Olive Garden: Presence of the American flag disrupts the dining experience

Confession: I’m writing this solely to prove to myself that I don’t let my personal prejudices keep me from writing about a glaring example of hyper-sensitivity, about a blatant missed opportunity to exhibit a patriotic spirit. I love Olive Garden. In fact, ever since college, my best friend and I have had a standing date to eat fettuccine at OG the first Wednesday of every month. Coincidentally, we were scheduled to eat there this very evening (we missed last week). The two of us have even tried unsuccessfully to replicate the exact taste of the restaurant’s recipes at home. Am I going overboard to express to you just how much I depend on them for a healthy dose of carbs? If I am, it’s only because The Olive Garden has itself gone a little overboard in its efforts not to “disrupt the dining experience.” In case you missed it on Drudge, here’s the story:

Officials with the parent company of Olive Garden restaurants say they’re sorry if a decision regarding an Alabama Kiwanis club’s desire to display the American flag caused any concern.

The comments come after 80-year-old Marti Warren of Anniston said she wasn’t allowed to bring an American flag into an Olive Garden for a planned Kiwanis Club banquet in the east Alabama town of Oxford.

Warren learned the night of the banquet that she wouldn’t be allowed to display the flag or the Kiwanis banner in the restaurant, she said. …

“To be fair to everyone and avoid disrupting the dining experience for all other guests, they’re unable to accommodate flags or banners of any type in the dining room,” according to the statement.

Poor Warren had to ask her fellow Kiwanis members to just picture the flag waving in the breeze as they said the Pledge of Allegiance. Here’s a bit of common sense for the Olive Garden: The restaurant in question is in America! Anybody eating at the restaurant would surely recognize that the inclusion of a United States flag in a Kiwanis Club display at a U.S. restaurant bespeaks no inappropriate arrogance or disruptive demands. This is a little like the Star Spangled Banner flap at little Goshen College. Olive Garden has every right to not display the flag: I just wish they would.

Olive Garden’s decision pains me for another reason, too: It seems to be at odds with the family-and-community-oriented image its ads project. Watch an Olive Garden commercial and you kinda assume the restaurant cares about providing a place in which families and groups can come together and experience a sense of belonging. The Kiwanis Club is one of a breed of once-robust-but-now-dwindling civic organizations that stood between the individual and the state, meeting certain needs of members without recourse to the federal government and reminding folks that, when they come together on a local level and for a specific purpose, they’re able to improve the quality of their own lives and the lives of those around them.

Any advocate of limited government has a vested interested in the flourishing of such groups. The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Messmore explains:

The story of the growth of the modern state is also a story of the quest for community. Progressive liberal leaders have tapped into man’s desire for a sense of membership and belonging and have capi­talized on it to promote an expansive role for the federal government.

Citizens who give loyalty to and gain identity from a variety of associations are likely to depend less on the state. Healthy political relationships go hand in hand with healthy relationships based on kinship, faith and locality.

The case for limited government can be strength­ened by acknowledging the fundamental human longing for a sense of belonging and recognizing that local participatory communities are best equipped to meet this need. The national govern­ment has an important role in protecting such com­munities, which includes preserving rather than absorbing their rightful authority and functions.

OG just flat-out missed a chance to be a “community player.” Maybe I’ll forgo my carb fix, after all.

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