Free Meal Leaves Customer Feeling Awkward

February 18, 2017

in Accident & Mishap Stories

This isn’t a “hell” story, but I thought it would be interesting to share nevertheless.

A couple of years ago, my parents and I (all adults) spent a three week vacation travelling across the USA, so naturally we visited many restaurants and diners along the way, and this is one that stood out.

It was a steak restaurant; casual, but slightly more upscale/expensive than other restaurants we’d visited during our trip. The server was a young girl who may have been new to the job, although she was as friendly and professional as we’d come to expect from people in the USA. After ordering drinks, she came over to our table holding a tray. Unfortunately, as she was serving drinks to our table with one hand while holding the tray in the other, an open beer bottle on the tray fell over and some of the beer spilled. Most of it went on the floor, but a small amount also went into my mother’s lap. Anyway, we’re pretty laid back, so it wasn’t a big deal to us; just one of those things that happens. We were all in casual clothes anyway and it was only a small amount, so we could’ve easily laughed it off and forgot about it. Of course, the girl was apologising profusely, even after we insisted that it’s really not a problem and not to worry about it.

We thought that would be the end of it, but after ordering our meals, the manager/owner came over to our table, also apologising profusely about the incident (we had not asked for the manager). Again, we tried to explain that it wasn’t a problem, but he wasn’t having any of it. He told us that all our meals would be free and we only had to pay for drinks (he wanted us to have free drinks too, but apparently the law doesn’t allow that). We told him that we still wanted to pay for our meals, but he insisted that we would not be charged for them.

Now, I’m sure many people would think it’s great to eat for free at a nice steak restaurant, but to be quite honest, it made me feel pretty awkward and guilty getting food from the restaurant for nothing, especially since the incident didn’t even involve me.

After the incident, we didn’t see the girl again; we were served by another staff member for the rest of the evening. We felt bad for the girl and expressed this concern to the other staff because we really didn’t want her to be in trouble over the incident.

Just before we left, the manager came by a second time to apologise again. Once again, we expressed that we didn’t want the girl to be in serious trouble over the incident, and the manager assured us that she wouldn’t be in trouble. But having not seen her for the rest of the evening, I wasn’t entirely convinced and couldn’t help feeling bad for her.

While this story obviously isn’t “hell” for us, I did leave the restaurant feeling bad for the girl and awkward for getting free food, especially as the food and service were excellent. My parents didn’t mind so much about getting free food, but they did also feel bad for the girl. I really hope she didn’t lose her job or lose any pay or anything like that.

It’s really amazing how far US restaurant staff will go to make customers happy, and we certainly appreciate the effort. However, I think that perhaps it can sometimes go a bit too far, especially when you’re not used to it.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jacob February 20, 2017 at 8:06 am

Hope you gave a tip even though you received free meals.


Tiredofjerks February 21, 2017 at 4:39 pm

Yea, someone this concerned with other people is most likely to stiff them on the tip.


Makoshark June 28, 2017 at 12:23 am

Actually, in other countries, tipping isn't a thing. So it's entirely possible that they didn't.


therabbitspot August 22, 2017 at 6:23 am

I would also think the same when someone is offering me a free meal and at some good place. This is the same exact feeling that almost every person would have for the first time.


Kristie November 18, 2017 at 2:02 am

Really bashing the guests about tipping? It was no big deal and they were pointing out how ridiculous restaurants are when comping food. It encourages bad behavior from very ignorant people and the only one that suffers is the server. These people sounded like decent people. Being talked down to by scum is degrading. So when people like this( seems to be fewer and fewer) just let it go that is sometimes better then a good tip. I hate stupid situations that make more work for me and or make me look bad. I'll take drama free and not having to kiss people you would find under a rock butts for a slightly smaller tip any day.


Been there September 25, 2018 at 4:09 am

Listen, a lot of places require managers to "touch" a table if something has gone amiss. I'm sure the service was lovely and perhaps the server (likely a new one) felt awful and bawled it up to the manager. They would WANT to take care of you so that your experience was good. It was likely the end of her shift or she was zoned which is why you didn't see her again. Long story short, I'm sure she was fine and it was just guest perspective leaving you feeling uneasy. Be at peace lovely guests. I wish there were more of you.


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