Lone Gentleman Diner

Years go I worked at a restaurant waiting tables.  This one evening, and elderly gentleman came in for dinner by himself and was sat in my section.  He was lovely, but it made me a little sad.

Most diners who came in by themselves brought a book or their laptop or the newspaper or something.  He did not.  He just stared straight ahead when he was waiting for his next course.  And he sat right in the middle of my section, too.  Not against a wall or in a corner or anything.  It was very clear to everyone around him that he was there alone, oddly staring straight ahead.

He ordered a glass of white wine, a soup and his main entrée.  He ate in silence except when I had time to make some small talk with him.  When I cleared his dinner plate, I asked him if he had saved enough room to have a look at the dessert menu.  His response almost made me cry on the spot:  “Well since it’s my birthday, I guess I’m allowed to treat myself.”.

WHAT?????  It was his birthday??  And he was out celebrating all by himself??!??

As soon as I got back to the kitchen, I told a couple other servers the story.  A few of them immediately insisted on sharing his bill.  Everyone was so touched by the story.

At this restaurant, we served a really nice complimentary birthday dessert with a candle.  Our pastry chef would write ‘Happy Birthday’ on the plate with melted chocolate.  It was quite impressive looking.

I took his birthday cake out to him, candle blazing, and wished him a very happy birthday.  He was quite taken aback, and maybe a little embarrassed.

After setting it down and chatting with him for a moment, a couple at a nearby table motioned me over to them.  They weren’t even in my section.  They asked, “Is it that gentleman’s birthday?  And he’s alone?  I want you to bring his bill to us, and tell him he’s more than welcome to finish his coffee at our table.”

I am such a weepy suck.  I pour all my emotions out of my eyes.  It doesn’t matter if I’m happy, sad, angry, embarrassed, worried, or frustrated, my eyes will start to water.

At that moment, when another couple who didn’t even know this gentleman, offered to pay for his meal and invited him to their table, it was all I could do to keep from bawling right there!  The situation had already evoked such strong emotions, and now these total strangers were proposing such a beautiful gesture!  I was only hoping that I would be able to make it through the conversation that I now had to have with my elderly guest.

I went over and told him that the lovely couple ‘over there’ insisted on paying for his bill since it was his birthday, and that they had invited him to finish his coffee at their table.

The sweet birthday boy didn’t know what to say about their very kind gesture.  He looked over at them, smiled awkwardly and gave them a nod of appreciation.

When he was finished his cake and coffee, he went over to thank them and chat with them for a moment, and then he left.

Before he left, however, two more tables had called me over and offered to pay for his birthday dinner.  Amazing!!

It was a very touching and sad story coupled with truly wonderful and kind gestures from so many people who were all just trying to give a complete stranger a bit of love and comfort on his special day.  It left us all with mixed feelings of sadness and warmth.

Kathleen Bolton

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