The Chinese have a bad rep when it comes to buffets and other all-you-can-eat, portion-unlimited deals. Consumed with the thought of getting our money’s worth, we have optimized our dining tendencies to beat the price tag. While chances are everyone is a little guilty of overeating at buffets, we have evolved beyond merely stuffing our faces. We skip meals in anticipation of all-you-can-eat events. We load up on meat and seafood at buffets while completely ignoring starches. We made Pizza Hut remove the salad bars from their Chinese locations because of our spectacular salad towers. Pictured: one trip to the salad bar.
I’ve been guilty of overeating at buffets and skipping meals to dominate the all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants in Chicago. However, my trips to the buffet have always been somewhat balanced, and I’ve never abused a single dish to the exclusion of all else. As much as I love food, I’ve never entered any food eating contests. Maybe because I love food, I’ve never eaten to the point of hating food.
Everything changed when I read a certain Gawker article by Caity Weaver about TGI Friday’s unlimited appetizers deal. The statistical minds at FiveThirtyEight and I are in agreement: the author of the Gawker article could have done better. Fueled by my need to execute the deal better and egged on by my peers, I would do the unthinkable: I would venture into TGI Friday’s and destroy my dining dignity.
My friend Jillian decided to tag along. This is our story.
We planned to meet at the TGI Friday’s in River North at 6:30 PM. Jillian got there first and messaged me. “We’re on the list. No turning back now.”
6:25 PM: I arrive at the door of TGI Friday’s to see Jillian waiting. We hug each other in case one or both of us dies in the restaurant. Jillian is holding a buzzer. The restaurant is busy. I tell her my stretch goal. “It’s Thursday, so we’re going to hang out here until it’s… Friday.”
6:26 PM: I am PUNished for my transgressions.
6:29 PM: The buzzer goes off. We enter the restaurant to be seated.
6:34 PM: Our waitress greets us. Her name is Olivia. She shows us the drink specials. We are enticed by the “Pink Punk Cosmos” and decide to order 2 against our better judgment. I tell Olivia we know what we want food-wise. I tell her that we’re here tonight to learn some essential truths about ourselves; I tell her that we’re here tonight for the endless appetizers. I order the boneless buffalo chicken. Jillian orders the loaded potato skins.
6:45 PM: Our Pink Punk Cosmos arrive in separate parts: 2 shakers filled with ice and a pinkish liquid and 2 martini glasses holding tufts of pink cotton candy. The man who brought the cosmos strained the drink into our martini glasses. The cotton candy tufts lose their form and become one with the liquid. We look on in delight and toast each other. Things are not too bad. This is the highlight of the evening. Everything is downhill from here.
6:50 PM: Our first plates arrive. Both look appetizing enough. We look at each other with determination and dig in. We take pictures of each other with genuine optimism. “These look pretty good. It looks like something people would make to entertain at home.” Jillian says. “This is exactly what I expected from boneless buffalo wings.” I say. We proceed to eat our food.
7:00 PM: I finish my first plate of boneless buffalo wings (12) and celery sticks (4). Jillian is half done with her loaded potato skins (4). I try one of her potato skins (1). It is loaded with cheese and bacon and grease and salt, but it is not entirely unpleasant. I cannot picture myself eating more than a plate. Jillian think she could eat 3 plates. Well, maybe two and a half.
7:02 PM: Olivia drops by to take my second order. Jillian remarks on the music: it sounds like gay bar music if the gay bar is still in the closet.
7:08 PM: My second plate of boneless buffalo wings arrive. They look less appetizing, but I am not yet filled with shame. Jillian is finishing up her first plate of potato skins (7).
7:18 PM: I finish my second plate of wings (11, 23 total) and celery sticks (4, 8 total). Jillian tries one (1). She said it tastes like nuclear orange, which is expected. I tell myself I should pace myself. Olivia drops by. I order my third plate, and Jillian orders her second. We also order more drinks to wash down our food.
7:29 PM: Our next plates arrive. The combination of buffalo sauce and salt is making me sweat. Our drinks also arrive. My Blue Moon comes in a gigantic glass. Jillian’s $3 Long Island iced tea tastes little more than simple syrup and bottom shelf Triple Sec. The chicken pieces look bigger. This is no longer fun.
7:48 PM: I fail to pace myself and finish my third plate of wings (7, 30 total) and celery sticks (3, 11 total). Jillian takes a wing (1, 2 total) and a celery stick (1). Jillian sings praises of the celery stick. “Oh my god, Duo. Celery has never tasted better. Oh, it’s glorious.” I eat another one of her potato skins (1, 2 total), and she eats some more as well (2.5, 9.5 total).
7:57 PM: Olivia swings by again. We are drinking a lot of water to offset the salt. I order my fourth plate. Jillian does not eat any more potato skins. “I think this is actually an empowering experience,” Jillian says. “This is making me realize my body has standards. I thought, given the opportunity, I’d be able to eat junk food forever. Turns out I can’t.”
8:01 PM: Jillian is not feeling well. “I am nauseous as fuck.” “I feel sick.” “I have to go to the bathroom.”I drink more water and more Blue Moon. My sodium headache intensifies.
8:07 PM: Jillian returns to the able. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way from eating before.” “I feel if I eat more I’d die.”
8:13 PM: My fourth plate of wings arrive. Jillian is done for the night. “I’m so weak,” she moans, “but you can do it, Duo.” I hate how right she is and wish I am as weak and she is. But I continue eating. The nuggets of nuclear orange chicken are no longer carefully arranged on the plate. The kitchen has stopped caring. There is a piece of errant cheese on my chicken. I cannot manage to give a fuck.
8:20 PM: I have not touched my fourth plate. Despair washes over me. Jillian contorts her face to the inoffensive and upbeat music. “TGI Friday’s is hell on earth.” I nod in agreement. “We cannot win,” I say to Jillian, “either we destroy our dignities, or we fail.”
8:25 PM: I catch a second wind and start to work on my plate. “You are a beast, Duo!” Jillian cheers. “No, I am a monster.” I reply.
8:34 PM: I finish my final plate of wings (11, 41 total) and celery sticks (5, 16 total). Jillian takes another stroll around the restaurant. “There are other people eating appetizers.” She tells me. “Loaded potato skins.” I halfheartedly dissect a potato skin. There is a large, hardened, black spot, but it fails to make the loaded potato skin look any less appetizing because our opinion of potato skins has already hit rock bottom. “I don’t think I can ever eat potato skins again.” Jillian moans.
8:45 PM: Check(mate). We lost. Olivia brings us our check, and we tip her handsomely. Not 14-hour handsome, but 2-hour handsome.
8:50 PM: We escape hell.
9:00 PM, the day after: My head still hurts from the salt. I hate salt. I hate chicken. I hate TGI Friday’s. I hate food and the general act of putting things into my mouth. I hate everything. I fall into a spiteful, nightmarish sleep, only to wake at 1 AM on Saturday, seething with dream-hatred.
Postmortem: Everything you need to know about the actual food consumed is summarized in the table below.
Time calculations use our first order arrival timestamps and our departure timestamps. Calorie calculations use maximum estimated value based on TGI Friday’s nutrition sheet and do not include our drinks. Price calculations based on our check: each plate was charged and then discounted in full.
Dignity: destroyed. In the movie Fight Club, Brad Pitt asked Edward Norton “how much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” A similar question applies to the realm of eating for sport. I asked myself that very question and answered it in the worst way possible, and now I’m ready to move on with my life and never participate in something like this ever again.
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A Month Of
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Wed Aug 13th 7:30-10:00
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