Their exhaustion was visible. The couple walked into the restaurant, the woman carrying the baby, probably just over a year old. They were hopeful they could have a nice dinner but were resigned to a short evening. I was actually relieved for the opportunity to shake up the slow evening at the restaurant. I seated them and brought the highchair, asked what they would have to drink, handed them menus and told them about the specials. The baby was a little fussy so I brought a package of oyster crackers, which satisfied him for a few minutes while the couple ordered their meal.
When they had ordered, the woman asked me to have a “to go” order ready when they finished their dinner; she would bring it home for her sister who had been helping care for the baby while he had been sick. "We've all been sick all week and we're finally feeling better. My sister came to help out. We haven't left the house in a week and we're giving my sister some much-needed down time. We hope to eat here, but we may need to make a quick exit if the baby starts to fuss."
As I cleared the couple’s salad plates, the baby started to cry. I brought their entrees to the table just as the baby began to erupt. I asked if I could hold him; the couple looked up at me, confused. "Can I take him out of his highchair? I'd love to show him the fish tanks." They nodded. I picked up the baby and wandered around the restaurant, showing him the fish tank, the lobster tank, the sea shells scattered around the dining room. "Do you know what lobsters do? They pinch noses!" I gently pinched his little nose and he giggled. Loudly. The couple looked up, shocked. They hadn’t heard that giggle in over a week.
I continued to wander around the restaurant, serving my other tables one-handed and introducing the baby to the other guests, servers, and the chef. Each time I walked by the lobster tank I gently pinched the baby’s nose like a lobster and he giggled. The couple finished their dinner and I handed them their check and their “go” box for her sister at home. It was a $50 tab, they tipped me $25.
Server: I had no expectation of a large tip. I saw people who needed a break and I knew I could help. It was a slow evening at the restaurant and playing with the baby was a good distraction for me and for the others in the dining room. If the baby had been fussy, everyone in the restaurant would have had their dinner disrupted, even if the couple ended up leaving in a hurry. The tip was icing. I had no idea that someday when I had a baby someone would do the same thing so I could enjoy a quiet dinner with my spouse. What comes around goes around. If you are not a baby person or just don't have the time to do what I did, provide distraction as much as possible. Bring crackers, bring crayons, have a few small (non-choking hazard) toys around for just this situation. You won't believe how much people appreciate this assistance. Remember to do this because they need help, not because you expect a big tip, sincerity is the most important part of your service.
Customer: Make a plan for a quick exit if you know you are on borrowed time with a potentially fussy baby or child. This couple told me as they sat at the table that they might have to leave in a hurry, could I please be prepared with “go” boxes just in case. When a server goes out of his or her way for you, show your appreciation. If you can’t leave an exorbitant tip, leave a note with the 20% tip so she knows what she did was extraordinary. And by all means, return to that business, write a good review online, and bring your friends!