The waitress at Andrew's, a tiny urban diner in Petersburg, Va., didn't know me, but she was going to take care of me, and reminding me to drink my water was a part of it. She and another woman moved smoothly behind the counter while a large man worked the grill and another man ran the register. A workday morning, with a steady takeout business and counter regulars. The breakfast for "Jason" was presented almost as soon as he sat down; obviously, his timing and order never vary. I was probably the most unusual thing happening that morning.
This is definitely a local place with its own character, including the signs noting "No cell phones" and "Cash only." Petersburg is considered a "black" city, yet both staff and customers were mixed, and everyone was notably polite to each other. I heard lots of "pleases" and "thank yous" between the grill and the tables. And for me, the stranger, service was friendly and caring but not intrusive.
Why does such a place, which could easily be a clique, feel so much more comfortable than, say, Denny's or Shoney's? Why does the food taste better, even when it's a simple breakfast of eggs and grits? What has America lost in its corporate fussing over consistency in decor, menus and the rote greetings?