Value Speak – by Joseph B. Walker


It figured to be a tough night for Cassie.

The restaurant at which she works as a server was packed. The wait staff was short-handed. And there were several large groups that were demanding a lot of her time and attention.

Oh, and one more thing: she was pregnant.

For the sixth time.

None of which seemed daunting to the smiling, buoyant waitress, who looks way too young to have five children at home. She chatted cheerfully with her customers as she nimbly flit from table to table. She joked with her colleagues in the kitchen as she loaded heaping trays of pasta and pizza. And she laughed when her serving partner, Beth, sloshed a pitcher of root beer against her ever-expanding tummy.

“I better get a ‘Wide Load’ sign for that thing,” she said, still chuckling, as she dabbed the root beer off the front of her apron.

On a night when Cassie had every reason and right to complain, she was the picture of calm in the midst of the culinary storm that was swirling around her . Even when a long-time customer asked about her unemployed husband’s fruitless job search, she refused to go negative.

“He’s trying so hard to find something,” she said, her voice calm and confident. “He’s a great worker.  I’m sure he’ll find something soon.”

As the shift wore on, Cassie’s pleasant demeanor never waned. Through insistent businessmen, fussy babies, demanding grandmothers and dorky teenagers (you know, the kind who think it’s funny to leave the waitress a 3 cent tip?), she maintained her professionalism, her upbeat attitude and her constant, contagious smile.

“I don’t know how you do it,” Beth said through clenched teeth after a customer changed his mind on his order – for the third time. “Doesn’t anything bother you?”

“Sure, stuff bothers me,” Cassie said, smiling (of course). “But after five kids and an unemployed husband, I’ve learned to be very choosy about the things I allow to upset me. Otherwise I’d be walking around in panic mode all day!”

A couple of hours later, Beth and Cassie were working together on the last table of the evening. By this time the restaurant was nearly empty, so the pace was slowed considerably.  The last party was a fun, lively group, and the two servers enjoyed some playful banter with each other and with their customers. The family at the table was especially interested in Cassie’s baby, and they showered her with good wishes as they collected their things to leave. When she returned from the cashier with their change, the father of the family told her to keep it.

“In fact,” he said as he pressed a tight wad of currency into her hand, “keep this, too.”

Cassie hesitated. “Sir, you don’t have to . . .”

“I know,” he said as his wife leaned over to give Cassie a quick hug. “And you didn’t have to be so nice to your last customers of the night.  We were pretty rowdy, and we kept changing our mind on our pizza order. You never even rolled your eyes at us, even though we probably deserved it. You just smiled and took good care of us, because that’s what you do.

“And this,” he continued, patting her clenched hand that was suddenly filled  with cash, “this is what I do. So we’re even.”

Cassie thanked the gentleman, but didn’t actually look at the cash until after he left the restaurant (server etiquette, I guess). She was startled to see five crisp $20 bills in her hand, to go along with the $20-something in change he had instructed her to keep. Her first impulse was to run after them, to tell them that she appreciated it, but $120 was too much for a tip – especially if the total bill was less than $80. But then she remembered what he said: “This is what I do.”

 “That’s exactly what I’d do if I had the money,” she told Beth. “In fact, some day that’s exactly what I WILL do!”

She tucked the cash in her “Tips” wallet and continued her cleanup duties, which suddenly seemed a lot less bothersome than they were before.

And not nearly as tough.

~ © Joseph B. Walker

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