FLORIDA TODAY - Thanksgiving dinner, party of one.
Facing the holiday with no family living nearby, a Melbourne woman did not want to hassle fixing a feast for herself. With a family member dealing with a major health issue, the outlook for the day looked bleak.
That's what led the woman through the front door of the Chart House restaurant in Melbourne mid-afternoon last Thursday, alone.
Three hours later, she left in elated spirits. And not of the wine-induced variety.
"I just needed my spirits lifted and everyone at the Chart House did it," she said. "It was hard for me to leave. They made me feel like a member of the family. They're always great toward me. I just felt like I owed them a lot of gratitude for making my day."
The attitudes of the staff left such an impact on her, the woman decided to leave an impact on them, too. Thanksgiving dinner ran each guest in the bustling restaurant $29.95.
When bartender Kim Gasperini reached across the dimly lit bar and flipped over the woman's check, she thought a decimal had been misplaced. It must have been $8.35.
But on a cocktail napkin she found a note revealing there was no mistake. The $835 was to be split in $50 slices to the two bartenders on shift, and the rest spread evenly among all of the restaurant's about 50 employees working that day. Each pocketed $15. News of the giant gratuity spread quickly around the restaurant.
Valet George Seguna was outside. Though nothing like this had happened before, he wasn't surprised when he learned who left the tip.
"She's a very, very giving person," he said. "We're just happy to have her as a regular here."
Gasperini has been pouring cocktails at Chart House for 23 years, frequently serving up happy hour to the regulars who take seats at her bar. They catch up on events and tease each other. Like family.
"I've had outrageous tips, I have had gifts as tips," she said. "But never the entire restaurant. That's what blew me away. ... People were just dumbfounded."
The big tipper was surprised when she was contacted by FLORIDA TODAY on Monday. She spoke to FLORIDA TODAY about her gesture, but asked not to be identified publicly.
"I didn't do it to get praise," she said. "I did it because I am grateful for what I have. I'm very blessed and grateful that they spent their time away from their own families to serve us customers. That's the least I could do."
The woman, who retired to Brevard County about eight years ago, dines at the swanky riverfront restaurant once or twice each week. In that time she's become good friends with Gasperini, and last month went to a Josh Groban concert with a hostess.
"I love them dearly, and thank them for always taking such wonderful care of me," she said.
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