One small, sweet gesture

By Judy Berman

Bad experiences often consume us, overriding more memorable moments.

I thought of that as Dave and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary. On one trip years ago, we had such a good time that we were really sad when we had to pack up and return home. On another, I felt as if we were hustled onto a runaway train straddling rickety rails and our luggage thrown on as an afterthought.

The difference between the two? The service when dining out.

We were in Montreal once before and the service, the people, and the experience was fantastic. But, on this trip … well, maybe it was something in the water.

We’d hoofed around the city, doing the tourist thing. As it got closer to dinnertime, we checked our guidebook for a good restaurant in the area.

Struck out on our first choice. The maitre d’, who reminded me of the snooty waiter in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” told us they were booked. I looked around the restaurant. It was still early. The tables were empty.

Maybe, their customers were all just around the corner, getting out of their limos, and about to rush the restaurant.

We walked a bit more and found another place that had a good rating in the guidebook. It didn’t mention a dress code. Nor were reservations required.

The maitre d’ at the second restaurant eyed us disdainfully when we said we didn’t have a reservation. He sniffed as he ushered us to a corner table and said we had to be done by 7 p.m. It was 5:30.

We should have taken the cue and left. But our hunger outweighed our good sense. When we got the menu … trouble.

It wasn’t in English and there were no prices next to the food. I have no idea what we ordered for dinner as we ate with one eye on the clock.

We asked about dessert. The waiter glanced pointedly at his watch. No time. Not even for a leisurely cup of coffee.

The last American to get good service there was probably Princess Grace.

Franco-American relations took a brief tumble after that trip. Fortunately, we recovered our sense of humor. We lived near the U.S.-Canadian border at the time and made several more trips there that were delightful. That helped put that distasteful experience in our rearview mirror.

About a year later, we were headed to Watkins Glen State Park. We stopped at the Showboat Restaurant on Seneca Lake.

At the restaurant, the bartender discovered it was our anniversary. After a teensy bit of prodding, he found we loved Boston cream pie.

A short while later, the bartender (and part-owner, Larry Jenkins) emerged from the kitchen. He had a slice of that cake and the candle on top was lit. Then he encouraged the rest of those dining and drinking there to join him in singing us a song to celebrate our special day.

Little did he realize, he had me at the cake. That small, sweet gesture was just the right touch. My husband and I sat around eating, chatting and swapping stories with the other customers.

The next morning, there was no question where we’d go for breakfast. We headed back to the Showboat Restaurant and made some new friends and great memories while we were there.

One gracious gesture built good will, and a sweet memory that I replay again and again.


This post marks the first anniversary of my blog. A special thanks to my husband, Dave, for editing my posts. Thank you to all who have left thoughtful and/or funny comments, who “follow” me, and who have given me your support and encouragement.


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


* Main Photo: Montreal – A fountain lit up by colorful lights at night in Old Montreal. Taken by Jacquie Atamanuk in July 2006.

* Photo: Watkins Glen State Park – taken Sept. 2007 by Amerikaan314 at en.wikipedia

* Video clip from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” – the snooty waiter (played by Jonathan Schmock)  and Abe Froman (Matthew Broderick posing as the sausage king of Chicago to gain entry to the upscale restaurant, Chez Quis Maitre D’)

  1. Great post, Judy. It’s amazing how little it takes to ruin an experience, and how little it takes to turn that very same experience into a happy memory. You have to wonder why it’s so difficult for some people to care enough to make the difference.

    Happy anniversaries — wedding and blog.

    1. Thanks, Charles. You were one of the first to encourage me when I began my blog. So it’s a special pleasure to hear from you.
      On the bad experience, I often wonder if that comes back to bite them. While we returned for several visits to Canada, I wouldn’t patronize either of those restaurants.

  2. I love the line “he had me at the cake.” Too funny. I definitely agree that the little extras definitely make all the difference in the world.

  3. It is really hard to remember the good if you had something bad proceed it. Vern and I have had good and bad experiences at restaurants, and we always try to give the benefit of the doubt. A bad experience just leaves you with a feeling of “what did I do wrong?”and that is not fun.
    I am glad you were able to have a nice experience to remember your anniversary.

    1. More often than not, a bad experience typically means the customer will find a place to patronize that values their business.You’re right, Jenn. I’d rather not have the added burden of pondering “what I did wrong” other than walk into a restaurant and expect good service and a great meal.

      The unexpected, sweet gesture at the Showboat Restaurant is one I’ll never forget. It made our anniversary that year very special.

  4. A big congrats to you, on your blog’s first anniversary. I could realize, how precious this moment was for you as there is only nine more days left for my blog to complete its one year journey.
    Now back to the post, it was a wonderful read. I have gone through all this; as our country is divided in to so many states and as young men we have to move from one state to another in order to pursue our dreams. There are some places which I love to visit again and again and there are some places I always avoid visiting. And it’s all due to those memories or experience, attached to those places. I believe a place has hardly anything to do, in order to make a trip memorable one for someone else. It’s always the people who makes a place special. I wonder when people start realizing rather than behaving someone who does not belong to their place as an outsider; they must take the responsibility to make him feel special. After all they are the people who are not only representing themselves but also the place where they live and every single person who lives in that part of world. Great post Judy. I loved it.

    1. I’m glad you “loved” my post and that you can relate to what I wrote about it. When I was young, I read “Ugly American” – a political novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. I recognized that we represent our country when we visit other lands/cultures. I wanted to be someone who people – in the countries I visited, or those who visited our shores – would view as a positive representative of the U.S.
      From wikipedia: ” … the term “Ugly American” came to be used to refer to the “loud and ostentatious” type of visitor in another country … ”
      I agree with you, Arindam. People do make a place special. Their interaction with you makes you yearn to return as quickly as possible or avoid at all costs.
      Thanks for your wonderful comments.

  5. Yes service while dining out has a big impact on how you perceive a new place.
    Happy anniversary! It has been my pleasure to follow you part of the way 🙂

  6. Grrr! How dare those snooty maitre d’unces treat one of my favorite bloggers that way!! If I ever get my hands on ’em, I’ll– I’ll– well… it won’t be pretty, no sir, won’t be pretty at all!! : )

    Great post, Judy, and belated congrats on your first year blogging anniversary. You are a force for good in the blogosphere!!

    Watkins Glen State Park– been there, that’s a beauty. Glad it all came together there for you and Dave, especially since I’m originally from Upstate New York myself.

    My wife and I had a truly horrendous dining experience a couple of years ago while on vacation. So bad, it was nearly enough to spoil the entire trip. The next night, we tried another place. Guy parked us at a table, took our drink order and promptly disappeared.

    A small eternity went by, we looked at each other and said: “Not again!” We were just scraping back our chairs to leave when we saw this whirling dervish coming towards us from the far side of the room. I never saw anyone move so fast without seeming to do so.

    This young woman swept in, deposited our drinks, and said merrily, “I knew he forgot about you, so here I am!” Before we knew it, dinner was on the table, and she proceeded to give us the best service we’d ever had.

    When we finished, I told her she had not only saved the day, but the previous day as well, single-handedly reversing the previous night’s bad experience. I was totally wound up, and described our awful experience at the other restaurant in detail. My favorite memory is her face as I told the story: it registered shock, disbelief, disgust, outrage– she was absolutely livid on my behalf! I’ve thought of it many times since, and it never fails to make me laugh with delight.

    I emptied the old wallet giving her the tip, and would gladly do it again.

    Yes indeed– the tremendous transformative power of One Small Sweet Gesture. : )

    1. Wow! Mark, I am delighted with your response. I hesitated to post my bad experience because – oddly enough – I thought no one else has ever been treated badly when dining out. That Dave and I are not alone is comforting in a way. But, this should be a cautionary tale for those who provide service.

      I’m so glad that the 2nd restaurant you and your wife were at — and the server who made things right – gave you the kind of service that every customer deserves. When they (restaurants, hotels, etc.) don’t, they lose not only the customer they treated poorly but many, many more. Bad news travels fast.

      How delighteful that you also have experienced the beauties of Watkins Glen State Park. We’re from Liverpool, NY (and Syracuse) and have many favorite spots in that area. I should have recognized that we were kindred spirits from the get-go.

      Thanks so much for the good wishes on my blog-a-versary, and for having my back if I ever encounter another snooty maitre d’unce. I’ll carry a card to warn them. 😆

  7. Customer service can make or break an experience. None of us are exempt from experiencing the bad kind. The world would be a more joyful place in which to reside…

    …if everyone were nicer to one another… 🙂 happy belated anniversary…kudos to your marriage…and your blog!!!

    1. I wonder how a business can survive and grow when it treats their customers poorly. Some do, I guess. But that experience tarnished an otherwise great day.
      Thank you, hugmamma, for your anni-bloga-versary wishes.

  8. It’s great to hear the happy occasion you had. Happy anniversary, Judy. May happiness be with you and love stay forever with you and shine through your heart. 🙂

    Subhan Zein

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