I believe the universe presents you with unique moments to “do the right thing”, if you’re paying attention. I’m usually aloof and only interested in me, but, every now and then, I’m in tune with the bigger world around me. (By the way, I’m not fishing for you’re-such-a-good-guy comments, but, if you must… Me: *blushing* “Oh, no! Any one with a heart would have done the same thing.”)
This is how my random act of kindness went horribly wrong. I was having lunch with a friend at a very popular seafood restaurant on Monday and also doing a bit of eavesdropping. (See, I’m not such a good person!) Soon after we were seated, an older gentleman (probably in his late 60s/early 70s) was seated at the booth next to us. Our waiter made the usual introduction, noted the specials and took our beverage order.
Next, he moved on to the elderly man with the same drill. However, in a cringe-worthy moment, the waiter unwittingly made an insensitive joke as he introduced himself to the solo diner, “Hey, you couldn’t find any one to have lunch with you.”
In a you-would-never-expect-this moment, the elderly man responded, “My wife passed away last week and this was her favorite restaurant, so I’m having lunch here for her.” He started crying and so did I. The waiter was shocked (obviously), responded with an awkward apology and sheepishly walked away.
Throughout the meal, the older man sniffled and wiped away tears, as he nibbled on shrimp and sipped his cocktail. I could feel his loss and pain. As our lunch progressed, I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman I never met and the wonderful journey the two must have experienced.
Let’s just say, I used more napkins to wipe away tears than melted butter. What are the odds that the universe would present me with a moment like this again? I knew the right thing to do was to pay for his meal. (Normally, I’m a total cheapskate, but the tight grip on my wallet loosens, when the right heartstrings are tugged. Oh, you’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch!)
As ours and his lunch was coming to an end, I patiently waited for the waiter to grab the little black folder from his table. Once he did, I quietly followed him around the corner to meet him at the register, so as to be incognito. I informed the waiter I wanted to anonymously pay for the man’s bill.
The waiter immediately excused himself for a few seconds, went out of view and returned. (This will be important later.) He, then, proceeded to shower me with compliments and happily accepted my credit card.
I must be honest, as a true-blue bargain hunter, I choked at the $50 tab for one person, but I was committed to doing the right thing. I also didn’t want to shortchange the waiter, so I added a $10 tip. (For $60, I could get six or seven lunches with the right BOGO coupon or promotion!)
I quickly returned to my table, anticipating the special moment when the older man was informed his tab was covered by a stranger. However, when I returned, his table was empty. Maybe he went to the bathroom? We waited for several minutes, but still no widower. It quickly became apparent the gentleman had left the restaurant. This is where it gets weird, disappointing and sad.
In a strange twist, the waiter did not know I witnessed the gentleman paying by cash. I quickly grabbed the waiter and inquired about not seeing the money returned to the man. Quick on his feet, the waiter pretended to run outside in the rain and catch the man in the parking lot — even though, at this point, nearly 15 minutes had passed. (Clearly, the man was long gone.)
However, he did not know we could see the entire parking lot from our vantage point. Our “friendly” waiter ran outside, stood in the rain for 15 seconds or so and rushed back in. Much to his dismay, I called him on it. (In retrospect, he was hoping I would simply assume he found the man, shared the good news and returned his money.)
I soon realized that, when I initially approached the waiter about paying the bill, his quick disappearance around the corner was to pocket the man’s money. The waiter in his late 20s, who openly talked about his wife and young daughter at every table and praised me up-and-down for my kindness, turned my generosity into greed for his own benefit. I won’t bore you with the details, but we ended up getting the manager involved and, in a final resolution, the waiter handed over the money.
It was all very awkward, uncomfortable and disappointing, as you’d expect. If I had not witnessed the gentleman paying cash, the waiter might have gotten away with pocketing a $60 “tip” from a grieving widower. He could have easily told me the man paid by credit card and I would have simply assumed he was never charged.
The experience won’t dampen my next opportunity to help a stranger, but I will be bit more cautious. (I will also be sure my next act of generosity will be at a less expensive restaurant, say McDonald’s or Taco Bell. Okay, I’m a cheapskate with a sense of humor!)
In the end, the saddest part is that this lonely gentleman left the restaurant never knowing that a complete stranger reached out to share a little love and compassion in his time of need. I also hope the waiter learned a small lesson he can share with his daughter about the importance of always doing the right thing.
Have you ever had an act of kindness go wrong or backfire?
I look forward to our next chat. And, remember, there’s always a deal, you just have to look for it. :-)
Wow! And WOW! Thanks, Bryan.
Tom – You’re welcome. It was a very weird afternoon, to say the least. -BKC
If that restaurant did not fire that despicable, dishonest creep then they should be ashamed.
Denny – I kind of feel the same way. The manager was professional, but “defended” the waiter by noting “he is one of my best employees.” My guess is that the young man’s good looks and charm have allowed him to get away with many “mistruths.” -BKC
I thought you were going to say that you invited the man to eat at your table…
Mary — We thought it would be too awkward. Plus, he seemed like he just wanted to be alone with his thoughts. – BKC
I agree ‘WOW !!!!’ I’m very happy to know you followed through with the manager, although disappointed knowing that this individual will continue in his unethical ways. I highly doubt his ‘wife and young daughter’ pitch, just another well-practiced con. It’s too bad that the particular restaurant and location and server’s name can’t be shared. It would be wonderful to sit in his area, call over the manager at the end of the meal, and say, just loud enough for surrounding patrons to overhear, that there will be no tip for this server because of his past actions and let the manager know you are disappointed with their response, also. I want to applaud you for going past your own ‘grinch’ moments, and for sharing your experience.
Kathryn — You’re right, we can’t give any specifics for a few reasons, but especially because we never want to tarnish any of our public relations efforts. I personally won’t ever go back, but it will have no impact on their business. It will only serve to make me feel better. Thank you for your feedback. -BKC
Yes, Trying to get my brothers to speak to each other again. It backfired on me big. I won’t leave any details. Thanks, Cate CATE
Cate – I’m sorry to hear about your sibling situation. Family issues are never easy. We all have them, in some form. I know I have my fair share of family drama. I hope it improves in the future. -BKC
I took care of my grandma and grandpa for the last 13 years so they could live in their home till they passed. My grandma passed with the understanding that my family and I could stay in the house after she died. My uncles inherited her house and are evicting me. I am disabled and can’t afford rent, and because I have a misdemeanor for a traffic accident I can’t get housing help.You can pick your friends, but not your family. So I will soon be homeless with my kids because I stayed and took care of family. The ultimate lesson learned.