Sometimes Free Ain’t Free Enough

Why order out when I can make this at home, right? RIGHT?

Every Thursday, I pack up the kids and head over to a local eatery for dinner. Kids eat free with a $5 purchase, which is the only reason that we go. Only two of my kids eat free because one aged out a year ago, and we’re honest folk, but I get a pizza that feeds the three of us who are over the age of 12. Where else can I feed my family of five for $10? Okay, I can do it at home for under $4 most nights, and that’s why we don’t go out to eat. But $10 once a week is doable. And it’s organic, or at least natural, so it’s a bit better than driving through at the golden arches.  But I think I’m over it.

There is a four-hour window for the free kids’ meals, and we hit it wrong every week. Each week, we plan our mission before we even get out of the van. Straight to the counter, place our orders, and then get any shopping done. The idea is to minimize the time we spend hanging around the counter and waiting. And it’s such a great idea. Too bad it rarely works.

Every week, it’s the same. We scope the parking lot and check out the other families who are unloading their brood. Even Squish is aware that they are our competition. Dodging strollers and shopping carts, we dash into the store, only to find it booby-trapped. The free samples, you see, are strategically placed by the front door. We merely step over the threshold, and we’re already behind. Like me, my kids cannot pass up the offer of free food. And all of those families that we cut off in the parking lot enter the store, find the sample holders blocked from their children’s vision by my ravenous troop, simply march on ahead of us.

Having gotten their fill of snap peas, we route away from produce, which usually sports at least three samples, and worm our way through vitamins and health aids. Even my children will bypass freebies on cod liver oil. if we can make it past the chips, we are home-free. Until we get to The Counter. And I feel my resolve weaken.

Finding a swarm of twenty-five children hovering like expectant sharks around The Counter is enough to send even a cheapskate running for the door. But we press on. The kids are expected to fill out a little menu. In crayon. Which have invariably been scattered across the store by the kids whose parents were not detained at the Fuji apple slices. I’d make a note to myself to bring a pen in future weeks. But there’s nothing to write with.

Having finally tracked down half a pink crayon and filled out the kids’ menus, it’s my job to brave the mob and push my way over to The Counter. And there I meet employee Judy. Judy’s job is to collect the kids’ menus and turn them over to the chefs in the order in which they arrive. Judy is likely a recent college graduate. She is young, she is adorable, and she is also apparently afraid of crowds. About 5 minutes after our menus have been handed to her, Judy disappears, never to be seen again. Until next week. She has left the papers on The Counter in an order which changes every week and only she understands. Bless her. Last week, our menus got lost for twenty minutes as we watched other families come and go and were finally located under the box latex gloves.

Last night may have been the final straw. I turned in our papers to Judy and placed the order for my pizza. The chef recognizes me, and he asked if I wanted my usual. I glanced at the menu and said I wanted to change it up. I wanted a pesto chicken pizza. His brow furrowed, his eyes narrowed, he gave me a sideways glance. “You sure?” he asked. And suddenly I wasn’t. Why was he looking at me like that? What does he know that I don’t? Is pesto chicken pizza total crap? It’s on the menu! Right there! Look! But I said I was sure.

And then he forgot about me. Was it because he couldn’t face the thought of preparing absolute garbage for a customer?  About 10 minutes later, he looked up and saw me still standing there amidst a swirl of hungry children and their parents. I saw him walk over to the pizza counter and whisper something to the chef there. Pizza Chef looked puzzled. “Really?” I heard him say. “Pesto chicken? For who? Primary Judgmental Chef pointed at me. They both looked sad. Guys, it’s on the  menu!

Pizza Chef prepared my food in silence. Guy Who Writes the Item Number on the Pizza Box did his job with a sad shake of his head. He handed me my box, and I did the walk of shame to the check out area and took my embarrassment of a pizza home. And it.was.good,

But now I no longer feel like I can return.  I have already revealed myself as a person with no taste whatsoever. And they remember me. No longer am I Half-Four-Cheese-and-Half-Mediterranean girl. I am Pesto-Chicken girl. And I can’t take the shame of it.


26 thoughts on “Sometimes Free Ain’t Free Enough

  1. Pesto chicken pizza sounds delicious! I want to know what the pesto secret is all about. Can I go there and ask?

    We used to order pizzas once a week. It is my husband’s favorite food. Now we make them once a week and they are so delicious! Although I have not yet figured out how to make circle-shaped pizzas as pictured above. I have mastered wonky heart shaped, wonky rectangle, and wonky oval. How do you do that?

    • I use a big, deep dish pizza pan that my husband bought me (or himself?) for Christmas a couple of years ago. Friday night is homemade pizza night at our house. I never get tired of pizza.

      PLEASE go and ask them what’s the deal with the pesto. And let me know what they say. But don’t tell them I sent you or anything, okay?

    • Gilly, make sure your dough is in a ball when you put it down. Smush it slightly and spread it out from the middle to the sides. I spin the pan as I flatten to help keep the circumference even.

      Also, just because it’s on the menu doesn’t mean they can’t be sad you don’t have better taste. Chicken doesn’t belong on pizza.

  2. That sounds like my absolute nightmare. The older I get crowds and chaos really wreck my nerves. Throw in gaggles of kids and it’s worse. Kids night at our local Chick-fil-a is like a UN food drop in Somalia.

    • Don’t judge me! It.was.good. AND IT WAS ON THE MENU! Don’t put it on the menu if you are going to judge the people who order it! That goes for KFC’s Double Down, too. Actually, with that one, they just shouldn’t put it on the menu. At all.

  3. That really does sound delicious! A few weeks back, I actually had a call in to the Thai place I order from weekly. I threw out an order I seldom make, only to have the order taker say, “We don’t have anything like that.”

    “Having ordered it, I can assure you you do.” [loading webpage]

    “No, no, we do not.”

    “It’s #63.”


    I pretty much decided then and there I would not be ordering that again.

  4. I want to know what’s the deal with you ordering the pesto pizza… why did they look at you like that?! hahah. The reaction would have made me worry enough to not even eat it.

  5. Pingback: Size Matters. Does Shape? « It Happens Every Day

  6. My thought is that they saw you and started making your “usual” and we’re upset with the change because they made wasted food? Chefs are funny people. They think what you eat determines whether you’re a nice person or something. I’d go back and order something different again, see what happens. 🙂

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