I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for most of my working life. From the time I was 16 and legally allowed to obtain a job, all through high school and college, I’ve been a part of a few restaurant staffs, each having a different style, type of food, workplace culture, and demographic of guests.
A lot of people say that they believe every person should have to work in some sort of customer service position at least once in their life – mostly because it’s in these positions where you realize how rude and short-tempered customers can be. The theory is that once you’ve been on the receiving end of these encounters, you become a more patient and understanding customer. I like to think I’m a reason to believe this theory.
Most people let their bad experiences in customer service stick out in their memory the most, and their impression of people as a whole takes a hit. Despite all the crankiness I’ve dealt with over the years (hangry people have a way with their words), I have also witnessed a great amount of humanity.
Looking back on all the conversations I’ve had with guests at a restaurant, I like to remember the positive impacts people have made on me – even in the simplest ways. The service industry gets a bad wrap. It’s definitely not all rainbows and butterflies, but I’ve learned so many lessons about kindness and compassion during my experience.
One of my favorite memories was from about a year ago, when I learned a lot about what it means to give.
I was about halfway through my shift when I approached my table made up of what I can only assume was a dad and his two children, a girl who was probably my age and a son a few years younger. I could tell from the moment I approached the table that they were overly happy about something. Maybe they were out celebrating or maybe they were just the super cheery type of family – either way, it was quite refreshing. We made some small talk and I took their drink order. As I walked toward them with their beverages a few minutes later, their eyes all locked on me. They were eager about something. I dropped off their drinks, took their food order, and before I ran away to put the order in, they excitedly said they had another order to place.
“You see that man sitting at the corner of the bar, the one sitting alone with a dark sweater and a hat on?” the dad asked me.
“Yes?” I responded.
“We’d like to buy him his dinner, or whatever he orders. You can transfer his bill over to mine, and charge it on this card,” he said, handing me his credit card. They were all grinning. “Don’t tell him who’s buying, just say it was an anonymous stranger.”
I went ahead and happily handled the arrangement. I didn’t know the connection between the family and the man at the bar, or if there even was one, but it seemed to be such a random act of kindness that it warmed my heart.
When the family was finished eating their meal, I went over to their table with their check, asking the father if he wanted to see the total before I swiped the card he already gave me. He told me to go ahead, he wasn’t concerned with the total.
I returned again to drop off their check to sign, wished them happy holidays, and made a comment about how sweet their gesture was to the man at the bar.
“We love to do it,” the daughter said. “Around the holidays every year, we go to a new restaurant, and we pick out someone we want to anonymously buy a meal for. Sometimes it’s a man alone at the bar, and other times it’s an older couple or young family.”
The son chimed in, “We all pick out the people together. It has to be a unanimous decision. Just a fun family thing we do!”
I remember feeling so touched. I wanted to start this tradition with my own family – immediately! The amount of joy this brought the family at my table was so apparent – they couldn’t wipe the smiles off their face the entire visit! And the look on the man at the bar’s face said that he felt it, too.
What a beautiful way to teach your kids about giving during the holiday season, or giving during any season, I thought.
The whole family came into the restaurant on a mission to make someone’s night and make someone else feel special. It was a whole family affair for them as they discussed who to choose, and eventually watched as the man at the bar was told the arrangement.
The price of the meal didn’t matter. What or how much the man ordered didn’t matter. Sometimes they bought for a whole family! The father didn’t care to see the grand total before committing to paying for it. And likewise, the man at the bar didn’t take advantage of his anonymous stranger’s generosity. All he ordered was a beer and an appetizer.
It wasn’t about giving money. It was about giving joy. During the holiday season, we all feel pressed to “give back” in some way. More often than not, we give back to our families and other people we love through gift-giving. This family gave back to a complete stranger, selflessly wanting only to make someone’s day without any credit due. Now that is giving.
I’ve seen a lot of unpleasant people while working in a restaurant, but I’ve also seen some of the most gracious people. That day, a few strangers taught me about the kind of person I want to be. During this holiday season, find a way to give back to others, even ones you don’t know. It doesn’t have to be money-related. Spread the kindness, the cheer, the love. We could all use a little more it.
What traditions of giving do you practice? Are there any ones you want start? We’d love to hear from you.
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