Relationships

A Restaurant Surprise I’m Still Thinking of Two Decades Later

Le Coucou NYC bar

Almost two decades ago, someone did the nicest thing for me…

It was our second wedding anniversary, and my husband Andy and I decided we wanted to celebrate at a trendy Italian restaurant in New York’s West Village. It was everything we had hoped it would be — amazing food and service, dramatic flower arrangements — and so much more. Because after the beef cheek ravioli and the extra-dry Prosecco, and the dessert plate that came with a chocolate-scripted “Congratulations” around its perimeter, we asked our server for the check, and I’ll never forget what he said.

“The check has been taken care of.”

“What does that mean?” we asked.

“This dinner is compliments of David.”

David was Andy’s boss. Apparently, that day at work, Andy had told David in passing where we were going out to dinner for our anniversary. After which point, David called the restaurant to tell them he would pick up the tab.

I’m guessing the corporate account was the one that picked up the tab, and that most likely there was an administrative assistant faxing credit card information, but it didn’t matter. I was blown away by the gesture. I couldn’t believe how generous and thoughtful it was. And, the older I get, the more I realize how rare it is to be genuinely surprised.

After that, I made a point to make the same gesture as often as possible. A round of Kir Royals for my newly engaged cousin, a bottle of Malbec for my mother-in-law (who only drinks Malbec) on her 70th. I’m still answering questions from my parents about the round of candle-studded profiteroles (my dad’s favorite) we had sent to the table when they were out celebrating one of his not-even-milestone birthdays. But how did you know we were there? How did they know who we were? How did you pay for it? It can take some sleuthing skills to pinpoint the exact restaurant, but it’s worth it every time. I hardly ever spend more than 25 or 30 bucks, and the return on investment is reliably wonderful. I feel like I’m part of someone’s special day, the recipients are always delighted, and I get to ride the kindness high for days.

Thoughts? Have you ever done something like this?

P.S. How to keep the spark alive on date nights, and six favorite Brooklyn restaurants.

(Photo of Le Coucou from the Cup of Jo Instagram.)

  1. Lisl Sukachevin says...

    I’m late to reading this, so you may not see my comment, BUT! We celebrated our 25th anniversary this June with a weekend in Big Sur (we live in Maryland). We had planned to have our celebration dinner at the Ventana Inn restaurant, The Sur House, and must have mentioned that to our boys (all college-age). We had an excellent dinner but the best part came at the end, when the server brought out a special anniversary dessert with a card from our boys! They had called ahead and paid for our entire dinner! Not a cheap meal either! We were totally blown away by their thinking of and then executing this gift for us! BEST. GIFT. EVER!

  2. Liz says...

    My parents did this for my husband and I on our fifth wedding anniversary! We were at a fancy restaurant on vacation in another city and the server appeared with a bottle of champagne and said “It’s from Mom and Dad.” It took us forever to figure out what they were talking about because it was so unexpected—it never occurred to me that was something you could do!

  3. Kary Payne says...

    I live in Indiana, and my mother’s family lives in Maine. We miss a lot. Flights are so expensive. My grandmother was sprung from her nursing home and taken on a trip to the beach and dinner after. I had wanted to be there so badly. One of my sisters, and my favorite aunt was there. They sent me pics all day. I couldn’t stand it! I knew they were at dinner, and I knew were… couldn’t find it online, so caved and called my Aunt, who handed her cell phone to the waitress, who took my credit card info… and just like that, I got to buy my family dinner… and it made me feel a little bit like I was there! My grandmother didn’t make it much long after that, so it was the best thing I ever did. Makes me happy to read this post and think of that day now. Life is so short, so make small or grand gestures because whatever the price it is well worth it!

  4. Allison L says...

    I love when restaurant surprises come from a stranger. When I was studying abroad, two of my girlfriends and I were eating at a restaurant in Rome and a bottle of wine showed up at our table. A couple in the restaurant saw us enjoying our meal, noticed we were young and choosing all our drinks/food off the specials, and decided to send a bottle of wine we probably wouldn’t have bought ourselves over for us to enjoy. We ended up combining tables with them and sharing a second bottle of wine while walking to the Trevi Fountain together. To this day my girlfriends and I still talk about that night, and it all started with such a sweet kind gesture from a stranger!

  5. kate says...

    I sent some out of town friends to the Gramercy Tavern for lunch this summer and bought their first round of drinks. They were BLOWN AWAY — agree it was such a good investment!

  6. Grace says...

    My husband and I went to an upscale Italian restaurant for our anniversary. As a congratulations, the restaurant packed us a doggy bag with all the ingredients to make cacio e pepe at home with fresh pasta! It was so simple and easy for them and it was amazing to have a delicious dinner ready to go the next night!

  7. Jenny says...

    When I was 21 I worked in a country club in upstate New York for a summer, on a J1 visa from Ireland. One of our regulars won a two night trip to Boston, and gave it to me and my friend! We couldn’t believe his generosity! There was also a really sweet groundskeeper called Jack. We didn’t get to see him on our last day of work, so he got our addresses and posted us cards with a really sweet message and $20. I was so touched and have always regretted not writing back to him to say thanks. I’m definitely inspired by all of these posts to commit a random act of kindness!

    Not quite the same but I love to listen to the little clues people give away when they’re not really thinking about it. My mum is super selfless and she’s my favourite person to treat. In March one year she spotted a lovely jacket but said it was far too expensive for her. I spotted it on sale later that year and secretly bought it and saved it for her birthday in October. Another year she mentioned how Carmen was her favourite opera, so for her 60th, my Dad and sister all saved and bundled together to send her and my Dad to La Scala in Milan to see Carmen (we live in Ireland so it’s not as expensive as from the US). I made a little booklet for her with each page revealing another clue about the trip until the final details were revealed. She was blown away!

    My Dad often mentioned how Parsifal was his favourite opera, but it’s rarely performed as it’s so long. He’s always regretted the time he and my mum had been walking around Paris years ago and had come across a performance, but they were too tired and not dressed up enough to go in. My sister and I scoured the internet and found a performance this time in Madrid, so we clubbed together and bought them tickets for their 40th wedding anniversary. His face when he opened the envelope and saw the tickets will always stay with me, he jumped out of the chair with tears in his eyes.

    The seats for both operas were way up the back, the flights were cheap and the hotels the best we could find in our budget, but none of that really mattered. It’s meant so much to me to be able to do these things for the people I love, and who’ve been so good to me.

    I can’t imagine how nice it must be to get a completely random treat but I’ll definitely try a few small things!

  8. Dana says...

    Last year on my birthday, I left my 5 week old baby with my best friend and went out to dinner with my husband for the first time she since was born. I was nervous and excited and awkwardly dressed up my post-partum bod. When we got to the restaurant, the manager came over to our table and he said “Are you Dana? I’ve had lots of conversations about you today.” Soon thereafter, two glasses of champagne appeared, courtesy of an old friend and former boss. After dinner, two glasses of dessert wine appeared, a gift of a newer friend. And when we asked for the check, we were told my parents had called and taken care of it. Apparently the old friend and new friend tried to do the same, but my parents had beaten them to it, so the manager had to just create more things they could buy for us. In my joyful, emotional, slightly fragile state, the thought of friends and family clamoring to provide me this kindness was utterly overwhelming. So many tears that night!

    • Caitlyn says...

      I teared up when I read “I’ve had lots of conversations about you today”. How lovely!

  9. Caroline says...

    This post inspired me last week! I manage a sales team and my employees’ jobs are incredibly high stress. While the majority of my team was having a high revenue week, one of my team members got bad news after bad news (and way too close to the end of the quarter). As I was leaving the office I remembered comments from this post and venmoed her $15 for a drink on me. She deserved it and knew I was cheering for her regardless of a tough week.

  10. Natalie T. says...

    I love this! It’s so thoughtful but so lovely because you weren’t expecting it. I knew the chef at Langdon Hall (a super lovely restaurant just outside of Toronto) and was there with a friend for a fancy lunch. We contacted him to say we were coming to say (and honestly, were not expecting anything). He added little amuses in between our meals and came to talk to us but I definitely was not expecting him to pay our whole meal including the tips for all of the waitstaff. We sat there mouths agape and immediately wanting to tip the staff more. Even though we felt slightly guilty, it was such a kind gesture and I’ll never forget it.

  11. Kels says...

    I do this often with small things like paying for the car behind me in line at the drive-thru or at tollbooths, but I stink at getting up the courage to pay for someone’s declined credit card or similar, though I truly want to. This post has made me realize how much other people would appreciate it, and maybe next time I have the opportunity I can muster up the gumption to do it!

  12. Jen says...

    I had just gone through a terrible break up, and my friends convinced me to dress up as NYPD and go to a Halloween party with them. I was miserable there and hailed a taxi from the Upper West Side down to the West Village where I lived. I cried the whole way. To my surprise, my taxi driver stopped the cab and jumped out close to my apt. He returned 2 minutes later with a slice of pizza, “best pizza in NY, you look like you could use it.” We sat on his hood, me in my police costume, and shared a slice.

    • Erin says...

      omg this is the best one — out of a movie!

  13. A. says...

    I got mugged a few years ago. I was unhurt, but it was terrifying and the guy stole my purse and phone at a time when money was tight. My best friend from the other side of the country ordered flowers to my office and in the florist’s neat, curly handwriting she had written out the note, “Sorry that shit head stole your phone.”

    • Laurel says...

      What a good friend! That would have made me laugh. I’m glad you’re okay.

  14. Ash says...

    Our family went to dinner after “meet the teacher” night and we recognized a group of teachers who we had just met from our new school. We anonymously picked up their check and slipped out without being seen. :) we had to swear the kids to secrecy.

    • Caitlyn says...

      OMG what a super fun secret for your kids (who will probably remember this act of kindness for years because of the “secret”). Love it!

  15. Gaby says...

    One morning I went to my usual coffee shop near my office. When I went to pay for my order, the barista informed me that some nice person had purchased a huge gift card and asked them to use it for everyone’s orders that morning till it ran out!

    So nice!!

  16. Ela says...

    Love this! And love all the stories in the comments. Many years ago when my then-husband and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary with a lovely meal at the famed Charlie Trotters restaurant in Chicago, we were surprised with a bottle of champagne from my best friend her and husband. It was such a sweet surprise! Filled my heart with so much gratitude and love.

    Not so long ago I went to Maui for my 50th birthday, which sounds lovely but I was going through a tough time. That trip was supposed to be with my boyfriend of several years but we had broken up before the trip. I went ahead with the trip and a dear friend went with me, which was wonderful in and of itself. AND when she took me out to dinner in Maui for my birthday, the server came over with a bottle of champagne and a sweet note from a group of my closest friends. They had sent the champagne and taken care of dinner. I burst into tears! It was truly a loving, kind, and beyond-thoughtful gesture. Even though they couldn’t make it to Hawaii, I knew they were with me. And no matter what happens in life, I know I always have my dear friends.

  17. Youngdirectionless says...

    My husband was out to dinner on a business trip once and when he finished his meal the waiter brought him dessert. He hadn’t ordered it—the red head had asked them to send it over for him. He had seen her when he walked in but she was gone by that time. He’s a great guy but not someone who ever has women picking up on him, so it made his night (though also perplexed him). We still laugh and talk about it years later. It was such a sweet gesture and I love to remind him of it from time to time. :)

  18. Beth says...

    A few years ago, a boyfriend took me out to a high-end restaurant on Valentines Day. A young couple, likely college students, were at the table next to us. They split an entree and each had one glass of wine, while most couples were ordering bottles of bubbly and lingering over multiple courses. I quietly pulled the server aside and slipped him my credit card to pay for their meal anonymously. When they asked for the check, they were speechless as they learned it had already been paid. I hope they continued their lovely evening with the new-found funds. :)

  19. Zune says...

    Unexpected kindness and generosity. What joy and blessings! Like the time when my boss paid for my first suit so I can go on my first admission interview for medical schools. Now 15 years later, I am a practicing doctor and I still have that suit. I have followed in her footsteps, and all the footsteps of family, friends, and strangers who have extended thoughtful and gestures that stayed with me long after the act is received.

  20. Syl says...

    Alright, I love this. As I was reading this I realised that my best friend, who lives in Toronto (I’m in Halifax) is having her engagement party at the moment of writing this, and so I called the restaurant to send her and her fiancé a round of Kir Royale’s and the bar manager did it on the house! Kindness is indeed contagious.

  21. Annie says...

    One of the dark arts of being Chinese is to secretly pretend to go t the bathroom at dinner/dim sums and pick up the tab for the table. My mum absolutely trumped everyone by putting money down before the other guests arrived, so she paid the bill without even getting up. Everyone was floored. The incident is now described as folklore by family and friends 😂

    Also, order a stack of pizza for emergency dept staff starting night shift. It brings everyone together (including paramedics rushing in and out) – food make a team!

    • Stephanie says...

      lol to “dark arts of being Chinese”–truest thing I’ve ever heard. Your mom is so stealthy and totally avoided the crazy throwdown check grabbing chaos that typically concludes a meal!

  22. Laura says...

    Anytime I’m flying and need coffee, I always pay for a few extra cups and tell the baristas to give them to the next pilots or flight attendants that come through the line. If there’s anyone who appreciates a surprise coffee, it’s the folks offering it at 35,000 feet.

  23. Emma says...

    When I was in my early 20’s and working a low paying job, my mom and her best friend came to visit. The day they left – I came home after work to find my fridge and cupboards full of food, and several vases of fresh flowers around my apartment. It was like a fairy tale. It’s still one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

  24. Angela says...

    Love these stories, so touching. Here’s mine: About four years ago, I was going through a quite a traumatic time in life and was on a flight to London, with the weight of the world on my shoulders and heart breaking. As I sat on the plane awaiting takeoff, I could not stop the tears from pouring out of my eyes and down my face. A flight attendant noticed, came over and while patting my shoulder, asked, “Dear, would you like some wine?” I nodded, and a couple minutes later she came back to my seat in coach with a huge disposable cup, filled to the brim. I clutched that cup for hours, not only for the wine, haha, but for the absolute comfort the gesture brought. I’ll never forget the memory of her beautiful and random kindness.

  25. Deborah says...

    About a month after my first baby was born, my husband and I nervously left him behind with a sitter and went out to the closest restaurant for our birthdays. (Our birthdays are three days apart, so we always celebrate with one really nice dinner out.) Being the Millenial I am, and a little excited to be out without the baby for the first time (wearing lipstick! Drinking wine! Not carrying a huge diaper bag!) I documented the whole experience on my Instagram. To our surprise, as we finished our entrees, instead of a dessert menu the server brought a chocolate tart with birthday candles—one of my best friends had seen my Instagram posts and called the restaurant to order it for us! Social media oversharing FTW.

  26. Emma says...

    My husband had hernia surgery 6 weeks after I had a c-section to bring our second into the world. Basically we both felt like we were dying. My sister texted to ask me what we wanted from Dominos and they had it delivered. I will never forget that! From TX to SC she’s still my big sister taking care of me!

  27. Amanda says...

    Every now and again my husband and I drive thru Starbucks on the weekends while running errands. One day we pulled up to the window to pay and the cashier said “You’ve been taken care of by the car ahead of you!” My jaw dropped, it’s so rare for nice things to happen to me! So we paid for the car behind us, and my hope is that they kept it up car after car for as long as possible. Now, whenever I’m driving thru I try to pay for the person behind me. Everyone can use a little happiness!

  28. Mere says...

    My best friend sent me a round of drinks when I was out to dinner after a break-up once. I immediately started crying – it was such a kind, simple gesture and just what I needed as a pick-me-up after a crappy situation. It’s such a wonderful way to surprise someone, love it

  29. Isabelle says...

    I was in a car accident a few years ago. One of my close friends, who lives in a different city hundreds of miles away, ordered me treats from the gluten-free bakery (I have celiac) down the street from us and had them delivered to me as I was recovering. It was the sweetest gesture and made me feel so loved. This post is a great reminder that I need to find a way to do the same kind of thing for someone else!

    • Mims says...

      This is an especially thoughtful gift as it shows that your friend really sees you! I follow a special diet for medical reasons, and yet get gifted things occasionally I cannot (or should not) eat. Nice gesture, but sometimes givers do not really think things through.

  30. Kate says...

    My little sister tipped me off to this modern day practice: the random Venmo. I have sent my SIL coffee money when she started a new residency rotation, my little sister beer money when I know she’s going out and my big sister “kid free breakfast” money when her littlest twins started preschool.

    • Jordan G says...

      WHAAAT this is brilliant. I only use Venmo for actually paying people but I really love this idea.

    • Katie B. says...

      YES! I love doing this too! Sending $5 for coffee is so easy and such a day-brightener!!!

    • Love this! Just did this now for a pal to get her some cake. Also sending a funny gif is just the best

  31. Kelly says...

    my parents did this for my friends and I when we were young and broke and still scraping together pennies for nice dinners out.

    i’ve done it for a young couple I saw at a restaurant…they looked so happy and not fancy and reminded me of my husband and I when we were young…when going out to eat was a rare treat that had to really be budgeted. who knows, they could have been trust fund babies, but it was fun to think they weren’t and that getting treated to dinner made their whole month!

  32. Pam R says...

    While nursing, I had to be dairy/egg/soy free for my poor food allergy ridden infant. I had resigned myself to a cake-free birthday when my mom surprised me with an incredible allergy friendly cake and two dozen “safe” chocolate chip cookies after tracking down a local baker who could accommodate. I actually cried tears of joy! Moms are the best.

  33. Rebecca says...

    A couple years ago, my husband and I were driving from Texas to Mississippi for Thanksgiving. We stopped at a Chick-fil-A drive thru for some breakfast fuel. When we got to the window, we were both shocked to hear that our breakfast was free because we were the 100th drive thru customer that morning. We both excitedly said at the same time, “We’ll pay for the person behind us!” It was such a small gesture but the perfect way to start off our holiday. We rode the Thanksgiving high all weekend!

  34. Jill says...

    Many times a year I will text random friends (often when they’re in a rough spot) and say, “I’m having pizza sent to you tonight. What sounds good?”.

    It’s such an easy and inexpensive way to take a little of the evening-routine burden off exhausted parents.

    • CARLY says...

      that is just so nice!

  35. Marijana says...

    Jenny, this is a marvelous idea!
    I am sure happy that I found this article and you as such a sweet soul! Hope there are a lot of them in this community! :-)

  36. Hi Jenny,
    This shows for sure that there are some bosses who are down-to-earth. It was a surprise and unbelievable. Congrats.

  37. Justine says...

    When my son turned 13 we brought him out for a surprise dinner at a cool new restaurant. Earlier that day I had mentioned where we were going to a foodie friend. Imagine our surprise when 3 of the dishes we ordered were compliments of my foodie friend!! The sheer delight on my son’s face was priceless. It made him feel so special on his big teenage birthday.

  38. Paige says...

    Our best friends sent us tequila shots right after we got engaged :) such a wonderful surprise

  39. Cat says...

    Yes!!! This is my absolute favorite thing to do for people. My favorite was the time my sisters and I had my parents’ favorite cocktails sent out to them to start an anniversary dinner, and when the waiter told them they were from “Catherine” (she forgot my two other sisters!) my parents somehow decided that the drinks were from their realtor and spent the rest of dinner wondering how A. She knew where they were eating and B. Guessed their favorite drinks correctly :) I think the truth occurred to them when we had a special dessert sent out after the meal!

  40. jane says...

    Yes to “random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty”!

  41. Britt says...

    These are so lovely. People can just be the best.
    My birthday fell four days after my parents dropped me off at college a thousand miles from home. I have always been slow to make friends and my mom (I later learned) was very concerned that I would be alone and without celebration. She somehow organized with my RA to have a birthday cake from the grocery store picked up so I could celebrate with the people on my dorm floor. It was such a surprise and was a good ice breaker… what college student doesn’t love free birthday cake?

    • Maria says...

      I love your story – what a great mom!

  42. Olivia says...

    Two days after my second son was born, my amazingly sweet sister-in-law, Amy, had lunch delivered to us at home. We live in Denmark, and she doesn’t speak the local language, so she ingeniously contacted one of my co-workers to help her sort it out. We got the food just a few minutes before leaving for the baby’s first checkup, and even though I wasn’t hungry, I scarfed down some pasta. That turned out to be very fortunate–my son had lost too much weight and was hospitalized immediately after the visit, so I had no time to eat again until the next day. Since my SIL had been unsure what we liked, she sent so much food that my husband and our two big kids had left-overs for the next two days. It was a practical gift that made a huge difference during some of the toughest days of our baby’s life. I will never forget it.

  43. RS says...

    Years ago my boss scheduled a meeting with me from 2-5 for “strategic planning on XYZ topic.” I thought nothing of it, and prepped for the meeting. When she showed up, she handed me a gift card to a nice restaurant nearby, and said “Your husband is waiting for you at this restaurant. See you tomorrow.” She’d called him weeks in advance to find a time he could be away from work, made the reservation, and then scheduled the meeting with me so my afternoon would be free. It wasn’t even my birthday – it was just a Tuesday. I’ll never how stunned I felt , and how amazing it was to be unexpectedly in the company of my husband, good food, a bottle of wine, and no guilt in the middle of the afternoon (bonus: we had the meeting a week later, and I was already prepped!).

    • Madi says...

      Wow! What an incredible boss 🎉

  44. Meredith says...

    I had just finished my final day of college and was living with my parents when I came home and found a box of cupcakes sitting in my room from my mom. I had been working my tail off in school, and she just knew I needed “a little happy,” to celebrate being finished. I even cried I was so surprised/touch by the gesture. She’ll also send my sisters and me flowers on Mother’s Day thanking us for making her a mom. She’s a good mom. :)

    • Sarah says...

      Oh my goodness. I love your mom and want to be just like her.

    • SP says...

      Yes, she is so awesome! I want to be like her

  45. Anna Vitale says...

    So much kindness – love reading all of these. Here’s mine….

    On a flight from Los Angeles to St. Louis to visit family a couple years ago, we were traveling with our two young daughters (2.5 and 1.5).

    As both my husband and I’s families live around the country, we often fly with our kids. Even still, it’s always challenging to pack the snacks, toys, gadgets, changes of clothes and diaper supplies that we need to make it across the country without a complete melt down (or, at least, fewer meltdowns). The packing alone takes several hours and tremendous attention to detail, as any traveling mother of young children knows well.

    There’s one thing I always buy at the airport – milk for my youngest daughter. Shockingly (Kidding! The next part isn’t a shock at all!) within the experience (chaos) of shuttling the kids through baggage check, security and a fast casual restaurant on the way to our gate, I completely forgot the milk until we had boarded the plane.

    The airline didn’t serve milk on board, and my husband thought we could get by with coffee creamers (gotta love that fatherly ingenuity!) but I was a little….concerned with the plan (freaking the F out). They don’t let you off the plane once you board- I asked the flight attendant to make an exception but she couldn’t, so the creamer was the best idea we had.

    As we were getting settled into our seats (and my oldest was biting my arm for no obvious reason besides toddlerhood), the flight attendant came back with a pint of whole milk.

    ‘The captain got it,’ she said.

    Reader, I took that milk, squeaked out a “thank you” and immediately started to cry.

    It was a small reminder at a time I really needed it that we’re not islands, that the world is kind, that mothering is for all of us.

    • mags says...

      This story is so lovely. <3

    • This is an incredibly lovely story! Made my morning.

    • This made me tear up. Kindness is all around us.

  46. Kimberly says...

    I’ve done this for my parents before. My mom always chats about where they’re headed for dinner, especially when heading out for an occasion, and it can turn their nice night into a genuinely memorable surprise. To be fair, she’s also done it for me. A couple years ago she did it when I was out on a double date with my sister and our spouses. “But how did you know it was the right group?” I asked the server. “Your mother specified the very pregnant woman in the hot pink, floor length maxi dress. Thankfully, you were the only patron fitting such a description.” Hah! Fair enough. (Mom knew what I was wearing because she was back at home with my born children and had seen my pink self waddle out the door.)

  47. First of all the beef cheek raviolis at Babbo are enough to get excited about but to have the gesture in addition! We just had my husband’s work pay for a meal completely on them because of a crazy work schedule. Its such a nice feeling to be thought of. Especially with a meal!

  48. Kattia says...

    I’ve done this! I sent a bottle of champagne to my parents, during a special dinner out. My dad said my mom cried at the table! She loved it! Surprises are awesome!

  49. Holly says...

    The owners of a cafe where I’m a regular (shout out to Orson’s Belly in SF!), did this to my husband and I, after we mentioned we were going to get drinks at a fancy cocktail spot they’d recommended to us. It was my birthday, and the bartender greeted us by announcing our first round had been covered by Orson’s Belly. These are like $25 cocktails, and I’m really only capable of drinking two of them, so our sizable drinks bill was cut in half. SO FREAKIN NICE. The best gifts are always the unexpected ones.

    • Vanessa says...

      Orson’s Belly is absolutely lovely!!! Love them! What a wonderful gesture!!

      I live around the corner but am in France for a year and reading this makes me miss home ;)

  50. Grace says...

    I’m crying at my desk reading this post and all the comments. What a great reminder, especially on 9/11, of all the wonderful humans in the world. Never forget that a small gesture can make a huge difference in someone’s day. Let’s all continue to spread kindness and compassion.

    • margo says...

      Happy tears are the best! I’m working from home today, so I’m reading these comments, smiling and crying AND not giving a f*ck that tears are rolling down my cheeks. Such a great feeling and such a great reminder that people really can be the best!

  51. S says...

    My best friend and I grew up together in the States and she moved away to Australia after college. She and I both got married the same summer but she made the trek to NYC with her husband for my wedding, while I didn’t go to Oz for her ceremony. (We all celebrated in Chinatown with mutual friends the day after our wedding though.) And when she and her husband went on their honeymoon in Mexico City, my new husband and I agreed to secretly pay for several days of their hotel stay – after all, she had spent so much money and time traveling to be there for my big day. She was so delighted and surprised – I’ll always remember that feeling.

  52. When my husband and I started dating, he lived in Washington, D.C. and I in Chicago. One Sunday morning, I called his favorite bar (rightly assuming he’d be there) and asked the bartender to send him a mimosa. I was planning to pay via card over the phone, but the bartender said it was on him. My husband was totally surprised and called later to tell me about it. He could not figure out who sent the mimosa! I kept pestering him about it until he realized it was me!

  53. Rachel says...

    My freshmen year of high school I nor any of my girl friends were asked to homecoming. Of course, all any of us really wanted at the age was a date but we pretended like we all wanted to just go as a single ladies group anyways. Our first chance to beg our parents to buy us a pretty dress could hardly be passed up. At dinner, we ordered as high schools do, constantly doing the mental math while still wanting to have the typical “fancy” pre-dance meal. When we asked for the check to start splitting up our cash we were informed that it had already been taken care of as well as dessert all around by a patron that had left. I’ll never forget how much lighter that made us all feel. We went from young women trying to make the most of it, to feeling like in the end there actually was some one who noticed us and liked us. I can’t wait for the day when I have the opportunity to pay it forward.

    • Kathleen says...

      I love this example. It’s always a lovely sentiment, but how really love the idea of how special it must have made you young women feel.

  54. Annie says...

    We were out to dinner with our friends and their new baby once and someone picked up the entire check! I had a feeling it was the older, retired couple not too far from us that saw a new little family and decided to help out!

  55. Hillary says...

    It’s such a pleasure to be on the receiving end of a gesture like this, but I think the feeling is even surpassed when you’re the giver. I have a wonderful, supportive mom (the kind who sneakily cleans out your whole fridge and leaves behind the next night’s dinner when she comes by) and two older sisters who are constant advice givers and always pass on the good kids’ clothes hand-me-downs. When Michelle Obama was coming to speak in the city they all live in (I’m about 3 hours away) I surprised them with tickets. They sent me a photo of them all that night in their seats and I teared up and was so so happy from afar.

  56. lindsey says...

    My very gracious mother always pays the tab when she’s at a restaurant and spots any first responder in uniform. Most recently we were having brunch and were seated at a bar next to 7 police officers. My mother discreetly paid for all 7 of their meals. Her act of kindness has always shown me to give back to my community and I hope to continue this tradition.

  57. Hilary says...

    This is just the best! And I agree – the payoff for any skulduggery is always, always worth it.

    Recently, my bff and our partners went to a swanky restaurant to celebrate her getting her engagement ring. It was custom designed and took forever, so it felt worth celebrating the day she got it. It also happened to be the week of my husband’s birthday. So while I was off “going to the bathroom” to request a round of drinks to celebrate her, she used the opportunity to also “go to the bathroom” and ordered sneaky desserts with candles for him.

    What a friendship, what a world!

  58. Callie says...

    For my 25th birthday, my parents surprise gifted me with a little folded up piece of computer paper showing the final statement of my college loan paid in full. There wasn’t a ton left on it, but enough that they knew it would make a HUGE difference to me – it would have taken me at least another year or two to pay off.

    My dad is a guidance counselor who grew up in financial hardship and had high expectations for my sister and I growing up, so the topics of both college and finances have always been a sore spot in our relationship. This gift (especially coming from him) was so generous, thoughtful and unexpected that it brought me to tears instantly, which made him cry too. Best birthday ever. Love you, Mum & Dad!

  59. Shena says...

    A stranger picked up the check when my teen daughter and I went out for a lovely, mom-daughter dinner at a nice restaurant. We both giggled in delight…and sheer amazement at how great the world was, when the server told us the check was paid for by someone being randomly kind.

  60. Rosie says...

    Last month I paid for a young woman’s prescriptions when her credit card was declined, and her relief was so moving. I have no idea what kind of medication it was, but it wasn’t cheap and the idea that she would potentially go without something she needs to be healthy because of how insanely expensive medication is breaks my heart.

    • Nancy says...

      Rosie, Wow. That woman will never, ever forget that. Bless you for being so kind.

  61. Annie says...

    One night, we were out in a restaurant with our 18 months toddler for a dinner with our family. He was clingy, loud and we were thinking leaving before our meal was over. It was not a family style restaurant and we didn’t want to disturb the clients. Then, a man came to us, gave our son a miniature car and leaves. He saved our night because my toddler was so happy with his gift!

  62. Rainey says...

    Oh, this is just wonderful. So much joy in the idea and the giving, and so much forever-joy for everyone – including you – who was part of this! I’ve done this once for a close work friend who was hosting an engagement dinner for family at a great NYC restaurant, and when I was in college (pre-EZ Pass), I’d get a kick out of paying the toll for the car behind me. Day-making stuff here :)

  63. Natalie says...

    My birthday last year fell during a particularly difficult time – a relative passed away, and my partner had already booked tickets for me to celebrate my birthday with a dear friend in LA. There was about a week and a half between the passing and the funeral, and my family encouraged me to still take the trip and celebrate myself before returning home.
    I took the trip, and on the first night was excited to go to a wine bar I had wanted to visit. Was so surprised when I went to pay for my tab at the end of the night, and my friend to tell me that my bosses had coordinated to cover the group’s tab as a gift. Was an incredibly special moment to know that my bosses had gone out of their way to connect with my friend and ensure that I was taken care of. Will never forget that <3

  64. Claire says...

    My best friend of 20+ years recently moved across the country, and my most recent birthday would be the first she wouldn’t be there to celebrate with me in person. I was at dinner with my husband on the night of my birthday and out came 2 glasses of champagne that my sweet friend had called the restaurant and paid for. It was such a simple and kind gesture, but it made me feel so loved to know she wanted to celebrate with me even if she couldn’t be there physically.

  65. Diane E Stenglein says...

    Once we went to a destination wedding, and were given a bottle of champagne by the wedding couple when we checked in. Since we don’t drink champagne, we left it at the front desk when we left, with instructions to gift it to the next couple checking in. (The hotel is a popular airport hotel, and is often a stop in between flghts and further destination.)

  66. Amanda says...

    A few years ago, when my mother in law died unexpectedly, we had to buy plane tickets to rush out of town with our toddler and make hasty arrangements for the pets. When we returned days later, exhausted, to pick up our pup from the expensive kennel where we’d left her, we were told that a group of my friends had already taken care of the bill- and the pup got some extra playtime too. It was such a thoughtful and unexpected gesture at a sad time- I’m tearing up thinking of it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that’s the sweetest.

  67. Vicky says...

    When I am invited to join a bachelorette party but cannot attend, I coordinate with the maid of honor/a bridesmaid to send a bottle of wine or a bunch of desserts to the table at their fancy dinner! It’s like I’m there in spirit and it has always turned out to be a nice surprise for the bride :)

    • SC says...

      When I was pregnant I couldn’t go to my friend’s destination bachelorette, and coordinated with her SIL for me to buy a round of drinks for the whole group at brunch. My friend was verklempt and I was so happy to celebrate her from afar!

  68. M says...

    COJ team, thank you so much for sharing this. I cried. A lot.

    • Sarah says...

      Me too

  69. Katie says...

    We haven’t done this with strangers, but my husband frequently pays for my girlfriends tab when we’re all out together. He likes treating people.

    I do need to do the coffee thing for strangers. Or donuts. Or whatever. Since I live in Chicago and don’t own a car, I can’t do the drive thru thing. How do you stealthily do it when in line at a coffee or pastry shop?

    • Hello from Chicago! My friend has gone to their neighborhood coffeeshop early in the morning and given them money to cover the next few bills. Harder to do at, say, Starbucks, but worth trying if you have a go-to spot.

    • Amanda says...

      I used to work at a coffee shop, and people would purchase gift cards that they would leave, and we could use for customers at our discretion! The action makes such a difference even when anonymous <3

    • Katie says...

      Excellent ideas! Thank you.

      I prefer local coffee shops here and frequent the same one every Sunday morning so can easily do this. I’d definitely prefer to stay anon.

  70. katie schwarz says...

    My husband and I went out to dinner as a final romantic date the night before I was scheduled to be induced with our fifth baby. It was at a fancy restaurant with delicious food and really good lighting that makes me feel pretty. I was as big as a house and our server asked when our baby was due we both said “Tomorrow!” We were so happy and relieved to be welcoming that baby after a emotional and difficult pregnancy. We had a fantastic dinner and at the end of the meal the kitchen paid our tab! I cried like a super hormonal pregnant lady. There goes that pretty lighting!! I was really touched. And that sweet dinner stayed a bright spot for me during a difficult recovery because our daughter turned transverse twice during labor (the midwife would turn her and she’d turn right back) so I ended up with a rough, unplanned c-section after four previous natural births. It was so hard! But that romantic dinner and that sweet gesture was a real emotional updraft even months later! Our server told us that he’d just gotten a new job in the industry for which he’s earned his master’s degree so we tipped him $75 and then he started crying! Good energy is contagious y’all.

    • Julie T says...

      Welp, I was doing okay until I read this one! So wonderful. Just casually crying at my desk now hahahha.

  71. Margee Krebs says...

    How amazingly wonderful!!! Thank you for sharing!

  72. Anna says...

    When I was newly pregnant I went to Trader Joes to buy champagne for my sister’s baby shower (my sister and I are incredibly close and it was the greatest gift to be pregnant at the same time!). I was so excited to tell the nice TJs employee picking out the champagne with me what the champagne was for and that I was pregnant too. We laughed about the fact that I was buying a cart full of alcohol that I wouldn’t get to drink. He gave my partner and I sweet advice about babies. When we went to pay for the champagne, he came over with a bouquet of flowers in honor of my pregnancy and presented them to me on behalf of the whole TJs crew. I was so moved. I had longed to be a mom for so many years and to receive such a sweet gesture was so moving and a harbinger of the wonderful delights parenthood has brought me.

    • Julie says...

      TJs is the best for that. I had a friend pass away last month unexpectedly and was picking out a card for his parents. I frequent my TJs many days a week, so they know me a bit. The song playing brought me to tears as I was reading sympathy cards, and without missing a beat, one team member brought me flowers and gave me a hug. I started sobbing and he just hugged me harder. I was there a week later and started crying when another song (music is so powerful!) came on that reminded me of my friend, and another team member brought me flowers. They really are the best.

    • Sarah says...

      TJ is the best! I have horrible pregnancies and was throwing up in the parking lot before going in and my 2 year old son was in his car seat. An employee came out and handed me a bottle of water. And then when I went in to start shopping she walked over and handed me flowers and said it was on them. I cried of course. I was so touched that someone noticed.

  73. Tenley says...

    Two years ago, I was deep in the stress of finishing up my last semester of college. My dad mailed me some car insurance paperwork, but tucked in a $5 bill and a note: “Hi Tenley, Here’s your insurance information, and why not $5? Love, Dad” He’s not big on note-writing, so to see his handwriting and imagine him thinking of this little extra gesture made me tear up. I still have the note. And something to think about for future friends who could use a lift. Why not $5, indeed!

    • Madi says...

      My dad- almost not a big note writer- used to send me cards with a quarter, wrapped up in York mint patty wrapper. He’d write “I bought you a York mint patty, but then I ate it. Go treat yourself to another”. The perfect combo of sweet & funny & a good reminder of a shared love for dark chocolate.

  74. Carolyn Hewson says...

    This is wonderful and is a good reminder to do that! I was at a nice restaurant with a friend, when I noticed a woman sitting alone at a nearby table. She ordered a dessert that was delivered with a candle in it. My mind started to race. Was this woman really celebrating her birthday by herself? I started to look more closely. Her hair was very plain and her clothes looked drab and a little tired. She had the appearance that made me suspect that this was not her first birthday that she celebrated alone. And perhaps much of her life is spent alone. The waitress confirmed that she is, indeed, celebrating her birthday alone. I debated whether we should invite her to our table. But because we were close to leaving, I decided instead to discretely pay her check. When the waitress informed the woman that I had paid her check, her face lit up and her mouth broke into a radiant smile. I will never forget it. I waved to her, wished her happy birthday, and pray that she has had a very happy year.

    • Susan Y. says...

      Very kind of you. ❤️

    • Deb says...

      OMG it makes me so sad when I see people dining alone. Maybe they’re travelling for work or just treating themselves to somewhere no one in their life wants to go to but I worry so hard that they’re lonely. All the feels on this one, so pleased you made her smile!

    • Stefa says...

      Oh Carolyn, that made me cry. What a lovely gift to give her and a lovely memory she can hug close.

    • june2 says...

      @Deb I eat out alone all the time and it is BLISS let me tell you! Especially at nicer restaurants. It is sad though that it was her birthday but I think it’s wonderful that she went out and celebrated on her own rather than sit and do nothing special. And that people went out of their way to discreetly send her love. So kind.

    • Sarah says...

      @Deb I’m going to agree with June2. Please don’t assume that this of us eating out alone are lonely or only doing so out of extenuating circumstances. I love eating out alone and find it quite fulfilling! I think sometimes, as a society, we forget how to be happy all by ourselves.

  75. Molly says...

    A similar go-to gift of mine is ordering a bottle of sparkling wine to someone’s hotel room. I’ve done this for myself and my husband, and also for my parents when they were on an anniversary vacation. Side note, several times when I’ve done this the hotel hasn’t even charged for it!!

  76. Elizabeth Johnson says...

    As a General Manger of a Michelin Star Restaurant in Clinton Hill I see this all of the time. A bottle of champagne, a sneaky dessert, $100 off the tab. The joy it brings people is unmatched. What a thoughtful gift with behind the scene vibes. We strongly encourage it!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      You must have some amazing stories!

  77. SallyB says...

    My dear Uncle is 97, and a widower who lives alone–and very well, thank you, he will tell you :-).
    At age 97, you could guess that he served in WWII. That service was D-Day 3, Patton’s Army, and with the troops that liberated concentration camps…
    He enjoys dining out from time to time (he drives—and very well, thank you :-) and is amazed how often his check is picked up by a stranger or he is invited to join them for a meal. Wonderful people! so kind, and their thoughtfulness means so much to him.

  78. Kelly Jeanne says...

    I’m so enjoying these comments!

    This makes me think of the story in one of the Ramona Quimby books in which the family goes out for burgers and fries and someone picks up their tab. I loved those books, in part because Beverly Cleary explored the realistic financial constraints that many families face. I love that scene so much and even remember the way that the fries were described.

    • Oh my, re-reading Ramona Quimby with my daughter is perhaps one of my biggest highlights of parenthood. Personally, I’m so comforted by the family’s “real” situations – the mother worked and they had to go to a much disliked friend’s house after school, they forgot to turn the crockpot on and there was no warm dinner, parents were sometimes stressed and short and there wasn’t much money. And still the important things are true – the family and their love for each other. Gives me comfort when we’re going through similar scenes in our house :)

    • Meriel says...

      I loved these books too and remember that French fry description! What a great memory.

    • lomavistagirl says...

      I remember that scene! I believe apple pie was also involved :)

    • Sophia says...

      Yes! We were out to dinner a few nights ago and I looked at my kids and my husband juggling overstuffed “Kitchen Sink” impossible burgers with sides of fries and we were all together and happy and I thought of that exact book. I’ve picked up checks for families at restaurants based on that Beverly Cleary book that I read as a child and have admittedly reread as an adult. FYI Beverly Cleary is currently 103! It makes me feel warm and fuzzy that someone who had such an impact on my childhood and gave me so much happiness is still in this world.

  79. barbara says...

    My girlfriend and I were about 16 years old at the time (late 70s) and there was a new fancy diner in the neighborhood and we wanted to go. We saved our money from working while in high school – so this was a big deal for us.
    As we were waiting for the bus, my neighbor a dapper older man asked where we were going, we told him the new diner. He then gave us each $20.00 to go. I’m 58 years old and I will never forgot his kindness and he went up in our cool factor. He’s long gone – thank you Mr. Jackson.

    • Leslie says...

      CRYING

  80. lindsey says...

    one night we were in a buffalo wild wings and a group came in for prom. it was a mixed group, not all couples, but all dressed up, ordering soda and wings. there was maybe 10 of them. we picked up their check and left before they realized. i love the idea that maybe in some way we contributed to what was hopefully one of the best nights of their lives, that when they look back on that night, they’ll remember the surprise they felt. and maybe they had a few extra bucks that night for late night snacks (or most likely, drinks)!

  81. lms says...

    My husband and I were in Paris at Christmas with our three daughters–we went to a gorgeous old bistro (which was far more expensive than I had thought). We thought–this will be our splurge night. After dessert, when my husband asked for the check, the maitre’d informed us that the dinner was a gift from my husband’s parents. I’ll never forget that act of generosity.

  82. Emilie says...

    Not totally the same thing but now that I am a mother and understand what a huge physical and emotional shift it is, I always give new mothers something for themselves at baby showers (in addition to something for the baby). Might be a coffee shop or nail salon gift card, or a pretty robe or fancy set of PJs. Something a little indulgent that says, I see you and you deserve to take care of yourself. Everyone has been so surprised to receive something for themselves at a party that is usually all about the baby!

    • Denise says...

      I did this too, back when my friends were having babies. Someone bought me a nice set of pajamas and I never forgot that!

  83. Connie says...

    Yes! This is awesome. We try to do this every once in a while-this is making me think we should do it more. A couple years back, my parents went on a trip to Napa to celebrate their 35th, and so my sister and I worked together by chitchat with my mom to sort out where they were eating along their trip, and then we contacted the restaurant and bought them a round of drinks. They had no idea we had done that, and they were totally shocked. It was SO much fun to wait with glee on the day we knew they were eating there, knowing they were in for this lovely surprise.
    Recently, we went to this beautiful little steakhouse to celebrate our 11th anniversary, and we overheard the table next to us was a couple who was celebrating their 45th. We were nearing the end of our meal, and they were only starting, so that made it easy: we quietly asked to have a round of prosecco brought to them at the end of their meal on us. There is this wonderful heart-warmth that happens when you have coordinated a little surprise. Heck. If I’m honest, I get excited when I schedule a grooming appointment for my dog for the same reason (he gets to be with his buddies! and feel so much better with his haircut! Ha!).

    • Lindsey says...

      Oh, man. Your comment about the dog! You are a special person! ❤️

  84. Leah says...

    My husband’s friend sent a bottle of champagne to my work when we got engaged. I was so touched! Who even thinks of that?

  85. Erin says...

    My favorite surprise ever was when a former boyfriend took me to NYC to celebrate my birthday and when we sat down to dinner a bottle of my favorite wine was already on the table, a gift from my parents. I loved the scheming that went on between my boyfriend and mom to make it happen and that their love for me was at the dinner too!

  86. NK says...

    There are a couple “moments” like you describe in this absolutely PHENOMENAL episode of The Moth:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOP5pUIYhv4

    It’s my favorite one, and one I come back to anytime I need a boost, to feel wonder, or to be amazed. I cry every time, in the best way.

    Enjoy!

    • Leah PS says...

      Oh I just love this so much!

    • Lea says...

      Wonderful story, sent it to many friends.

  87. Meg says...

    Oh, how delightful! My husband and I have been on the receiving end of the kindest of gestures from others several times. The first was a once-in-a-lifetime dinner and overnight stay at the Inn at Little Washington, which is a very fancy farm-to-table inn in rural Virginia, outside of DC. We had just gotten engaged, and my husband’s boss gifted us the stay. It was magical in every sense of the word. Then, once we got married, we stepped foot into the B&B for our honeymoon, and a bottle of champagne and a note from a colleague was waiting on the table for us–and I was so stumped at how she even knew where to send it! We were so surprised, and both were unforgettable gestures. Recently, we decided it was time to do the same for others, so I decided to take my mother and sister to Hawaii to see the whales next year. We’d always said we wanted to go (in that vague way that suggests you’re not sure it will ever happen), and I knew that they could not afford to go anytime soon. They are SO DESERVING–so we are going to go! I took a little gamble by purchasing everything beforehand, but I am so glad I did. They can’t stop talking about it, and it’s something for us all to look forward to!

  88. Roopali says...

    Perfect timing! I work in a hospital that serves the under served population and I was just getting my coffee this morning when an older man looked a little confused as he got his coffee. I directed him to where the cream and sugar was and while he was fixing his coffee, I paid for his along with mine. The smile on his face and appreciation for what he called “my kind act” made my morning!

    I’m going to do this more often!

  89. R says...

    This post and all the comments just inspired me to pick up the tab for my parents anniversary dinner tonight :) thanks all!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      YAYAYAYAYAYAY! Were they thrilled?

  90. Lindsey says...

    My husband and I struck up a conversation with a couple at a bar in New Orleans during our first visit to the city. We ended up talking for three hours (!) and learned they had been coming to the same bar together for 15 years on their weekends away from a small town nearby, to escape reality from time to time. At the end of the night, we said goodbye and thanked them for the delightful conversation, truly happy to have spent time with them. When we asked for our check, the bartender handed us a note on the back of a coaster. It was from the other couple — they wrote it when we slipped away to the restroom! They picked up our tab and gave us their best wishes for many happy returns to the city. As it turns out we’ve been back to that bar several times over the years, and we’re always open to a conversation with those sitting nearby (and picking up their check!).

  91. eva says...

    i moved overseas 3 weeks after my godson was born, the timing couldn’t have been worse but my move was planned for years. in the lead up i prepared a few homemade lasagnas for their freezer and then for his birth celebration meal we organised with a local jeweller to have a gemstone necklace personally made for him and delivered for the lunch. they were so surprised and elated with the gift, it made me feel so good to also be there on the day!

  92. Sarah says...

    I did this for my parents on their 20th wedding anniversary! My mom had mentioned in passing where they’d be going, so I called the restaurant and asked to pay for dessert and a round of drinks. It was fun to be able to treat them and celebrate a bit from afar.

  93. Beth says...

    How timely! My husband and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary this past weekend. We planned a trip to Charleston, S.C. (kid free!). Our plans came to a screeching halt due to hurricane Dorian and we had to cancel. We live in Michigan and decided to book a room at the hotel where my husband proposed “up north.” With such short notice, there was no vacancy. This did not stop me from checking every few hours. Ha! I couldn’t believe it when a room opened up! Could. Not. Believe. It.
    When we arrived, I started unpacking, opened the fridge and found a bottle of wine and two of our favorite beers. I was tickled and said to my husband, “What did you do?” He looked surprised and said, “I didn’t do anything!” When I read the card, I learned my twin sister had set this up for us. We were both completely blown away.

  94. Capucine says...

    When I was eighteen I went on a roadtrip with three girlfriends to Palm Springs to visit a grandfather (it wasn’t cool then, but he had a pool!). We drove all night and stopped at a Denny’s to eat breakfast. I remember my friend was delighted because it was a Denny’s with grits; not all of them have them. We were so happy to be out of the car ordering breakfast that our parents never took us out for. When it was time for the bill, the waitress said it had already been paid for, and pointed out a gray haired couple with a man in wide red suspenders and a beard. We crowded around their table thanking them, and I remember his jolly grin and laugh, the joy in his face and our bubbly surprised gratitude. I felt they recognized how young, alive, and vulnerable and cash strapped we had to have been; they told us to take good care of ourselves. It was a gift, but to who I couldn’t say. Such a memorable moment!

    • Cathy says...

      This brings tears to my eyes!