It was getting late and the last thing the server needed was a large group of people showing up at the door of her restaurant. Traditionally, a large group means a lot of aggravation and a minimal tip. When the large bill finally comes, padded by drinks and appetizers, sticker shock takes over and forking over a good tip becomes secondary. That’s why most restaurants automatically add in the gratuity for parties of more than eight or 10. This group was bigger than that.
While looking at her boss with blue eyes that pleaded, “Please, not me,” she knew, as the senior member of the waitstaff, nobody else could be trusted to handle a large party like this. It was a Wednesday night at a local restaurant, and this group of 14 tourists, wearing shorts and Hawaiian shirts, would probably make their whole night.
My wife and I had started our mini-vacation in Greenport on a Monday with my cousin Denise, her husband Hugo and my Aunt Maria and Uncle Umberto. Our neighbors Tom and Jackie joined us the next day to make it a party of eight. Our friends George and Kathy joined us on Wednesday afternoon to bring us up to double digits. When my brother and sister-in-law came out Wednesday night with my cousin Donna and her husband Billy, our original group had more than doubled. Where were we going to go for dinner with 14 people?
Claudio’s seemed like the logical destination to accommodate our party, but they were closed on Wednesdays this early in the summer season. After some discussion, we settled on a place called, ironically, Case’s Place in New Suffolk. Who even knew there was a New Suffolk? When did Long Island run out of Indian tribe names? It was nestled right on the Peconic River, across from Robin’s Island.
Although they didn’t take reservations, they could accommodate our massive party after rearranging many tables in the far corner of their outside patio.
Our smiling, blue-eyed waitress, with her blond hair pinned back, made her way over to our group, introducing herself as Deborah. Being a wisenheimer, I asked if it was Debra with a “ra” or Deborah with an “ah.” She responded, “It’s Deborah with an ‘ah,’ and most people call me De-boor-ah.’” As good customers, we wore that joke out all evening.
While taking the massive drink order, De-Boor-Ah recognized a group of vacationers and asked where we were from. My cousin Donna spoke up about living in Deer Park. Turns out De-Boor-Ah’s father was a pastor at the church right down the block from their house and she knew the area very well.
When others in our party identified as being from Massapequa, Dee-boor-Ah had a big smile on her face. She asked if we knew Gary Marocchi, who plays in a band called “Porch Groove.” Not only did most of us know Gary personally, but his daughter Devon was also best friends with Tom and Jackie’s daughter Rebecca. Before long, we were trading “do you know…” names and having a grand ole time.
Long Island stretches 120 miles long, covering more than 1,400 square miles. What are the chances a local New Suffolk restaurant server could make such a personal connection with a group of people from different towns?
After wearing herself out delivering drinks, appetizers, more drinks, extra napkins and entrées to what was, for the most part, a respectful group of diners, De-Boor-Ah asked if we wanted her to take a group photo. It took a little maneuvering and a lot of skill on her part, but she was able to capture a special moment for us that included all 14 heads in the picture. That alone would have earned her a better than average tip.
Who knows, maybe we will run into her at the next “Porch Groove” outing. It is a small world, after all.
Paul DiSclafani’s new book, A View From The Bench, is a collection of his favorite Long Island Living columns. It’s available wherever books are sold on June 26.