Steakhouses are institutions where the true Bon Vivant’s of food congregate. Many are renowned for luxurious food, stunning service, and upper class clientelle. Of course, when meals can cost several hundred dollars you’re going to be weeding out a portion of people who may not be able or willing to pay such prices, at least in theory.
Our story begins with a waiter, who we’ll be referring to as Luis, in one of these opulent palaces serving rich clientele. It takes place the mid 90s and this particular steakhouse had been booming for decades. It was prom season and the castle of carnivores was metaphorically on fire, but it was about to get a lot more heated.
During this time of year, it wasn't uncommon to see a couple of less than scrupulous parents and adults trying to squeeze a fast one on the steakhouse. However, Luis had been watching the restaurant like a hawk, and under his watch, nobody had ever been able to successfully walk out on a check, or at least he thought that nobody had been able to.
At this restaurant, one walked in the front doors directly to the host station. From there, guests could either walk straight ahead to the bar, or if they were arriving for their reservation on time, the staff would lead them down a long hallway to their left. The hallway ran nearly the length of the building, minus the bar, and branched off into four separate dining rooms. At the far end of the hallway to one side was the entrance to the kitchen. Both sides of the hall were lined from one end to the other with beverage selection—reds and ports to the right, whites and sparkling to the left. So this was not the sort of place where one could run without attracting lots of attention, to say the least.
Luis was working a station in the dining room at the far end of the hall on the right, so when he walked out of the back of the house he wouldn't be able to see his station without physically walking into the room, and he couldn't see the two-person table without turning his head. It wasn't their biggest station. He didn't have the seniority for that, but it was a decent four-table station which included two six-tops, a four-top, and a two-top. The couple — both relatively attractive, well-dressed, and Luis guessed about 10 years older than he was — in this story were sitting at the two-top, we’ll refer to them as Yates and Susan. They weren't especially demanding. In fact, they had been downright patient considering that Luis had sixteen dolled up teens at his other three tables.
Luis was a strong server and knew how to control his tables without making a scene, which is why he had that job in the first place. Even with his station filled with guests, he wasn't overwhelmed. After showing up at his table with drinks in hand, the couple began ordering starters, a couple more drinks, entrees with a bottle of decent red, dessert, a bottle of port, and coffees, quite the feast. They waited until just before Luis had to bring separate checks for his two six-tops and asked if they could get their check before he had to take care of the other tables. Of course, Luis obliged since he had their check ready to go. Luis thanked them for coming and told them he hoped to see them again soon.
Then, as Luis was stepping out of the room and into the kitchen, the couple decided to strike. They clearly had not familiarized themselves with the steakhouse’s procedures on checks; it would be their untimely undoing.
It’s important to understand what Luis had told the couple; he needed to bring separate checks, he never said that he needed to prepare separate checks. The steakhouse had a cashier who sat right up front by the door. The couple hadn’t anticipated these small details. They had to walk right past her to get to their table. Everyone did. She wasn't exactly conspicuous, but one wouldn't need to turn one's head to see her either.
Unfortunately for the couple, it seems they had either missed her being there or they simply didn't put things together. You see, the entire time Luis worked there, he had never once prepared a check of his own. He put in the order to the kitchen, but when it was time for a check, Luis would drop the order ticket on the cashier's counter. She made certain that everything was correct, printed up a check, placed it in a booklet, and put the booklet in the rack for that particular station. The staff would see the number light up above the kitchen entrance to let them know it was ready. The couple had camped a bit, which had given him a chance to get ahead of things.
Neither party could fully predict what would happen next.
Luis had popped into the kitchen, and the couple clearly took note of which direction he’d turned. They then waited a moment to begin casually strolling out. When Luis stepped back out of the kitchen a moment later, he caught sight of them turning the corner to walk out of the place.
There was no indication that the separate checks he had requested were ready, so he walked over to his section, and the second Luis saw the table, he had a strong feeling something was wrong. The booklet with the couple's check was on the table exactly where and how Luis had left it! That's not necessarily a guarantee that they had ignored it, but they would have had to leave cash since he hadn't taken a card from them.
Alarm bells were blaring in Luis’ head as he went over to the table, his worst fears had been confirmed.
Sure enough, the couple had done nothing more than write, ‘Too bad, so sad’ on the check with a frowny face. Luis frantically scooped up the booklet, dropped it in his apron pocket, and started speed-walking down the hall toward the front door.
As Luis was passing the cashier, he noticed that the manager, Remy, was right there, and so he quietly told him that a check was walking out right that second. This hallway was the sort of place where one does not run, and even a speed-walk is going to attract some attention. Remy signaled that he understood and Luis kept right on cruising out the door just in time to see the couple waiting at the valet station.
The moment Luis saw them, he gave a firm but audible, ‘Excuse me, sir.’ Yates ignored Luis, it would be his mistake. Luis spoke a little louder still walking toward them. The couple continued to ignore him, even though Luis hadn't said anything about the check up until then. It's unlikely that someone could walk a check by accident, but Luis said that he at least had to pretend that was a possibility.
After the second time of being ignored, and just as their new, red Mercedes pulled up, Luis, half shouting at this point belted out, ‘Excuse me, sir, but you neglected to pay your check!’ He never turned toward Luis despite the fact that Luis was closing in, but he said something to his companion as he held open her door, who giggled as she seated herself, and walked around to get into his car.
Yates’ companion couldn't stop herself from looking a bit flustered as she briefly made eye contact with Luis. The seasoned waiter knew what was up, but this woman had no idea what he was plotting.
Fellow servers could easily attest, the last thing someone wants to do is mess with a server when the solution to a problem requires nothing more than pen and paper. Servers always have both. Luis also generally kept a fat Sharpie in his apron pocket. He never knew when he might need one, and he had just found the time.
Luis strolled about 10 feet in front of their car, whipped out his Sharpie and pad, jotted down Yates’ tag number in big characters, and looked up just in time to see him put his car in gear and give me the biggest rich man grin he could possibly muster. Luis just smirked and held up his pad and began to slowly tap it with the back end of his pocket Sharpie as Yates passed on by. Yates’ grin quickly faded when he realized what was going on. He stopped a few feet past Luis, and Luis walked up to his window. Yates didn't roll it down, so Luis just leaned over and said loudly, ‘You can either deal with us or the police. Your choice.’ Yates put the car in park, and glared at Luis like he wanted blood from the other side of the glass, and started to get out. Luis got the feeling he was trying to be intimidating, but he never got the chance. Just at that moment, Remy walked up and walking right behind him was the owner, who went by the name Mr. Morgan, also looking like he wanted blood.
Now, even on a busy night, Luis knew when the owner was on site. Everybody there liked Mr. Morgan. He chose the staff personally, as his wait staff, and he always had their backs. He took care of them well, and when he was around for a service he would come chat with them individually, just catching up. Luis was somewhat surprised to see him there, especially looking so angry
He walked up to Luis nonchalantly and casually said, "Hi. How is your service going this evening? Everything good?"
Luis was a little unsure of where he was going, but I played along by replying, "Everything has been great until just a moment ago."
Mr. Morgan, clearly play-acting at this point, looked taken aback and asked what the matter could possibly be. Luis simply nodded toward the guy trying quite unsuccessfully to look as though he was being severely put upon and said, "This gentleman had an issue with his bill." Then Luis attempted to excuse himself to go back to my tables, but Mr. Morgan stopped him, told me they were being seen to, and asked me what he meant.
The guy decided that then was the time to make his play, but Mr. Morgan simply held up his hand to indicate to him that he should probably hold his tongue without looking away from Luis and asked him to explain, and boy did he go off on Yates.
Mr. Morgan took a beat as though he was considering matters, and then he turned to the guy who clearly expected to be given the opportunity to give a different story. Instead, Mr. Morgan asked, "Was something wrong with your meals?" Yates answered quickly, "No."
Before he could say anything else, Mr. Morgan asked, "Was something wrong with our service?" Yates answered even more quickly, "No, but I received an emergency call and we left without realizing we hadn't paid our bill yet. I was just going to explain the situation to Luis, but he started threatening to call the police before I could."
It was odd to hear about the call because this was the mid-90s, and if he had taken a call on a mobile phone at his table then it would certainly have been noticed. Heck, even if he hadn't received a call, the phone would have been noticed. It had not been.
Mr. Morgan, just reeling out the rope this guy was hanging himself with as fast a’ he possibly could, innocently asked, ‘You received an emergency call on our phone?" Yates quietly said no, but he didn't elaborate. In fact, he clammed up. Everyone there knew he had taken that fateful step too far by lying about a phone call, but Mr. Morgan wasn't letting up. Rather than carrying on with another leading question, Mr. Morgan kept staring Yates in the face without saying a word. Just letting the guy stew in it until it was clear that the beads of perspiration on his forehead were not, in fact, due to the warm evening. It was then that Luis remembered that he had the guy's check in my apron pocket. He had been so fascinated by what was unfolding in front of him that it hadn't occurred to him until right then to spring his trap.
Luis pulled the booklet out of his pocket, opened it, and handed it over to Mr. Morgan. He looked it over carefully, and the look of panic started to creep over check walker's face. Luis wanted to see him sweat for the trouble he'd caused, and for nearly leaving him with a multiple hundred dollar bill. Had it been another restaurant Luis may have been stuck with such an enormous bill, all because some schmuck didn't wan't to pay his bill.
Mr. Morgan then gave the check walker another long look, glanced back down at the check, and read out loud "Too bad. So sad." The check walked tried to chime in and stammer out a pitiful explanation, but Mr. Morgan coldly interjected, "You do know that if I call the police, and it turns out that you have the means to pay your bill in your possession, things are going to go very badly for you, right? I will press charges, and I will see that you're prosecuted. I'll make time for it."
At that point, the guy knew he was toast, but he was still trying to come up with some clever way to avoid paying the bill. Luis then heard a faint murmur emanating from the car as Susan said, "Just pay the freaking bill. I'm ready to go home." Everybody in the immediate vicinity looked over at the car, then back to each other. The check walker reached into his jacket pocket to pull out his wallet, accepting that his vain attempt to get out of paying had failed miserably. Mr. Morgan, however, stopped him as he began to open his. "Your check comes to $304.77."
Then he went on, "You will pay your bill in full, right now, and you will tip Luis 20%. That is non-negotiable." The check walker suddenly had a shocked look on his face and said, "I've only got hundreds." Mr. Morgan let out a guttural belly laugh, turned to Luis, and said, "Luis, it looks like you're getting more than 20% on this check!" The amount of money that Luis would be getting as a tip almost seemed like a small amount to have to deal with this nonsense.
The walker clearly did not like this turn of events, but he had absolutely no other options. He pulled out four $100 bills and handed them over to Mr. Morgan. The check walker thought Mr. Morgan was done with him, as did Luis. They were both wrong. Mr. Morgan stopped Yates before he could get back into his car and said, "We're not finished."
Mr. Morgan pulled a miniature magnifying glass out of his pocket, along with a pen light. He handed the light to Remy and told him exactly how to hold it. Then he set about closely examining the bills very seriously. After carefully checking each of them, he tucked the loupe in his pocket, took the pin light from Vernon, put it in his shirt pocket quite deliberately, and turned his attention back to our check walker. He gave him the beat he had been using to torment the poor moron since the whole thing began and then said, "All right. We're done, but you are not welcome here again. I don't want your business. I don't want your family's business. I don't want your friends' business. If you return, I will have you arrested for trespassing. I have a photographic memory, and I will remember you." Mr. Morgan didn't get a response so he asked, "Do you understand?" The guy said he did. Mr. Morgan then leaned down to speak to Susan in the car and asked her if she understood. She said she did. Mr. Morgan told them to leave immediately, and everybody watched them go.
Mr. Morgan told Luis later that his father had been a banker who insisted that his son learn the business. Apparently, by the time Mr. Morgan was 10, his father would have him at the bank every day during school breaks, and he would require Mr. Morgan to confirm the authenticity of bills until he got better at it than his father's employees. (Banking was different back in the day.) He also admitted that he didn't need to check the bills as long as he did. He knew immediately that they were authentic, but he had no problem messing with people who tried to steal from him.