"Paying it Forward" in a Restaurant: Sucks To Be the Server!
I don't know about you, but I have been hearing about a lot of people "paying it forward" lately. This comes in response to a widespread fear that morally, this country is going down the toilet, and that in order to collectively restore our karmic good graces, that we should show more genuine acts of random kindness toward strangers.
Earlier last week came an emotional tale from a Dunkin Donuts (probably not in South Florida) drive-thru cashier who was astounded when a customer paid for the car behind them, and they in turn paid for the following car, and so on and so forth, triggering an all day snuggle fest of love, Kleenex, and tear-drenched maple logs.
In theory, "paying it forward" is well meaning gesture, in the proper context. Today I found out the hard way that if you want to do something nice for a stranger in a restaurant, just buy them a drink. Hell, it might even help you get laid. I wait tables on occasion for a well known chain. When I have nothing else to do, I enjoy the freedom of the job, and walking out with cash in hand at the end of the night. I also enjoy schmoozing/hustling tables and the ebb and flow of a busy restaurant in season.
I worked lunch today, and by 4pm, like most days if I only work lunch, I had a choice to make. I could A: transfer my remaining 2 tables to the nighttime server who was taking over my section, or B: wait it out and try to make a few extra bucks. I chose B. I don't like transferring tables in the middle of the customer's meal. It makes for an awkward conversation. "Hi, this is Susie, she is your new server, I am going home." Anyway, It never fails that your last customers of the shift are the S L O W E S T eaters you have ever seen, and they will also typically order dessert or after dinner drinks.
Today another server's table decided that they wanted to "pay it forward!," change the world!, and hopefully get the entire dining room to buy each other's checks. They locked in on the couple seated at one of my two tables across from them, who were about 97 years old, (and cute), and decided to start with them "and get the whole thing goin!" (side note: they paid with a gift certificate with about $800 in credit on it). When it was time for the check, the old couple looked at me like I had three heads when I told them that someone had anonymously paid for their tab. I explained "random acts of kindness" and "paying it forward" and "karmic intervention," but nothing I said sunk in. "But, nobody knows we're here!" he tells me, sounding more and more confused. I actually felt bad. I didn't want to stress him out.
After a few minutes, he understands that he doesn't have to pay. I wait patiently for him to say something along the lines of "what a nice thing to do! I feel compelled to pay for another diner's check!" I swear to god, he says "OK, let's order dessert then!"........I literally slapped my hand against my forehead and walked away. The man and his wife left a few minutes later...and didn't leave a tip. Already annoyed at this point, I pick up the check from my second table and to my dismay see less than 10% on a "big" check. I know what you are thinking. The service was fine. Sometimes these things happen, it's just the name of the game, but the tips that I should have made on both tables would have put a quarter tank of regular in an old Chevy Silverado. So if you are still paying attention, I have 1. wasted an hour of my life 2. made $6 collectively on $90 in sales.
Oh! Almost forgot! Servers tip out five percent of their sales to food runners, hostesses, and bus boys. Do the math...I made about a dollar on both tables...And the good folks who "paid it forward"? Well, they will be sleeping soundly tonight, secure in the knowledge that they started a "kindness parade" lasting all of....one table. The irony of it all? Who got stiffed royally by their "good deed?" Me. The help.
Now for the disclaimer: I enjoy my side job, it provides good $$ and for the most part, good material. I can't make this up. I understand these are "first world" problems that pale in comparison to those of, say, child laborers in Bhutan. I am lucky and happy to have work, and to be able to work. Also, "paying it forward" is a great concept and I am not discouraging it! This is a messed up world and we need many more random acts of kindness in our daily lives! Just be mindful of the situation and consequences of your kind acts. Thanks for reading!
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