“You just got sat,” a fellow server yelled towards me. that lingo meant the hostess had seated people at one of our tables. In the window booth a woman was sitting alone, staring at the empty seat across from her. Her hand was wrapped tightly around the base of a beautiful floral Tiffany-style lamp.
“I’m waiting for someone,” she announced before I could say anything. I slipped my pen and pad into the pocket of my ketchup-smudged apron and walked away. I returned a couple minutes later. “Still waiting?” I asked. The woman turned to me and in a sad voice explained that the lamp was an heirloom that had belonged to her grandmother, who recently passed away. She said she had tried several times to contact her sister to give her the lamp, but was not successful in reaching her.
“My grandmother wanted my sister to have it,” the woman said, “but this is my last attempt.” I could see she was upset, so I told her to let me know if I could be of any help, as a waitress or a friend. When I returned, the woman was gone, but on the table stood the Tiffany lamp. On an unfolded napkin tucked beneath it, she had written, “You keep it!” I brought it home to my mom, and it sits in her front hall to this day.
During high school, I was serving at a diner to make extra cash for the holidays. The hostess seated a woman and her son, who was about ten, at one of the booths in my section. From the minute I introduced myself, they had nothing but negative comments for me.
“The table is dirty,” then a few minutes after giving me their order, “The food is taking too long.” Once the food came, “Nothing is hot enough.” I approached for what felt like the millionth time and politely asked if they needed anything else. The woman told me to please stop coming by so often so they could eat in privacy. No more than two minutes later, she grabbed my manager and snapped, “I haven’t seen my waitress. I need my check.” He quickly apologized and dropped the check.
When I cleared the table after they’d gone, I saw no tip—but the woman had left her cell phone behind. I grabbed it, ran outside, and tossed it in the dumpster. When I came back in, she was up front making a scene, saying she left her cell phone and she’s sure I stole it. My manager called me over and warned me that if I didn’t return the phone, I would be fired.
I pulled my apron off in a fury and threw it at him. “I quit!” I yelled. I turned to the woman on my way out and said with a smile, “Thanks for the generous tip. Your cell phone is in the dumpster out back!”
—Elyse Hastings, 26, Lawrenceville.
“This lady ordered coffee and strawberry cheesecake. When I went back to collect my tip, all I found was a napkin that said, ‘You’re cute.’ Thanks, lady.”—Jonathan, 20, Americana Diner, Hightstown.
“Other servers get real angry when they get a bad tip. But people don’t have to leave a tip, so I’m always grateful for any tip.”—Malika, 44, Morristown Diner, Morristown.
“I know I had a good day when every table tips me at least 20 percent, which, well, is usually every day with me!”—Lucy, 69, Princetonian Diner, Princeton.
“I always say, tips are a dime a dozen,” Ashley, 22, Mastoris, Bordentown.
I hated working the Saturday morning shift, because I had to be there around 5 am, which made me tired all day. We opened at 6, and soon afterward I had my first table. Two middle-aged guys wearing jeans and sweatshirts requested a window table, and each ordered coffee and oatmeal. I was tired, but I chatted with them for a while—they were my only customers for the first half-hour or so.
When I mentioned that I was a high school senior waiting to hear from several colleges, they urged me to go to a southern school. The climate, they said, would suit me. They would know—both were truckers getting ready for a long day of driving back to Dixie. As the sky brightened, they hit the road.
When I came back to clear the table, it looked as though they hadn’t left a tip. I was a little bummed, but picking up the dishes I discovered two carefully folded $20 bills underneath each bowl. An $80 tip for what couldn’t have been more than $5 of food. Pretty awesome. It woke me up for the rest of the day.—Jessica Kitchin
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