The man on table 23 raises his hand and performs the scribble signal for the check. I nod in acknowledgment and head to the POS computer to print it up.
All in all 23 wasn’t a bad table – man, wife, mother-in-law – the usual kind of late Sunday afternoon customers. The elderly woman took forever to order. The husband never said please. But to be fair, he seemed on edge when he walked in the door. Probably because he’s with his mother-in-law.
The thermal printer silently spits out the $100 check. I slip the bill into a plastic folder, walk back to the table, and place it next to the husband’s left elbow.
“Thank you very much,” I say with manufactured sincerity. I’m tired.
The man doesn’t look at me. He doesn’t speak. He pulls the bill folder in front of him and examines the check. The man grimaces. I can tell he wasn’t expecting to spend a hundred bucks. Oh well. The prices are posted in the window. I fade away from the table.
The man shows the bill to his wife. They look at each other and say something I can’t hear. The man opens his wallet and stuffs some cash into the check holder.
I wait thirty seconds and then walk over to the table. I place my hand on the check holder.
“I need some change,” the husband says.
“Right away sir,” I reply.
I open the checkbook. Inside are two crisp one hundred dollar bills. I walk over to the register and hand the check to Georgie, our Sunday hostess.
“I need some change,” I say.
“How much is the check?” she asks.
“A hundred bucks,” I reply. “But I need to break this other hundred for my tip.”
I put the hundred that covers the bill in my pocket. Georgie makes change and gives me back a fifty, a twenty, a ten, two fives, and ten ones. I arrange the notes in descending order of value, stick them into the check holder, and return to the table.
“Thank you again sir,” I say, placing the man’s change in front of him.
“You’re welcome,” the husband replies without looking up.
After a few minutes the trio gets up and leaves. The busgirls swoop in to reset the table. I walk over, pick up the check holder, and examine its contents.
Inside are two singles and a fifty dollar bill. My face breaks out in a smile. I’m mildly amazed. Why would this guy tip me fifty-two bucks on a hundred dollar check? Man, maybe I really am that good.
Or maybe the guy really meant to tip me twenty-two dollars.
My smile disappears. The man made a mistake. Goddammit.
“Did you see which way my three top that just left went?” I ask Georgie.
“They went around the corner,” she replies. “What’s wrong?”
“The guy over tipped me.”
“How much did he give you?”
“Fifty-two bucks on a hundred.”
“If you hurry you might catch them.”
I walk out the door and round the corner. I see the trio moving slowly up the avenue. The mother-in-law is slowing them down. I break into a trot and catch up with them.
“Sir,” I call out. “Sir?”
The husband turns around. He gives me a wary look. I can understand his trepidation. No one wants a waiter chasing them down in the street.
“What do you want?” the husband asks.
“I appreciate your generosity sir,” I reply. “But you over tipped me.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You gave me a fifty-two dollar tip on a hundred dollar check.”
I hold up the fifty dollar bill. “I think you meant this to be a twenty,” I say.
The man blushes. “Thank you waiter. That’s very honest of you.”
“I’d hate to lose fifty bucks,” I reply. “I work for my money.”
“So do I,” the man says, taking the fifty out of my hand. He takes out his wallet and hands me thirty bucks.
“Thank you again,” the man says with some embarrassment. “It’s better you came to me than me coming to you.”
I start to wonder what the man means but decide to let it slide.
“Have a nice evening sir,” I say.
I slowly walk back to the Bistro. Walking towards me is a young well dressed woman. She looks amused.
“So,” she asks. “Did you get him?”
“I got him,” I say, flashing her a smile.
“Because if they skip you pay the bill, right?” the woman asks.
“You must’ve waited tables once upon a time,” I reply.
“In college,” the woman says, brushing a lock of blonde hair out of her eyes.
This woman’s got an amazing pair of baby blues. Our eyes lock. Something arcs between us.
“So you want a job here?” I say, jerking my thumb towards the Bistro.
“I’m good thanks,” the woman says laughing.
“Well,” I say, “Be sure to come in and have a drink sometime.”
“Will you be my waiter?” the woman asks.
“Even if I have to come in on my day off.”
The woman gives me a subtle once over. “Maybe one day,’ she says.
“I’ll look forward to it,” I reply.
“Bye, the woman says.
Flirtation over, I head back inside the restaurant.
“Did you get him?” Georgie asks.
“I got him.”
I explain everything. I leave out the part about Blue Eyes.
“Well aren’t you Honest Abe,” Georgie says.
“Actually it has more to do with customer retention than honesty,” I say.
“I guess that’s true.”
“I’d rather have a customer come back and tip me hundreds of dollars over the course of the years than just making a fifty dollar score.”
“Not all waiters think like that,” Georgie says.
“You’re right, I reply. “A crackhead waiter would’ve kept it. And if the man came back he’d deny getting over tipped.”
“Plenty of crackhead waiters around,” Georgie says.
“You ain’t kidding.”
The rest of the night labors on. My little bit of honesty does nothing for my short-term Karma. An elderly customer walks out with both credit card slips so I lose the tip, another couple leaves 5%, and I splash balsamic vinegar on my brand new tie. And blue eyes? I never saw her again. But hope springs eternal.