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Paying it forward

Our family owns a restaurant in the rural lakes area of our state. We have an interesting dilemma. Three times in the past several months, strangers have paid for the meals of other guests they have just met in our dining room.

The first time was for an older couple and when the man who had been chatting with them paid for his meal, he asked our hostess for their check paid for theirs as well and left before he could be thanked.

The second time, a man approached our hostess and said there was a guest wearing a Vietnam Vet's hat and he wanted to buy their meal "just because." He, too, left before he could be acknowledged.

The third time two couples had been chatting across the tables. When one couple was paying their bill, the man put down an extra bill and said he wanted to cover the other couple's meal as well. After they left and the beneficiaries asked for their check, the hostess explained it had been covered. This time our hostess was concerned because the couple appeared to be very uncomfortable, almost insulted, and embarrassed as if the buyer had assumed they were broke.

As far as I'm concerned, we have the nicest customers in the world, but our hostess feels she is being put on the spot and doesn't want to be party to making any of our guests uncomfortable.

What do you think? Has this happened to you? How would you feel? How should our hostess handle this situation in the future?

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  1. I would not feel insulted if this happened to me.

    The hostess should say: "I've heard of people doing this when they strike up very rewarding conversations with strangers. They are surprisingly delighted and want to do something surprisingly nice in return."

    1. Happens all the time, esp. at the drive-thru lanes of fastfood restaurants or Starbucks.

      Good on folks.

      1 Reply
      1. You can't help how the recipient feels. If they don't see the good in an act of kindness, then that's their problem.

        1. I have been on the end of the giving before. I paid for a couple soliders meals at a local restaurant during my lunch one day. The next time I came back to the restaurant, one of the girls told me that they had asked her to give me one of the patches of the American flag to show their thanks.

          1. I think anyone who performs and act of kindness with nobody looking and nobody knowing who they are is the highest form of mitzvah.
            Awesome.

            1. I have a very wealthy friend who often does this. Even though I'm not rich his spirit of giving infected me and I tried it. Karma is a great thing and reveals itself, at least to me, when I least expect it. I can think that helping someone out -- even if they don't really need the help -- rewards me with a general good feeling and leave it at that, but then karma comes in and rewards me with something a hundred fold more valuable. Sometimes these gifts are material but much more often they're gifts of the spirit, or of friendship -- or love.

              If someone is such a boor that they have some sort of attitude about having a drink/coffee/meal paid for by someone else, they have a much larger lesson to learn about themselves and they must work through that situation for themselves. Let 'em complain but don't worry about their discomfort. In the case of folks like these, it's therapeutic.

              1. Recently a gold star son was in the media for paying it forward, have your hostess google it, and maybe it would help her understand paying it forward

                1. Once when we were eating in a local restaurant we noticed a neighbor was there and smiled and waved. When we went to pay our check we learned that he had paid ours. But we understood that he was doing this to thank us as his lover was dying at the time and I had been taking baked goods to them every week so they would have something nice to share with their many friends and guests. However I can see that if a total stranger paid your check it might be unnerving.

                  1. I knew an elderly couple that would go out to breakfast every Saturday and pick someone (or a couple) to secretly buy their meal. They had fun with it. They would pick someone because he/she "looked nice" or looked happy/sad/lonely/friendly, or because the person opened the door for them, etc. they had fun choosing their "person".

                    They did it for years, then the wife died. I felt really sorry for the husband, he said he would go out for a dinner or a lunch -but just couldn't go out for breakfast ever again:(

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sedimental

                      What a sweet tradition they had. This brought tears to my eyes.

                    2. My ex and I were chatting with a fellow as we all waited in line for a table at a popular breakfast place. We had never been there and the fellow was a regular so we asked about his favorite menu items. Eventually we were seated in a different areas. All in all a very pleasant, totally forgetable exchange.

                      When we asked for our check the waitress said he had taken care of it and he hoped we had enjoyed our meal. We were struck by the surprise of the gesture. It was such a nice thing to do. We wanted to thank him but he had left. The waitress said he ate there regularly so we wrote him a note of thanks and she promised to give it to him. We did have to scramble a bit for the tip since we had planned on putting everything on a credit card. Luckily I keep some small bills and change in the car just in case!

                      That mans generosity of spirit has stayed with me. On days when it feels like the world is a thankless place I remember this instance and other gestures of kindness. Most people are good, kind and caring - we just are seldom in a place where we see the actions of strangers in this light. When we are fortunate enough to witness a good turn it just makes the world feel that much sunnier!

                      1. my husband and I go with what our gut (or really our God) leads us to do.

                        never is the intention to embarrass, the intention is to listen and act on the right thing to do.

                        we were at dinner, just passing thru a town we oft travel thru getting to our final destination. several tables away a large round table of military dressed guys. husband told our waitress "their bill is on me. tally it up and come get my credit card, when they ask for their bill just tell them there isn't one. don't tell them from who. just say it's been taken care of."

                        somehow they'd figured it out-thanked us and shook our hands when they left.

                        although this is a story I've told before it bears repeating. if you think you're being lead to gift something, my thoughts are you are.

                        2 weeks ago there was a man in military uniform walking around in a small 'everything shop'. I was lead so I walked up to him to shake his hand and thank him for his service-unfortunately this usually promotes tears on my part but I try to stay 'dry&devoid'.
                        he smiled, thanked me and I walked away. strolled up to the counter and told the cashier I wanted to pay for whatever he brought to the counter. ring him up tell him it's been paid for and when he leaves you've got my credit card. he finally walked out with nothing. still I followed my heart.
                        folks paid for our son all the time, we figure we can help out once in a while too, like others did for him.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: iL Divo

                          <<I was lead so I walked up to him to shake his hand and thank him for his service-unfortunately this usually promotes tears on my part but I try to stay 'dry&devoid'>>

                          I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one who has a hard time fighting back tears when I thank a veteran!

                          1. re: iL Divo

                            Just be careful, because everyone who walks around in what looks like military fatigues/camo is not necessarily a veteran. Recently near a military base someone was called out for walking around basically pretending to be a veteran, with a name badge and other things as well, but he walked by the wrong soldier, who could spot what was fake about his outfit and called him out in public about it, and it started a bit of a brawl.

                            The group of people at a table probably legit, but you never know with just a single person walking around, unfortunately. I do thank them for their service, but I probably wouldn't PIF for them for fear of rewarding an imposter.

                            1. re: rockandroller1

                              I'll take my chances...was proud and honored to gift

                              about approaching a military uniform, if I'm in doubt I ask, "are you in the military" I'm not on my own I'm approaching because I'm being lead to

                          2. This has happened to me many times (I'm a cop.) and it's never occurred to me to think the person paying thought I had no money. It's a really lovely feeling. I've started doing the same for others and it's such good karma. If the recipients can't or won't appreciate the gesture, there's really nothing to do.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Hobbert

                              we've never thought they 'needed' our help.

                            2. Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. I didn't realize this is so common.

                              1. I do this pretty frequently, usually for law enforcement. I think the official department policy is that they're not supposed to accept it, but when it's done anonymously, it's hard for them to refuse.