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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.

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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. Lilly says:

    You walk into a place for lunch with $10. You order an $8 salad. Do you order a $2 drink and no tip or leave $1.6, maybe $2, tip? Servers, you do the math. Smart servers bring pitchers of water.

  2. jen says:

    I think this is a non-issue. I cannot believe people have the audacity to gripe that patrons are ordering lemon water? Really? I have been a server & never thought twice when a customer ordered it, I have ordered it as a patron, and I will continue to order it. I have no idea why this bothers me so much, when greed runs rampant through this country, I should not be surprised that people think they are going to be cheated out of a good tip. Here’s a free tip: If you are an excellent server you should not be worried about your tips.

  3. Pat Hunt says:

    We always do. Try finding a sugar free, caffeine free alternative in a restaurant. If the wait staff justifies it I type generously regardless of having not ordered an overpriced drink that I didn’t want nor didn’t need.

  4. sonshine says:

    It is called going above and beyond serving people. That used to be something to be proud of and drew in customers. Now greed has business and servers being picky about what they serve you and how they accomodate you. A tip for better service has become an obligation. It is so sad that our world has become so greedy and self centered.

  5. Sheri Parker says:

    I am diabetic and have a sensitivity to caffeine after noontime. If I go to a restaurant to dine after lunch and feel that caffeine would not be a good idea, I ask for a a sugar free/ caffeine free alternative. Often times I hear, “Well we have, um, let me think …oh, water!” Hence my ordering of lemon in water. Yes, I use the Splenda on the table to make a diet lemonade sometimes, too. I tip very generously despite what the bottom line of my bill is. If the restaurants would get smart and think about a wider variety of soft drinks that are diet + caffeine free, they would get my business more often. In this economically depressed environment right now, “eating out” has become a luxury, not a weekly happening, and is often paid with accompanying coupons or gift certificates!

  6. 'Sunlovinmom' says:

    I don’t usually order anything to drink and I enjoy the water with the lemon slice. I hope you mostly get positive responses, Mary. A big problem I have with Internet responses is that people think they can be rude because they can be anonymous. I find that disgusting. I enjoy the tips you share! God bless.

  7. bobbi says:

    I also drink water with lemon-and get the lemons from my kids’ water since they don’t like them-because I can’t drink regular soda or I will be up all night-very rarely do restaurants have caffeine free diet drinks. I also balk at paying so much for a soda that I could purchase a 12 pack-

  8. Beck says:

    If the water and the lemon are free and the sugar is like the salt and pepper – free then what is the issue? I don’t see one.. Most places charge way too much for a drink of any kind when it comes to sit down meals. I wonder how much more business a free drink (nonalcholic) night would make if each restaurant had one once in a while? If you ask me McDonald’s in our area has $1.00 drink any size for colas, coffee, and sweek tea and that to me is a great deal compared to paying $2.50 at sit down restaurant. If a person tips 10 -20 % if they feel so inclined they could tip a little extra for the water since they didn’t buy a drink but I don’t think you have to since there was no charge for it.

  9. Eileen says:

    I have been with people who ask for extra lemon and use it for lemonade.
    I think that is a bit much.
    We all need to drink more water.
    The drinks do add a lot to the price of a meal.
    I think drinks should be included in the price of a meal.

  10. Grace says:

    I always leave a pretty good tip too. It is either the water and lemon to save the price of an expensive drink or the tip, one or the other. It is the only way I can afford to eat out. My sister is a waitress and she makes a hundred dollars or more in tips on a good night. I don’t feel that me ordering water will make or break them but in either case I have to live too. If I can’t just have water with my meal good bye restaurants.

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