A little girl standing in front of a brick wall

Readers’ Unpredictable Responses

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.

A little girl standing in front of a brick wall

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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 clever, albeit not exactly earth-shattering, 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 into said water,  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!

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  1. BabaMartha says:

    I add lemon to water so it tastes better – I’m used to well water and city water tastes funky to me. Turns out, though, lemon slices in restaurants are a huge source of germs. Who knew? In any case, I usually leave a nice tip because I know how hard servers work.

  2. BarbieJo says:

    I see both sides…My daughter has been a server for many years and I would never cheat her out of a bigger tip. However, my beverage of choice is water. I drink it at home, at work and everywhere in between. But I have had some nasty restaurant water over the years and have had to add a little sugar and lemon just to cover the taste. We live in a rural area and some restaurants are using well water that just doesn’t taste that great. And, if the water is nasty, so is the soda or tea or lemonade that’s being mixed with that same water so I see nothing wrong doctoring it up for free. Why pay for the same yuck.

  3. govthorses says:

    People are upset over lemon and water and a little bit of sugar? The world is at war in most places, over 2 million of Americans live in poverty, and they worry about lemon and sugar water? Get real people!

  4. Kay says:

    I happen to like lemon water, no sugar, with my meal. I also like unsweetened tea and cokes but they want to charge the price of a box of tea bags or a 12 pack of soda for the drinks. I’ll drink my lemon water with my meal and stop at the gas station for a huge fountain drink on the way home. If the restaurants aren’t happy about the customers ordering lemon water then don’t make it available to them. I’m sure we could do without a drink from time to time or find another restaurant that offers cheaper drinks. I have also noticed that when you order lemon water you don’t get the refills like the coke and tea drinkers do. I guess it’s all a matter of priorities.

  5. Jene says:

    Did you see the report on 20/20 about how lemon slices are handled in the kitchens of the restaurants.? Might make a person a little leary of asking for lemon. Yet, isn’t lemon a natural disinfectant? Be brave and when you get lemons….make lemonade..

  6. Cathy in Puerto Rico says:

    I agree that you should be free to make your own “lemon water” – I always ask if the lemonade has sugar in it and invariably it does…so someone who is diabetic needs to have this choice. I have a friend who brings her own special tea bags and asks for a cup of hot water so she can enjoy her tea and we have never had a problem with service. We are always careful also, to tip as well as we can and to thank the server for their special attention.

  7. susan yoder says:

    I can see where the restaurant employees would not be happy about the lemon and sugar since a glass of soda costs them only a few cents each and the rest of the $2.50 charge is free money to them. However I also do this many times to save money and calories and/or to save from putting unnecessary chemicals in my drink. On top of that when I see practices like what Applebees is doing as in taking the vacation time away from it’s employees, I feel justified in taking a bit of money away from the restaurant since I feel the charge for drinks is not justified. Also why do they give $1 beer nights at so many places but not $1 soda nights?

  8. Patrice says:

    Water w/lemon is my only option when it comes to restaurant meals. Caffine after noon keeps me awake at night, sugar does the same. Most restaurant sodas have one or the other. I always tip generously and I am not there to support my server’s family. . . I am there to enjoy an evening out. Since when do servers decide what I ‘should’ eat and drink when I am paying for it?

  9. wordsilk says:

    It’s dishonest. If you’re at a restaurant, order the lemonade. At restaurants, your meal is prepared for you — that’s the whole idea. If you’re preparing your own meal or beverage, you’re cheating the restaurant and the server. It’s tacky as well — are you really THAT cheap?

  10. Lennie says:

    Before I read your tip on lemon water I had already been doing it! I thought it was one of those common sense things that many people did. It’s obvious that the water sits there for a while before drinking it. Eyes wander and notice the sugar packet and the connection is made… for some of us I suppose. Especially when most lemonade isn’t even as good as the one you can make with your own water. Sometimes, I ask the waiter for extra lemon and they bring me almost a whole lemon cut up. Wow… can you imagine?

    • Edith says:

      If lemonade is on the menu, and you’re adding sugar, then it’s dishonest. If you’re adding Splenda, that’s a different story. It’s only cheating the restaurant if what you’re making it the table is something on the menu.

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