Mystery Meals for Strangers

There is a hamburger joint called Snuffy’s not far from where we lived in Edina, Minnesota, a real kids and family hangout. We enjoyed eating there because the place was a constant madhouse with happy kids and families.

Shortly after we returned to Minnesota from New York in January 2010, in between blizzards, we went to Snuffy’s, sat at our favorite table to enjoy the happy mayhem. We had our favorite meals and got ready to leave. When I asked for the check, the waitress said, “Your check has been paid.”

I asked what happened. She said, “A couple sitting two tables away paid for your meal.” I asked if there was a tip, and she said, “It was all taken care of.” One of Barbara’s habits when we ate at her favorite New York restaurant, Un Deux Trois (123 East 44th Street, near Grand Central Station), was to sit near the windows where honeymooners and new New York visitors often sat. We would have one of these couples on either side of us. Barbara always asked one couple what they planned on having for dessert. The general response was, “We hadn’t thought about it yet.” So, Barbara suggested they try the profiteroles, one of her favorite desserts. It’s a puff pastry stuffed with whipped cream and usually placed over chocolate ice cream. It is pretty yummy.

Then she would walk over to the maître d’ and ask them to provide the couple next to us with appropriate servings of profiteroles, which we paid for on our way out. Then we would loiter around in the vicinity of the restaurant waiting to see the reaction of our recipients. They were always pleased, a little puzzled (it was New York after all), but ultimately gobbled up the dessert.

At that point, we would head to our train for the trip home.

The point is, this is a really cool, affordable thing you can do, makes you feel great, and even better because nobody knows who did this complete surprise.

We would go to Snuffy’s usually on Saturday afternoons or evenings. Often, we’d pick the largest family we could, then time it so we could pay their bill as we left the restaurant after paying our own.

Can’t think of a more fun pay-it-forward habit than this one. Recipients, like us, talk about it for years. So will those you surprise. Maybe the gesture spreads.