One of my colleagues at the office related this incident:

He and three friends had gone to a restaurant to celebrate his birthday. The restaurant is a fairly sleek and contemporary place that serves upscale French bistro fare. It’s moderately expensive and fields a good (and more expensive) wine list. The chef is well-known in town for his talent and affability.

The group ordered martinis, and my colleague had taken a sip or two — in other words, he was not inebriated — when, in making some expansive gesture, he knocked over his cocktail glass and spilled the martini. He used his nakpin to sop up the liquid, called over the waiter, explained what had happened, and asked for a new napkin, which the waiter promptly brought.

At this point in the narrative, I interrupted and said, “And of course they replaced your martini.” A statement, not a question.

“Uh, no,” said my colleague. “The waiter asked if I wanted to order another one.”

All right, this is a simple incident, an accident that could happen to anybody, and I certainly don’t think the restaurant should replace the spilled cocktail of a knee-walking drunk (if such has not already been ejected from the restaurant). But the good will, the rapport that would have been established by replacing my colleague’s spilled cocktail would have been enormous, perhaps incalculable. It’s the sort of unspoken but deftly performed gesture that brings customers back and earns loyal patronage, compared to which the cost of a jigger of call-brand gin and a smidgeon of vermouth is nothing.

We posted this story on the food and dining blog at the newspaper where I work (and which is not connected with, and I was surprised by how many responders said, essentially, “Let the guy buy his own drink! Why should the restaurant pay for his clumsiness?”

Well, O.K., you can take that view, but I think it’s ungenerous. No, one doesn’t want our fine restaurants filled with people who sip half of their Cosmopolitans, knock them over and expect a free replacement. I think the ideal is that we would never expect this sort of magnanimity but that it would be extremely gratifying if it happened. And waiters would appreciate the tip such generosity generated in turn.