Years ago, my wife and I noticed a new Olive Garden in an area we passed by many times. We’d been by many times and hadn’t seen it, so we reached the conclusion that we either hadn’t noticed it before, or it wasn’t there. There were people outside and the doors were open, and it was dinnertime, so we parked out front.
A surprising number of staff were standing outside smoking, which seemed odd only because it was dinnertime, and there were at least a dozen people apparently on break. They watched us with mild curiosity as we walked through the open doors.
Inside, a woman behind a counter was calling names into a microphone. Despite this, there didn’t seem to be anybody actually waiting, so we walked up and asked her if it would be possible to get a table.
“You mean you want to eat?” she replied, with an odd mixture of surprise and dismay. I could see into the dining rooms, which were full of people who were, in fact, eating.
“Yeeees,” I said slowly. I suspected it was a trick question, but wasn’t sure how else to answer.
“Just a moment,” she said, and disappeared into the back. She came back in a moment or two and said, “yes, we can actually do that. Follow me.”
We were seated immediately. Every table in the dining room seemed occupied, and dinner was decent but uneventful (as one might expect at the Olive Garden) with the exception that we had three waiters and waitresses, all of whom seemed particularly nervous.
As we were finishing our desserts, some of the diners around us were already paying for their meals. With Monopoly money. This struck me as weird enough that I looked carefully around the dining room. The few people who weren’t paying with Monopoly money were paying with plastic — black cards that said “credit card” in white block letters.
“I think we’re in trouble,” I said to my wife. “I only brought real money and credit cards. Maybe there’s a toy store nearby, I can run out and get some money to pay with.”
We watched in fascination as other people paid and left, usually leaving Monopoly tips on the table.
In a moment, a man walked up to our table and explained: “This is a training day in preparation for our grand opening, we don’t actually open until next week. As our first customers, your dinner is complementary, with our thanks.” He said this last part a bit louder, and the entire place burst into applause.
They were still applauding as we left. As we got into the car, I looked back to where the staff had been standing earlier — they had been in front of a large sign that said “CLOSED.”