Tender Grapes


I wanted to take my bride out for a night without the kids.  As it turned out, I had a free night in one of the hotel chains I use when I travel on business, and it was set to expire on March 3, so I had to work fast.  I also had a gift card for a local fine dining restaurant I received as a Christmas gift.  Thus my el-cheapo, very expensive date night plans began to gel.

We dropped the kiddos off at their grandparents (who had given us two “night of babysitting” certificates for Christmas—yay!), and headed about 16 miles from home for our Friday night getaway.  Listen parents, it doesn’t have to be far away to be exotic.  As long as it’s away.

We checked into the hotel and got to the room, to find that there was no soap in the bathroom.  Now this is a mid-to-luxury market hotel chain, not the Motel 6.  And there was no soap, or shampoo, or conditioner, or anything resembling a soap product, in the room.  I picked up the phone to call the front desk so I might report this grievous sin, and there was no dial tone.

This particular room had two phones, and I had used the extension by the bed, so I walked 10 feet across to the desk, and picked that one up, and no dial tone.  Then I noticed that there was no phone cable running from the phone to the wall, like you usually see on telephones that actually work.  A quick check of the other phone confirmed that neither phone was connected.

I started looking for the hidden cameras about then, along with the America’s Funniest Home Video or Punk’d crew (and neither of those are on the air anymore, right?).  Then my wife saw a placard telling us to text a particular number if there was anything we needed.  Was it possible that this hotel intentionally disconnected the phones, but left them in the room so dullards like me could run around trying to use them?

No matter.  I texted the number and it became obvious that I was texting a computer, which asked for my name and some other information, then asked what it could do for me.  I told the computer that there was no soap in my room and the phones were not hooked up.  My wife added that there was no coffee carafe either (we’d gone from grievous sin, past venal sin, to cardinal sin here).  I later found out that it was one of those one-cup-at-a-time coffee pots, which I dutifully reported to the computer via text to never mind.

No response from texting computer after about 15 minutes.  So I headed down to the front desk and told the person there, who apologized profusely.  He dug up some tubes of liquid hand soap and told me he’d send someone up immediately, and have someone look at the phones.

We went back to the room, and about 20 minutes later, a maid arrived with soap, but no shampoo.  She asked if I mentioned the shampoo to the front desk, and I told her I had.  She then left and came back 5 minutes later with shower gel and conditioner.  No shampoo.  Now I always carry emergency soap, shampoo and conditioner in my toiletries bag, but it’s usually stuff I take from high-end hotels, and I hate to use it.  Okay, yes it’s kind of weird to carry around ultra high-end stuff in my bag which I never intend to use but makes me look like I’m a Chinese billionaire’s valet.  But who wants to take shampoo from the Hampton Inn?

Then it was time to leave for dinner.  We got to the restaurant and they seated us immediately.  Each course was painstakingly prepared with care and delivered to our table at least 10 minutes after the previous course was eaten.  So we dined very slowly.  It’s not like the restaurant was full, it was not, but I think the chef was cooking with one hand and blogging with the other.  Football season was over, so I know he wasn’t watching his beloved Detroit Lions (when he left we saw him wearing a very nice Lions jacket—poor guy, at least he could support a good team).

Honestly, the food was very good, and we ate liberally, and even drank a glass of wine.  It’s pretty rare that I drink wine, and even rarer that I drink wine when I’m driving, because I’m a certified lightweight (drinking, that is, not in any other way).  But it was stretched out over a whole night, so it was okay.

Finally, the check came.

I produced my gift card, which covered all of the meal except about $25 and the tip, which I planned to put on a credit card, which I also left with the server.  About the gift card:  it was purchased at a different location of the same restaurant—a location which had closed a week after the card was purchased.  But my staff had called the restaurant and confirmed they would take the gift card.  This is a good thing, because they all pitched in for me to have a nice meal and I’d hate for it to be for nothing.

But it will probably be for nothing.

The waitress came back and told me that I should have told the person who took my reservation that I had a gift card from the closed location before I showed up with it.  Well, I made my reservation online, and received an email confirmation.  Nobody asked me about a gift card.  When the restaurant called me to confirm a few hours before our reservation time, they didn’t ask me about a gift card.  Who would think such a thing?  It’s a gift card, and my staff confirmed they’d take it (why would they lie to me, it was their money!)

She said she’d “call again” because her computer wouldn’t recognize this card that was purchased at another location.  That took about 15 more minutes.  By this time, there were only two couples left in the restaurant, and we were one of them.  The waitress came back and told me I should call the accounting manager in the morning, but I had to pay now.

Now I had a choice.  I could (a) blow up and create a scene, (b) leave $25 cash plus a cash tip and the gift card, and walk out, daring them to call the police, or (c) roll with it.

Option (a) is just not me…I reserve my blow-ups for more private locations.  And I hadn’t had enough to drink to break that rule.  Option (b) never crossed my mind.  As a law-abiding citizen, it just never occurred to me to leave cash and walk out—at least not until a day or two later.  I played that scenario in my mind.

Cop to me:  “Mr. Berman, are you going to pay for your meal?”

“Yes, here’s the gift card, along with the gift card receipt.”

“The restaurant claims the card is no good.”

“How do they know?  They issued it now they refuse to honor it.”

Cop to the restaurant manager:  “Is this true, did you refuse to honor this?”

Restaurant manager:  “He should have called in advance to say he had a gift card.”

Me:  “Who ever does that?  Call in advance to say you have a gift card for the restaurant in which you’re eating?”

Cop:  “Mr. Berman, have a nice night.  You’re free to go.”

Worst case, I’d stand around arguing and end up paying for the meal anyway.  But my wife was starting to get upset at all the delay, so it’s probably better that I never considered option (b) at the time.

Option (c) was the way I went.  I told the waitress that my staff bought me the card, handed her the receipt, and wrote my name, address and phone number on the back.  I told her that if her accounting manager wanted to send me a check for the full amount, I’d be glad to accept it.  But I would never be back to that restaurant again.  I told her to run the entire check on my card.

After about 20 minutes, my wife was full-on upset at the delay.  At this point, we were the only couple left.  The Lions fan chef walked about about 15 minutes before us.  My wife asked the waitress if there was a problem with our card.  The waitress was in tears.  She said that she deleted the entire order and only charged us for the entrees, and she’d pay the rest herself.  She told us that she was ashamed to work at this restaurant.

We were shocked.

I wanted to leave as quickly as possible, so I paid the (now smaller, but still very much more than $25) check, added the tip that I would have paid for the original check, and threw in an extra $20 cash for the sobbing waitress, who retreated to the back.  It’s not right that she should have to pay for any of the meal.

Now that it’s done, I am thinking that whoever told her not to accept the gift card, told her to do whatever it took to prevent a scene, and that is what she did.  But it’s still very wrong.  No business should operate that way.

So, our night on the verge of ruin, we left the restaurant, very late, and got back to the hotel around 10:30pm.  I wasn’t tipsy at all, but for some reason, walking from the car to the hotel entrance, I tripped on a curb, and fell on my wife, knocking her down also.  We both got up from the pavement, laughing and banged up a bit.

When we got to our room, we were too exhausted and hurting to do anything but fall asleep.  Then we got up Saturday morning (no kids!), got dressed, skipped the hotel free breakfast and headed to get the kids…because we promised the kids and grandparents we’d treat them to Cracker Barrel.

Cracker Barrel was the best part of our exotic date night.

What lessons did we learn from this?  Well, this morning, Sunday, our pastor preached about forgiveness, and Matthew 6:12—the Lord’s Prayer—where Jesus tells us to pray that God would forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  I have a lot of forgiving to do for this past weekend.  Like a good teacher, Jesus gave us our homework, then gave the lesson, and now we have the test (and with Jesus, everything is always on the test).

I don’t expect to ever hear from the restaurant (I have my reasons for that), and I suppose I am out a few bucks for a meal.  I forgive them.  My employees are going to feel awful (if you’re reading this, don’t feel awful, honestly, the food was great, the date night with my bride was well-needed, and you guys did exactly what was on your heart).  I encourage my employees to forgive also.  I hope my wife forgives me for falling on her in the parking lot.  I forgive myself for that too—the busted blood vessel in the crook of my elbow is also forgiven.

Oh, and I had to shower with a coveted hotel-size Paul Mitchell shampoo, too.  I forgive for that also (and I have at least one more of those in reserve).

What our pastor said hit home:  life is lived in the small stuff, and it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes.

Sure, we have to sweat the big stuff, and big forgiveness—for big hurts, and big lies, and big betrayals—those are heavy lifting, but no work at all for God to take off us.  We know about the big stuff, it is front-and-center in our minds so often.  And when God does lift them, when we turn them over to Jesus, it’s so freeing, so lightening, so uplifting, that our joy simply overflows.

Then life moves along.  And the bigger things get smaller and smaller.  And the smaller things are less and less front-and-center in our minds.  And we end up griping over a meal, or a gift certificate, or a rude clerk, or shampoo in a hotel room.  It’s in these small details where we must find our joy in the Lord.

Our daily walk with God is far too important and too precious to be overrun by unkept vines and overgrown weeds in our hearts.  We have to tend our vines carefully, lest the little foxes spoil them.

The grapes are like our hearts.  And like our hearts, they are tender.

Tender grapes, indeed.

(crossposted from sgberman.com)

Image source: Shutterstock