Prior to retiring and still teaching every day, I would arrive home in the late afternoon to find signature clues that had been left behind.
The clues told me that my dad had been there.
One of his quirky habits was to chew on toothpicks.
He would leave little wooden bits and pieces of them in various places as he passed through the kitchen, bathroom and on the side tables of whichever chair he decided to settle in.
I didn’t mind.
In fact, it kind of warmed my heart to know that he had been in Florence for his weekly Western Sizzlin lunch. I loved my dad, and he loved the buffet at the Sizzlin, as he called it.
He visited so often that the lady who manned the bread, rolls, and croissant ovens in the restaurant made sure he got his always requested extra icing to spread on the basket of croissants that was sent to his table.
Visiting my house after his Sizzlin outing was another quirky habit. After filling up on croissants with extra icing, he and my mom would drop by my house, even though they knew I was working.
Dad wanted to brush his teeth, take a bathroom break and grab a quick nap in a side chair.
I can picture him in my mind with his eyes closed and his head cocked to one side with what was left of a toothpick in the corner of his mouth, sleeping away.
One of Western Sizzlin’s competitors, Golden Corral, announced recently that it is rethinking its buffet-style format. It noted that it was not alone. Midway through 2020, family-oriented buffet restaurants were temporarily locked down to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. They were considered nonessential and were forced to close their doors.
Some restaurants were able to survive by taking advantage of drive-thru orders and carhop services.
Buffet restaurants like Western Sizzlin and Golden Corral have buildings that were simply not conducive for installing drive-thru windows and taking drive-up food orders. They had to shut down and hope for the best.
My dad would have been devastated with this turn of events. Staying at home would have been hard on him.
Drive-thru, take out and carhop meals to take home would not have been satisfying for him.
Worst of all would have been the inability to get his weekly basket of croissants with extra icing. That loss alone probably would have caused that toothpick to fall right out of the corner of his mouth.
Once restaurants have the green light to open their doors allowing customers inside, CDC, FDA guidelines and state and local ordinances will dictate that buffets be reinvented. Many buffet restaurants have gone to a cafeteria-style serving line.
My dad would have not liked a buffet where someone else spooned and forked food onto his plate.
He was one who took his time and delighted in flipping over 10 to 12 pieces of fried chicken to find that perfect piece. Maybe that was another quirk, but we have all dug through a pan of chicken looking for the crispiest leg or thigh.
Then there is the question of portions. I like a small spoon of rice with two spoons of red gravy and one spoon of liver hash right in the center. The portion is 1-2-1.
If someone else serves it, I am likely to get too much rice, not enough red gravy and two spoons of hash. Then the portion would be 2-1-2. That’s just not like I want it.
Maybe I have quirks, too.
Then there is the salad bar.
My dad and I both liked to build our own salad, and I doubt a server could duplicate the way we like it.
Building a salad at a salad bar is like an individual ritual that cannot be replicated. Instead of pointing, grunting and using hand signals directing a server, one might as well order from a menu and take what they give you.
The buffet as we know it may soon disappear, but some version of what it used to be will evolve. My dad would not like what today’s buffets are to become.
He would have viewed it as having lost control over his dining experience. He would have grumbled about it, done a couple of his quirky sniffs, stuck a fresh toothpick in the corner of his mouth and headed over to the Sizzlin anyway.
As long as they had croissants with extra icing, he would have learned to put up with the rest of it.
Dr. Darlene Atkinson-Moran grew up in Olanta. She always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She is retired from the education profession and now resides in Florence with her husband, Michael. Contact her at email@example.com.