Working in New Orleans, I've met an Alaskan miner who paid me in gold, a too-generous coke-head, and a swinger couple who desperately wanted me to marry them. At least all of them tipped.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2015.
Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. For this installment, we spoke to a 24-year-old female bartender at a busy New Orleans bar located just off Bourbon Street.
Tipping can depend on what type of bar you're at and the type of customer that goes there. At a quiet place I worked at in a different state, a beer was $3.75 and people would give me $4. Another place after that was a little better. At that time I was like, "Heck yeah! They left me a dollar on a beer—cool!"
Now that I work in the French Quarter of New Orleans, I've learned that people can tip you well and you sometimes get randomly huge tips. It could be a $100 tab and someone could give $50, or even $100 on top of a $100 tab. I think the fact that New Orleans is such a drinking city also makes a difference.
A few months ago, there was this old-timer in his sixties who came in with a big beard and overalls, and just looked sort of down. After I started talking to the guy, I learned what had happened to him. He told me his wife just divorced him! He was a gold miner in Alaska and she lived in New Orleans. But she cheated on him, so he had come to town to settle things and also to clear his head. He had used all the money he had for this vacation, and his bank accounts were all frozen, too. He was broke and about to go catch his plane back home. I felt so bad for him that I bought him a few rounds.
That's when he started pulling out all these baggies filled with gold nuggets and putting them all over the place. 'I hit it big! I'll never have to work again! That bitch divorced me just in time, and now she gets nothing!'
Three weeks ago, he came back to the bar and burst through the door and said, "Hey! Do you remember me?" He starts telling me, "I hit it big! I hit it big!" And all I could think was, What is this guy talking about? That's when he started pulling out all these baggies filled with gold nuggets and putting them all over the place. "I hit it big! I'll never have to work again! That bitch divorced me just in time, and now she gets nothing!"
I didn't know whether to believe him, because here in New Orleans we have so many homeless people and crooks. People come in all the time and will show me something, claiming it's worth so much and trying to barter a couple of drinks out of it.
The guy ordered two Jack and Cokes, which equaled out to $12. When he left, he tipped me $100 on the two drinks—which was funny, because the first time I met him he couldn't even pay for his own drinks. Something had definitely changed. Then he took out a baggie of gold nuggets and said, "Here, you can have this!" Some were clean, some had dirt in them. He told me he wanted me to have it because I had been so nice to him last time. "Before I was going through such a dark time and you really helped me. Here, this is worth like $300 to $400—have it!"
I still have it and have no idea what to do with it! I don't need to pawn it or anything because, you know, I have my own money.
Another time, this dude tipped me with an 8-ball of coke. I had never met him before. I was working alone in the bar except for the security guy. The customer kept saying, "We're flying high tonight!" And I was like, "That's great, buddy!" Then he asked me, "Do you fly high!?" I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, and I just responded with, "I'm high on life, bud!"
Our security guard had been watching him the entire time and saw him slide me the drugs. That's when my eyes got really big and I thought, 'Oh shit.'
As the night progressed, I came to realize what exactly he was talking about. Because I had told him I was high on life, he kind of took it as a hint that I was high from snorting coke like he was. At the end of the night, he actually left me a pretty generous tip from his check. But as he slid the signed receipt back to me over the bar, he secretly slid me an 8-ball of coke under his hand at the same time.
Our security guard had been watching him the entire time and saw him slide me the drugs. That's when my eyes got really big and I thought, Oh shit. The security guy and I immediately made eye contact, and because there were other customers sitting at the bar, I didn't want to make a big deal about it. We have cameras everywhere, and I knew this is something I could potentially get in trouble for, so I didn't want to make a bigger scene about it. The security guy came up to me and said I could get into a lot of trouble for that, but I was adamantly saying I didn't do anything wrong. They can drug test me any time they want because I know I'm clean.
I didn't know what to do with the 8-ball so I just put it behind the register for a while. Then at the end of the night, the security guy acted like he was really tired and said, "I've got to get up really early tomorrow. Do you mind if I take it?" I couldn't believe it because he had just been talking shit about me getting fired and into trouble for even accepting it, and now he's asking for it?
Another time, about two months ago, this couple came and sat at my bar. It was soon clear to me that they were swingers. The wife and husband sat there all night, and the wife kept making weird and intense eye contact. I didn't really appreciate it but I shrugged it off. I conversed a lot with them as they were drinking.
Then the woman took off her wedding wedding band and put it on my finger. She was like, 'This is how committed I am. We're completely serious. We have money. We want to take care of you. We love you to death.'
At the end of the night, she started saying, "Please just quit this job and let us take you home. You don't need to be here or be bartending. You can let us take you home and stay with us. We'll pay your bills and take care of you."
I played it off lightly and said, "No thanks, I'm actually all right." I mean, I own a own condo on a lake, so I'm good.
The husband wasn't saying much at all, but the wife just kept insisting that I come live with them and was absolutely serious about it. I was polite about it and told them to stop joking, but in reality I just wanted them to stop saying all that to me. Then the woman took off her wedding wedding band and put it on my finger. She was like, "This is how committed I am. We're completely serious. We have money. We want to take care of you. We love you to death. So we're going to go, but just so you know how serious we are, we want you to keep this."
That's when I was like, "No, no, no! Please, just take it back! I don't want it." But they just left. I put the ring in an envelope and left it at the bar, just in case they realized what they did and came back for it. However, they never came back and I never heard from them again. And I still have the ring in my purse because I don't know what to do with it. Everyone tells me I should pawn it, but a wedding ring is sacred. I'm scared they're going to come back one day and be like, "Hey! We just remembered that you have our wedding band, what'd you do with it?"
I don't know why all these weird things happen to me. Maybe it's just my personality. I think it's because I'm happy all the time. I know that sounds goofy, but I wake up every morning and just decide that I'm going to have an awesome day. I don't let anything get to me. I don't get angry. I'm just happy and I want other people to be happy, too.
As told to Tae Yoon. This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in July, 2015.