Simos’ Odyssey: Denny’s to IHOP to France and Beyond

Every week, thousands of students across the known universe enjoy The Minaret. Much has been said about the dangers staffers face on a regular basis putting the paper together — long nights in a cramped Vaughn Center office, the lifelong impact of intravenous sugar and caffeine intake, the constant threat of ravenous bears, etc.

But there is another aspect to the story. I refer to the legendary journey of The Minaret staff from restaurant to restaurant across the Tampa Bay area, a voyage in search of life, liberty, and the right to get into protracted shouting matches without being thrown into the street.

During this quest, our ancestral homeland at Steak ‘ Shake was the first to drive us into exile, followed closely by Denny’s. We applied for asylum at the International House of Pancakes, and were forcefully removed by a UN peacekeeping force.

Granted, this is not the work of the whole staff. Knauss and I are the ones most likely to get into discussions about topics like the scatalogical fantasies of early church fathers, which for some reason aren’t looked upon kindly in a family atmosphere.

The fact that my whisper is roughly equivalent to the average indoor speaking voice can’t help the matter. But there is another culprit: the tremendous strain of pretending to care.

I’m not sure if Denny’s and Steak ‘ Shake have started to hire their help directly from the Department of Motor Vehicles, but the quality of service has never been five star. Any dining establishment where the first thing you walk past is a giant yardstick – in place to help the staff pick robbers out of a lineup later – has the deck stacked against it. But at first, it seemed odd that I’ve never seen more miserable people outside of an ITM 200 lecture.

Let’s take the long view. For the most part, the first established restaurants in western Europe were created after that period of French history cheerfully remembered as the Reign of Terror.

Aristocrats, who throughout history have generally been outnumbered by real people several thousand to one, fled France in large numbers, often carrying their heads under their arms.

Revolutionaries often worked up a mighty hunger while they were pillaging and plundering and so on, and they soon found themselves benefiting from the skills of former house chefs and servants. These people had been liberated from the onerous burden of serving food to fantastically wealthy tyrants and given the blessed opportunity to – well – serve food to everyone else.

Somewhere in the back of our minds, even those of us who haven’t taken HIS 317, History of Dining Establishments with Dr. Parssinen, know that the restaurant is a somewhat un-American idea. We’ve tried to mask this in every way possible.

We don’t even want to know what we’re eating, let alone that someone, somewhere, had to prepare it. Case in point: beef comes in patties. Fish comes in sticks. Chicken comes in nuggets. I challenge you to uncover the Stick Fish, or worse, the Nugget Chicken, anywhere in nature.

We are comforted by this, not because it looks natural, but because it’s nonthreatening – we can imagine that somewhere, nature evolved a perfect beef patty factory that makes this happen.

Those of you with a faith-based perspective can imagine Intelligent Design produced your Big Mac, if you wish.

To further insulate us from those who feed us, we invented the drive-through restaurant, a charming blend of all the virtues of free market capitalism and the drive-by shooting. “Put the food in the bag or the clown gets it!”

The aura of despair we encountered at Denny’s and Steak ‘ Shake is no surprise. Who wants to spend all night, every night, at a Denny’s?

I’m slightly more surprised by the International House of Pancakes’ refusal to offer our diplomatic immunity, since if I worked there I would be happily taking shots of butter pecan syrup straight up every time I went into the kitchen.

Our Waterloo at IHOP may have had something to do with me screaming about Knauss’ “U.S. soldiers are murderers” comment from a column of his last year – at a time when the restaurant was displaying a “Military discount” sign and the USO had just arrived. Tanks were parked outside.

But my point still stands.

Something is rotten around here, and I don’t mean the McDonalds Fish Sandwich.

Who do we, as a society, think we are? What gives us the right to walk in, demand food, and sit there while someone prepares it and brings it to us? Have we come full circle now that the wealthy in our society are orders of magnitude wealthier than the richest kings of pre-modern Europe? How many of us here at the University of Tampa could really get by without our meal plans?

It seems like homecoming for The Minaret is near, as we’ve recently found a new restaurant to patronize. Until Knauss and I get into another public argument about which Middle Eastern dictatorship is the most oppressive, the odyssey is complete.

And since Chipotle has also begun offering us certain discounts in exchange for ads, the very section you are now reading may be replaced, beginning next week, by the Chipotle Section.

It looks like the modern restaurant isn’t going anywhere soon, and I admit that I probably wouldn’t get far without it. But the next time you sit down for a well-deserved (?) meal, remember the French aristocracy. Look at where being lousy tippers got them.

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