The Riverbanks Zoo puts the ham back in a hamburger


How is it that a hamburger has nothing to do with ham?

A legitimate question, but Beth Armstrong of Charleston, SC, and her hungry three-year-old son didn’t really care when he ordered one at a crowded family zoo eatery -– expecting to get ham — and vocally unhappy that he didn’t get it.

Despite the long service lines, an astute and empathetic snack bar worker sneaked some real ham over to the unhappy toddler, so that the exhausted parents could enjoy their break.

Who doesn’t love going to the zoo?

My favorite childhood big-city memory, the zoo has taken on a new meaning with even more adult appreciation and education for big and little kids alike. Hosting one million guests annually, the award-winning Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC, is no exception, offering unique, themed ecological habitats, hands-on activities, and “KinderCamps” since 1974.

Big and little kids also learn the importance of ample rest and refueling, and the Riverbanks Zoo’s flagship restaurant, Tuskers, caters to just that. “My husband and I took my almost-three-year-old to the Columbia Riverbanks Zoo,” Armstrong began. “It was absolutely slammed with kids off from school. We stopped for lunch and my son ordered the hamburger.”

Easy, right? Not so fast — when someone needing a ham fix is just learning the language.

“In typical toddler fashion, he melted down when he found out the hamburger didn’t have any ham on it, and to reorder something would have taken another 20 minutes,” said Armstrong. “A very nice guy named Matt Francesco overheard, and came out with a plate of sliced sandwich meat at no charge.”

In case I left anyone hanging about hamburger origins, fear not. The consensus points to Hamburg, Germany, as the origin of the nineteenth century chopped beef concoction. Hmmm – in that case, what about the frankfurter? I’m on a roll. A bit of research reveals that Frankfurt is indeed the perceived origin of this tubular counterpart, also known as a “wurst.” I say “perceived,” because similar sausages originated in many other regions. Gosh – I really digress.

So, what’s the big deal about successfully tending to a fussy three-year-old on a field trip?

As a parent, I share Armstrong’s reaction to the zoo worker’s completely impromptu and unadulterated act of kindness, during what surely must have been a demanding workday for him. In a world of impersonal day-to-day action and reaction, I found the gesture – well, kind of touching.

Maybe it’s a parent thing. Maybe it’s that a three-year-old is still just a mass of basic impulses (just as we were once), too young to be aware of the concept of sucking it up. Maybe it was just one more thing that day that required more attention or effort than an expecting mom (and pop) had to give. Or maybe a well-meaning but tiring day of providing stimulating and fond memories blurred the lines between greater or less dire circumstances.

In the end, Armstrong herself summed it up just fine. “Such a small gesture, but it saved this very pregnant mama some major stress and made my son very happy. We appreciated it very much.”

We do, too.

Did the zoo eatery show exemplary customer service?

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  • stephen_nyc

    I’m not sure why the 2 places have the red strike-through line in them, but the urls appear to want to link to the locations. Unfortunately, the way they are appended generates the 404 link not found error message.

    Nice job by the zoo eatery.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Thanks for reporting this, Stephen. The problem’s been fixed, and the links are working now. :-)

  • Ward Chartier

    Much better than superb customer service, Matt Francesco demonstrated initiative, leadership, creativity, and a acute understanding of goodwill. Based on this incident alone, if I was still in a position to be hiring people, Matt would certainly get an interview.

  • Mel LeCompte Jr.

    I see this other websites, too, where a bunch of links have crossthroughs. It’s not just on Elliot. Is there an issues with one of the blogware providers out in the ether? Just wondering.

  • Paul Heymont

    It was very nice of the zoo folks to make everyone happy…except me, who wants to know why the parents were not responsible for both explaining the misconception to the child (“there’s never been ham in the ones you eat at home, either. This is the same that you’ve had before.”) or to say “If you cannot behave here, we will have to leave right now.” Been there, done that.

  • Bill

    I agree … kudos to the Zoo employee for defusing a potentially disruptive situation given that the parent couldn’t be bothered. Paul, you must know that in this day and age, parental responsibility for offspring is an unheard of notion. When my daughter was a toddler, if she started making any kind of fuss, she was given a single chance to calm down or I would leave wherever we were. That meant that my wife ended up finishing grocery shopping or I didn’t get to eat a couple of times but it didn’t take more than a handful of incidents for my daughter to realize that I was serious and she stopped having temper tantrums or meltdowns. Regardless, parents really need to take responsibility for the behavior of their children and start being just a little considerate of others around them.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Thanks, Mel. I don’t know… but I’m emailing your comment to Chris to be sure he sees it. If I hear anything, I’ll let you know.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Hi Mel,
    Me again. According to Chris, “It’s a plug-in that tells us when a link is broken. Unfortunately, it also tells everyone else. We’ve been having a heckofatime with posts autosaving and reverting to an earlier version. That’s why the links have been broken. I think we figured it out today, and it shouldn’t happen again. I hope.” Me, too. :-)

  • LonnieC

    Wow. Nice of the zoo staff, but…. This sounds like another entitled child who can’t (has never been taught to) handle disappointment. The parents should have thanked the zoo staff and declined the ham. Then the little prince should have been given the option of having his beef burger or leaving on the spot. This sounds like a case of “affluenza”. Talk about a first world problem. (And yes, I’m a parent.)