“May I get you something to drink?” I ask the teetering octogenarian on table 17.

“Gimme a soda with no ice,” the old woman snaps.

“Of course madam,” I reply.

“And I want ice on the side,” she screeches.

Not so loud Grandma. Turn up the hearing aid.

“Of course madam.”

“Don’t forget – no ice in my soda!”

“Of course madam.”

I depart the table, my faith in the elderly as the repository of good manners utterly shattered.

I go to the back, dispense some cola into an empty pint glass, stick a straw in it, and fill a tumbler with ice. The straw, without any ice to hold it in place, tips over and lays horizontal on top of the glass. Not a good presentation.

I return to the old lady’s table, place the soda gingerly in front of her, and start reciting the specials. By the time I’m finished grandma has slurped down her soda.

“Another,” she says, almost belching.

“But of course madam.”

“And I don’t want any ice,” she repeats.

“I remember madam.”

“You get more soda without ice,” the old woman says, almost to herself.

“You are very perceptive madam.” I reply.

“Yes,” she says, “I like to get what I pay for.”

“I’ll be right back with another soda.”

“No ice,” she blurts.

“Yes madam.”

I head to the back to get another soda. Now, I get this “no ice in my soda” request all the time. The reasons vary. Some people, a vast minority, don’t like cold soda. Maybe they have sensitive teeth. But senior citizens, especially the dwindling number that remember the Great Depression, often want no ice because they get more soda in the glass.

You might chuckle and say this woman’s cheap. But she might also remember when Coca Cola was a six ounce bottled treat that people couldn’t afford everyday. Maybe the no ice thing is a vestigial response developed during a time of scarcity. Or she’s just cheap. I don’t know.

But high end restaurants often pull a scam when it comes to soda. We live in an age of free refills at Burger King and Mc Donald’s. But fancy places, desperate to improve their profit margins, will charge $2 or $3 for each and every soda. When customers, accustomed to free refills, get the bill, they’re shocked to discover their kids have sucked down $30 worth of sugar water.

My bistro has free refills. Sure, we charge $2 for a soda, but at a food cost of pennies a glass, Fluvio makes a profit whether you drink one soda or a gallon. Some servers like to charge for each soda because it inflates the bill, but I can’t stand that sort of shit. Why? People expect free refills and are aggravated when they don’t get it. Aggravation leads to lower tips. Plus, if a restaurant’s nickel and diming customers over soda – they’re probably nickel and diming their servers too.

I’m being paranoid you say? This sounds like complete bullshit? Au contraire! There’s a place in Manhattan where, if you order a glass of soda with no ice, you’re charged more money! That’s right folks! This place makes you pay for the extra volume the ice would normally occupy. Next thing you know they’ll be charging for ice on the side too.

On principle I wouldn’t want to eat in a place like that. I understand owners need to make a profit. I understand margins are tight. But it’s the quality of the FOOD that brings valued repeat customers back, not the soda. If a restaurant’s depending on soda to make their bottom line – they’re in trouble. Maybe they’re in trouble financially. Maybe their food sucks. Who knows? But no one patronizes a high end restaurant to enjoy a glass of Sprite.

The Bistro I work at has great food. In fact, we have some of the highest ratings in the area for food and service. We don’t need no stinking soda!

I won’t bullshit you. Fluvio’s raised prices. He has to. Have you seen the cost of heating oil lately? But when he raises prices it’s on shit that matters, high quality meats, fine wines, artisanal cheeses and my salary. He doesn’t skimp on the important stuff! He stands by the quality of his food and staff. And since we’ve buried so many competitors over the years, he must be doing something right.

Soda is just that – soda. Take a look at your bill next time. Maybe Grandma knows something we don’t.

But I wish she’d turn up her hearing aid.

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