updated 05/21/2014 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/21/2014 AT 3:00 PM ET
It’s time to throw in a little more gratitude with your gratuity (unless you’re a party of six or more, then it’s included) – May 21 is National Waiters and Waitresses Day, a holiday calling restaurant patrons to throw down a little extra on their checks in appreciation of all the hard work servers do (as well as the dangers they face).
Like many holidays, Waiters and Waitresses Day is as big as you want it to be. Looking to go all-out this year? Then why not draw inspiration from these seven real-life tales of astoundingly large tips – read them below, and then maybe think of ways you could make your own server’s day.
It was, they hoped, the best shift ever. California waitress Chelsea Roff raised her little sister on her own, battled an eating disorder and ran a nonprofit yoga program – and her bosses wanted to go the extra mile to show their appreciation. With the help of inspirational website Break.com, they organized a heartwarming stunt for Roff on April Fools’ Day. As she worked her shift, random customers appeared and gave her a series of incredible tips, culminating with a gig teaching yoga at a eating disorder treatment clinic and a brand-new car.
When her son came down with a serious illness, Arizona’s Danielle Thomas started waiting tables – the flexible hours meant she’d have more time to take care of him – and signed up for food stamps to make up for the low wages. But when Thomas tried to renew her benefits, the government told her that they’d mistakenly overpaid her; suddenly she owed them $800 she didn’t have. While telling her story to a table one night, she received an unexpected stroke of luck: A $1,000 tip from a kind-hearted customer, enough for her to repay the debt.
In January, two anonymous patrons walked into a Nebraska Cracker Barrel and requested they be served by the grumpiest server on duty. Not wanting to throw any shade on a member of their staff, the Cracker Barrel’s management instead gave them their happiest waitress: college freshman Abigail Sailors, who was working her way through Trinity College after a childhood filled with grief and abuse. One of the patrons happened to be a Trinity alum and, inspired by Sailors’s fortitude through tragedy, left her a $6,000 tip – $5,000 for tuition, $1,000 for school supplies.
The happiest event to ever occur in an airport restaurant happened in April, when passenger Heather Hogan received news that her beagle had successfully made it through a life-saving surgery. Overwhelmed by the news, she gave waitress Mijai Wallace a $60 tip – all for one cheeseburger.
During the 2013 government shutdown, National Guard soldiers were forced to work without pay. To help them out during a tough time, New Hampshire waitress Sarah Hoidahl picked up the tab for a pair of National Guardsmen dining in her restaurant. Her kindness was repaid tenfold – or rather, 370-fold. Paying the $27 tab earned her a spot on Ellen, as well as a $10,000 reward courtesy of the TV host.
Local millionaire Benjamin Olewine was a regular at the Peachtree Restaurant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when he decided to pay waitress Melissa Mainer’s nursing school tuition on a whim. $20,000 later, Mainer has her nursing degree, and 92-year-old Olewine says he’d be happy to pay for her grad school as well.
Before he died in 2012, Aaron Collins had one request for his family – that they honor his memory through a series of “awesome” $500 tips. The family didn’t have enough money to make his dream a reality, so they set up a web site where strangers could donate money for the project. It worked even better than they expected. Nearly two years later, they’ve surprised 97 different waiters, waitresses and pizza guys with five cool Franklins each.
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