Today, my sons and I went to a restaurant for supper. I often take them out to eat when they visit me. One, I’m not a very good cook. Two, I’m too lazy to cook and then wash the dishes afterwards. And three, I want my sons to know proper restaurant etiquette and protocol. My oldest son who is eighteen hardly eats out with us anymore because he’s at that age where he prefers to be with his friends. My twelve-year-old fraternal twins and I go to a restaurant at least once a week. I always make sure they learn some new fact about restaurant dining. Today, we discussed how the restaurant pays the waitress a very low wage, so she depends on tips for most of her income. Why do I do this? Because when I was a boy, we never went to restaurants. Mexicans just didn’t go to restaurants. It was cheaper to eat at home or bring your own food to the park, to the beach, to wherever. I want to save my sons from some of the embarrassment that I endured the first few times I went to restaurant because my parents had never taken me to one. I had to learn the hard way.

I must have been about eleven or twelve years old the very first time I went to a restaurant. I had found a dollar at the park and I thought that I would like to go to a restaurant. Since my parents would never take me, I would go by myself. I knew exactly which restaurant, too. There was one on the corner right by Peoples Theater at 46th and Marshfield. This restaurant caught my attention the very first time because a car had crashed halfway into its front door. I actually saw the accident, which made it all the more exciting. The next summer, I rode my bike past the restaurant minutes after another car had crashed into it. About two months later, yet another car crashed into it. Somehow, this seemed like a restaurant where I wanted to eat. Often, I would ride by on my bike and stop to look at the menu in the window. Of course, I would always listen for cars that were about to crash into the restaurant. So when I found the dollar I knew I could afford to eat there. For sixty-five cents, I could order the cheeseburger with fries and a Coke. And still have change leftover.

Well, since I had never eaten at a restaurant, I walked in and didn’t know what to do. I was staring at everyone in the restaurant when a waitress approached me. She asked me if I was lost. I said that I came to eat there and showed her my dollar. Well, actually, I handed it to her because I didn’t think she would serve until I paid first. She put my dollar back in my pocket and asked me where I would like to sit. I said, way in the back somewhere, away from the front door and windows, lest another car come crashing through. The waitress was very nice to me, took my order, and later brought out my food. She kept coming back to ask me if everything was fine. When I finished eating, she asked me if I wanted anything else, which I didn’t, since I couldn’t afford anything else. Later, she brought me this little piece of paper which I didn’t understand. It said check at the top, but since I didn’t speak English that well, I recalled that the only time I heard the word check was when my parents talked about getting paid for work with a check. After the waitress left me the check, I never saw her again. I waited for her to come back so I could pay her. I looked all over for her. I went to bathroom and I didn’t see her anywhere. I didn’t understand why she would give me a check when I didn’t do any work. I waited for her patiently. I’m not sure how long I waited, but it was a very long time because I started feeling hungry again. Finally, I just left–with the check and my dollar.

To this day, I feel embarrassed about what I did that day. But, hey, I didn’t know any better. In order to atone for that faux pas, I teach my sons the proper way to eat at a restaurant and the importance of tipping. When I explained this ritual to my sons, Alex told us how his friend Jack didn’t understand tipping. Jack’s family went to restaurant eat. There were a lot of people, so Jack’s father left a hundred-dollar bill on the table for the tip. When they got home, Jack told his dad, “You forgot this on the table,” and handed his dad the hundred-dollar bill!

Check please! Where is my waitress?