This is a Ramadan story about how I ended up crying in an IHOP.
It’s become a tradition in my area for young Muslims to congregate at their nearest 24-hour diner for a carbo-licious meal before the fast begins. This means showing up at the local IHOP around 2 a.m. to finish eating around 3:45 a.m.
This seems like a lot of fun if you are young enough to stay up that late and still have the kind of metabolism to handle this sort of meal. I’m no longer among this demographic. But when my daughter wanted to go with her friends early that Saturday morning, I reluctantly agreed to drive them.
The restaurant was jam-packed with Muslims, mostly teenagers and college students, who seemed oblivious to the time. My eyes were burning, and I was debating whether I could really eat a 1,200 calorie breakfast. (It turns out, I could. Looking at you, spicy poblano omelette.)
I was lucky enough to get my food pretty quickly, having joined a friend who had arrived earlier. But when I headed over to my daughter’s table, I realized their orders had not been taken, and no water had been brought to the table despite nearly an hour wait.
It turns out Cedric, the manager on duty, was the only one serving our entire half of the restaurant. The other waiter had called in. Cedric was running around like a headless chicken. As the clock ticked closer to the end of suhoor time, I was getting more and more anxious about whether the kids would get any food before the fast started.
About 15 minutes to the deadline, the tension was palpable with a roomful of hangry teens. Then the plates started rolling off the order counter -- strawberries and cream, Cinn-a-stack pancakes, hash browns that got doused in hot sauce. Thankfully, everyone got their food and was able to scarf it down in time.
When we were getting up to leave, I realized what an intense situation it is for the waitstaff during these early morning hours of Ramadan, especially if a worker doesn’t make it in. I wondered if the young people knew how important it was to tip the waitstaff well, due to the low base wages in the restaurant industry, and that certain circumstances were beyond the control of the servers. I called Cedric when I got home and thanked him, and said I would come by later with an additional tip.
He said the phone call meant more to him than an extra tip.
I shared my thoughts with a few local Muslim groups about what restaurant staffs deal with during this month. It kicked off a spirited discussion about raising awareness within our community about tipping. Immediately, people said they wanted to contribute toward a small bonus to show our appreciation.
Within 12 hours, people had sent me money via VenMo and Paypal. When I showed up for an iftar at the mosque that evening, women literally shoved cash at me to take for the servers.
After we broke our fast, I drove by the IHOP around 10 p.m. and asked if I could speak to Cedric. He didn’t remember who I was until I reminded him that I had called and was worried about whether he and the staff were tipped appropriately.
Then I handed him two envelopes with nearly $1,000 and said, “This is from the St. Louis Muslim community, to thank you and the waitstaff for feeding us during those 2 a.m. shifts in Ramadan.”
Cedric was stunned. His jaw dropped. His eyes got red and watery. And he said, “Just the phone call was enough. Really, that was enough.”
He said the gift would make a big impression on his staff.
And that, my friends, is how I ended up in tears in the International House of Pancakes.
PSA: Always tip your waitstaff well.