The restaurant owner came to the reception area as soon as the celebrated food critic, Mr. Gruff, checked in with the hostess. His first impression was that the man was immensely old. He was stooped over, with white hair and a long white beard and little wire-framed glasses.
Looking more closely, the restaurant owner realized that Mr. Gruff was a goat.
“Is this a joke?” he asked.
Mr. Gruff looked up at him. His eyes were strange. “Mr. Smith, I assume?”
The restaurant owner took a step back. A talking goat? Then he straightened up. He was a professional business owner. He could handle this. “Yes, that’s me. Are you Mr. Gruff?”
“Of course. Here’s my card.” The goat reached into his suit packet and handed over a little card stock square.
Mr. Smith read the first lines. “William G. Gruff, professional food critic.” He put the card in his pocket. “Right this way, sir.”
On the way to the table, Mr. Smith went over his options. He really didn’t know much about goats. Didn’t they eat cardboard and tin cans and such? How could a goat be a reliable food critic? Would his restaurant get a terrible review because the silverware didn’t taste good?
Mr. Gruff slid into his chair and looked around. “I see that most of the people around me are eating large salads. Is that today’s special?”
“It is. Here’s the menu. Would you like anything to drink? I can send it with the waitress who will come to take your order.”
The goat looked up from the menu. “Water is fine.”
Hurrying back to the kitchen, Mr. Smith pulled out his phone and started searching for information. What do goats eat? Apparently not tin cans or cardboard. The silverware was safe.
Salad would be fine. Mr. Smith let out a breath of relief and shared the results of his search with the chef. They could continue on as normal.
He thanked Mr. Gruff for coming after he finished his meal, and life at the restaurant went on. He nearly forgot to look for the review two weeks later. It praised the salads and professional staff. Mr. Smith framed it and put it on his wall next to the other positive reviews for his restaurant.
That would have been the end of it, except that a few days later, a horse in an expensive gown came in after making a reservation over the phone. This led to more internet searches, and some slight alterations to the food she ordered.
And then the crows came. And a family of pigs. And the entire restaurant was booked by a greyhound for his mother’s birthday one evening. The waitresses learned to add the customer’s species when noting down any dietary restrictions.
Time passed. Mr. Smith continued to host a surprising number of animal customers. This was strange, because when he went about town, he didn’t see any talking animals wearing clothes. Where did they all come from?
He did ask, once. A very pleasant parrot that chattered away a mile a minute came one early afternoon for lunch. The restaurant was empty, and Mr. Smith was working at the front desk.
He led the parrot to his table and paused. “Would you like a taller chair?” he asked, looking at the distance from the chair to the table.
The parrot flapped his wings and flew up onto the table. “No chairs at all, thanks. I just want one of those salads everyone’s talking about.”
This was his chance. “Where are they talking about it?”
The parrot squawked with laughter. “Oh, your security clearance isn’t high enough to know that.”
Mr. Smith frowned. Government work? How many animals were working for the government? What did they do?
Well, it wasn’t really any of his concern. He had a business to run. He didn’t have time to get mixed up in any sort of strange government something-or-other. But he did have one more question. “So, did you read Mr. Gruff’s review then?”
“Yes, of course. The extended version. He said that this was the first place that didn’t offer him tin cans or cardboard. You do your research and care about your customers.”
“Your clearance still isn’t high enough.”
Mr. Smith laughed. “Fair enough. I’ll get you that salad.” On his way to the kitchen, he was already searching his phone for what parrots ate.