I was having breakfast with my daughter Ann and my two granddaughters, Summer and Sienna.

There was a Sunday buffet at a neighborhood restaurant and my daughter was treating, which is great for two reasons: it shows she’s a mature, responsible grown-up, and secondly, I’m kind of cheap.

The bill came, and the waiter said he didn’t charge for Summer and Sienna because children under 5 get the buffet for free.

Ann quickly corrected the waiter, telling him that Sienna was 2 but Summer was already 5. And so the waiter added an additional $7.99 to the bill — the cost of a child’s buffet.

OK, it wasn’t my role to say anything, and I knew I shouldn’t overstep my boundaries as a grandfather.

However, the first words out of my mouth were, “Ann, why did you tell him? Summer wouldn’t have been charged.”

“Dad, she’s 5 ½, and I can’t lie about that.”

My instinct was to give a very reasonable, logical response, and so I asked, “Why not?!”

“Because I want to teach Summer to be honest.”

At this point I lowered my voice so Summer wouldn’t hear me. She wasn’t really listening anyway because on her last trip to the buffet line she had discovered the pastry section, and she was now thoroughly engrossed in the messiest ways to eat a chocolate éclair.

“OK,” I whispered, “but 5 ½ is very close to being under 5. Your Aunt Esther is 70 and she tells everyone she’s 48.”

“Dad, that’s different.”

I decided not to go into how my parents acted when I was growing up. Back then, if I was under 12, I could get into the movies for a quarter, and therefore I was under 12 until I had to shave.

If we did go to a buffet, it wasn’t considered a success unless we went through the line four or five times. And the meal always ended with me being the lookout and my mom stuffing dinner rolls into her purse. We didn’t think of it as cheating or being dishonest. We thought of it as survival.

But my folks acted this way because they lived through the Depression … through bread lines and soup kitchens. Maybe it was time for me to change. After all, I didn’t live through those hard times.

I decided to ask some of my friends how they would act if they were undercharged. A few of them quickly said they would tell. They were very proud of themselves, but I wasn’t sure if I believed them.

I then asked my buddy Larry. Larry and I have similar qualities (we are both very cheap).

“It depends,” he told me.

“On what?” I asked.

“Well, if it’s a small mom-and-pop store, I usually tell. But if it’s a large department store, I don’t tell.”

“Suppose it’s a large mom-and-pop store?” I asked.

“Then I don’t tell, but I feel guilty about it.”

My cousin Carl said he doesn’t tell because people are always trying to take advantage of him, so it’s his way of getting even.

“It’s the way of the world,” he told me.

After listening to my cynical cousin Carl, I decided to let my daughter be my role model. It’s best to be honest. After all, these places are trying to make a living.

And from now on, if I am undercharged, I will always tell. I will usually tell. Sometimes I will tell. Once in a while I will tell. And I am very proud of my decision.


Sy Rosen has written for many TV shows, including The Bob Newhart Show, Taxi, M.A.S.H., Maude, The Jeffersons, Rhoda, Frasier, Northern Exposure, and The Wonder Years. He now spends much of his time telling jokes to his grandkids and trying to convince his wife that he’s funny.

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