For anyone wishing to study human nature, my “mailbag” would make an interesting research center. I get tons of email and snail mail, however rather than arriving in a steady flow it comes in waves. I’ve given up trying to predict which columns will prompt responses from my readers.
Take a column on the inherent dangers associated with debit cards. I wrote about the relatively weak law that regulates them as opposed to the much stronger law that protects users of credit cards. It was, in my humble opinion, empowering information worthy of some measure of positive response. Or at least a few angry challenges from loyal debit-card users. Surprisingly, responses to that column were nearly non-existent.
Another time, I included in a tip column what I found to be a clever, albeit not exactly earth-shattering, tip having to do with lemon water. (“When dining in a restaurant and the waiter brings you water with lemon, give those slices a little squeeze, add a bit of sugar to taste and you’ll have a tasty free lemonade.”) Oh my. Angry emails and letters poured into my computer and office.
The most heated responses came from servers who insist this dreadful practice cheats them out of a bigger tip because patrons fail to order a high-priced drink with their meal. One letter berated customers who dare to order “just a salad and water, please,” and then proceed to drop in a slice of lemon and packet of sugar. I read stories, opinion pieces and criticisms by the score. I took a lot of heat because of that lemon tip, which quite frankly I find surprising.
The way I see it, at most restaurants the lemon and water are complimentary, the sugar is sitting there for my use along with salt and pepper. So what’s the big deal? I’ll admit that at the worst this practice might lean toward being a bit tacky. But dishonest? Unethical? Abhorrent? I just don’t see it.
I would be remiss if I did not report as well the subjects that bring trays of positive, encouraging and heartfelt notes. Thankfully these kinds of mail surges occur more often than those that are negative. And while I am hooked on the convenience and speed of email, the beautifully handwritten notes and cards I get every day—those prepared with so much love and care, are so appreciated.
Now and then I’ll get a message from a reader who turns out to be an old college friend, a cousin from faraway Alaska, or yet another person who shares my somewhat common name. I even got a letter from a long-lost relative of Charlie Lester who was the subject of a past food column (Charlie is the fellow who came up with Turkey Pot Roast!) asking that I put her in touch with him. I did and a reunion followed.
I’ve decided to be grateful that I cannot predict my readers’ responses. It keeps me on my toes and makes mail time quite interesting, if not entertaining.
Keep your emails, cards and letters coming!
QUESTION: What’s your opinion of adding lemon and sugar to your water while at a restaurant? Join the conversation here.