I had a great weekend. I flew out Thursday to spend a few days with my good friend, Lane. Lane is my oldest and best friend, and he serves the West University Church of Christ as their associate minister. I spent Friday and Saturday with some of the men of “West U”, praying and dreaming and conversing about the Kingdom of God. I flew back to Huntsville late yesterday evening and, even though I was a little tired, Sunny and the kids took me to Olive Garden for dinner and to catch up on how the past few days had gone back home.
Although the company was great, our service was anything but. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but our waitress went out of her way to make Sunny feel silly, which I always find offensive. She was rude, slinging our straws across the table, turning her back to us as we were talking to her. The cherry on top was the fact that she was a poor server; I had to get up and gather up an extra silverware set for Abby Kate and I had to ask another waitress to serve us parmesan cheese. No drink refills, no personality…I could go on and on. But you get the idea.
When it came time to bring the check, it took her FOREVER. When she finally brought me the check, she informed me that there was also some kind of survey / comment card thing that I could fill out to rate the service. I’m thinking, “Seriously?” And she goes, “Yeah, we’re having this contest to see which servers get the highest scores.” In my mind, I start debating what I’m going to put on the little card. “Just wait ’till your manager reads this card.” And I’ve also already decided that the tip is going to be significantly less than what I would normally give. (For a lengthy but interesting conversation on tipping, I direct you to this blast from the past from my wife’s blog.) I’m normally pretty forgiving when it comes to my service at a restaurant; I understand we all have bad days. But — blame it on being tired or whatever — I’d reached my threshold with this one.
I opened up the little “receipt book” and inserted my credit card. I signaled for the waitress but she refused to take my card. “Your dinner has already been taken care of, sir.”
“Someone has already paid your bill.”
I look at Sunny. “Who?” I ask the waitress. She kind of shrugs a little bit and lets out a sheepish smile. “I….I’m not supposed to say.” At this point, I turn around and start scanning the crowd for familiar faces. This has happened once or twice before; we’ll be eating somewhere, see someone from church, only to later find out that our bill has “miraculously” been taken care of. I suspected the same kind of thing here, but as best I could tell, no Mayfairians were dining at Olive Garden. I turned back to the waitress and pressed her again. “Who paid our bill?”
I could tell she was uncomfortable and she cut her eyes to her left and then back to our table. I looked in the vicinity of her quick glance but I was unable to spot anyone I recognized. As she continued to stammer and mutter, I interrupted her and said, “Look, are they still here? In the restaurant? Because if they are, I’d like for you to tell them we said thank you.”
About this time, a gentleman steps in front of me wearing a flannel shirt, jeans, and a worn out ball cap. He gets out a sentence or two before I realize what’s going on; he’s the guy that bought our dinner. As he begins to speak, I’m silently combing through the Rolodex in my mind, searching for the guy’s name. He shakes my hand and I can feel his callouses; this is a guy that works with his hands. As we’re shaking hands, I notice his accent; he has that Southern-but-not-quite Floridian tone to his voice. I finally realize that I have no idea who this man is, so I listen in on what he’s actually saying, which was something like this: “Yeah, so….you know, one time I was sitting at a restaurant like this with my kids. They were real little and this older guy comes up to me and said, ‘Young man, you’ve got a great family here, and watching your kids makes me miss my own children. It’d be my privilege to buy your dinner tonight because you’ve warmed my heart with this special memory.’ I saw you all over here tonight and it reminded me of that story and of my own kids, who are grown now. I don’t get to see ’em near as much as I wish, but you all brought that sweet memory back to me. I’d like to buy your dinner tonight and encourage you to soak up this time you have with your little ones.”
Sunny and I just sat there with our mouths wide open.
I thanked the man but that didn’t seem enough so I did what I suppose any parent would do; I forced my children to thank this strange man who was standing there with tears about to run down his face. I asked him where his children were and he said they were back in Florida and he was actually on his way down there to see them. I wished him well on his travel and thanked him again for his kindness. And then I said, “The only thing I know to tell you is that I won’t forget this and I promise you I’ll pass it on to someone else someday.” He smiled and went back to his seat at the bar.
I decided not to fill out the comment card after all.