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. EmilyS says...

    Several years ago my husband and I were having a drawn out dinner at the bar at our favorite gourmet pizza place and talked to a man also sitting at the bar for awhile. He ended up buying our $100+ dinner and said he enjoyed our company and only asked that we pay it forward. So of course a few weeks later we went back and paid for someone else’s dinner with the same message. I can only hope the it has continued to be passed along!

  2. Ali says...

    About 10 years ago I moved from Geneva to London to do my masters. I was DEVASTATED to be leaving my boyfriend so by the time I arrived at the airport to catch my flight, I had already been crying for several hours/days. When I got to the check-in counter at the airport, I was told my passport had expired so I would have to 1) apply for an emergency passport and 2) buy another ticket because I would never make my flight. I had very, VERY little money so this was a massive blow and so I started crying even more. Long story short, when I went to pay for my new passport an hour later, the guy at the counter told me the man who had been in front of me in line had paid for it. He had left without saying anything but I ran after him and gave him the biggest hug. I know nothing about him (not even his name!) but his act of kindness has impacted my life far more than that (now ex-) boyfriend did or anything I learnt during that year of studies.

  3. KJ says...

    Perfect timing on these stories of kindness and generosity. FWIW, I’m the world’s worst gift giver and always wait til the last minute. This was a reminder that gifts don’t have to always be tangible. or typical.

    One of our old artist friends from school is having her first solo show in NYC today and has also just came out publicly. We can’t be there physically but sent some surprise fancy champagne to the gallery to buoy her spirits and show solidarity. I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t read this post last night. Thanks for the idea…sometimes us busy folks need reminders to surprise and delight those we love.

  4. Leah says...

    We all need more stories of kindness, thank you for sharing! My husband is American and after we got married and the immigration process was complete I relocated to Colorado from Canada. The transition was tough and ripe with delays, isolation, and too many professional hurdles to count. One weekend my incredibly thoughtful husband pulled a string of surprises that still make my eyes mist. He asked me to lunch one day and when I arrived at the restaurant and turned the corner I noticed he was sitting with a tall beautiful woman. I remember thinking ‘wow that woman has beautiful hair’, as I got closer ‘she’s smiling so big!’ and finally as I neared them ‘Oh My goodness it’s my best friend!!!’. Many happy tears, bear hugs, and a champagne lunch followed. They had been in cahoots for months to surprise me when I needed it most. That wasn’t the only surprise, I was also convinced I was going to a girls night that weekend that turned out to be a surprise Green Card celebration (I had finally got mine the month prior). Just when I thought I was in a new city with no real friends, here they had all come together to celebrate my milestone as America’s newest permanent resident. The party was epic, American flags everywhere, a cutout of the Statue of Liberty, and even custom cookies in the shape of a Green Card. I’ll never forget everyone who helped and organized to pull of TWO of the best surprises!

    • denise says...

      I did something similar to this last month! I had several of my best friends (my tribe) fly in from all over the country to vacation together for a week. One friend couldn’t make it and was just devastated. I woke up a few days before everyone arrived and realized I could go to her after they left! So with the help of her daughter, I dropped my friends at the airport after their visit, and then boarded a red eye to the other side of the country. Her daughter picked me up and we surprised her at lunch! We both cried copious amounts of tears and couldn’t let go of each other. It was so damn wonderful! We ended up having the best weekend, and I’m so glad I listened to that little voice that said “GO!”.

  5. So sweet!!
    A group of older ladies paid for the drinks in Vegas when my twin and I were celebrating our 30th bday there ages ago. Thanks for reminding me of such kindness .

  6. Emma Malbec says...

    I like your mother in law. I only drink Malbec too!

  7. Taeeun Kwon says...

    What a wonderful story ! It teaches me how I can improve my skills to treat people around me. Thanks for sharing and this is obviously the best thing I learn this week. And I always enjoying your posts(glad to finally say big fan of yours), they are informative, enjoyable and sometimes very touching like this. Thanks for all your effort as always !!

  8. Caroline says...

    Earlier this year my (now) finance and I were super early for our international flight so had 2 hours to kill at the airport bar. When it was time for our flight, we heading to our gate and this man ran after us (we thought we forgot something!) and handed us a $100 bill, saying he was at the bar and thought we were such a cute couple that he wanted us to treat ourselves to something nice while on our trip. We got engaged on that trip and it was such a funny/sweet moment to kick off a trip of a lifetime!

  9. G says...

    My cousin and I decided to fly to Boston last year for a girls weekend and had been planning to go to a college football game while there. Before we left, it was announced that the game would be broadcasted and tickets skyrocketed. We decided not to buy tickets, and to just watch from a nearby bar instead.
    When we got to Boston, we went to lunch and started talking to the gentleman next to us at the bar. We were telling him about our disappointment with the game when he started typing on his phone. A few minutes later, he asked for our email addresses… he had purchased two 50 yard line, sideline tickets for us to see our college teams play! It was a dream come true. At first, we told him we couldn’t possibly accept, but he was adamant and only asked that to repay him, we “pay it forward”. (He also gave us some advice- life is too short for cheap seats! ;) )His gesture meant the world to two young women fresh out of college. I think about this every time I watch a game. Turns out, he was the CEO of a famous company, which we learned once we googled him that night.
    I’m constantly reminded that most people are good.

  10. Rachel says...

    The evening my husband defended his PhD, we had some dear friends, and older couple, take us out to dinner at an expensive (but so, so cool) restaurant. As if the prime rib and scallops weren’t enough, at one point, the server brought over 4 flutes of Champagne. There was a silence, and because I thought there had been some mistake, I started to speak: “Oh, you must have the wrong table, we didn’t order those,” but the husband of the couple smoothly cut in and said oh, yes, those were for us. We were celebrating. And celebrate we did. When the anniversary of his defense comes around, my husband and I remember this dinner and discuss it fondly. It was a night we just felt on top of the world, and our friends’ kindness and assurance that we were more than worth it was the cherry on top.

  11. Kim says...

    I love this so much! What a great idea.

  12. Kate says...

    Oh my god I am prickling with excitement to do this. Just love it so much.

    • Jaime says...

      SAME HERE!!

  13. Amanda says...

    This happened to my husband and son while on Spring Break several years ago. My older son and I were tired, jet lagged so we stayed at the apartment. My husband and younger son went out for a slice of pizza. When they went to pay they were informed the older couple next to them had taken care of it. They ended up talking to the couple for another hour or so. The couple, who were retired said our son reminded them of their boys, both grown and married. They said to savor the moments because they are gone quickly. Surprisingly it impacted my son the most, who spent the rest of our trip seeking out older folks, holding doors open, helping with their groceries, just saying hello on the street. And last year at the same pizza shop, he had the courage to approach an older gentleman dining alone, who was sketching in a book, to ask him questions about his drawings. Sometimes kindness also gives us courage!

    • TNM333 says...

      Sometimes kindness also gives us courage!

      I love this! And agree.

    • Adrienne says...

      This is amazing….and I whole heartedly agree!!

  14. Rebecca says...

    I got married a month ago and a couple of days before I went to get a manicure and a pedicure at a salon a friend had recommended. I never get my nails done so was clueless on where to go. It was nice and relaxing. When I got to the till I was told my friend has taken care of it. It was such a lovely surprise. Especially during pre wedding stresses. Thank you Sophie!

  15. Alice says...

    My boyfriend and I just had an ALMOST experience like this in Sicily last week!
    It was our last night, and we went out to a local restaurant- I mean, we were some of the only non-locals there- and were sat outside under a canopy of fairy lights. We were sat with our menus and some wine, and a boisterous group of Italian men in their 50s-60s came in and sat at the table next to us. They were joking and teasing away, and one of them got up to take a picture of the group. So of course we said “WAIT! Let us take it for you!”. They were so happy that they then proceeded to try include us in their fun all night (them in limited English, us in very limited Italian), gave us glasses of their INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS sparkling wine (so delicious that the next morning we spent an hour running around wine shops all over Catania to try to find the same one, to no avail!), and then when we asked for our bill at the end of the night, the waitress came over and said “They would like to pay your bill”. We of course shrieked “NO NO NO NO NO!” and they were like “SI, SI, SI, SI! Young love, si!!!”. So cute. In the end, my boyfriend went off for a quiet chat with the waitress to work out if they had already paid, or just intended to- if the former, we intended to pay for their wine in return, if the latter, we’d sneakily pay our own and thank them anyway.
    It was the latter, but it was SUCH a sweet gesture, and such a fun way to end a wonderful holiday!

  16. Annie says...

    Two nice similiar stories happened to my husband and I:

    – A few days after the birth of our first baby, my husband went to a sushi restaurant, where he was a regular, for a take out command. The owner reconize him and asked if something was wrong (he looked really tired and was wearing jogging). My husband announced that our son was born. The owner offers him the sushi as a congratulations gift!

    – A few months later, my husband and I were out to one of my favorite Italian restaurant for our first date, just the two of us. My husband saw a client of him with his wife when we arrived and said to him that was our first date. A few minutes later, when we were seated at our table, the waiter bring us a nice bottle of wine, complimentary of my husband’s client! Such a nice gesture!

  17. Paying it Forward says...

    I was in a drive-through line, rushing in to work one morning, ready to pay for my meal. Then the guy said, “You’re all set”, which confused me for a moment. He then said, “The person in front of you already paid for you.” That random act of kindness was such a pleasant and needed surprise. Though I didn’t need it financially, that person’s few bucks helped this stranger consider restoring her faith in humanity!😄 I vowed if I remembered and was able, I’d do the same, which I have (and it feels great doing so😉). You never know just how much “small” kindnesses like these can positively impact someone’s life.

    • Jenn P says...

      I do this all the time in the Starbucks drive through line. I hope it’s a fun surprise – free coffee! – to the person behind me.

  18. Jane says...

    A couple of my college friends lived out of town and couldn’t make it to my bachelorette party, so they asked a friend that was there to surprise me by getting the ingredients for our go-to drink in college – limeade vodkas! Then later at a fancy dinner before we hit the town, my sister surprised us by saying my parents had covered the meal. I felt so loved that weekend and it warms my heart just thinking about!

  19. Kind of similar but a little different: as a wedding gift, some of our good friends had champagne ordered to our hotel room on our wedding night! (I was nervous and you better believe I downed my glasses asap – haha!) I’ve always wanted to do that for someone else since, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

    Also, these comments are making me a little teary. The Venmo idea is great – I live internationally, and that’s something I could easily do for friends back home in the States!

  20. I’ve actually never done this or heard of someone doing it in the UK. I think its such a touching gesture and would LOVE to do it!

  21. Nade says...

    Oh my God. I did not realized how many times ppl gave me the same gestures and how many times I did the same to somebody else.
    But could we please discuss what is appropriate thank you answer? Except for red cheeks lol

  22. Maggie says...

    Our car got towed one evening while we were at a beautiful out of town wedding. We went to the vehicle impoundment and waited FOREVER with a woman whose car was also towed as she was finishing her shift as a waitress. It seemed like a really clear opportunity to help a stranger who works really hard, was having a bad day, and seemed like she could use a break, so we paid for her car too. The elderly woman who worked at the desk mailed me a thank you note (from the address on my check) written on a piece of scratch paper, and it’s still on my fridge, always reminding me that you can turn around a crappy situation by helping someone else out.

  23. ashley says...

    i just venmo’d my friend (with two sick babies and a husband on a work trip) $10 for some coffee and flowers because of all these moving comments. This post and the wonderful comments really brightened this sad day.

  24. Audrey says...

    While my husband and I were on post-doc, we went out to celebrate his accepting his first “real” job at a fancy (and amazing) sushi restaurant. When we arrived at our table, a bottle of our favorite (not cheap, not easy to find) wine was already on the table. I assumed my husband had planned it, but after asking the hostess, we learned my younger brother had brought the wine by the restaurant earlier in the day and left it for us to celebrate! (It wasn’t even on the wine list! He found it at a wine store and brought it to the restaurant!) It was so sweet, and I’ll never forget his thoughtfulness.

  25. C says...

    Not exactly the same, but my best friend and I went to Chez Panisse after I finally filed for divorce after a long, drawn out separation. We ordered a bottle of champagne, and when the server asked what we were celebrating, I told him, “I just got divorced,” something I am now very used to saying but at the time felt like an act of rebellion. He came back with a cake on beautiful plating with a little ribbon that said, “Congratulations” and said he had been divorced to. After that, any time someone responded with, “I’m sorry,” I always told them, “it’s not sorry, it’s congratulations,” and has become a real point of pride because divorce takes real strength, and courage, and self-assertion and we certainly don’t celebrate those hard moments enough.

    • Kate says...

      I love this true but all-too-rare sentiment. Congratulations on making the strong, courageous, assertive, and (I’m sure) right choice for you. xoxo

  26. Alison says...

    When I was a kid I had a birthday tradition where my grandparents (who I called Margie and Poppa) would come up to visit and take me to the very chi-chi restaurant in town. I felt so cool because it was for grown ups and I was like 7. When my grandfather got too sick to travel, my parents took me instead. When the end of the meal came, the ultra pretentious waiter came to the table and said “Dinner is compliments of Margie and Puh-pah” and like 30 years later I’ll never forget it!

    • Caitlyn says...

      Oh I love this – that they treated you that night, but even more the tradition of them coming up and taking you out to dinner on your birthday! Wonderful!

  27. Jenny Rosenstrach says...

    I am blown away by all these stories, and it’s especially wonderful to read stories of kindness and focus on the good in the world in the context of such a dark day in history. Let’s all continue to pay it forward.

  28. Natalie says...

    A few years ago, on a Friday night, I was getting a pedicure for my friend’s wedding while also studying at for an exam. When asked if I wanted a manicure, I denied because I was in a budget. About ten minutes later the women in the salon told me someone had paid for my pedicure and manicure and they wanted to remain anonymous. It was the kindest, most unexpected, generous gesture I’ve ever received, I was blown away and still am in awe. It completely overshadowed my stressful moment (and really stressful year). I’m still looking for ways to pay it forward in such a clever and unexpected way.

  29. Lauren says...

    This kind of thing has become one of my favorite gestures. I love surprising people in small but meaningful ways, and it’s also nice to do if you were invited but can’t make it to a dinner, bachelorette party, etc.

  30. Justine says...

    Aw, the comments section today….. so good….

  31. Kate says...

    My grandparents used to give my parents money towards dinner for their anniversary every year to ensure that even when they were busy with three little kids (or couldn’t justify the expense due to, presumably, having three little kids), they would have no excuse not to celebrate. My parents have since passed on that tradition for all three of their kids, who are no longer little and are all married :) it was the sweetest surprise to find out after I was married! No surprise, but so much sentiment.

  32. Chelsie says...

    My in-laws did this for my husband and I for one of our anniversaries! We went to the Fork and Knife in Atlantic City and ordered with no holding back. We had the best time. And then, when the waiter said those 7 magical words, we were in awe. The next day when we called to thank them they said “Don’t expect it every year.” haha. Happy Anniversary!

  33. Lia says...

    The morning after the 2016 election I was in a long line at a coffee shop in NYC. Everyone looked so sad and as miserable as I was. When I got to the front, the counter person said that the coffees of the next people had been paid for. It was a small bit of light on such a dark day.

  34. What a beautiful story! I am inspired!

    I do remember when my husband got laid off and one Sunday we just defiantly took our kids out to a Chinese restaurant anyway, just to not let the money/job situation define everything. Friends of ours were eating there as well. They were done and left before we were, but they paid our bill as a surprise. We felt so much joy and hope from that!

  35. Alicia says...

    I’m turning 40 next month and I have a secret kind plan similar to this in honor of my birthday, involving kids and movie tickets. I want to remain anonymous and hear stories later about how people reacted to the surprise!

  36. Kate Paolucci says...

    It’s September 11 let’s think about that.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’m sure people are. My friend and I just rode bikes to red hook to see the shining light from the World Trade Center. It felt pat to write a token post about it when I didn’t have anything new to say; I wanted to let people think about it in their own ways. Hope this helps xo

    • Sophia says...

      I was there for September 11. I honestly thought I was going to die and sadly know people that DID die. While I try to honor the date there are also years that I don’t even want to acknowledge it, don’t want to relive it, don’t want to feel the tightening in my chest as I see the planes hit over and over. This is one of those years and I’m so happy to hear that there are other things besides 9/11 news stories.
      Today at 10:01 am the first grandchild of a 9/11 victim was born. His widow thinks their grandchild arrived to turn a day of sorrow into a day of joy for them. Last year a friend of mine suffered an aneurysm on 9/11 and was in the hospital for almost 3 months, much of that time in a medically induced coma. A year later she had beat the odds and is alive and well. Life goes on, the good and the bad. I for one enjoyed reading a story on 9/11 about a lovely gesture that is remembered many years later. That is life.

    • Karen says...

      As someone who is well acquainted with terror, Holocaust memorials, etc, I can say that the best way for me to respond to Sept. 11 and such anniversaries of horror is to live my life in spite of those who would have destroyed my world.

    • agnes says...

      @Sophia, your words express it all so beautifully. Many thoughts and solidarity, from France.

    • Kristin says...

      I hope you’re able to take the time to read all of these comments. They are lovely stories and amazing examples of everyday acts of kindness, to both strangers and loved ones. Something we could all use more of, especially today. <3

    • AE says...

      We all have dualities and complex minds; We are capable of thinking of both 9/11 AND banalities AND…. This command isn’t helpful.– signed someone who watched the planes hit and towers fall from the window of her math classroom.

  37. Chrissy says...

    We just did this today! Today is my sister’s birthday. She is on vacation with her husband and we had a bottle of champagne delivered to their room as a surprise. They loved the gesture so much and I only ever thought about doing it because someone did it for me and I was so touched.

  38. Barbara says...

    I’m inspired so much by all these comments! I’m going to make it my mission to do look for an opportunity. Thanks for warming my heart tonight!

  39. Elly says...

    What a great idea!

  40. Greta says...

    I once sent a surprise bottle of wine to my brother and his wife when I knew they were doing a special dinner for his birthday. (I think it was his birthday?!) I spoke with the sommelier and worked with him to choose a bottle. I felt SO fancy. While choosing, I hesitated – what if they were feeling red and we chose white?! My fretting was for naught. The bottle chosen ended up being perfect and I’m so glad I took the leap, because my brother was tickled pink. It’s so much fun to playfully surprise an adult in a special way – it so rarely happens!

  41. I know at least one restaurant in Manhattan that regularly buys a table’s entire meal, just for being super kind customers….it’s brilliant marketing in my opinion and it feels great to be on the receiving end…

  42. Justina says...

    My husband and I went to law school together. We were broke but decided to splurge at a nice restaurant after we finished our first year exams. I had talked to my dad that day and in retrospect he asked very specific questions about where we were going. When we sat down the waiter told us a bottle of wine had already been selected (my dad knew that I would pick the cheapest one so he picked a better one) and that the bill was taken care of. It was so lovely – I’ll never forget it.

  43. Bonnie says...

    I was at the airport about to fly to a funeral with my 2 year old. I decided to stop and grab dinner at a restaurant near the gate and she was acting out, having a temper tantrum about something i don’t remember anymore. When it came time to pay the bill, it had been taken care of (including my glass of very necessary wine)! I was so touched and can’t wait to some day see an overtired struggling mom and do the same! Also- thank you for the heart warming post on a day of so much sadness. It’s like you sent us all a little glass of champagne at our favorite restaurant.

    • Maggie Ray says...

      So inspiring, I love this.

    • Christine Hart says...

      Great comment. We should remember the day but not let tragedy , but hope and kindness define us.

  44. janel says...

    About 40 years ago (yes, I am that old) 4 of my girlfriends and I saved for quite a while so we could dress up and take ourselves to a fancy restaurant for dinner. We asked for our check and were told an older couple that were celebrating their anniversary had picked up our check…but we never knew who they were. I have tried to carry this generosity forward and anonymously took care of lunch for two young ladies eating next to me in a bistro at the Dallas airport – I overheard them talking about how excited they were to be making their first trip to Paris – and I had the waiter tell them to have a great trip; I bought dinner for two young ladies that didn’t have dates for the prom and were taking themselves ‘out to dinner’; had champagne and chocolates waiting in the bridal suite for friends that renewed their vows. The list could go on…but…it is so much fun and heart warming and I love looking for opportunities and figuring out how to surprise someone.

    • Rosalie says...

      This is so kind! I also love the fact that the girls were taking themselves out for dinner, they don’t need guys for that :) and I laughed about the “yes I am that old”. I’m 17, but this is definitely something I’ll try to do a few times in my life. It seems like such a nice surprise!

  45. Jemma says...

    I love the idea of planning surprises for others… reading these comments gives me a few ideas for my mom’s upcoming 60th birthday. I’m planning on sending a holiday card for Rosh Hashanah to an elderly women who frequents my workplace. To make it even better, I want to get a bunch of the students who I work with and who know her, to sign the card. I think she will be delighted by it and besides, who doesn’t love mail? This is a small gesture, but an easy one to do.

  46. Anita says...

    Yes! My friend told me she was going to a fancy restaurant with her husband to celebrate her bar exam results. So I called the restaurant ahead of her reservation and ordered a bottle of champagne for them-the restaurant even included a message from me!

  47. Several years ago I was staying in Antibes, France for a short while. I had found a cute little vegetarian restaurant and had been coming back daily for their lunch. I would go to the restaurant and read or draw while eating their delicious soup of the day. One day as I was about to pay they said the check had already been paid. An older British man had taken care of the check and told me he had seen me coming in and that he liked my spirit. He didn’t seem creepy at all and just seemed to genuinely want to pay it forward. It was a kind gesture I will never forget.

  48. Phillipa says...

    I love, love doing unexpected things like this for my friends. Care packages that turn up in the mail, a well-timed Uber eats delivery of ice cream for a friend with tonsillitis, and my favourite, making sure that my honeymooning friends arrived to their Parisian hotel to champagne and chocolates waiting in their room. It gives me so much joy.

  49. Elle says...

    My 70-year-old brother’s tiny (third) wedding was in Atlantic City a couple of years ago. Only a handful of people were invited; my sister was the only member of our family. She gave me the idea to have strawberries and champagne sent to their room after dinner, plus balloons. I wanted something festive but annoying — we’re that kind of family and, hey, I hadn’t been invited. So I found an Atlantic City florist and ordered “a disgustingly large, bright, overwhelming” balloon arrangement. Turns out the newlyweds LOVE balloons and were happy to stuff them into their car the next day.

  50. Lisa says...

    My best friend and I turned 21 the same month (feels like a hundred years ago!) and we went to a really nice restaurant to celebrate. We dressed up, ordered expensive champagne and oysters, and had an absolute blast. At the end of the meal our server said they check had been taken care of and pointed to a man at the bar. He looked to be in his fifties and we were a little creeped out, especially when he started walking over to our table! But, instead of some sleazy pickup line he told us we reminded him of his daughters and hoped we had fun. He also said to save the money for something else, and as two servers in college we were so appreciate of his kindness! We offered to buy him a drink but he just waved it off. Such a great memory.

  51. Sandy Avis says...

    I was in Ann Arbor MI (go blue!) at Zingerman’s Roadhouse eating at the bar and struck up a conversation with 2 security guards on break from a job. I was in A2 because I have Stage 4 BC and had been waiting anxiously for a phone call from the University of Michigan Cancer Center to say they could see me, I live in northern MI. I stopped for dinner because I literally had 15 minutes to grab jammies and clean clothes for the next day and drive 4 hours for my appointment, I was famished! After finishing my Kale Salad and Margarita I excused myself to use the restroom and when I came back these 2 strangers had paid my bill! They were blown away by my tenacity, strength and candor, wished me the best and that was that. It was one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me…and yes, I made sure to pay it forward.

  52. Tara says...

    My Dad died suddenly this past November, and instead of a traditional funeral, we had a good old Irish wake at a local pub. With all of his favorite people together having pints in his memory, it turned out a hefty bill. When it came time for us to settle up, the bartender shared that someone had paid $1,000 of the tab! My sisters and I never found out who it was, but the simple act of kindness during such a heartbreaking time spoke so beautifully to the person he was, and the people who loved him.

  53. VP says...

    My husband and I took a trip to Spain and stayed at a hotel in Barcelona recommended by my friend. When we arrived and checked into our room, there was a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries waiting for us. They were a gift from the same friend who recommended the hotel! I have only known her for a few years, and at that time probably knew her for about 1 year, but she is one of the most thoughtful and generous people I have ever known!

  54. Margaret Rose J. says...

    When my husband and I planned our honeymoon, we tried to be creative and thrifty since we were about to move to the UK for his PhD program. We asked family friends if we could use their vacation homes for a discount. The parents of his high school and college friend volunteered their home for a “discount” on an island off the coast of South Carolina. We spent our wedding night in Atlanta and the next morning we lazily opened cards and ate leftover wedding cake before hitting the road for the coast. We were floored when their card stated that everything including the cleaning fee for the house was completely taken care of. The card also included the phone number of a very nice restaurant on the island with strict instructions to call and make a reservation. Of course, that was included in their gift to us as well. In the card, they told us that they too were low on cash when they got married and that his boss gave them keys to his beach house for their honeymoon. They had always wanted to pay it forward! We will never forget it and aspire to do the same one day!

  55. Kathleen says...

    Recently we were out to breakfast VERY early, with our 6-month-old and 3- year-old (like, before 6 am). We were at a 24-hour diner and a group of older motorcyclists, who it appeared had been up all night and were just winding down, bought our breakfast. It was so unexpected and kind and made me feel like we- meaning America, or something like that- are going to be okay.

  56. SC says...

    When my husband and I arrived at our hotel room for our mini-honeymoon, there was a bottle of champagne on ice waiting for us. We thought it was from the hotel, but upon opening the card, we realized it was from a friend of my husband’s. I had been casually chatting with him in the checkout line at our wedding hotel and he clearly made a mental note and arranged this special treat, two days later! That friend has always been a class act but this was really something. It has been seven years and I am still so moved by it, and in turn, have tried doing the same sort of thing for people in our lives periodically. So special, so memorable!

  57. Kathleen says...

    My entire childhood, my dad would always tip $100 if he found out our server was in college. We didn’t have a ton of money (which also meant we didn’t go out to eat that often), so the gesture felt wildly extravagant and kind. I’ve done it once now, and called him after to tell him. He cried.

    • This is so so so lovely. I was a waitress while I was in college, and huge tips were so significant. I literally paid my way through college on waitressing. So inspiring to hear your story!

    • Annie says...

      Your dad sounds wonderful. :)

    • Kristin says...

      I’m crying. Such a sweet story!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      This is amazing. Your dad sounds amazing. I can’t imagine how grateful the servers were.

    • Quinn says...

      Oh my gosh – ‘he cried’. And now I’m crying. Your dad sounds so kind.

    • LK says...

      I remember my grandfather giving a $100 tip to a student waitressing at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, MA in the mid ‘80s. She was blown away. Thanks for reminding me of his kindness and spirit on this day.

    • Elle says...

      Ah, this takes me back to the occasional big tips I received when I was the waitress and dishwasher in a tiny restaurant one summer between high school and college. It meant so much! I hope to be in a position to be able to give $100 tips someday, but in the meantime, we always try to tip more than expected.

  58. Emma says...

    My friends from college have a tradition of sending thoughtful delivery pizzas to each other despite living on opposite sides of the country. They sort of play tag with the pizza-sending, but I think the best surprise pizza deliveries happen when you’re feeling low, will be up late, undoubtedly too tired to cook… grad school finals, the third night in a row of being at the office past midnight, the day you moved into a new apartment in a new city on your own.

  59. So sweet!
    My folks were visiting me over my Dad’s birthday week and we took a tour of the TCHO chocolate factory. At the end of the tour the guide said, “It is someone’s birthday, let’s all sing happy birthday to [my dad].”
    He was shocked! Then the guide handed him a huge bucket of chocolates.
    My brother and brother-in-law had called ahead and asked the factory to help make my Dad’s birthday special.
    We still talk about it.

  60. Emily says...

    This is a bit off the celebration topic but when my father-in-law died at 62 from a hard-fought cancer battle, we received the most beautiful condolence – a donation to the Arbor Foundation with a card saying that 50 trees had been planted in his honor in the Canadian Rockies (my husband is Canadian). Whenever someone I love loses someone near to them, I donate $50 to the Arbor Day Foundation and send a card saying that 50 trees have been planted in memory of their loved one. You can usually find an area to donate that has something related to the person who passed. It was such a touching sign of life at such a dark moment in our lives and we have never forgotten it.

    • Leah says...

      I love this. When my mother died this past February, my work colleagues made a donation in her memory to the Peace Education Center in my town. Peace was a theme with my mother and it was so incredibly thoughtful.

    • Jane says...

      That is such a lovely gesture. I usually don’t know what to do or say in those situations and often feel helpless. Tucking this away to use in the future.

    • celeste says...

      Amazing. Totally doing this.

    • Angele says...

      When our dog died, my friend donated to the Children’s Hospital Pet Therapy program. I’m a pediatric nurse, so this donation meant so much to many on so many levels. It’s my go-to now when a friend loses their pet.

  61. Michelle says...

    My boss surprised my husband and I with a bottle of champagne waiting in our hotel room. I remember him asking me what hotel we were staying at and writing down the name. I thought he was doing it in case he needed to contact me! It made our out of town trip and my husband’s bday feel that much more special!

  62. Rachel says...

    For my bachelorette party, one of my dearest friends couldn’t be there. When I walked into one of the dinners (it was a weekend trip), she had bottles of champagne sent to the table to start with a toast. I remember being so surprised and touched that she was trying to be with me in spirit even though she couldn’t be there.

  63. After helping us organize and throw our wedding in Greece, my parents spent a long layover in London for their own anniversary, which happened to be a few days later. It was very much a stressful couple of weeks for all of us leading up to our big day, since we had no wedding planner to help and heavily relied on my Dad’s Greek to avoid some huge snafus and my Mom’s resourcefulness to fix some last minute near disasters. They had little, if any, time to relax.

    They had less than 24 hours in London and decided the main celebration would be a nice dinner at Galvin at Windows, a nice restaurant known for great views of the city. My husband (yea, he’s a keeper) had the genius idea of getting their tab. They were totally shocked! The restaurant pulled out all the stops, even writing a little note on our behalf, and we got to thank them for all the hard work and support they’d given us in the months leading up to our wedding. 10/10 would do it again :)

  64. C says...

    hahaha this is really a dumb comment but – I saw ‘photo of Le Coucou’ and was like, ‘no that’s not, that’s Alex!’
    *facepalm* Can you tell I don’t know about NYC restaurants?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Hahaha you’re so cute! We were wondering if people would realize it was Alex!

  65. Andrea says...

    Ohmygoodness I love this so much.
    Last winter, a dear friend and old college roommate of mine was going through a hard time – a single mom, she vented to me one afternoon about how she just felt overwhelmed. She said how funny it was that once you become a mom, you are now the caregiver and rarely feel taken care of yourself by anyone. She said, “I just want a homecooked meal that I didn’t make.” I felt so moved by this and as a mom myself, could relate. I cut out of work early, ran to the market, and made the most comfort-y food I could think of – pot roast with carrots, mashed potatoes and gravy, crusty bread. I left it on her front step and just doing it made me feel nourished as well. We now joke about the “pot roast network” we will one day set up to nourish moms all around the country.

  66. AP says...

    When I was pregnant with my first, I was finishing up my masters and working part time as a personal care aid for a child with major health needs. Towards the end of my pregnancy the family called to see if they could drop off a baby gift. When they arrived, they carried in bag after bag of gifts. They had bought EVERYTHING that was left on my registry. Knowing how many other financial pressures they had and how hard they worked, I was overwhelmed by their generosity. It’s been 12 years and I still think about it often!

    • Caitlyn says...

      Oh this one made me cry for sure – how much you must have meant to this family and how wonderful that they did this for you <3

  67. Louisa says...

    When I was 7 months pregnant and flying across the country (in the back of the plane in a middle seat), someone from first class traded seats with me. From Orlando to San Francisco! (His words were, “I have 4 kids, so I feel like I owe it to pregnant moms.”) I sat next to a Nobel prize winning physicist and ate ice cream. My heart was so full. I think of him often. If I ever have the chance to pay it forward, I will. (But I don’t exactly ride in first class!)

    When our daughter was 3, we were eating out next to a couple who had taken their twin babies out to a restaurant for the first time. We surreptitiously paid their bill. :)

    • agnes says...

      what an amazing story! so many people are so generous and kind.

  68. Valentine says...

    Yes! Just after we arrived to our hotel room at the Ritz on our wedding night, we had a knock on the door. My aunt had chocolate strawberries delivered via room service! It was so thoughtful and such a surprise. We loved it. :)

  69. EmilyR says...

    I flew across the country to meet my dear college friend in San Diego for a long weekend. Both of us had three teenagers at the time and hadn’t seen each other in years. After we settled into our room, there was a knock at the door. Two people from the hotel came in with wine, appetizers, and chocolates my husband had secretly arranged to send. Such a sweet kickoff to our fun weekend together.

  70. Charlotte Keys says...

    That’s class. If you are fortunate enough to have money you can afford to be kind. But not everyone thinks of it. Share the luck and the love.

  71. Anna says...

    There was a dollar limit for the open bar at our wedding venue, and once that was hit, there was a balance that my parents would pay after the wedding. When they went to pay the tab, someone had beaten them to it! To this day, fourteen years later, we don’t know who it was! It was so generous and we still enjoy trying to figure out who it could have been.

    • Louisa says...

      Love this.

  72. Gina says...

    In lieu of household items on our wedding registry, we asked for gift certificates to restaurants around the city. It ended up being the best idea. The gift certificates funded (and took the planning out of) date night for the next year, allowed us to have amazing meals (without weighing if we really needed to spend money on dessert or a second drink), and gave us a slew of memories that we still cherish and revisit today. 10/10

    • Sara L. says...

      My go-to wedding gift is a set of gift certificates to local restaurants.

  73. Maria says...

    I tried doing this recently for my parent’s 52 anniversary but the restaurant would not accept an over the phone payment. I had to physically go to their chain restaurant in my city (steak house rhymes w hemings…) and pay and have that manager call the other manager to provide them a surprise dessert and champagne. It was all worth it though!

  74. Cathy says...

    My sister and husband celebrated their 50th anniversary in Hawaii. I worked with a Hawaiian florist (thank you Yelp!) and had a wrist corsage and boutonniere to their room in time for the day’s dinner event. They were thrilled! And I felt like I was there celebrating with them.

  75. Lana says...

    When my sister turned 40 I wasn’t able to celebrate with her. She called me on the way to our favorite Greek restaurant where she was meeting the rest of our family asking for the thousandth time if I really wasn’t planning to surprise her. I felt terrible telling her no (again) and as we hung up I wished there was someway I could be there in spirit to make her laugh. So I immediately called the restaurant and ordered shots of ouzo for the entire table and the waiter brought them out just as everyone got settled. As they did their shots he read the message I had left with him in the phone mere moments before, “I’m so sorry I can’t be with you for your birthday, but I hope your forties are as fiery as this ouzo. Opa!”

  76. Kelly says...

    My friends and I do this with Postmates and other food delivery! Two friends in LA got engaged (I’m in NY), and I sent them a pie right to their front door. Baked goods to another friend in San Francisco when she was having a hard time. When I was going through a hard breakup, I got brownies from a local bakery!
    We’re all turning 30 in the next year…thanks for the reminder that I need to rekindle this. :)

    • jen says...

      Stealing this,m great idea.

    • Alison says...

      YES! This is my favorite thing! I live in Greece and I’m always forgetting to send presents to my friends and family ahead of time, so instead I send them UberEats or Postmates on the day at their house. It’s genius because it’s so instant that it’s perfect for last-minute people, but you look like a wizard for getting it there fresh at their house on the day. I sent my mom flowers from Whole Foods on Mother’s Day through Instacart and surprised my friend with a dozen donuts on her birthday. I am usually sneakily texting them like, “Oh what are your plans today?” so I can make sure they’re home to receive it. Here in town, I’ll send my friends treats if they’re having a tough day. Once I sent my friend a text that said, “Coffee’s on it’s way to your house now, it’s already paid for” and she said, “This is the best text I’ve ever received.” :)

  77. Melissa says...

    My husband’s boss did the same for us one year. It was such a surprise.

  78. My husband and I got engaged at an Italian restaurant in Sydney. After we managed to eat dinner (so many butterflies!), a tray with two champagne glasses arrived, a gift from a couple having dinner nearby who saw the whole thing. We were so touched and would love to return the gesture – we’re just waiting to witness a proposal!

    • jade lees says...

      I travel often for work and eat alone and this is one of my favourite things to do! To send champagne to newly engaged couples is so so exciting!

  79. Stephanie says...

    I agree I totally love this idea! When my husband proposed in San Francisco he planned dinner at a fancy restaurant afterward and not one but TWO of our friends sent bottles of wine to our table. I was already walking on air, but that truly unexpected gesture left me absolutely exuberant. I have never felt more loved in my life.

  80. Rachel says...

    I love this act of friendship. A friend couldn’t make my bachelorette party so she called ahead to the first bar we went to and arranged for our first round of drinks to be on her. It was so classy and special, that I have since copied her and sent a round to every bride to be whose party I had to miss!

  81. EB says...

    My husband had been working long hours on a big client’s project (a very fancy new house) for months and the day before we were supposed to take a vacation to Europe, his client used his airline points and upgraded our tickets to first class. It was such a thoughtful thing to do (and yet probably cost him just a fraction of his points, ha) and a delightful start to our trip.

  82. freya says...

    my mom does this all the time but just ordinary instances- when she runs into friends at a restaurant (which is often) she takes care of their table’s bill. it really reflects her fun, generous nature and inspires me to do the same.

  83. Lauren E. says...

    Two years ago, my girlfriends and I went out to my favorite local bistro for my birthday dinner and at the end of the (fairly lavish) meal, the waiter said, “Your check’s been taken care of.” We badgered the poor guy, and he wouldn’t tell us who did it. “The one condition was anonymity.”

    To this day, I have NO idea who it was! But we all still tell that story. I hope to someday have the money to pay it forward.

    • perla says...

      that’s really touching .. the kind of thing that you keep thinking of years after the actual incident
      it teaches us how to do the same with somebody else , a total stranger .this gesture should never stop among strangers

  84. Maggie says...

    For Mother’s Day, I called a restaurant where I knew my parents were dining and asked to buy my mom’s first cosmo (she loves them!) – and the sweet restaurant manager generously said he appreciated the gesture and that it was on the house! I also try to earn “cool aunt” points with my college age niece and nephew by Vemno-ing them $10 for coffee during finals week (see, I’m hip!) :)

    • Rosalie says...

      Aah I love that you send your niece and nephew coffee money! It’s such a nice gesture and let’s them know that someone is thinking of them and supporting them

  85. Rene says...

    I moved to the Dallas suburbs about 5 years ago, after living my entire life in the Bay Area. Talk about culture shock (well, not so much anymore because now there are so many other former Californians!). But there has been an especially nice tradition that I encounter regularly–I will pull up at the Starbucks window to find that my order has been paid for by the car in front of me. This happens several times a year and never fails to delight me. I now do it as well, and it always makes me feel so good.

  86. Lizzy says...

    After I moved across country five years ago, my best friend secretly sent me “one more drink” for my bday night out. Basically, told the waiter that when I say I’m done, send me another (on her) because I always “one more drink” her at the end of our nights out (well, pre-kids anyway). Made me laugh and miss her a ton!

  87. Hannah G says...

    This is such a sweet idea! I have so many dear friends that live across the country and food is my love languague. Can’t wait to put in into action :)

  88. Kimberly says...

    I have been on the receiving end of this. My hubby and I were out celebrating my birthday and we ran into a former preschool student of mine (he’s now 10) and his sister and their father. They were super sweet and gave hugs and marveled that I now have 3 kids. My husband and I had a delicious meal and were so thankful for the time out. We found out at the end of the meal that the sweet family had taken care of the check and had ordered me a special dessert. I think what I love about it most, is that the father was thoughtful enough to include his children in the gesture. We felt loved.

  89. Rebecca says...

    This is absolutely brilliant! Just another reason to love you Jenny!

    • OMG we also did this to your sister, Jo! I went with a group of women from my residency to one of her speaking engagements in the city some months after Paul’s book was published. Afterwards we all grabbed dinner in a quiet pub nearby and happened to see her there with the event host grabbing dinner. We debated walking over and just thanking them for a lovely event, but one of us had the idea to surprise them by taking care of the tab. They were totally surprised and came over to thank us afterwards. Lucy was super sweet and they joked that they were pleasantly surprised that it was a group of female physicians, and not a couple of guys at the bar trying to hit on them who had paid the bill. Doubt she remembers but for me it will always be a fun memory and one of the cooler things I’ve done :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my gosh Georgia!!!! That is so incredibly sweet! I’m smiling from ear to ear.

  90. Lisa says...

    Yes, I love this kind of treat/surprise! My husband did something like order a bucket of beers for a friend celebrating a birthday at a bar/restaurant when we couldn’t travel to be there many years ago. Then, this year we ordered up prosecco and beer (for my non-wine-loving BIL) to be delivered to my SIL and BIL and friends in Vegas for our BIL’s 40th. So fun to contribute to the celebrations.

  91. Jules says...

    My husband and I had this happen when we were celebrating one of our first anniversaries. We were sitting at a table next to an elderly couple who were also celebrating their anniversary on the same day. It was such a lovely and generous gesture.

  92. EMILY says...

    I was having a hard time postpartum with my first – just typical blues and general malaise. My boss must have recognized in our conversations that I needed a pick me up. She offered to bring lunch over and asked the usual questions about allergies and general preferences. Well, she shows up with three grocery bags full of high-end grocery deli case items: cooked chicken breasts, lasagna, salads, baked goods, even a dozen hard boiled eggs. Enough food to last me at least three days worth of meals for my husband and myself. I’ll never forget it. Such a kind gesture for a tired and weary new mama.

    • Sarah says...

      that is lovely!

    • Katie says...

      This happened to my (now) husband and I last year when we got engaged! We were staying in a tiny cabin in the Highlands of Scotland, and he proposed to me on the evening of our 10 year anniversary, sitting on a dock looking out at the mountains. The next day, we made our way into the local town to celebrate with a special breakfast, only the find that the place was packed and there were no tables at all.

      An elderly couple invited us to share their table, which we gladly did, and we ended up chatting with them for hours about our trip, the proposal, our future plans – everything! It turned out they were revisiting the area after getting married there over 50 years earlier, and they were thrilled to hear that we were just starting on that journey together.

      At the end of breakfast we all hugged and said goodbye, and they wished us well. When we went to pay the bill, it had already been taken care of by that sweet couple, and they left a note wishing us all the best for our marriage (which we still have, and I plan to include in a photo album I’m making for our paper anniversary!).

      I still think about them often, and what a lovely gesture that was.

  93. Such a thoughtful and creative idea! I swear I learn something new nearly every single day from this blog!

    • Corina Cucutianu says...

      Exactly my thought! So many good vibes, such a real space, so much to gain from this online space. I am feeling blessed to have discovered years and years ago (maybe 7ish) this blog!

  94. Suzanne says...

    I love this!!! Stories like this make me smile — I love hearing them. Here’s mine:

    A friend was out of town with other friends at one of our favorite cities (Palm Springs). He was having A Day with lots of Feelings (capitalization intentional!) and I was sad that I wasn’t there to make him feel better. He was there with friends, but they abandoned him for sightseeing and he was having brunch by himself. I called the bar and had them deliver two of our favorite vacation drinks with the message that I’m cheers-ing him from afar. He loved it! It totally made his day and he facetimed me to cheers on camera.

    • freya says...

      so sweet – you’re a really great friend :)

  95. Claire says...

    I have a group of work friends that go out for lunch once a month. We’re all from different departments but connected at an all staff meetings and found it to be a great way to know what’s going on beyond our own little grants at a huge university. One time the research dean was having lunch at the same place and surprised us by picking up our bill. He was the boss of our bosses and it was just such a touching connection from someone with such an important role in our work who, as far as we knew, didn’t even know our names.

  96. Erin says...

    We had friends that did this for us on our anniversary a few months ago! Our waiter came to tell us that we were supposed to order drinks and that someone was taking care of it – we were so surprised by this sweet and thoughtful gesture!

  97. agnes says...

    I think the gesture is great and meaningful when it comes from family members or dear friends, but… your boss? I would feel quite uncomfortable if my boss paid for my wedding anniversary celebration.

    • Diana says...

      That’s an interesting take. I spend so much of my time at work, that it feels kind of natural to be slightly involved in your coworker’s worlds. I know all of my coworker’s spouses’ names, and actively congratulate them on family milestones. We get each other vacation souvenirs. We get drinks after tough workdays. If I was in the financial position to do so, I would undoubtedly be sending champagne to their desks to celebrate their high-points.

    • agnes says...

      After reading all the comments I can see it’s a cultural difference; in France, your boss is not really someone you would have that kind of relationship with. You would feel like you owe him something. It would just be weird and intrusive. But I can see it’s different in your country. So interesting.

  98. Maire says...

    My friends and I have been known to send each other emergency pizzas. Home sick from work? Had a shitty day? Really busy and important week and need time to wind down? Emergency pizza to the rescue via whatever the closest delivery is.

    • Sarah says...

      Maire…my Maire in London, Maire?

      Whichever Maire you are, emergency pizza is BRILLIANT. X

  99. Laura H says...

    When I was a sophomore in high school, a few girlfriends and I did not have dates for the Homecoming dance. We still wanted to do it up and took ourselves out to a fancy dinner at a chic Italian restaurant. To our dismay, a huge table of the most popular kids in our school showed up and was sat right next to us. We were already self-conscious and this just made us feel even more deflated about our lack of dates. After we finished our dinner, the server brought out the prettiest creme brulees. We were confused – we hadn’t ordered dessert?! The server told us an anonymous couple in the restaurant had ordered them for us and told us to have a blast that evening. It was the sweetest gesture and it instantly brightened our evening. I have vowed to do the same thing if I ever encounter a similar group in the future!

    • Chrissie says...

      Oh my god this made me cry!!!

    • Maggie says...

      Agh I love this.

  100. Awwww I love these kinds of stories. My husband and I had our tab picked up secretly by his boss when we had met up for lunch on a workday. He had told the server we were a hard working family and deserved a special meal together. Still makes me teary.

  101. Bonnie says...

    My husband and I will often anonymously pick up the tab/tip of a senior who is eating alone when we’re out … and imagine how pleasing it is to at times find out from the server that someone else has already had the same idea and treated them.

    • JR says...

      I’ve also done that for seniors eating solo (I have such a soft spot for that!).

      My 88-year-old grandmother lives far away and she once lit up telling me that someone in a restaurant anonymously covered her lunch while dining out. She was so delighted. Warms my heart to think of!

  102. Ana says...

    We couldn’t attend a friend’s milestone birthday in New Orleans. We were so bummed, but wanted her to know we were thinking of her. We called the hotel and ordered a bottle of champagne and had it delivered with chocolate dipped strawberries. She was so over the moon and happy that we asked to have the champagne unchilled so she could have it anytime she wanted (chilling & unchilling changes the flavor). She still talks about sharing the champagne with friends by the pool later that weekend while toasting us.

  103. AN says...

    This really is the best, most tickled feeling, when you do this! One of my BFFs just celebrated her 40th birthday, and I couldn’t be there because of a business trip, but since she’d told me her whole evening’s agenda, I arranged for a bottle of bubbly to be delivered to her table. The awesome thing was that as it was being delivered, one of my other BFFs happened to be sitting at a nearby table and overheard the whole thing, so she sent me a text with a play-by-play before the birthday girl could! I know people love getting gifts, but for me, giving is by far the better feeling!!!

  104. Lauren says...

    I did this for my parents 40th wedding anniversary. I had my first child the week before so I couldn’t travel to celebrate. I called the restaurant ahead of time and pre-paid their meal. My dad called me in tears. It is one of my fondest memories!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so sweet, what a lovely story!

  105. Lucy says...

    What a fantastic gesture, definitely will be using this in the future!

  106. Jen says...

    Yes, my friend’s husband did this when we had our college reunion. He surprised us with room service of champagne, wine and beer at the hotel we were staying!

  107. Loren says...

    Hmmm. Beef cheek ravioli, trendy Italian restaurant? That sounds like Babbo. I took my boyfriend there for dinner about 16 years ago and the tab was well over $300. Nice gesture!

  108. Sarah says...

    On a smaller scale, I always pay for the car behind me at toll booths. Is there anything more soul-crushing than a toll booth? The smile from the recipient is 100% worth the few dollars it costs me.

    • liz says...

      wow, that’s so nice! just thought of doing that and remembered I have EZ Pass- will have to come up with my own nice gesture for a stranger, i guess!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that’s such a great idea!

    • I used to do this in the days before EZ pass. One time I happened to pay for an older couple, and afterward, they passed me and waved and smiled.

      Many miles later, enough so that I wasn’t thinking about it, I went to pay the toll and was told that the people in front of me had paid. I realized it was the couple from earlier. Full circle and lots of fun.

    • Anya says...

      Love it! I sometime pay for the car behind me at the drive-thru coffee stands.

  109. Lisa says...

    When my one nephew was a few months old, I sent my sister in law flowers. By mistake she’d sent me one of those desperate mother with a newborn and toddler texts (I think it was meant to go to my brother), the newborn had a dairy intolerance and she couldn’t have chocolate or cheese so I thought flowers would be nice. There was a slight mix up with the delivery so my brother had to go hunt them down, but she was so happy. Now that I have kids I realise how happy that kind of gesture would make me

  110. Melissa says...

    That’s such a lovely gesture!

    My husband likes to stealthily pick up the check for service members. It’s a small thing but we hope it brightens their day.

  111. Kate says...

    One time on a long roadtrip my husband and I stopped at a Starbucks by the highway and noticed a highway patrol officer pull in line behind us at the drive-thru. When we got our order, we paid for the officer’s order behind us too and then went on our way. Ten minutes later, while we were enjoying our coffee and continuing on our drive, a patrol car came flying up from behind us, then passed us and held up his coffee as a thank you, and then went sailing on by. We joked that we had a free pass for the rest of the drive across the desert!

  112. Karen Allen says...

    I just want to say this post, and all the comments, warms my heart. I like that everyone is sharing ideas of how to make other people’s day a little more special — and there are so many who have done these kind gestures! What a genuinely lovely thing to read today.

    • Abby says...

      Agreed!! I have tears in my eyes and a wistful smile. This is an especially juicy comment section today! So many kind, thoughtful people in the world.

    • I agree!! So easy to read so much negative stuff online (looking at you, Facebook), but this is a genuinely inspiring, warm post. Thank you, Cup of Jo!

  113. Micah Lambert says...

    Me, my little brother, and my new boyfriend went out to eat. My boyfriend had to leave early, and when my brother and I went to pay our checks, the waitress said, “They are taken care of.” My brother turned to me and with wide eyes said, “Wow, your boyfriend is coo.” Major points.

  114. Reenie says...

    I just did this for my mom’s birthday. Her, my dad, and another couple were going to dinner to celebrate on her birthday. So, I called a florist nearby the restaurant and had them deliver a bouquet to her (and had a sweet note included saying they were sent from my daughter). It was a simple gesture – but well worth it for her to be truly surprised!

  115. Jill says...

    Oh this is the best idea!!! May hv to try it with my newly married daughter on her first anniversary. What a great surprise.

  116. Barb says...

    As usual, the comments section of Cup of Jo makes me cry. What wonderful acts of kindness and love.

  117. Meghan says...

    I was inspired by Rachel Cargle on Instagram and try to participate in #FriendCareFriday, I send $5-10 via e-transfer to a friend who’s been on my mind during the week. Maybe it’s the friend who organizes my soccer team each season, the friend who just broke up with her long term boyfriend or the friend who has been feeling stressed at work. I write a short note to say I’m thinking of them and to treat themselves to coffee (or tea or dessert!) on me.

    • Same!!! I’ve been doing this regularly whenever a friend is on my mind. They’re always so wonderfully surprised!

  118. Julie says...

    I did this for my parents for their 35th wedding anniversary! They were SO surprised. They called me when they got in the car to go home after diner and my mom said “YOU SNEAK!” I could tell they were tickled! One of the best gifts I ever gave :)

    • Blythe says...

      Oh, this is so cute! :)

  119. Erin says...

    Two years ago my wife and I were eating dinner at a restaurant bar and we overheard a young woman tell the bartender that was traveling alone and had decided to treat herself to a fancy dinner. She said she worked for Planned Parenthood, and that things had gotten really intense since Trump was elected. When we heard that, we agreed there was only one thing to do. We quietly told the bartender that we wanted to pay the woman’s check. It was so much fun to listen to her say, “Oh I really shouldn’t but I’ll have another glass of wine,” or, “what the heck, I’ll have dessert,” knowing that in the end her splurge wouldn’t cost her anything! We left just before she asked for the bill because we didn’t want her to have to thank us. It was SO gratifying.

    • Sandy Avis says...

      I love this and you and Planned Parenthood!!! I have goosebumps!

  120. Alice says...

    My parents did this for my partner’s 30th birthday, and it was truly the kindest, most thoughtful gift.

    It was deeply odd to just… get up and leave the restaurant. Like, we can just walk out? But, in addition to saving us the expense, not having the administrative shuffle of the check smoothed out our whole evening and allowed us to fully bask that post-dinner happy haze.

    My mom told me later it was because she hadn’t had time to get a gift together. I told her she is welcome to procrastinate on any and all future gift-giving occasions, and I promise to do the same.

  121. Ruth says...

    Love this!!!

  122. This is the SWEETEST idea!

  123. Julie says...

    I love this type of gesture. When I was getting a pedicure on my birthday a few years ago, I ran into my old boss who was having a pedicure too. I mentioned it was a birthday gift to myself. When I went to pay, she had already left and paid for me! I never forgot it.

  124. Mary says...

    Yes! I have done this (a small version) for family and friends birthday dinners when I cannot attend. I send a round of appetizers or extra desserts to the table. It’s always, always a hit.

  125. Bethany says...

    Oh, I love to do this! My parents are so transparent when discussing their anniversary celebration plans and yet are always surprised when there’s no bill to pay, ha! They reciprocated once by sending a cheese and wine basket to the room and covering a night’s stay for my 5th anniversary getaway. But the innkeeper added the flourish of a giant CONGRATULATIONS, LOVE MOM & DAD on the chalkboard wall overlooking the bed and hot tub… Not *exactly* the mood I was looking to set for the weekend, but the gift was so appreciated just the same, and the memory still makes me laugh.

    • Diana says...

      AMAZING. Probably not what your parents had in mind either, lol

  126. BR says...

    We just did this for my in-laws 36th wedding anniversary! After taking over their last two anniversaries (we got engaged on one and had a couple’s shower the year after) we OWED them. They were floored and called us crying. #bestmoneywehaveeverspent.

    But another amazing idea at a wedding is to call the hotel the bride and groom are staying at and have them send late-night food to their room—think grilled cheese, mac n cheese, chicken fingers. Most couple’s don’t eat at their own wedding (I surely did not) and this would have been incredible to stumble back to.

  127. Rosie says...

    My mom did this for my birthday party one year and my friends STILL refer to in 12 years later. It was so precious and kind and THRILLING for a group of broke college kids!

  128. Tiff says...

    Love it! Yes, did this once and would love to do it again!
    My husband, brother and I were stumped on a great gift for our brother and sister in law’s 10th anniversary. They were on vacation where they’d honeymooned and we knew the restaurant where they were eating for the BIG celebratory dinner. Called ahead and took care of the check and so happy to do it 🤗

  129. Sophia says...

    Just ask!

  130. Marie says...

    I love this idea, and can’t wait to surprise someone. Thanks!

  131. Jenny says...

    I had a boss do something similar! We were in my hometown for a conference and he knew that I would be staying for the weekend to visit family and celebrate my 3rd wedding anniversary (my wife was traveling up to meet me; it’s her hometown, too). The morning after the conference, I woke up at my mom’s house to a card that had been left in the door. My boss bought us a gift certificate to cover dinner at the nicest restaurant in town and dropped it off at my mom’s before he left town that morning. I was completely surprised! Even my parents couldn’t stop going around and telling everyone how nice my boss was for buying our dinner. I’ll remember his kindness forever.

  132. Emma says...

    This reminds me of one of my very favorite memories: My high school boyfriend and I went to a upscale restaurant in Manhattan when we were 15? 16? years old for a date. We felt so grown-up and fancy on a real dinner date, and when the check came, an anonymous person had picked up the tab!!! He had also been eating at the restaurant and added our tab to his bill when he paid, telling the server it was because we reminded him of “the joy of young love.” We were so mystified, touched and excited by the kindness of this gesture! It was wonderful.

    Anyway, I ended up marrying said high school boyfriend this past June (after 14 years of dating). We still talk about that stranger and how special he made us feel, like he saw something in us we were just beginning to discover ourselves.

    • Allison says...

      Gahhhh! What a great story and even better that you two got married!

    • Mouse says...

      I love this so much. Things like that could happen when people weren’t buried in their phones, when they looked around them and could SEE other people and have imagination about them. Lucky you two!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I’m going to cry.

  133. Dawn says...

    After this was done for my husband and I by a stranger, we have tried to pass it forward to strangers along with an explanation (so it doesn’t seem really weird) like… “you reminded the couple next to you of themselves at your age” or “the couple next to you said it was a delight to eat next to such a nice family.” We also try to have a bottle of champagne waiting at the honeymoon hotel of friends getting married.

  134. Elizabeth says...

    I was dining out and observed a couple with infant twins trying desperately to enjoy a dinner together as the babies fussed – eventually the couple gave up and asked for their dinner to go. I told my waitperson that I wanted to anonymously pick up their tab. I am a mother of twins and recall with love and tenderness how precious and fragile that first year was for us. I have no idea who this couple is – only that they seemed so gentle with each other and their children – but it remains one of my favorite gifts I have ever given.

  135. janine says...

    This happened to my parents once. My dad’s boss at the time was keeping him late at work and my dad was getting antsy, and he said he had to meet my mom for their anniversary dinner – and when they went to get the check, it had been paid for by my dad’s boss. My mom still talks about it!

  136. MJ says...

    I love this. A friend of mine was going though a divorce, and she was in town taking care of some business. We go to the same hairdresser, and I knew she was in want of a new look. I called ahead to our hairdresser know I’d be paying for her service. My friend later left me a blubbering voicemail saying thank you. Money well spent.

    I’ve also sent a round of drinks or bottle of wine to out-out-town friends if I know where they are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries.

  137. Jess says...

    I’ve done this for my mom at her local coffee shop when I knew she was feeling sad (teachers please put classroom support staff on valentine’s day list, they do so much!) It was a wonderful pick me up and I know it turned her day around.

    It’s meaningful from strangers as well. I used to work at a Starbuck’s drive though and people would LIGHT up when you told them the car ahead of them took care of their coffee. It would make our day too!

  138. Kim S says...

    I LOVE doing this. Living far away from family and friends I try to send a bottle of sparkling wine (or whatever it may be) to special events (bachelorette and birthday dinners at this point in my life) that I have to miss. It is always a hit and such a fun surprise for the guest of honor. Restaurants are always happy to do it and usually get excited themselves at surprise (“oh i know that party! the birthday girl has curly hair, right?”). It is the best idea.

  139. Brooke says...

    Love this idea!! I do something less clever and venmo $10-15 to out of town friends when I know they’re out having birthday drinks and tell them to have one on me!

  140. Katie says...

    My husband, brother and I surprised my parent’s with a bottle of wine and gift basket in their hotel room while they were on my dad’s “Yeah! I just retired” trip to the Grand Canyon. It surprisingly easy to get the info from my mom. I just asked really causally, “oh, where are you guys staying? I want to look up pictures of it online.” She spilled the details, totally unsuspecting. Called the hotel, gave them my credit card, done. It was SO fun, and they were SO surprised.

  141. Alexa says...

    One time, in my post college days, a friend of mine wasn’t able to make it for our first night back to campus. She sent a round of champagne to all of us and we were blown away. It’s so nice – I have now started sending wine, champagne, etc. to friends and family celebrating milestones and it’s certainly more special when it’s a surprise.

    • Amanda says...

      When my best friend was in grad school, she would sometimes call to vent about the rough day or week she was having. I felt so bad I couldn’t be there to really help, and money was tight for her at the time. It always made me feel so good to ask if she wanted a pizza and to be able to order one and sort of be there for her in the form of warm comfort food.

    • Erin says...

      I sent my mom ice cream, chocolate syrup, and M&M’s (our comfort food) via Instacart from 400 miles away when her Mom received a terminal diagnosis and I knew she needed a smile.
      Best decision ever!

  142. Jenn says...

    I know this isn’t at all the same thing, but today as I cried in my car after dropping my youngest child off for his first day of preschool, I was in line for coffee at a Starbuck’s drive-thru, listening to NPR’s coverage on 9/11. I was so overcome with emotion—love and pride and nervousness for my son, the sadness and fear that surrounds this anniversary, I just decided the only thing to do was pick up the tab of the woman in the car behind me at Starbucks. I had never done that before and always wanted to. I could see her very clearly in my rear view—she had a young child in the backseat and was touching her face a lot, in that tired, preoccupied way we all do. The barista was so encouraging of the gesture. Then the woman pulled up behind me again at the next stop light, and her whole manner was altered. She was smiling and laughing, talking to her child. It cost me $10 to change my entire outlook on the day. I felt so much better, and I hope it made her day better too. I highly recommend it, if the opportunity to pick up a whole dinner tab doesn’t present itself, or is outside your budget.

    P.S. And my son had a wonderful first day!

    • Allison says...

      I’m having a rough, tired parenting day, and this made me tear up. Lovely!

    • Jessica says...

      It’s totally the same thing. A gesture that made someone’s day. : )

  143. Ellie says...

    Not really the same, but similar in stealthiness:
    I occasionally Venmo friends $5 out of the blue. Sometimes I’m just thinking of them, sometimes I know it’s a hard week or a first day at a new job. But it’s a very small way to let them know I’m thinking of them :)

    • Abby says...

      My friend does that for me too, nothing feels better. “Treat yourself to some coffee” he’ll say in the venmo.

    • Clare G Gibbons says...

      My college roommate did this for me the day I finished the bar exam. It was so nice!

    • S says...

      I love doing this! I Venmo’d $5 to my friend for a PSL, $10 for my brother and sister-in-law for another PSL, and $10 to my sister in California. Venmo coming thru!

    • Marissa says...

      My bestie and I live across the country and do this sometimes too! If we know the other person has had a really hard week, we Venmo each other with a note to get nails done or pick up a bottle of wine or go get ice cream. It’s a way of saying I’d take you out for these things if we were together, but since we’re not, please treat yourself!

  144. My dad did this for my husband and I’s 10 year anniversary. The sleuthing was slightly easier- he knew where we were because he was babysitting our kids. Still, it’s so meaningful to me. We were so surprised! This is such a good reminder to pass it on.

  145. Elissa says...

    I did this as a wedding gift for a dear friend–I knew the hotel they were staying at for their honeymoon and arranged to pick up the tab for a beachside dinner for two. I think it went over very well and highly recommend it as an alternative to something off the registry!

  146. Jes says...

    I LOVE this! A few month ago my mom mentioned an upcoming hair appointment so I called the salon to pay for it. Not only was she so pleasantly surprised, it seems that little act of kindness was quite the talk of the salon. It was kindness high not only for me, but those around her!

  147. MM says...

    So sweet! Love a surprising gesture. We sent special drinks to a young couple at a restaurant in Paris who graciously moved tables to accommodate our large brood (cousins reuniting for a late night dinner, complete with a string of little kids) and they were thrilled. Once, while I was getting my nails done on my birthday, a partner’s wife saw me at the salon and picked up the tab without telling me. Another time, I was having an after-work dinner with my three boys at the restaurant next to my office, and someone in the crowd picked up our check! Lovely and unexpected gestures — restoring my faith in humanity. Love this!

  148. Jessica says...

    OK, but really, HOW dod you do it?

    I need much more specific details on how you figure out where people are eating if I’m going to recreate this trick for out of town relatives like my parents.

    • Maddy says...

      I have called the restaurant and asked to speak to a manager. They sent over a credit card form I filled out and then took a picture of the completed form and emailed them back. I have also done it where I call and they key it in manually as though it was take out into their system. When my bestie moved to a new state I simply asked where they were celebrating (it was the first birthday I missed) and asked why she liked it or more details about the place so I could “casually” figure out where they were going. ❤️

  149. Julie says...

    Yes!! I was positively THRILLED to be able to do this for my kind and wonderful building super. My husband and I ran into Kevin and his wife at a restaurant one night, which made it so easy to pay their bill before they had any idea what was going on. We slipped out without a word, and received a happy and excited thank-you text half an hour later. Since then I’ve done a bit of sleuthing along the same lines, and it really is the *most* fun!

  150. Annis says...

    Love this idea – it’s given me a whole new way to treat my friends, celebrate promotions with them, give them a pick me up, and generally delight and surprise them.

    • Holly says...

      My husband’s birthday occurred during a work trip to a tiny town in the Midwest with one motel and one restaurant. As a surprise, I called the restaurant and ordered a pie (they didn’t have cake!) and then convinced the motel receptionist to deliver it to him. Somewhere my birthday note was lost, because my husband said he returned from work to a banana cream pie sitting on his nightstand with no explanation.

    • Kimmie says...

      Last summer I had a miscarriage. My husband and I had just moved, and many of our friends back in LA were pregnant, or announcing their pregnancy right around the same time. We were lucky enough to be given the go ahead to try again right away. Of course each month when I got my period I was bummed, but I didn’t want to just sit in the sadness. Instead I went online and looked up friends baby registries. I would send surprise gifts to let them know that we were excited for them and wanted to celebrate them. No one knew about the miscarriage or that it was the reason why, but this was my way of turning our disappointment into joy. It helped me cheer up each time I pressed order! And luckily we ended up pregnant soon after, and now have an adorable baby boy!