A server at chef/restaurateur Troy Guard's downtown steakhouse, Guard and Grace, found a big surprise after a guest wrapped up dinner on Saturday, February 20. The credit-card receipt on the table was scrawled with the words "COVID Sucks! $200.00 each employee," and was signed "The COVID Bandit."
While the tip could have been passed off as a joke, the customer was true to his word, showing up later and handing out a total of $6,800 in cash to Guard's staff. "He didn't want his name or face publicized," the restaurateur notes. "He said he doesn't live here but has been doing this from coast to coast."
The more-than-generous gesture caused dancing, laughter and high-fives among employees, Guard adds. During a difficult year when restaurant workers have faced layoffs and furloughs, customers angry with pandemic-related rules and restrictions, and shifting responsibilities far beyond standard restaurant duties, the act of kindness brought a bit of joy to the restaurant.
"The gesture is really what it was all about," Guard says. "It really meant so much to everyone here."
The gratuity was the largest his team has received since the pandemic began, he says, but it's not the first act of generosity they've experienced. "Every week, there's someone who steps up," Guard explains. "Lately the tips have been up to as much as 22 to 25 percent, when they're normally 18 to 20 percent. And when we were doing Thanksgiving and Christmas takeout dinners, there were some $500 and $1,000 tips."
And as a credit to Denver diners, he points out that people have become kinder as the drudgery of the pandemic has stretched on — quite the opposite of what might be expected. Sure, there were early incidents of people refusing to wear masks or to follow rules handed down from the city and state. "In the beginning, people were a little put off and rude because nobody understood COVID," Guard recalls. "But nearly everyone realized that wearing a mask can't hurt, so why not do it?"
You don't have to be rich to show a little love to the restaurant industry, either. "You can just say thank you or be warm and polite, because that goes a long way," Guard adds.
Guard and Grace is the chef's biggest, poshest restaurant, but he's now managed to reopen nearly all of his other eateries: TAG, Los Chingones, HashTag, FNG, TAG Burger Bar and the Larimer Square location of Bubu. Only the Bubu on Republic Plaza is left, and it's expected to reopen on March 15.
"COVID knocked us all on our ass," Guard says of the restaurant industry, "but it allowed us to look at new ways of doing things and what's working and what's not."
What's definitely working these days is a little kindness, empathy and understanding.