The Critic Catastrophe

Submitted into Contest #141 in response to: Start your story with someone receiving a one-star review.... view prompt

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Fiction

“One star? One star! One star?!” I shout, probably too loud, but right now, I don’t care. Anger is welling up inside me as I look at the newspaper in front of me. 

“Hey Grace! What’s up?” Willow asks me as she walks up the pathway to our front porch.  

“One star. One. Star. Who do they think they are?”  

“Okay...” She shoots me a questioning look. “Are you okay?”  

“Do I look okay to you? How could I be okay when we got ONE STAR and the restaurant could be failing and then we’ll have to move away and start new lives and everything will be ruined!”  

“Slow down. What happened?” Willow has always been the calmer one of the two of us, while I’m the more dramatic one. I take a deep breath. 

“Last week, when you were away visiting your grandparents, a restaurant critic came. The paper he works for just came out today, and he gave us one star!” I wail. This is not how I imagined my morning starting out.  

“How could they give you one star?” Willow wonders. “Your diner is the most popular one in town.” 

“Well, it all began Saturday morning...” I start.  

One week earlier... 

“Grace, come here for a minute. I need to show you something.” I look over my shoulder to see Dad behind the counter, reading what looks to be a newspaper. I stuff my notepad in the pocket of my apron and step behind the counter.  

“Sure Dad. What are you looking at?”  

“All the restaurants in town have gotten reviewed in the newspaper within the last two weeks. Ours is the last one. I’m expecting a critic to come sometime today. We need to be prepared.”  

Wow. A restaurant critic. We’ve never had a critic in town before. I lean over and put my elbow on the red counter and rest my chin in my hand. This could be great for the diner. We could get more attention than ever before.  

“Can I get a breakfast platter?” a voice breaks me out of my daydream. I look up and see a woman, not very tall, with blonde hair that looks a little silver-ish that falls in neat curls around her shoulders. 

“Sure, anything else?” I question, while scribbling her order on my notepad. We get a lot of breakfast orders, because our diner is the only place in town that serves all-day breakfast.  

“I will also have a coffee,” she replies with a bored look on her face. “Decaf, no milk, one pack of sugar.” 

“Sounds good. You can sit over there.” I point her towards a table right next to the window, for two people. She turns on her heel and walks away. “Hey Andrew. I need a breakfast platter for table 8.” Andrew, the head chef, has been working here since I was 4 years old.  

“I’ll have that ready for you in a few minutes,” comes the reply. 

As I am refilling one of the five napkin dispensers on the counter, Dad comes over with some not-so-great news. “Grace. I just got off the phone with your uncle. Your Aunt Becca fell down the stairs this morning and he had to take her to the emergency room. He needs to leave on a work trip tomorrow morning, so he has asked me to come pick her up and bring her here.” This was not good. The drive to Uncle Jerry and Aunt Becca’s is two hours each way.  

“But what about the critic-” 

“Family comes first,” he interrupts. “You are going to have to run the diner by yourself for a few hours. Andrew will be here too.” 

“Are you sure? This critic could make or break us.”  

“You can do it. I have to go. Bye.” Dad grabs his keys from under the counter and hurries out the door. 

“Okay. You can do this,” I say to myself just minutes after Dad walks out the door.  

“Grace, we’ve got table eight’s order ready,” Andrew says from the kitchen. I grab the plate from the order window, pick up the pot of coffee I just finished making, and pour it into the mug with one hand. After throwing a pack of sugar onto the plate, I head over. 

“Here’s your order,” I say to the lady at table eight. She briefly looks up from her laptop. I suddenly realize that this must be the restaurant critic.  

“Just put it over there.” She points to a spot on the table. I slide the plate and mug down. 

“Is there anything else I can get for you?” I ask politely.  

“Can’t you see I’m busy? I have to get this done by the deadline.” She glares up at me.  

“Oh, uh, right. Sorry.” My face turns bright red as I’m walking away. This is not going well. I go over to wash the counters glumly.  

“Excuse me?” says an unfamiliar voice on the other side of the counter. I glance up for a second to see a man there, whose hair is completely gray. “Could I get a table?”  

“Sure. Whatever.” I’m still bummed about the restaurant critic.  

“What would you recommend on the menu?” he continues.  

“Anything,” I reply. I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s a little hard when the hopes and dreams of your family's diner could have just been flushed down the drain. 

“Okay... I’ll get the club sandwich,” he finally decides. “With a side of fries.” 

“Okay. You can go sit over there.” I point to a booth in the corner. He turns around and goes to sit down.  

“Psst!” I hear a voice from behind me. Andrew is standing in the order window giving me a strange look. “What are you doing?”  

“What are you talking about?”  

“I’m talking about, why are you being so rude to the critic?” he demands. 

“Wait. THAT was the critic?” This was not good. 

“Yes. You didn’t know that?”  

“Oh, I am so dead.” It’s okay. I can fix this. I just need to make him so impressed that he’ll forget about what I said. I try to act calm, cool and collected as I walk over to his table a few minutes later with his food.  

“Here you go, sir. Can I get you anything else?” I say as politely as I can.  

“No, that will be all,” he replies. I start to walk away, but the critic calls me back. 

“Yes?”  

“The turkey in my sandwich is burnt. I would like a new one.” he requests. I’m flustered for a minute. Our food is never burnt. 

“Oh. Of course.”  

“I’ll also have a root beer,” he says. I pick up the plate and head back to the kitchen.  

“Here’s the critic’s club sandwich,” says one of the other cooks from the kitchen. “I double checked that it’s not burnt this time.” I hurry over to the table, plate in one hand, root beer in the other. Suddenly, right before I get to the critic’s table, my foot catches on someone’s purse, which is sticking out, and I trip.  The root beer sprays everywhere, including all over the critic, the fries spill all over the floor, and the club sandwich falls apart. The critic stands up, fries falling out of his lap at the same time.  

“Well, I believe it is time for me to leave,” he declares.

“Wait! Please don’t go yet! Give me another chance!” But he had already gone out the door. People at the tables around me were starting to shoot questioning looks my way. “Nothing to see here,” I assure them as I start to clean up the mess I made. 

A week later... 

“...and that’s what happened,” I finish. “So basically, I just ruined our entire diner. No big deal, right?” I glance up to see Willow giggling. “It is NOT funny!” 

“It is a little funny. Anyway, I have to go.” She turns down the path again and, as she’s walking away, I swear I can hear her chuckling and saying to herself: “Wait! Give me another chance!” Oh well.   

April 15, 2022 13:16

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1 comment

Ron Davidson
14:50 Apr 21, 2022

Hey Kinsley! Great Job crafting a story for the prompt this week. I enjoyed your story. I think everyone can relate to the growing snowball; once it starts you can’t stop it. You do a great job getting us involved in your story through the first person POV. I like this choice. Your MC stays a little flat emotionally. I’m wondering if you could add some dialogue, internal or external, that would show her unraveling under the pressure? Maybe some character reactions to the stress? Maybe something involving a nervous tick, sweating, a ringi...

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