It was one of those rare evenings when I came home from work to find that the kids weren’t home, safely ensconced at my in-laws’. “Happy Rosh Chodesh!” my husband announced. I had always known that Rosh Chodesh was a Yom Tov for women, but I never expected it to be an excuse for a rare and long overdue dinner date. The next thing I knew we were zooming over the George Washington Bridge en route to New Jersey, to an undisclosed restaurant where my dear hubby had made reservations. I was entranced by the place immediately upon arrival. The furnishings were simple yet elegant, with beautiful paintings on the
walls and inviting plush couches with footrests. The aroma itself was intoxicating. The medley of Middle Eastern spices infused with the scent of sizzling steak was enough to set my mouth watering. Surprisingly, the restaurant was relatively empty. I guess not everyone realizes that Rosh Chodesh (or anytime, really) is an ideal time to surprise your wife. The only people I recognized were a newlywed couple I was vaguely acquainted with from my hometown. A sweet young waitress ushered us to our table. She introduced herself as Sarah, and before long she was back with hot pitas and a variety of spicy salads, all on the house. She then handed us the menu and instructed us to take our time and call her if we needed further explanations of any of the offerings. While my husband and I are generally low-maintenance customers and usually make our dinner selections on our own, the couple next to us had made it abundantly clear they were there to be served. It was cringe-inducing, really.
Their manners were so atrocious and their behavior so imperious that I was embarrassed for them. It was highly unlikely that they had ever eaten out before as a couple.Now, those of you who know me personally are aware that I am not an overly critical individual, and I try very hard not to speak ill of others. But this was just unbearable. This couple treated the waitress like their personal maid the entire evening. Aside from calling her over every two minutes they made the most outrageous requests, from tissues for their allergies to free refills of their appetizers and beverages. Next they wanted pickles on the house, and since the rice wasn’t to their liking (after they’d eaten half of it), they wanted to know if they could have mashed potatoes instead. The waitress took all their orders seriously and respectfully and tried to accommodate their every whim. I admired her self-control and how she handled everything so politely and didn’t lose her patience. Meanwhile, my husband and I ordered our food.. Even though it was our evening out I tried to keep expenses to a minimum, in deference to our pretty tight budget. The presentation was beautiful. I really enjoyed the quality time with my husband, catching up on each other’s day and chuckling over the latest antics of our kids. Everything was perfect. That is, except for our neighbors at the next table, who kept up their litany of complaints and demands throughout the meal. When I finally saw the check being brought to their table I breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that they would soon finish up, bentch, leave a decent tip and depart the premises.Indeed, a few minutes later they got up and walked out, leaving behind a pile of empty dishes, evidence of their satisfaction. When the waitress came over to tidy up and collect her tip her face fell. I could see the tears welling up in her eyes as she cleared the table and headed back to the kitchen.
A few minutes later a different waiter emerged to take our dessert order. When we asked him where Sarah had gone he told us that she was “temporarily indisposed.” “She looked pretty upset before,” I confided in a low voice. “We waiters get only a very small base salary,” he explained. “Most of our income comes from tips. Some days we get more and sometimes less, but we always try to treat our customers well so they’ll leave us a decent amount. “Sarah,” he continued, “is a very nice young woman who is a single mom. She only works at night when her baby is asleep. After paying the babysitter she’s barely left with any money, but she doesn’t want to give up her precious time with the baby. Tonight, though, was a particularly quiet evening. It’s been so slow that she hasn’t even covered her babysitting expenses.The customers at the next table really raised her hopes due to their incessant demands, but they seem to have forgotten to leave her anything. She’s very disappointed…” My husband gave me a wink and reached into his pocket, quickly withdrawing $25. “Oh no!” he said, slapping his head with his palm. “It’s all my fault…I forgot to give her this! I’m so sorry that she’s upset! Those people had a last-minute emergency and entrusted me with this money, insisting that I personally thank her on their behalf and express their appreciation.
I put it in my pocket, planning to give it to her together with my tip. I never realized that a few minutes could make such a difference. Please give it to her, along with my apologies.” In terms of mitzvos it was a doubleheader, a combination of matan b’seiser and a kiddush Hashem all rolled into one. When Sarah returned, her face was all cheery again. When she asked us what we wanted for dessert we told her we couldn’t possibly eat anything else, thanks to the restaurant’s huge portions, and assured her that we had enjoyed everything immensely. (The truth is that we had already exceeded our budget.) She proceeded to bring us our check. After filling out a brief customer survey and sliding our credit card through the allotted slot, we bentched, left a $20 tip for Sarah, and disappeared into the night. Although we had paid $45 in tips for a $70 dinner we were quite happy. It was a nice night out that had taken an unexpected turn. Since that time we have bumped into that couple on several occasions. I’ve always wondered whether I should say something or not. So far I haven’t, but I really hope they’ll figure out on their own that what they did was insensitive and wrong, and never repeat the same mistake. They’re still young, so hopefully they’ll mature. Am I right or wrong? I really don’t know.