It is 7 o’clock in the evening and your stomach is rumbling. You
walk into the neighborhood pizzeria with your wife and a group
of friends, hungrily anticipating a hot cheesy crust slathered
in tomato sauce and your favorite toppings. As you sit down to
order, wonderful smells drift out of the kitchen to your nose.
Out of the corner of your eye, you notice a few irregular things
about the restaurant, but you ignore them for the moment.
As you are seated the waiter comes by to offer you drinks. “I’ll
have a cola,” says one friend. “I’ll have a lemon-lime,” says
another. The waiter gives everyone at the table a funny little
smile and says very precisely, “We only have water.”
“Oh,” says your friend at the head of the table, with a
perplexed look. The waiter leaves abruptly and there is no
chance to ask him why. Now you look around the restaurant and
notice that on every table there is only water. Then you glance
down at the menu with its enticing descriptions, and your
stomach starts growling again.
When the waiter comes back with the water, he very carefully
sets each glass on the table specifically aligned with each
customer’s right shoulder. One of your friends attempts to move
the water glass over to his left side, since he is left-handed.
The waiter quickly reaches across the table, and moves the glass
back, with a condescending expression on his face as if he were
tolerating a small child’s antics.
The waiter then asks for each person’s order. He doesn’t pull
out a notebook, so you hope that he has a good memory. Fred, on
the right, asks for a dish of cavatelli smothered in sausage and
onions. Shari, next to him, orders a small deep dish cheese
pizza for one. Barbara and her husband Tim order a medium
vegetarian pizza on a chewy crust. Smith orders a pepperoni
calzone and his wife Susan orders a salad with cheese, ham and
olives. You and your wife agree to share a deluxe medium pizza
with everything but anchovies. You are hungry!
While you are waiting for your order, you overhear some animated
conversation and commotion from other tables in the room. It
appears that several waiters are conducting some sort of group
activity at other tables, and at first you think somebody has a
birthday. But then you notice that one woman is actually crying.
The others at her table are pressuring her to be quiet and stop
crying. But she abruptly stands up and begins to march out of
the restaurant. The hostess rushes over to insert herself in
front of the door and begins to plead with the lady. “You cannot
leave here. It would hurt our rating. Every customer must be
satisfied. Every customer must be happy. Please go back and eat
Just then your attention shifts to another table where a man
stands up and begins to shake a finger at one of his children
sitting at the table. “You will eat what I say!” he commands
loudly. The waiter grabs his arm and gently forces him to sit
down. “We can work this out peacefully,” he says in a quiet,
pleasant voice, smiling playfully at the three children. The
preteen girl fakes a retching noise by sticking her finger down
her throat and the preschooler is scowling. The waiter then
walks around the table, coaching each child over and over again
until they eek out a half-grimace, half-smile.
Your dinner companions seem oblivious to this activity as they
are engaged in a vigorous discussion about the recent federal
restaurant law. Fred is convinced that food quality will improve
with added accountability measures. “Look how many people have
died of listeria!” he exclaims. His wife Shari nods in
agreement, “And look how many cockroaches they have found in the
back rooms! I for one am glad they now have stricter sanitation
Tim proudly announces that Barb’s uncle sits on the new national
accreditation board. “Her uncle says they have oversight over
every single facet of restaurant operation, including waiter and
waitress training, food service criteria, customer satisfaction,
quality control, and supply and demand,” he brags. “Now we can
be assured of a consistent, high quality product throughout our
food service industry.”
Smith’s wife Susan jumps into the conversation to relate a
recent editorial in the newspaper which decried the lack of
responsibility people have shown nowadays towards eating
wholesome foods. The impact on the insurance industry will be
severe unless steps towards implementing a healthy diet are put
into effect immediately. Smith pats his belly and chortles, “I’m
just glad I can contribute to healthy outcomes tonight.”
Just then the waiter arrives, balancing a large tray on one
hand. You note that a waitress comes with him, acting as if she
is making minute observations of his behavior and recording them
in a little hand-held computer. She stands by to observe your
waiter’s performance as he flawlessly executes a rapid placement
of orders. With a sheepish grin, your waiter mumbles, “Don’t
mind her, I am undergoing retraining.”
Smith blurts out, “Well, then you’d better start by taking this
tray back to the kitchen, because you got everyone’s order
The waiter looks perplexed for a moment, glancing nervously at
the waitress evaluating his performance. “This is your order,”
he says with a saccharine smile. “Everybody ordered what they
wanted.” He pauses briefly for effect, and then continues,
“Everybody receives what is best for the community. Tonight it
was determined that the best value is a small anchovy and
Fred begins to protest. “But I ordered cavatelli,” he sputters.
“Of course you did,” says our waiter with great positive
inflection, glancing furtively to his right where the waitress
is punching buttons on the palm pilot. He holds his hands
together and begins to recite in a lilting voice, “We all want
good choices. Why, I even want better choices. Tonight everyone
will get the best choice, the optimal choice for their group.
That is why this was your choice tonight. Everyone must exhibit
happiness with this choice….” His voice trails off. His eyes
twitch over to his right again and he resumes his charge. “My
choice for you is for your best. My best depends upon your best.
You really must agree to accept this very best choice for your
meal tonight. Then I will be happy, the restaurant will be happy
and we will meet our outcomes.”
At this point, the waiter throws out his arms as if to embrace
the whole group, taking a deep breath. It is obvious that this
little speech has been very taxing. The waitress continues to
punch buttons. But you notice that she is also looking around
the table, carefully analyzing each person. Barb tentatively
begins to speak, “I don’t think you fully understand. My husband
and I are vegetarians. We cannot eat meat because it would
violate our beliefs.”
The waiter gets excited. “Yes!” he exclaims. “That is exactly
what many people believe. And, of course, we all know that they
have a right to believe anything they want to believe. But, it
is not in the best interests of the common good for each person
to practice their individual beliefs. It might cause disharmony
and disunity.” The waiter pauses to inhale deeply again,
obviously invigorated by the challenge. “Therefore, your table
will have to agree that it is in the best interests of your team
to eat anchovy pizzas tonight. Another night -- why, the choice
might be vegetarian pizza. Then you can come back and all enjoy
vegetarian pizzas together.” He glances off to his right with a
big, genuine smile on his face. He knows he is performing well.
In the meantime, however, you notice that the waitress is
furiously punching buttons while Fred and Barb are talking.
Reluctantly, you speak up, “Just what are you recording?” you
ask the waitress in your most forced, pleasant voice.
“I am evaluating each customer’s performance according to the
set criteria,” she says matter-of-factly. Then, as if reciting
something by rote, she drones, “Each customer shall exhibit
happiness with their order. Each customer will exhibit positive
food satisfaction. Each customer shall express full and complete
dietary compliance with the established mandate.” She pauses and
glances knowingly at the waiter, then back to you. “As you may
know, your individual and group rating will affect your waiter’s
rating, which will affect this restaurant’s rating. As group
trainer, I am here to ensure positive performance reviews for
all. So far, none from this group has correctly responded to the
“What?!” you ask, incredulously.
“There is only one acceptable response to the menu,” she
answers, in a patronizing tone of voice. “You are evaluated
according to the established menu selection standards.”
By this time Barb is cowering in her chair, and her husband
Tim’s arm is around her. “We simply can’t eat anchovies and
sausage,” she begs. Tim nods in agreement.
The waiter uses this opportunity to begin coaching the rest of
the group. “You can see the importance of this,” he said to Fred
and Shari. “And you two,” he looked at Smith and Susan, “don’t
want any negative markings on your records, now do you?”
Susan gets a look of dismay on her face. “I am allergic to
wheat,” she says blandly. I can’t eat this,” pointing to the
anchovy and sausage pizza in front of her.
“Yes, we know,” interjects the waitress.
Susan’s eyes suddenly get wide. “How do you know?”
“Oh, it is all on your record.” states the waitress in that
matter-of-fact tone again.
“Of course,” agrees the waiter in a velvet voice. “This all goes
on your records. It is best if you can exhibit the most positive
outcomes for this assessment, but in the event that there is
trouble, of course we’ll have to make a notation” He darts a
knowing glance towards the waitress with the computer.
Susan then explodes, “Well, I can’t eat this or I’ll get
“Yes, yes, of course,” says the waiter patiently. “But for the
common good, for your team….”
Fred interrupts. “Well, I for one, am not going to have a
reduction in food quality because of YOU, Barb! Or YOU, Tim! Or
YOU, Susan! You three had just better join with the flow here
and eat what is set in front of you.” He grabs a fork and jabs
furiously at his anchovies.
The waiter is obviously very pleased. “Of course, of course,” he
smiles. He is standing behind Susan and pats her patronizingly
on the shoulders. “You wouldn’t want to cause any divisions,
now, would you? We just can’t tolerate extremists. This just
Across the table Barb stands up, and then Tim. “I guess we just
won’t eat tonight then,” she says sadly. Susan remains seated,
with her eyes downcast and her hands folded in her lap.
“Wait!” exclaims the waiter, rather alarmed. He rushes over to
force them back into their chairs. “You can’t choose that
option! That isn’t one of the choices! You have to eat what is
set in front of you.” He then leans down close to the table and
begins to whisper, “I don’t like anchovy pizza either!” With
that admission, he begins looking anxiously from face to face.
“Now I can make a few allowances, and go back to the kitchen to
get a blue plate for your pizza and substitute it for the white
plate. Or, I could put a parsley garnish on the side.” There is
another pause for dramatic effect. “I could even let you order
extra cheese if you would like. But, of course, everyone would
have to have that, too, and it does cost extra.”
“You don’t get it,” Tim sighs deeply. “Barb and I cannot violate
our consciences by eating meat.”
“Well, then, pick it off!” said Shari in a disgusted tone of
voice, for the first time entering the conversation. She has
already eaten half of her pizza.
“We have philosophical objections to eating anything even
contaminated with meat,” explains Tim with a very pained
The waiter acts as if he is internally debating something. He
turns and whispers something to the waitress doing the
evaluations. The only part of the conversation you overhear is
his whispered exclamation, “I have no idea what this
philosophical ‘conscience’ stuff is all about! Phooey! I wasn’t
taught that!” The waitress shrugs her shoulders, trying to act
somewhat aloof, indicating she doesn’t know either.
“Listen,” the waiter turns back to our table, beginning to sound
weepy, “You don’t understand. This is my job! I need my job!”
At this point, the waitress rushes over to the table, acting
very alarmed. She sets down the palm pilot, with her hand
resting on the screen so no one can get a peek. “It’s you guys
who just don’t get it! There shall be no leftovers,” she hisses
emphatically, again as if reciting something from memory.
“Everyone must eat every morsel. No sharing, No exchanges. No
leftovers.” Her eyes get a glazed-over appearance, “We must
ameliorate extremes. Fanatics must not be tolerated This is for
the common good. This promotes civic values…. ” She stops in
midstream, changing her expression to a business-like manner.
“But seriously, folks, this is going on your record. I really
don’t think you will want to face the consequences of any
adverse decisions tonight. This kind of situation doesn’t get
erased, you know!” Her eyes glance knowingly at the little
computer and then back to us.
The waiter has a terrible, panicked look on his face. “Now let’s
be reasonable, folks,” he pleads, as if talking to little
children. “Tonight we’ve had a considerable discussion about
rights and responsibilities. Tonight we have learned that
everyone has a right to eat what they choose, and they also have
a responsibility to eat what is chosen for them. It is all very
simple: I give you pizzas, and you eat them. We all go away with
a positive rating, even despite this little ‘incident.’” He is
nodding his head, as if the act of agreeing with himself will
help the others agree. Then he glances from face to face,
triumphantly beaming, as if everything is now fine and good.
But everything is not fine and good. At this very moment a tall
man with a restaurant manager nameplate on his right pocket is
approaching the table. He has a very severe expression on his
face and holds yellow papers in his hand. He begins reading from
them, “There shall be no food left behind,” he states slowly in
a commanding voice. “Everyone shall eat their pizza. We expect
full compliance. There are no exceptions. I am not going to have
a poor rating on my food! Nor my personnel! And I surely am not
going to put up with penalties that would shut my restaurant
Your wife jabs you in the ribs with her elbow. “Let go to the
fast-food place across the street! They’ll have a decent menu
selection, and besides it’s cheaper” she whispers loudly so that
everyone can hear. She looks around the table to see who agrees.
Before anyone has a chance to answer, the manager steps in,
places his free hand on her shoulder and points out the window,
“Yes, you have a right to eat over there if I’ve failed over
here. But you’ll take your chances with that competition. I’ll
warn you: they don’t have to comply with health and sanitary
regulations, they have waivers for food safety, storage
temperatures, preparation, and shelf life. Why, food inspectors
don’t even have to set foot in that place!”
The manager leans over and shakes his papers menacingly in front
of your nose, “Go ahead! Just try going to any other restaurant
in town! But you’ll find out. You’ll learn. Everyone has anchovy
and sausage pizza on the menu tonight. Everyone pays the same
price eventually -- before they eat, or afterwards. And everyone
shall be happy about it!”
“Then I think we’ll just eat at home!” your wife exclaims,
backing her chair away from the table.
At this, the manager suddenly becomes very subdued and quiet.
“Oh, lady,” he sighs, “you’ve got a lot to learn. You won’t be
cooking meals at home anymore. Nope. Everything is going to be
carry-out in a few years. Even my restaurant kitchen won’t be
cooking.” His voice cracks as he unexpectedly adds, “I like to
cook.” Then he glances down at his papers and reads slowly and
sullenly, “Every customer shall eat the daily, nutritionally
complete menu item selection. What every customer should chew
and be able to swallow….”
“What, the crazy!... Here, let me see those papers,” you say,
grabbing them out of the manager’s hands.
Suddenly it dawns on you. “Oh my!” you exclaim. “Oh my!”
In your hands you are holding a summary of the regulations from
the No Food Left Behind Act* recently passed by Congress.
"It was granted to him to
make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority
was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation....
"He causes all, both small and great, rich
and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand
or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell
except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the
number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has
understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the
number of a man: His number is 666."