Winner, Winner, Olive Dinner (#185)

My Chinese-American husband and I live in Los Angeles. Since my husband is an excellent cook, we don’t go out that often. But when we do go out? There’s always a new Japanese, Indian, or farm-to-table restaurant to try. Andy’s up for anything, which is nice. Most of my white girlfriends won’t even consider sushi. And my friend JM will only go to one restaurant — the Corner Bakery.

When my in-laws visited, my husband and I cooked for them for weeks. Near the end of their visit, Sunny announced that they would take us out to dinner.

I cheered. “Yay! What kind of food would you guys like? A new bistro opened in the Village, or you could try our favorite sushiya in San Pedro.”

Sunny said, “Is there an Olive Garden nearby?”

I sighed. “Of course.”

The Olive Garden was packed. We had to wait to be seated, but our waiter immediately offered us a free sample of white wine. I declined, as did Andy and his father Jay.

Sunny took a sip and grimaced. “Too sweet!”

Mr. Waiter apologized, offering to get her another sample. Sunny graciously accepted. As soon as he ran off, Sunny downed the remainder in her glass, saying, “It’s not so bad.”

Mr. Waiter arrived with red wine. Another horrendous Sunny face led to an offer of a different sample. Poor Mr. Waiter went through this ritual three more time times. I used up my yearly allotment of cringing, because I have a mental block about even using coupons to get free stuff.

Every time Mr. Waiter departed to procure a different vintage, Sunny pressed the leftover samples on us: “It’s free! Drink some!”

Eventually, Sunny deemed the Shiraz acceptable. She declined to actually purchase a glass, however, giggling that there was no need to buy any wine now – she was already drunk!

As soon as we ordered appetizers, Mr. Waiter told us he’d had to pass our table off to Waiter #2, because his shift was over.

I spotted Mr. Waiter later, serving wine on the other side of the restaurant. He spotted me. Hard to say which of us was more mortified. We looked away and pretended it never happened.

The main course almost passed without incident. Almost.

Andy and I were still eating when Jay began hailing every passing busboy, manager, and waiter that passed by our table. He insisted on the check, ignoring our insistence on dessert. When Waiter #2 hurried over with the check, I explained that we wanted to split the tiramisu. As soon as Waiter #2 departed with our order, the harried manager arrived – also with the check. Amidst this confusion, Sunny complained (and not quietly). The manager apologized profusely. I hid my face behind my hand as the manager offered to remove the dessert from our bill.

When beleaguered Waiter #2 arrived with the tiramisu that Jay had declined, my father-in-law took the plate.


Now, my in-laws could (and did) embarrass me relentlessly in Costco. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t respond to criticism about my house, my dogs, or my cooking.

But no one takes my dessert.

I reached across the table, snatching the tiramisu away. Jay’s mouth opened into an “O” of shock.

I ate a bite. And another.

Then Jay stood up, brandished his fork, and went after the tiramisu.

I moved it to the edge of the table and took another bite. Around that mouthful, I said, “YOU said you didn’t want any, Jay! YOU said you wanted the check!”

I offered a bite to Andy. He was busy burying his laughter into his napkin and waved it off. As did Sunny. So I ate that bite, too.

“Aiyah!” Outraged, Jay stabbed at the tiramisu again. Other diners turned to stare.

I didn’t care. I stood, holding the plate out of Jay’s reach. There are advantages to an Amazonian physique. (Also to knowing you were too embarrassed to ever return to a particular restaurant.)

“Sit down, sit down,” Sunny scolded Jay. “We can get another one. Maybe also for free!”

My little white soul cringed one last time at the thought of more “free food!” shenanigans. I caved and handed Jay the plate.

There was only one bite left, anyway.


After my in-laws finally flew home, my friend JM insisted on taking me to dinner. As I climbed in her car, she squealed, “Yay! I haven’t seen you in ages! I can’t wait to hear about your in-law’s visit!”

“I dunno if I wanna talk about it. I’m trying to forget.”

“Huh. Sounds like you need a drink.”

“You know I’m not a drinker and also they don’t serve alcohol at the Corner Bakery.”

“To celebrate your freedom, we’re gonna go somewhere different!”

“Really? Finally?!”

“Yeah! To a place with alcohol in case you change your mind!”

She took me to the Olive Garden.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

17 thoughts on “Winner, Winner, Olive Dinner (#185)”

  1. I relate to this on many levels. I have a father who always tries to order the check before we’re finished eating (he’s retired — not sure what the rush is) and only wants to eat at McDonalds or the Outback Steakhouse.

    Your white friends don’t like sushi? What kind of self-respecting white Californian women are they?!

    1. I KNOW! My friends should manage California rolls at least. But two of them grew up in Virginia so they have an excuse, I guess? Okay, Olive Garden is way better McDonalds. The salad and bread sticks are okay, at least.

      1. My dad tricked me into going to McDs while I was home. I had to pee really badly and – conveniently for him – the closest bathroom was in a McDonalds and we happened to be hungry. It was so much worse than I remembered. The fries weren’t even good!

    1. Ha, there was no battle over the bill this time. White custom dictates that houseguests get to take host out for at least one meal. 🙂

      I can’t believe that guy tore up a woman’s cash, though. Oh, wait, after reading how much they drank, I can, indeed. 🙂

  2. What an event! Going to eat with my mother-in-law is always a mortifiying experience. Usually she yells at the waiter/ waitress that this and that is not good enough, throw stuff at them and then the usual fight between MIL and my wife starts.
    However this does not happen in “fancy” restaurants. They could serve her actual crap and she wouldnt utter a single word!

    1. That would not faze my MIL. We went to a very posh restaurant in Hawaii and she complained about her “fallen” chocolate shuffle. So she got it for free while I longed to hide under the table. I think the Olive Garden has figured out the free wine scam, though. Last time I went, it wasn’t offered anymore.

  3. We have friends, good friends even, that do all kinds of tricks to get free food. They use coupons too. At one memorable dinner at a very nice restaurant where the food was excellent, the wife made a complaint. They received a certificate for a free meal. She was elated. My husband will not do nice restaurants with them anymore. There is also the need to “get separate checks” even if the restaurant doesn’t do that. A fuss will happen. The last time we had that fiasco, it turned out that their bill was twice as much as ours (and we would have gladly just split it). They are always frugal (cheapest entrée) except for desserts and maybe cocktails. Now after reading this, I’m wondering is they are closet Chinese.

    1. Oh, the cocktails. They will double the bill. I think they are more expensive than dessert! Which is why I make sure I get dessert, you know, to even out the check when someone wants to split the bill later. Maybe I should get TWO desserts!

  4. Oh no. What a scene in the Olive Garden. Good on you for eating your tiramisu, like having your cake, getting it and eating it. Jay seems to want everything. My Chinese parents are big on paying the bill and they are known to sneak off midway through the meal to pay for it. Or at least leave their credit card at the counter which I find to be really dodgy.

    I sincerely hope none of the staff recognised you when you went back.

    1. Ha, my Ex-Stepmother will sneak away sometimes, too, and pay the bill.

      Luckily, it’s a big restaurant. If they did remember me, no one said anything.

      But they did not offer free wine, either.

  5. NO WAY!!! Did she really take you to Olive Garden!?! Oh my god!! Hahahaha!!! I always have to go there with my parents when I go home to Utah and I’m always shocked at how expensive it is!

    Man, I can’t believe Sunny was able to score so much free wine–and dessert! But like you, I would have hid under the table in shame… oh man, I’m still in shock this post really happened!

    Happy to hear the in laws finally flew off–you did good! I imagine you like a monk training in the mountains…. you are now an expert in the art of patience and tolerance thanks to your in-laws, haha.

    1. Oh, if ONLY I had learned patience and tolerance. Then I wouldn’t have swiped that tiramisu. 🙂

      It’s a different world. And their behavior is such a culture shock I am just not prepared to cope. I feel like I just wander around with my mouth open, barely able to react. On the other hand, I am kind of in awe of how well Sunny games the system. I wish I had that kind of chutzpah!

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