In the spirit of pleasing people, we invite everyone regardless of race, color, disability or national origin to enjoy our restaurant and old country store. Since 1969, we have tried our best to provide food and service in ways that uphold our traditions of genuine quality. If you feel we have not delivered on this promise, please let us know.
~ the words in the entryway of the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
“Let’s Go to Cracker Barrel!” Katie yelled as we drove into the parking lot. “Let’s go to Cracker Barrel!” yelled the little echo in the seat next to hers. Luau and I shrugged. We couldn’t remember the last time that we’d gone to a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Six, seven years ago maybe? Long enough ago that neither of us really remembered a dang thing about the place, but it seemed like a reasonable enough stop for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. Can’t go round waking babies on an empty stomach, after all. We found a parking spot and made our way through the adorably kitschy gift shop and asked for a table for four.
As the host led us into the restaurant, the noise level rose significantly. We followed him to a table smack dab in the middle of the dining room. We were surrounded by the dull roar of melded people sounds – clanging plates and tinkling silverware, children crying, a glass breaking in the distance. Laughter. A toy dropped onto the hardwood floor. We were assaulted by assorted shards of conversation –
Hello, welcome to cracker barrel. Excuse me, may I please get another Diet Coke? Johnny, I TOLD YOU TO SIT YOUR BUTT DOWN NOW! Mom!! Mom!! Mom!! Can I go to the store now? Pleeeeease? I don’t know if the time is right to buy; it just feels like real estate prices may continue to plummet – maybe we should wait. Oh I just can’t decide between the chicken and biscuits and the meatloaf. But they’ve got the best biscuits! So we’re thinking of taking a trip. What kind of dressings did you say you have?
Brooke was on high alert when the waitress came over and introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Michela,” she said with a friendly lilt. “I’ll be your waitress today.” I tried to glance up at her. I think I may have even tried to muster a smile, but I was panicky. I was focused completely on Brooke, who was giving every signal that she was on the verge of losing it. I was trying to decide if I might just need to get her the hell out of there. She yelped once, relatively quietly, but the storm was brewing.
I looked up at Luau as he settled into his seat. “Do you have her headphones?” I asked. He patted his pockets and shook his head. “I think they’re in the car.” I asked him to run back and find them. The waitress still stood next to the table. I knew she was there, but I just couldn’t look up at her. Brooke looked anxious and miserable. Every muscle was tense. I handed her the kid’s menu and crayons that the host had left. “Nice and calm, Brooke. It’s OK, baby. Can you do a little drawing while Daddy goes to the car? He’ll be right back.”
“I would wear my headphones!” she said, just a little too loudly. Cracker Barrel was beginning to feel just a little like the third ring of hell. Michela finally walked away, assuring me she’d be back whenever we were ready for her.
Just as Luau was coming back from the car to tell me that he couldn’t find Brooke’s headphones, Michela reappeared. “Excuse me,” she said gently, “if you have some sensory difficulties, you’re welcome to move over to that table right there.” She motioned toward a table not ten feet away, but much larger and set into some semblance of a corner. “I know it doesn’t look much different, but it’s out of the line of fire a bit. You won’t have so many people passing right by.” I nodded gratefully and furiously began to gather our things together to make the move.
I welled up as I told Luau what she’d said. It was perfect. The sensitivity in her phrasing was worth its weight in gold. Hell it was worth MY weight in gold. (Think Fort Friggin Knox).
I thanked Michela just a little too intensely. She was absolutely right. The new table was a world away from the last. It was amazing how much of a difference it made. A now calm Brooke played with Luau’s iPhone (yes, dear, you’re STILL right) and I exhaled for the first time since walking in.
As we got ready to leave, I handed Michela a $20 bill as a tip on our $40 check. The money seemed a crass way to thank her, but at the same time, she’d given up the chance to seat a larger party at the table and I didn’t want her to be penalized for her kindness. As I handed it to her, I looked her in the eye and said, “I just want you to know, the little things can mean a lot more than you think. Thank you.”
She smiled in response. “Oh, no, I know,” she said slowly. “I have a special one too.”
I was grateful that she pretended not to notice the tears spilling down my cheeks. She knew better. She knew to just keep moving.
I asked her to bring a manager over. We told him how thankful we were. Yesterday, I called Cracker Barrel’s corporate headquarters and told a delightful lady there what a wonderful employee they had. She assured me that Michela would be commended by the Vice President of the company. I don’t know if the commendation will mean anything to her, but I just had to say something.
Thank you, Michela. From one mom to another – thank you.