Restaurants have been a significant cause this year of neck contortion, twisting noggins with everything from the Frankenstein-ish (a pumpkin spice pizza? Really?) to the Hulk-like (paying 40 times earnings for an acquisition, even if it is Panera Bread? Is that even possible?).
On this day of giving thanks, we’re ignoring the usual causes of beanstalk strain to look at head-spinning moments of a different sort. Here, collected over the past year, are noteworthy reminders of why this isn’t a bad business for anyone with a heart and conscience.
Here are four reasons you can be thankful you’re part of this community.
Restaurants 1, Mother Nature 0
Months before hurricanes Harvey and Irma walloped restaurants this summer, one establishment refused to let Mother Nature ruin what was supposed to be a young couple’s perfect day. The pair had been planning their wedding on Anastasia Island, a resort on the Atlantic coast of Florida, for a year. Who knew all that preparation would be dashed by the expected arrival of Hurricane Matthew on the very day last fall the couple intended to exchange vows? Gabriel Orton and Austin Scribner had no choice but to postpone the date.
Enter Enza’s, an Italian restaurant in Jacksonville, Fla., that heard about the situation. It offered to host the festivities at the last minute, provided the couple would be willing to move up the event by a day. They eagerly agreed, and Gabriel and Austin became wife and husband 24 hours before Matthew hit.
"Everybody's continuing to say that we should name our first child Matthew,” Gabriel told the local NBC affiliate at the time. “It's not going to happen."
An Islamic Christmas gift
Any Grinch hoping to kindle some holiday spirit should think back to a little-noticed gesture last year by an operation that figured it should do something special for Christmas, even though its proprietors are nonobserving. The Muslim management of Shish, a Turkish spot in London, may not participate in the festivities, but they decided to show consideration for those who couldn’t celebrate because they lacked the means or anyone to join them.
The restaurant invited solo diners, including the homeless and elderly, to visit the restaurant on Christmas Day for a free three-course meal. “No one eats alone on a Christmas Day!” read a handwritten note posted on the restaurant’s door. It assured visitors that the staff would welcome the company.
The inspiration was a request from an elderly neighbor for help in closing a window. That led to a realization the woman would be alone for the holidays, and the decision to help anyone in the same plight.
Although the incident wasn’t widely publicized in the U.S., it became a sensation across the pond.
And, no, she didn't retire
Carey Hilliard’s Restaurants is outstanding in showing its appreciation for longtime employees. Consider its website: The home page rotates pictures of the vets under the heading “Family,” along with some unabashed bragging about their skills. Hazel Stevens, a 19-year vet, makes 2,000 club sandwiches a month. Johnnie Washington, a virtual newcomer with just 10 years on the job, is often asked by customers to prep their onion rings—maybe because they hope he’ll bust his signature move of sliding across the kitchen like he’s dancing.
But Hilliard’s has some trouble with observing its own recognition policies. A cardinal rule is that employees who log 45 years of service are rewarded with either a gold watch or a check for $10,000. But it refused to give either to Barbara Harp, who started with the six-unit chain in 1971.
Instead, at a party celebrating her longevity, management presented her with the keys to a new car. She indicated she’ll use it to keep going into work every day.
A better gift than 20%
Not all of the good cheer warming the industry this holiday season is likely to come from restaurants. Consider the Santa in street clothes who’s already making servers happy with his acts of unbelievable largesse. Yes, the serendipitous gifts known as Tips for Jesus are back, as mysterious as ever.
This is no feel-good story for children. An unfamiliar restaurant patron leaves a four-figure tip for his server, always on a cash payment for a relatively small charge, after scrawling “Tips for Jesus” on the tab. It happened in 2013, it happened in 2015, and it happened just last week at a New York City restaurant called Guyer’s. A guest bought roughly $100 in drinks for himself and his party, then left a $5,000 tip that reportedly had the bartender bawling.
“Tips for Jesus,” said a message written on the receipt. “We’re back!”
Some have speculated that the New Age version of Mr. Claus is Jack Selby, a former executive of PayPal who walked away from the cashless payment system with a fortune. And, indeed, Selby was spotted in Guyer’s when the tip was left.
But the assertion was quickly assailed by observers who noted that no single person could leave so many gifts in so many locations. The rumor holds that it could be one culprit and an army of helpers.
This week's head-spinning restaurant moments included a suggestion in court that the "b" in IHOb stood for "bad news for Applebee's." That's just one of the long-shot gambles that came to light as oddsmakers considered the likelihood of restaurants charging into sports betting and who'll win the chain vs. independent bout.