A couple came in one night, and were seated in my section of the booth room. I don’t remember what the man looked like, but the woman was beautiful. She was in her mid-forties, tall, had thick blonde hair, and a sturdiness of frame that gave her an aura of strength, like tempered steel. Our connection was immediate, and we three enjoyed a fluid back and forth despite how busy we were. Although I was running around the booth room like a madwoman that night, I looked forward to taking away their plates and checking on their meal so that we could steal a few moments of conversation.
What I enjoyed about them is that they were clearly smitten with one another: deep in that beautiful, glowing haze of new love whose enchantment rubs off on everyone around them. “May I just say, sir, that you are a lucky man,” I said around the time that their entrees came out. They laughed gayly, his eyes drifting back to her with a smile. “That I am,” he said, dream-like. The woman gazed back at him as her lips curled into a coy smile.
Sensing that my sentiments were genuine, she complimented my waitressing skills later that evening: “I used to work as a bartender, and I know how hard it can get when you’ve got all these tables to juggle,” she said. “You’re a pleasure.” For me, the feeling was mutual. Few things warm the heart as much as a couple genuinely in love— especially if both parties have gone through heartbreak to find one another, which they candidly shared with me during our chats.
I was also happy to build rapport with this table because their check was huge — and if I played my cards right, their tip alone would have carried me through the rest of the evening. Between the two of them, they had split three bottles of the most expensive wine in the restaurant: Brunello di Montalcino, $98 a piece. Whenever I asked if they needed another round of drinks, the man simply ordered another bottle, which the woman lightly protested — not because she didn’t want to enjoy the wine, but because of the opulence of the whole evening. Their entrees were also on the fancier side; they might have ordered lobster. I got the sense that she’s the kind of woman, like so many of us, not used to having a man treat her right, and I was happy for her.
I knew it was time for the check when their hand-holding and eye-gazing took on a certain urgency. Predictably, they were all set for coffee and dessert, and there was no need to box their leftovers. It was time to go. When I brought over the book, the man reached out to accept it, only to be swiftly intercepted by the woman. He smiled and told her that he wanted to pay, but the woman was insistent: “Babe, you’ve paid every time. I really wanted to do this for us.” His face softening with gratitude, he acquiesced and let her pick up the tab. At this point, I left the book on the table while they deliberated, so as to not make them feel any pressure. After all, every Waitress and Waiter knows that you must never hover over the check. We are careful to not remind the customers that, for as much joy as there is to derive from the art of waiting tables, we are there to make money.
A few minutes later, when I was taking a break by the calculators and chatting with some other Servers, the woman appeared next to me. She really was tall— almost as tall as me, which is my perennial measurement of height. She looked nervous.
“Excuse me miss, could I talk to you for a moment?”
“Sure. Is everything OK?”
“Well, not exactly. Look… it’s so embarrassing, but I didn’t realize the check was so expensive when I offered to pay. I’m not normally so broke, but I’m in the middle of a career change, I just paid off all my bills, and I’ve gotta split this over a few cards…”
“That’s perfectly alright.”
“But the other thing is, I can’t afford to tip you on this. And you deserve a great tip. Like I said, I was a bartender and waitress for years… I understand that this is your livelihood.”
I smiled and nodded once — and slowly — without breaking eye-contact. I waited for her to go on.
“Woman to woman, we’re on our third date, and I really like him. I think he might be the one… and I never thought I’d feel this way again after my divorce. It’s just too embarrassing to have to go back and tell him that he’ll have to pay because I can’t afford it, and then make him pay for it. And he knows he has a lot more money than I do, but I—
“It’s alright. I understand.”
“You do?? Oh, thank you, thank you, thank God! Listen, I really do get it. Please don’t think I’m gonna forget about you, OK? I’ll come back this week and give you your tip. Really, thank you— just… thank you. I promise, OK? I swear to you.” She gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I ran the cards she had brought with her — one credit, one debit — and split the check amongst them according to her instruction. When I brought the book back to the table, we exchanged warm and knowing smiles. I thanked the couple for coming in, and we waved goodbye. I watched them retrieve their jackets and stride out the door, excited and giggly, hand-in-hand.
After they left, the Irish Manager came up to me with a grin. “So, how’d you do on that table? Three bottles of the Brunello. Should have been a nice check.”
“Actually, it’s a funny story…”
She never did come back. And I have to admit, I was genuinely surprised about that. I don’t think she sought to swindle me, though. In fact, I would bet money that she thinks about the incident often and feels ashamed.
I do get it, and I hope they’re still together. I also wonder if she ever told him.