Archive for November, 2012

Gratuity Not Included

A lone server stood sentinel against La Strada’s bar on a wintry night in 2006. Sighing to alleviate his boredom with the nearly vacant dining room, he cast a glance toward the garden-floor window at the icy scene outside, where the heavy, wet snow had caused the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street to be almost nontraversable. The result was little business, save the single male currently jabbing the tines of his dinner fork into his linguine, catching it with his spoon, and then spooling it into a manageable ball of pasta.

Eying the guest’s casual progress, he also noticed the dwindling amount of sangiovese in the man’s wine glass. He collected himself, mustering the patience to approach and offer another dose, an offer which was accepted upon inquiry.

As he turned toward the bar, the waiter’s steps were interrupted by a comment from his guest about the evening’s unruly weather. In a friendly voice, the waiter responded, nearly laughing at the season’s inconsistency. Then, he added a matter of greater concern to the dialogue, whether his seven-year old daughter would have school the next day. Should she not, he commented, it would be necessary to hire a babysitter, difficult to manage after an evening of business hobbled by inclement weather.  The compassionate visitor commensurately nodded in reply, contributing his own doubt as to whether there would be a delay in his five-hour flight home, causing him to miss his own son’s birthday.

The two men continued their chat as the restaurant worker visited the bar for his new friend’s second glass of wine. Curious, he inquired about the age of the man’s son while unwrapping the foil from an unopened bottle of Tuscan red and was happy to hear that the boy was about to turn eleven years old. He then asked about whether the son was involved in any activities at school and was told that the boy had recently started trumpet lessons. Now finished at the bar, he returned to the table with a decidedly generous helping for his new friend and was asked about his own daughter, her schoolmates, and what she liked to do.

The waiter spent the remainder of his guest’s dinnertime tableside, where the new acquaintances learned to relate to each other in a way that only a February snowfall could provide. He dutifully cleared his guest’s empty china when the appropriate moment arrived, discoursing throughout, of course, but not forgetting to offer a cup of espresso as he did. When the guest nodded in assent, he left for the kitchen, where he placed the single platter on an idle dish rack before ambling toward the espresso maker to procure the warm after-dinner drink. Then, watching as water ran through the tamped down coffee grounds, he reached for the dainty cup’s miniscule ear, rested it on a saucer, and returned to his guest in the dining area, offering a menu that included the evening’s gelato selections.

Opting to bypass dessert on the grounds that he was “too full,” the guest requested his tab soon afterward. The waiter acquiesced hesitantly, realizing that this meant that the enjoyable evening was coming to a close. Disappointment notwithstanding, however, he responded affirmatively and promptly left, returning with check in hand. The guest presented his credit card, signed his slip after processing, pulled his black winter coat from the back of his chair, thanked his kind server for a wonderful evening and departed, but not without tipping his hat once more before leaving.

The server turned once the gentleman had cleared the dining room, listening to the odd pair of Silence and Piped-In Music as they began a slow dance between the tables’ narrow aisles. There was only the evening’s sidework to complete before the twenty-six year old eatery shuttered its windows for the night. Silently, he advanced to the table where his friend had enjoyed a good dinner only a few minutes ago to retrieve the payment slip housed in the leather bound check presenter. The legible tip printed in blue ink would be for an amount that he would not receive for a few days, since it required verification. It would be for over $1,000.00.