One day in a little café, a man ate a sandwich, paid his tab, and left. As the server moved to clear the table, he was astonished to find $1,000 in cash left there by the man. He ran outside to find the customer, but he was gone. Trembling, he told the other servers, the cook, and the owner of the cafe. The owner advised him to keep it, since the man had obviously left it there on purpose. The server tried to distribute it among the other workers, but they were afraid and wouldn’t accept.
Having waited on him, the server felt sure there was no harm in the man. He’d been gracious and quiet, and strangest of all, after the server had taken his order, he had looked up in his face and asked, “And is there anything I can do for you?” The way he had looked and the tone of his voice had made the server feel as though the man meant what he said—but he had averted his eyes, embarrassed, and answered, “No, thank you.”
The server thought he had given decent service, but knew that even his best could never have earned this. From that day forward, he served every customer, no matter how rude, as though they were that man again.
The next day, the server was not there, so no one recognized the man when he came in again.
He did just as he’d done the day before. This time, he had a different server: one who took the question, “Is there anything I can do for you?” as a subtle sarcasm, a snare to see if he’d presume on the man’s kindness.
The man again left a $1,000 tip. His server was just as shocked as the first one had been, but decided it would be better not to make a fuss and slipped the money in his pocket without a word to anyone. All that day and the next, he could think of nothing but the tip.
He began to think this man must have recognized how great a server he was, and had rewarded him appropriately. How gracious, he thought, how discreet, how friendly, how professional and crisp! Why, anyone in the world would be lucky to be served by him.
He went to work from then on confident that he was the best server in the world, even, he thought, if his self-centered, ungracious customers lacked the discernment to see it. This made such a change in his conduct that he was fired in short order.