Monday, September 19, 2011
Our Family Secret
When I was growing up, my family was selected to participate in a Top Secret Project – we were Shoney’s Shoppers! In case you haven’t had the pleasure of eating at a Shoney’s Restaurant (I’m not kidding – I love Shoney’s!), it’s a casual, “sit-down” family restaurant that’s been around for over 60 years.
My mom saw the call for Shoney’s Shoppers in a magazine and applied when we first moved from Illinois to Mississippi, and we were chosen! They had a very strict rule, though, that no one in the family could tell anyone else that we were in The Program, all very hush-hush. We felt like we were the 80’s version of Spy Kids, having all this knowledge and this top-secret job that seemed so very important at the time.
As Shoney’s Shoppers, we had to remember or very covertly write down certain details about our visit so that we could later report back on those things, including what the first thing that was said to us by an employee when we arrived at the restaurant was and whether or not the waitress told us about the specials. We could order whatever meal we wanted from the menu, and then, after we went home, we had to score them on things like food temperature, appearance, and taste. We were also supposed to comment on the cleanliness of the table area, the salad bar, and the restroom, the latter of which delighted my younger sister because for some reason at that age she loved to see what the Ladies’ Room looked like everywhere we went.
In a weird way, it was one of the many things that united us as a family during that time. (My dad used to get confused about the term “bonding,” instead calling it “binding,” as in “We need to spend some ‘binding’ time together a family next weekend.”) It gave us a sense of purpose as we plotted and strategized so as not to get caught. It was our family secret, one that I’m pretty sure very few people outside our family know even decades later, until now …