During the holiday season, every year for the past 14 years, A.L, a reader from the Northeast, accompanies her daughter and her two grandsons into the city for an outing. The outing regularly includes a theater production or movie, but always includes a meal at a downtown restaurant. Given her grandson's appetite, the tastier the food and the bigger the portions, the better.
For the past several years, the restaurant of choice for these outings has been an Italian restaurant that serves traditional Italian dishes and freshly baked bread that the boys consume with vigor. Last year, as A.L. and her family were finishing their meal, the waitress came over to the table with a small loaf of bread that she had wrapped up for each grandson to take home with him. "I have a teenage brother so I know how teenage boys are always hungry," the waitress told A.L. and her daughter as she handed them the bread. They hadn't ordered the bread and there was no charge for it. The boys devoured the bread on their walk through the city after their meal.
This year, A.L. and her family are planning to go to the same restaurant as part of their outing. She loved that the waitress offered the bread at the end of the meal the previous year, something that none of their previous waitresses had done. She'd love it if the meal ended with a nice freshly baked takeaway again this year.
"Would it be wrong for me to tell our waitress this year about our experience last year and see if she might do the same?" asks A.L. "But I don't want to get anyone in trouble by asking."
A.L.'s concern is that the prior year's waitress might have broken one of the restaurant's rules by giving them bread as they were leaving. She doesn't want to call attention to the prior year's offering if it would risk getting someone in trouble. Still, the grandsons do love the bread.
The restaurant doesn't charge customers when they ask for more bread with their meals, so it's unlikely that the prior year's waitress did anything wrong or that this year's waitress would say no. There would be nothing wrong with A.L. telling this year's waitress about their experience last year and asking if it might be repeated. The waitress might respond that she's not permitted to give them extra bread and then A.L. would have to decide if she wants to purchase it for the boys to eat on their walk.
The right thing would be for A.L. to decide how important it is to her to leave the restaurant with the bread snack for her grandsons. If she'd like to explore the possibility of it happening again, she shouldn't hesitate to ask the waitress for help in making it happen.
If A.L. believes that the simple gesture would make the traditional outing even a bit more special, then it's worth putting her concern aside and trusting her waitress to respond graciously and professionally to her request. A.L. shouldn't tip her waitress any less if she can't comply with the bread-to-go request, but if the waitress does come through, A.L. might tip her even better.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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