Please don't sit in my section; please don't sit in my section.
Of course they sat in my section. A family with four kids between the ages of two and ten had selected my center booth. As they sat down youngest screaming, oldest laughing and mom trying to keep everyone under control, dread immediately took hold. As a person I adore children, but as a server I despise them. Children mean kids cups, balloons, crayons, extra hula hooping and noise - all of which lead to messes that I am expected to clean up. In addition to tables of spilt drinks and floors covered in curly fries, families often mean tips that don't reflect the work of keeping two distinct generations happy.
Despite my usual apprehension, I put on my best smile as I distributed beverage napkins and coloring sheets. Preparing for the worst, I continued smiling as drinks were spilled and crayons were ground into the booth seats. When the two oldest boys decided they'd like their own table I made a game of retaking their orders and drawing up their very own check. I drew a different character on five different balloons. I hula hooped until the kids could hula hoop no more.
As the meal was winding down and I was wiping down the wait station, Ariel came over with a stack of plates and whispered, "I bet they give you the crappiest tip."
"Yeah, I hate to say it, but that's usually the way it goes."
Dropping of their $59 ticket I was prepared for a five dollar tip, maybe seven if I was lucky. I thanked them for coming in and they likewise thanked me for my service as I grabbed the American Express card off the table. Then as I was helping a table nearby, the family of six left as loudly as they came.
Returning to the table I was struck by the mess. Food littered the table creating a trail to the floor, spills of ranch intermingled with blobs of ketchup and crushed crayons added a rainbow dash of color to the entire scene. Downheartedly I began clearing the table. Coming across the credit card receipt my heart sank as I read "CASH" in the tip area. I was just waiting to find the five dollar bill that would amount to a less than ten percent tip.
Then, behind a cup at the back of the table, I came across a note:
"You were the best server we've ever had. Thanks for making each of our kids feel special and letting us enjoy a meal. It was really appreciated."
Underneath the note was a twenty dollar bill.
I was pleasantly surprised yet simultaneously ashamed that'd I'd been so quick to judge. Apparently that whole thing about no judging a book by its cover is true.