Picking Up A Strangers Tab

By: Eric Scott, Owner of Christophers Italian Restaurant

As a restaurant owner I enjoy the privilege of getting to know many of my regular customers. Over the years Bill and Diane have become regulars. I like them a lot.

I was standing tableside enjoying a conversation with Bill and Diane when a family that I hadn’t seen before came in to dine with us. I excused myself and helped situate them at one of our larger tables nearby. The dad was wearing a tie and his wife wore a nice dress. They were polite and their children were very well behaved. The children aged about eight, six, four, and three were neatly dressed and we noticed that the boys, the eight year old and the four year old, had gelled their hair. Bill complimented them on their appearance and good manners. The family acknowledged him with broad smiles.

I heard the dad tell his children they could have anything on the kids’ menu. Then he ordered water for his wife and himself and told the server they would share the lasagna. The waitress explained that the meal included a salad and asked if they wanted an extra dinner salad for only $1.99. He declined. She brought our usual complimentary basket of garlic butter breadsticks to their table and the kids dove in. When the waitress later asked if they wanted a refill, the mother asked if there was a charge. When the server answered, “no mam”, the mom looked to her husband who gave an approving nod.

During the course of the meal the mother pulled a birthday card from her purse and gave it to her older daughter. The family laughed and seemed to be having a good time. I instructed the server to offer a complimentary birthday dessert. The little princess chose a brownie with ice cream on it. “Anyone else?” I heard the waitress ask. “No thanks,” came the father’s reply as he lavished his undivided attention on his beaming little girl. When the younger children wanted a brownie too, he soberly reminded them it wasn’t their birthday. We sent a brownie for each child.

I’ve seen the scenario before. The economy can be cruel, especially for people who work in certain fields, no matter how educated or experienced they are. I told the server to comp the meal at table 25 and I would take care of it later. “Tell them it’s a birthday gift because the owner appreciated how they got dressed up to come to his restaurant.” Then I disappeared to the back office so they couldn’t haggle with me.

After they left I asked my server if she needed assistance closing out table 25. I was surprised when she said it wasn’t necessary. “Your friends at the next table asked me to put the meal on their bill so I closed it out before they left.” Then she added with a grin, “The mom teared up.”

As a restaurant owner I have the privilege of getting to know many of my regular customers. Over the years Bill and Diane have become regulars. I like them a lot.

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