A Family Night Out
She couldn’t believe that the hostess was blatantly lying to her. They had already waited for what seemed like an eternity, and her kids were starting to grow as impatient as she was. Then she saw that the hostess had been lying to her, and she was furious.
She let out an exasperated sigh. Her children were hungry and growing more irritable by the minute. She knew that all hell would break loose within the next few minutes. She grabbed a passing waitress, but before her words left her mouth, her youngest, Maddi, began to shriek.
Kate Bradford, a single mother of two, was no stranger to the difficulties of finding a family-friendly restaurant. But at last, she had found the perfect diner.
Tonight was her father’s birthday, and they had wanted to celebrate with a steak dinner, so she made a reservation for a booth at 6 PM at the Texas Roadhouse, just a few blocks from her home. What could possibly go wrong?
Kate, as any mother of young children would, was experiencing immense anxiety over the impending restaurant trip.
She had read the horror stories written by mothers and the venom spewed by childless diners in blogs and reviews, but she had the foresight to prepare for any eventuality in advance. Or so she thought.
Prepared For The Worst
Armed with a diaper bag, crayons, puzzles, toys, and other distractions, Kate arrived at the Texas Roadhouse with trepidation–3 and 6-year-old in tow.
They were 15 minutes early but were hoping to be seated immediately. The diner didn’t look too busy, Kate noted with relief. Cole and Maddi were already growing restless, and Kate was already starting to regret her decision.
The hostess greeted them with a smile, but when she saw the two small children she frowned. Kate’s nerves were raw with tension and she was waiting for the worst–a snide comment, a judging look, anything…and she was ready to retaliate.
They had just as much right to be here as anybody else, she kept telling herself. “We have a reservation,” Kate said, cracking a smile.
The hostess looked her name up in the book and guided them to the waiting area and apologized, saying that they were a little early and would have to wait for a table to become available.
“Fair enough,” Kate said in dismay as Cole started to clench his fists. “I’m hungry, mommy!” he whined. “We can’t eat without Grandpa anyway, honey,” she reasoned gently.
The bar area was packed with men that night, and there was a big game on TV. Kate lifted Cole and then Maddi onto the high bar stools at a table in the corner, as far away from the noise as possible.
She hoped they wouldn’t have to wait long. Cole swung his legs repeatedly, kicking the table with his sneakers. Ten minutes of waiting turned into fifteen, and Kate was about to lose her patience.
Kate scanned the faces jostling through the crowded bar. Her father, Joel, was late. She picked up her phone and dialed his number, but there was no answer, and she started to worry.
Cole and Maddi held their birthday gifts, and Cole started to fidget. Then, he looked up and stated matter-of-factly that he needed to use the bathroom. But when Kate accompanied him to the restroom, it became all too clear that the hostess had lied to her.
There were diners in all the booths, except one, in the far corner. At first, Kate thought that there must have been some kind of mistake, but then she started to fume.
Why wouldn’t the roadhouse let them have the booth? They advertised themselves as a family restaurant when they clearly weren’t. That’s when Kate snapped the picture that took Facebook by storm.
Losing Her Cool
Turning to the nearest waitress, she asked why they had been waiting for all this time when there was a booth available.
But just then Maddi started to have a toddler meltdown of epic proportions. She stamped her feet and started to shriek, and Kate had finally had enough.
An Empty Booth
“There is an empty booth! I’ll show you!” Kate snapped. This wasn’t the first time she had endured terrible service because she had disruptive children, but this was really just too much.
She got up and started to lead the confused server to the dining area and pointed triumphantly. “Right there, in the corner!”
The waitress stammered, bewildered, plates of steaming food sat poised on her arms. Kate had blindsided her with her confrontation. She was just doing her job.
She started to explain, but as Kate drew closer, she felt her smug face fall as she realized her terrible mistake. The table was unoccupied, but it wasn’t empty.
The table had been reserved for some VIP guests. At first, Kate was confused–was there some sort of conspiracy going on here?
Places had been set, it seemed, but the guests hadn’t arrived. She was right to be annoyed, It was reserved for ghosts. But then, Kate’s stomach started to turn as she took it all in. It was a lonely table.
At that moment, Kate wished that the ground would open up and swallow her. Here she was, complaining, while she sat and waited for a table so she could have a steak dinner with her family.
The gravity of the situation hit home as she understood how lucky she was…her problems were small. Something terrible had happened to these men who were supposed to be in that booth tonight.
An Eerie Sight
The table was neatly set for five, and there was a vase in the middle of the table that held a miniature American Flag. There was also a full-sized flag hanging on the wall, lit by a single candle.
It was an eerily forlorn sight, and Kate’s heart filled with sadness when she realized what it all meant. There was a letter, typed and framed upright, and when Kate read the words, her heart broke.
Kate’s eyes filled with tears as she realized that the party of five who the table had been meticulously set for was not going to walk into the doors of the Texas Roadhouse anytime soon.
Her face flushed with shame, and she knew that this particular group of men was never going to be able to enjoy the diner’s trademark ribeye steak, ever again.
The framed text read: “We remember and honor the five slain police officers, Sergeant Michael J. Smith, Officer Michael Krol, Officer Patrick Zamarripa, Senior Corporal Lorne Ahrens, and Mr. Brent Thompson, who worked for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police Department, that the Texas Roadhouse restaurant reserved a table for.
We thank you for your service. May you rest in peace.”
A Somber Note
Kate’s father, Joel, arrived and found Kate standing motionless at the memorial table. Even Cole and Maddi were also quiet for once – as if they somehow understood the somber tone of their mother’s discovery.
Joel apologized to his daughter for being late and just then, a waitress walked up to the motionless Kate with a smile on her face.
“Bradford? Party of four? Your booth is ready,” the waitress said. At their freshly cleared table, Kate sat in silence as she thought about what she had just seen.
She knew in the back of her mind that there had been some sort of tragedy, but she hadn’t been paying attention. Then she turned to her father and asked: “Who are the Dallas 5?”
The Dallas 5
The table had been set for the “Dallas 5”, 5 brave police officers who had died while in the line of duty. The incident was deemed the most deadly for law enforcement since 9/11.
The tragedy occurred on July 7, 2016. A man named Micah Xavier Johnson had ambushed and fired upon a group of police officers in Dallas, Texas.
Micah Xavier Johnson killed five officers and injured nine others. Two civilians were also wounded. Johnson was an Army Reserve Afghan War veteran who was outraged over police shootings, and this drove him to commit the atrocity.
But there was one restaurant that was not going to let these policemen’s brave efforts go unnoticed. They were determined to give these heroes the recognition they deserved.
Making A Difference
The Texas Roadhouse, In addition to the heartbreaking tribute table, donated 5% of all sales on that memorable day to the Assist the Officer Foundation (run by the Dallas Police Association).
This organisation provides assistance to officers and their families in the event of illness, accidents, and other events that lead to loss of income. But it’s not the first table of honor the restaurant chain has laid.
In fact, the family restaurant chain has made an impression on many of its diners with similar tribute tables.
Kate’s photos, as well as others, have been circulating on social media, and thousands have commended the touching gesture with positive comments.
One Facebook user wrote: “…I’ve even seen Wounded Warrior reserved parking spaces at the restaurant in Altoona, PA.
They are by far my favorite restaurant, not just for the great food, but the patriotism and professionalism they constantly show!”
“Texas Roadhouse where I live reserved a table for the two firefighters who were killed in the line of duty by an arson fire… one of those firefighters was my brother in law,” another Facebook user wrote.
“He left behind a wife and four [daughters]. Plus countless family and friends. Thanks Texas Roadhouse.”
Some other Facebook users have spotted other tribute tables as well: “The empty table. They had it set up in the canteen at Iowa City VA hospital when I was there Friday. Happy Veteran’s Day LeRoy.”
“So poignant and God bless Texas Roadhouse for saving this table even though they were so busy.” And, recently, Texas Roadhouse set up yet another tribute table.
In August 2021, another tribute table appeared in a Texas Roadhouse in Papillion and quickly spread to other branches across America.
The tribute table is set for 13 – complete with 13 roses, 13 beers, and a U.S. flag. The Papillion Texas Roadhouse knew they had to do something when they discovered two of the men were locals.
Social Media Post
“13 fallen but not forgotten. Today we honor the fallen soldiers that tragically passed on Thursday, including two of our own local heroes,” The Papillion restaurant wrote on their Facebook page.
“We send our condolences to the families and friends of the soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country.” Above the text is a heartbreaking photo of the table.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
On August 28, the Pentagon identified 13 men who tragically lost their lives when a bomb went off outside the crowded Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
They were 11 Marines, one Navy sailor, and an Army Special Forces soldier. An unknown man dressed all in black committed the terrorist attack by a suicide bombing outside the airport.
Texas Roadhouse is doing what they can to show support for servicemen and servicewomen and their grieving families. But not only do they support active soldiers, but they are also known for their outreach and hiring initiatives for veterans.
While their tribute tables are a big hit with their customers, the manager of the Papillion Texas Roadhouse says they don’t do it for the good publicity.
Not For The Publicity
“To be able to put the table out and show our support for the 13 men that died. We had one local that passed away in that group of 13,” said Texas Roadhouse Papillion service manager Drake Weaver.
“We don’t do this for publicity, we’re literally out here just trying to support our men and women that are serving our country.” But, it turns out that the restaurant chain can’t please everyone.
While the vast majority of their customers appreciate the tribute tables Texas Roadhouse sets up, of course, there are a few customers who have complained about them.
One such person even wrote a lengthy complaint for a Texas Roadhouse in Buffalo on the Trip Advisor website. But what could he possibly have had an issue with?
Apparently, the man thought the restaurant he visited in Buffalo was showing “disrespect” to fallen service members because their memorial table display was “incorrect.”
“While in attempt to honor fallen soldiers on veterans day with the Pow/MIA Table Display, the display was incorrect and missing items,” he wrote angrily on Trip Advisor. So, what was missing?
“Missing the round table, bible, and black napkin, no purple heart affixed, no hat or helmet, and the write-up on the table completely omitted them with no explanation,” the man wrote in his complaint.
“I explained this to the owner asking that they correct the display, take it down, or get a correct reference sheet with the explanation of why they are omitted,” the man continued. And it gets worse.
“The owner said he had no problems with it last year and no one else has complained, that it was ok to offend me and my brothers and sisters, that he was way too busy running his restaurant to fix it,” the man continued.
“No problem,” he concluded, “let’s see how it affects your reputation to disrespect and disregard us while poorly honoring us on a day where you should.” But did the “incorrect” tribute table warrant such a bad review?
The Tradition Of The ‘Missing Man Table’
Surprisingly, the man who wrote the scathing review wasn’t technically wrong. Traditionally, the ‘missing man table’ or ‘fallen comrades table’ was extremely specific.
It consisted of a round table with an immaculate white tablecloth, an empty chair, a single red rose, and a plate complete with silverware. Every element of the table display is steeped in tradition and imbued with meaning.
Every Element Has Meaning
Traditionally, a ‘missing man table’ must be round to symbolize the “neverending burden” of active servicemen and women, as well as those who remain missing.
The tablecloth must be white to symbolize the purity of service members’ hearts. A single red rose signifies the family members of missing service members. A yellow ribbon tied around the vase represents the hope that the missing service members will still return home.
A Slice Of Lemon And A Pinch Of Salt
Other traditional elements on the ‘missing man table’ include a slice of lemon to symbolize the bitterness of the fallen or missing soldier’s fate and a pinch of salt to represent uncertainty.
An overturned glass symbolizes the inability of these service members to drink to a toast. One lit candle on the table acts as a beacon to guide the missing home. Still, most Americans appreciate Texas Roadhouse’s gesture.
The Texas Roadhouse chain has also been known for honoring fallen officers and veterans alike with reserved tables and discounted meals at all their branches across America.
They really go the extra mile to display compassion and patriotism, even if it affects their bottom line. We need to give credit where it’s due.
Doing Our Part
It’s easy to take things for granted in life, like being able to enjoy a night out with loved ones while eating a delicious meal.
Sometimes we forget just how much dedicated public servants do to protect America’s citizens and how much they risk each and every day–putting their lives on the line. Texas Roadhouse’s beautiful tributes remind us to stop and say “thank you.”
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.