At The Restaurant
The waiter walked in with their food, and although the delicious scents wafted into her nose and made her mouth water, her gaze was focused on the restaurant's beautiful interior.
She asked the waiter about the decor, to which he answered dismissively and left. "He's not getting a tip from me," she told her daughter. Little did she know that the man walking away would hold her life in his hands.
When sixty-year-old New Yorker Kristy Jolly took her daughter for lunch that day, she'd only hoped to celebrate Melissa's new promotion at work.
A single mom, Kristy had been through a lot. She'd fought through tough times raising her daughter alone. Now a retired senior, she only wanted to spend time with Melissa whenever she could and enjoy life. But what would happen in that restaurant would claim everything she'd worked so hard to achieve.
Melissa had gotten her first promotion at work, an occasion that Kristy was eager to celebrate. She made plans with her daughter to grab lunch at a restaurant in Manhattan before they'd cook dinner at home as a continuation of the celebration.
With everything set, the two met at a famous pizzeria and ordered their food. But as they waited for the pizzas to come, something happened that would set the events of that week in motion.
Excited To Decorate
Kristy was about to buy a new house and was thinking about how to decorate it. She'd grappled with what style to settle for. She couldn't help but notice the restaurant's warm and rugged country-styled decor.
Thinking it would be the best answer to her problem, she thought it fitting to ask the waiter about the decor's name and perhaps its designer, but then she noticed something. She had no clue that the outcome of asking the waiter a simple question would give her sleepless nights.
The pizzeria’s current owner, Frank Brinja, is extremely proud of the establishment’s heritage – Patsy’s Pizzeria opened its doors in 1933. The walls are decorated with photographs of numerous patrons’ famous faces and accolades, painstakingly collected over a span of 86 years.
The waiter noticed that the two women had their eyes on the wall, scrutinising every last detail as they waited to be served. The server, seeing the older woman’s unhappy face, knew right away that there was going to be a problem.
Service With A Smile
For the 27-year-old waiter, the day had started as usual -- serving tables at the busy Patsy’s Pizzeria in Harlem, New York City.
He worked long hours to put himself through medical school and prided himself on providing the best service he could, and he did it all with a smile. Little did he know, one woman on his lunchtime shift was about to test his patience to the absolute limit.
Taking Their Orders
Tommy quickly approached the women and greeted them with a warm smile, and they ordered two New York pizza slices. So far, so good.
But when Tommy returned, the older woman stopped him and pointedly asked a question that he would never forget. Tommy, unprepared for the confrontation, was left at a loss for words.
Bringing The Food
The waiter brought Kristy and Melissa's food. Kristy asked about the decor as he served them, but the answer wasn't what she was expecting. "I don't know what to tell you, ma’am," the waiter said curtly. "Ask the manager, thanks." That’s when Kristy decided to ask him another question. “Why are there so few pictures of women on the wall?” she asked pointedly.
“Maybe women don’t eat a lot of pizza...?” Tommy stammered. He tried to smile and failed. Kristy was not amused. That's no way to talk to customers, she thought. She'd have to teach him a lesson.
Tommy Markaj regretted his answer as soon as it left his mouth. His body heated uncomfortably, and he cursed himself for letting his personal problems get in the way of his service.
He considered walking back to the woman and her daughter and apologizing, but feared escalating matters. He wiped a hand down his face, knowing that was a tip he'd miss out on. Little did he know what fate had in store for him and the woman.
Good And Bad Customers
As a server, Tommy expected to have good customers and bad customers. And some were just downright rude. But even if he prepared for the worst, it didn’t completely take the sting out of being stiffed by rude patrons.
Nevertheless, he resolved to always try his best to give all his customers equally good service. His livelihood depended on tips – he just prayed that there wouldn’t be any more trouble today. But he never expected the day’s events to take such a strange turn.
Doing His Job
An hour passed, and the woman and her daughter paid for their pizzas and left. Although Tommy was sure she hadn't left him a tip, he still hurried over to clear their table.
He expertly stacked dirty plates in one hand and picked up the serviettes strewn over the table. And that's when he saw it. He wasn’t expecting a tip. But when he looked inside the bill folder, the note he found was far more hurtful.
“Maybe women don’t tip either,” was obnoxiously handwritten on the receipt. Tommy could barely believe his eyes. But then he noticed something else. Lying beside one of the used serviettes was a cleaner sheet of paper. Tommy picked it up, thinking it was another sheet to be dumped out. But as he brought it closer, he quickly realized what it was.
Tommy almost dropped the dishes in his hand. He swallowed hard as he registered what he was looking at. How could the woman leave such a thing behind?
A Great Find
In Tommy's hand was a check. And not a measly hundred or thousand dollar check either. This one was worth $424,000!
Tommy stared at the cheque. He'd been having trouble at medical school for the last week because of tuition fees. It was the exact reason why he'd been so stressed lately. He needed money, or he'd miss his finals. Such a check would do more than solve the problem!
Tommy had a very big decision to make. If he wanted to, he could teach the woman a powerful lesson. He weighed his options carefully.
On the one hand, he had the option to just throw the check away -- no-one would be the wiser. He could do it in the name of karma. On the other hand, that would make him just as mean-spirited as the woman who had ruined his day. What would you do?
A Harrowing Realization
Kristy sat in her daughter's car as they drove home from lunch. She informed Melissa that she'd cashed out her life savings in a cheque, and it would be enough to buy her new home. She’d just sold her apartment, and the amount was the proceeds that she planned to use as a down payment on a new home.
She searched around her bag for the cheque but couldn't find it. Her world felt like it was collapsing around her. Her heartbeat caught and her stomach fluttered with anxiety. She couldn't find the cheque.
Tracing Her Steps
Kristy told Melissa what was happening. She explained that she'd placed the cheque in her bag about five hours before but couldn't seem to find it.
The two began their search around the city, visiting and calling all the places Kristy had been before they went for lunch. They even called the pizzeria, but the manager's answer left them speechless.
"We haven't seen it," the manager said with surety. He insisted that such a trivial document would've been returned immediately were it found within their premises. Kristy called the bank to try and report the case, but the answer she received was worse than the restaurant's.
The bank told her anybody could cash the hefty check in the next three months before they could freeze it. A hot lump settled in her stomach. She was about to lose her life savings.
She Couldn’t Do Anything
“They said they couldn’t immediately cancel it because it was a cashier’s check. I would have to wait at least three months before they could even start the process, and only if someone didn’t cash it in the meantime,” Karen explained.
Without that check, Karen wouldn’t have a home. She had been staying with friends, sleeping on a different couch each night.
Distraught by everything that was happening, Kristy turned in for the night. She couldn't believe she'd lost everything she'd spent more than forty years amassing.
Her blood, sweat, and tears were slipping out of her reach as she watched. She sat through the night, numb from the pain constantly shooting through her. How could life be so cruel?
Tommy sat with his manager at the restaurant as the night passed by. They'd spent the entire afternoon and evening trying to trace a Kristy Jolly, the woman whose name was on the four hundred thousand dollar cheque.
After Tommy found the cheque, he'd considered cashing it for a chance to change his life but knew he couldn't. He ran to his manager with the cheque, and they'd started searching for the woman. So why couldnt they find her?
“Normally we just put things left behind in the lost and found box in the back,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to do that with almost half a million dollars,” Tommy explained.
Frank tried to track the woman, whose name on the check, but didn’t have any luck. He then decided to wait to see if she would retrace her steps and come back. “We decided we would hold on to the check for a couple days to see if she would drop by or if we could find her ourselves,” he said.
Tommy and his manager couldn't find a Kristy Jolly who matched the woman's description. They reached out to New York Daily News for help, and the media house took three days to call back.
Their search had collided with a woman scouring the city for a similar check! Just under half an hour later, Karen arrived at the pizzeria. And Tommy was waiting to greet her at the door. But did she feel sorry that she had stiffed him so rudely?
When Tommy finally met the woman to give her the cheque, she hugged him, thanking him for being such an amazing person even though she wasn't nice to him.
She'd called a different branch of their restaurant only to come up short. "Don't ever change," she said amid tears.
“She was so happy and she was in tears,” says Frank. “But, the second she saw Tommy, you could see she got a little shy.” She must have felt like a fool.
At least she had the sense to undo some of her wrongdoing by offering the hardworking server a finder’s fee, and apologized profusely for being so nasty. But Tommy’s reaction surprised everyone.
Accepting Her Apology
Tommy accepted Kristy’s apology, but declined the money. “I’m happy for her, really,” he confessed. “Saturdays are pretty busy and I was very close to taking everything left on the table and throwing it out when I saw an envelope.”
Kristy and Tommy made up over some hot pizza, and then Frank showed her the photograph wall to prove a point.
Pointing Something Out
Frank took Kristy over to the wall of memories and pointed out all the women’s faces that she had missed that Saturday.
There were photos of TV host Barbara Walters, First Lady Chirlane McCray, and former City Council Speakers Christine Quinn and Melissa Mark-Viverito. So, Kristy’s rude comment to Tommy wasn’t just uncalled for – she had been wrong as well.
Then, to really drive the point home, Frank offered to do something else, too. “We joked with her and said we’d add her picture up on the wall,” he said, laughing.
But do you think Kristy will think twice about leaving a nasty note for her server in future? It is well-known that servers struggle to make ends meet, and there’s a reason for that.
An Unfair System
Not many people are aware that workers in the service industry aren’t paid in the same way as those with jobs in other industries. They receive a “tipped minimum wage,” which amounts to a fraction of the federal minimum wage. Tips are designed to cover the rest of a server’s income, but there is no guarantee that they will.
This leaves servers like Tommy beholden to the whims of their paying customers, and it’s an unfair system. But there are some who are beginning to challenge it.
Making A Change
Danny Meyer, a restaurant owner who manages a wide array of bars and restaurants in New York City, has decided to do away with tipping altogether in his establishments.
“I just decided — instead of blaming the tipping system for what didn’t seem fair or right, why not take it into our own hands?” he explained in an interview.
Fair Compensation For Servers
With Danny Meyer leading the way, hopefully, others will follow suit. This will ensure that service workers like Tommy are given fair compensation for the valuable work they do and don’t have to live off tips.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.