s the sort of thing that I would do, except that I can’t help but laugh when I accidentally say things like that… which usually makes the person I’ve accidentally offended that much more so. Looking back now, I’m sure it’s funny to you too though…

  4. We all have our moments where our internal editor falls asleep on the job. And then there are moments like this one, where our internal editor’s passed out cold on a tropical beach, clutching a half-drunk maitai, drooling on herself.
    I’m glad I’m not the only one. ;)

  5. When I was considerably younger, Black Angus used to be a great treat. The thought of this horrifies me now.
    Also, check the word usage on waiver vs. waver. (We can imagine some emoticon that indicates this is intended to be friendly and not word-snobby, although that is probably also accurate.)

  6. An excellent wiseman once said, “Don’t be a dick!” :) (Don’t you hate it when words come back?)
    Cool story – it’s weird how humor will sometimes do that. It hits a wormhole on the way and arrives in a completely different universe than the one you shot it in.

  7. Well I can say as someone who serves you and Anne from time to time at (omitted for privacy reasons, ha), that you guys are easy as far as patrons go. Its always good to see you guys when you come in. Also you are right on with that excellent crap being part of the spiel used to make customers happy. I used to have a manager that insisted we use that same phrasing when talking about our food. It would drive me crazy because I knew our food was pretty good but excellent? Come on, in a way this is vindication. I always hoped someone would call me out on it.
    P.S. I heard I missed you guys last Friday, hopefully I’ll see you next time.

  8. Oh dear…
    At least I can blame menopause. Haven’t been myself for two or three years now. Rainbows and kittens used to be my heroes, now it’s Sophia from The Golden Girls.
    Oh well. The waitress may have been responsible for cutting you some slack and didn’t. Were I my younger self I would have.
    In the balance of your total permanent record? You have way more A’s and B’s than whatever this awry thing gets graded at. : )
    karenls, pittsburgh, pa

  9. This reminds me of a recent call to Bank of America, where I was greeted with “Thank you for calling Bank of America. How can I exceed your expectations?” I SO wanted to say ” you COULD lower my interest rate below 29%, you blood-sucking assholes”.

  10. “There were no utensils in medieval times, hence there are no utensils at Medieval Times. Would you like a refill on that Pepsi?”
    “There were no utensils but there was Pepsi?”
    “Dude…I got a lot of tables.”

  11. A few years ago, a friend dragged me to Red Lobster to fulfill her hankering for their biscuits. Amongst other things, I ordered crabcakes as an appetizer.
    We were right in the middle of dissecting their many faults, all of which could easily have been boiled down to “You’re eating at Red Lobster, what do you expect?” when the waiter came by to check on us.
    “Are you enjoying your crab cakes?” he asked chipperly.
    “Oh, they’re … fine,” I answered, starting out in a reasonably cheerful tone, but losing my ability to pretend somewhere mid-sentence, my “fine” came out as falling on the scale somewhere between “inedible” and “you just gave me food poisoning”.
    He was horrified, and assured me that most people like them, and that he could get me something else, and blah, blah, blah. I kept insisting that no, no, they were fine. This repeated several times throughout the meal as he checked back on everything he brought us. Eventually he took the crabcakes off the bill, even though I told him he shouldn’t.
    I still feel a little bid bad about that. There wasn’t anything really wrong with the crab cakes, other than that they were Red Lobster quality, and if you’re going to eat at Red Lobster, you probably shouldn’t complain about it being Red Lobster. There was really no reason for him to take them off the bill — and I did try to convince him not to — but he really seemed to feel he had to.

  12. Dude, you were right. Sure, it’s harsh to take it out on the poor waitress doing her job, but somebody’s got to take a stand for excellence.
    I really want to throw a fit in a movie theater and quote a Jimmy Buffet song when they ask if I want a jumbo drink for 25 cents more: “Eight extra ounces of watered down Cherry Coke for 25 cents? I don’t want it. I don’t want that much organization in my life. I don’t want other people thinking for me. I don’t want a 12 pound Nestle Crunch for 25 dollars! I want Junior Mints! Where did Junior Mints go in the movies?! I’m mad as hell, and I don’t wanna take it any more!”
    But that just wouldn’t be fair to the poor kid making minimum wage who’s just doing what he’s told. But I think it every time I go to the movies.

  13. I feel your pain. My movie thing was always Red Vines. They’ve been gone for years now. Anytime I ask about them, the pimply kid behind the counter offers me Twizzlers. As if that’s even remotely the same thing. Not only is the flavor completely wrong, but you can’t bite the ends off a Twizzler and use it as a straw for your overpriced watered down Cherry Coke.

  14. A while back our waitress at a restaurant was taking the orders of a big family at an adjacent table. The mom, dad, kids and grandpa all gave their orders without incident.
    When they got to grandma, she ordered a glass of wine with dinner. The waitress playfully asked to see her ID, to “make sure she was old enough”.
    Grandma lost it.
    Throwing down her napkin, she stormed out. Grandpa followed, but returned a few minutes later, alone. He shrugged, and the rest of the family went about their meal. They finished and took a take-out box for grandma.
    Our poor waitress was so rattled after that. She goofed our orders a bit, but I felt bad, so I gave her a pretty good tip anyway.

  15. OMG! Amy and I had the *same* conversation when we visited Black Angus (well, minus the comments directed at the wait staff – we kept our snark to ourselves). Nevertheless, it was no less cutting in its intent. I wonder if they really understand how their little saying really makes people react?
    “Excellent”… I think not.

  16. Words should mean something and not be tossed about like so much fluff. We have devalued the English language to the point that the word “love” is used to describe the attachment I have toward my children, and the roast beef sandwich I had for lunch. I’m a property manager for two town home communities and there are some signs that property managers put out that I just can’t stand, they say “We love our residents.” Ok, first, do you know some of my residents, second…do you know some of my residents?
    That being said, You won’t hear me tell my residents that I don’t “love” them…:D
    http://www.goinggreenaccidently.blogspot.com

  17. In late May of 2006, my wife and I were visiting Warwick Castle (Warwick, England) on a day when they were doing a demonstration of a trebuchet (I think most of the posters here know what that is).
    So this guy off to one side wearing medieval clothing wants all of us to visualize being in 14th-century England during the Hundred Years’ War when these weapons were being used.
    Now if I just focused on the trebuchet and the guy’s clothing, maybe, but if I looked at his head and saw the hands-free microphone — or looked at the ground on the riverbank opposite the crowd and saw the Bose speakers — then it was highly unlikely that I could pull a Christopher Reeve and start worrying about the French again.
    But after the demo, I get my wife to pose for a photo with the guy, we tell him we’re from the United States and he says, “Oh, you’re from the colonies!”
    Do any of you have any idea how close I was to saying, “Ummm…you know that doesn’t happen for another three or four hundred years, right?”
    Great story, Wil. First time I’ve read that one.

  18. Hehe. See, you’ve been known to have your dick moments, too, Wil. Now I don’t feel so bad. And I think everyone’s been in similar circumstances, but just bite their tongue before they start to spew insults at a complete stranger.
    For some reason, most of my dick moments all involve making tech support people cry. Only because most of them just assume that everyone who is calling them is a complete dumb-ass and they talk down to whomever is on the other end of the phone. When they start asking questions along the lines of “Are all the cords plugged in?” and such, the gloves come off and I just flip shit on the unfortunate soul that just got randomly selected to “help” me.
    The fact of the matter is that nine times out of ten, I can fix whatever is wrong without having to call tech support, but when the damned thing is still under warranty, I feel as if they owe me some tech support, which is probably why I manage to lock horns with them. They’re used to talking to idiots all the time, and then they get me. And I make them cry. Is it wrong for me to enjoy upsetting the tech support people?
    Yeah. Total dick right here.

  19. I was at Cheesecake Factory in the not-distant-enough past, and I could not decided what to order. I decided to see what their specialties were and pick from that list. I then realized that every page in the rather large menu said, “Specialties” on it. Unfortunately for our waitress, she arrived right at that moment to take our order.
    “What are your REAL specialties?” I asked.
    “They are in the menu.”
    “But they all say ‘specialties’.”
    “That’s right.”
    I slammed my fist on the table, which was even less stable than the average. As the glasses crashed back to the table top, I had already opened my mouth to express my displeasure. I masked my embarrassment at the loud table incident, by cleverly speaking even louder, “They can’t ALL be specialties! That means NOTHING is special!”
    She stared for a second, along with the rest of the room. As she turned silently and walked away quickly, my friend said that very appropriate word…
    “…dude.”

  20. I too had a ‘cringe’ moment while leaving an Arby’s drive-thru window.
    “thanks for coming….see you tomorrow”….
    I hit the brakes and put it in reverse, back to the little window (thankfully, no one was behind me)
    I said “tomorrow! why wait til’ tomorrow?? You can see me again right now!”
    I got a blank stare…I put it in drive and pulled away again….and then I heard something barely audible…coming from behind me, very faint…”see you tomorrow!”
    smart ass

  21. How you feel about ‘excellent’..
    I understand and feel the same about ‘awesome’..
    I hear that when people should say ‘I agree’ or ‘let’s do that’ or ‘good’..
    Very rarely will it justifiably elicit a feeling of awe.
    lemma..
    When a waitress asks if I would like more tea, I immediately take a sip and reply, ‘Thank you, that was a good idea’.
    – cheers =)

  22. dude! sorry lol some of these stories are making me giggle so much my brother is looking at me like im a complete dork…which i probably am :)

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