Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Then I do them and write about them. You can read about previous shenanigans here.
If, for some unknown reason, you’ve been paying undue and devoted attention to the ‘New Things’ I plan to do (they’re over there in the sidebar) you might have noticed that ‘Pay for a stranger’s meal’ has been lurking there – unchecked off – for the last two or three years.In addition to being heartwarming, this endeavor has the potential to be incredibly awkward. How do you decide who you’re going to buy a meal for? What if they find out you bought it and then try to thank you? What if they’re offended? What if the waitress tells them what’s happening and they look up all confused and weirded out?
I enlisted my friend Meredith’s moral support and arrived at the restaurant completely wound up and riddled with nerves. Without exaggeration, I was more nervous about buying someone else’s meal than I was about drinking flaming sake made from fish fins.
Like, heart pumping, jittery eyed nervous.
Mere and I hunkered down and scoped out the restaurant. Lots of middle-aged couples and friend dates. I ordered a meal that was essentially fried tofu drenched in spicy peanut butter (amazing, obviously) and waited for a young family.
And then, ambling across the parking lot, came a young mom and dad, the cutest, most round-headed toddler, a sulky tween and a tiny little grandma.
We dawdled over our food for a bit longer (one can’t rush fried peanut butter tofu) and when our waitress brought over our check, I told her I’d also like to pay the check for the table with the cute baby.
“Do you know them?”
“Why do you want to pay for their meal?”
“I just think their baby is really cute?”
“And it would be a nice thing to do? And also it’s a secret. Please don’t tell them.”
Our waitress was 70% confused, 30% nonplussed, but eventually brought over their check and I paid it…and then practically ran out of the restaurant in a panic that they’d figure out what had happened and try to talk to us. I was so flustered I tried to unlock the wrong red hatchback in the parking lot!
Was it fun and rewarding and oddly nerve wracking? Yes.
Would I do it again? Prooooooobably not. If you’re someone who abides by a value set of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ you can probably help a lot more people for the same amount of money by giving food gift cards to people who are homeless or you know to be struggling.
But as a one-time adventure? Absolutely. Even if the whole thing is so scary you try to get into the wrong car.