Grub Street is on the record as being firmly “for” expanded outdoor dining. Sitting on the sidewalk offers a different (and, we might argue, better) experience than sitting inside, which is the point but which also brings with it a unique set of concerns and perils. Take, for example, a story posted on TikTok this week. You can watch the entire one-minute, 43-second video here, but the gist is that the narrator, her wife, and two friends were eating outside at Walter’s in Fort Greene when, just as their food arrived, somebody biked by and was able to steal her bag. Upon realizing what had happened, the group tried to unsuccessfully chase down the robber. Returning to the restaurant, they found their dinner had gone cold. Then, in a twist, the thief returned to the scene of the crime and flung the bag — emptied of its credit cards and an iPhone — back at the table before again fleeing.
Here is where we reach the most complicated detail of this story: Our narrator says that Walter’s then charged the table for their meal, even though they’d been more or less unable to enjoy it for obvious reasons.
Predictably, commenters are divided. On the one hand, why should this business eat the price of the meal if it had nothing to do with the theft? It’s common sense that if you order food, you should expect to pay for that food, and, besides, this is the most difficult time in recent memory to run a restaurant. On the other hand, c’mon. Dropping a check is adding insult to injury. (There is another wrinkle here: The couple mentions in the comments that they are regulars at the restaurant, a status that typically confers some small degree of preferential treatment and neighborly spirit, not to mention the occasional comp.)
This is not to pick on Walter’s, which has always been a perfectly fine neighborhood establishment in Grub Street’s experience. Instead, this incident could have happened anywhere, which is why it has us so intrigued. What responsibility does a restaurant have to the customers who still choose to eat outside? Not much, probably, but not none, either. Where’s the line?
Knowing absolutely nothing else about the situation and allowing for the very real possibility that there is extra context we’re missing, it still seems like a simple “It’s on us today” would have paid off in the long run for the restaurant and been an effective show of generosity exactly because it didn’t have to happen.