Feb. 19, 2014 at 5:09 PM ET
It’s been asked time and again by many a friendly waiter: What brings you here?
But Major John O’Sullivan, his wife, Michelle, and their friends, Captain Dave and Cindy Meek offered a particularly heartfelt explanation to that question while dining at Roy’s steakhouse in Newport Beach, Calif., on Saturday night.
“We go, 'this is the first time we’ve gotten to be together since our deployment in Afghanistan,'” Dave told TODAY.com. “In addition to that, Major O’Sullivan is getting ready to deploy again.”
The waitress was impressed — and so was someone else sitting in the dining room. At the end of the meal, Roy's manager Donny Deutsch stopped by the table to say that a couple of regulars who wished to remain anonymous had paid for their dinner as a show of gratitude for their military service. The bill totaled over $400.
“I didn’t have any words to say,” said John, 35. “I was taken aback that somebody would do that.”
The kindness of strangers didn’t end there. After each tipping $20, the four friends headed to their cars in the parking lot, but their waitress came running after them. She had something else to offer: Four $20 gift certificates to the steakhouse.
"Anytime we have someone in the military we like to do something special for them," Deutsch said.
The experience left John, who was visiting California from El Paso, Texas, in awe of the Golden State.
“I’ve never been to a place where so many are so generous,” he told Dave. “That was a neat thing.”
Dave, 43, and John became close friends during their deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan, from 2011 to 2012. So when John, who is on active duty, found out two weeks ago that he was to be deployed back to Afghanistan for six months at the end of February, he decided to visit Dave and Cindy in California with his wife and their 5-month-old daughter.
The restaurant was a splurge with special significance: John and his wife dined at the Roy’s in Hawaii on the night he proposed. While Dave has received the occasional free cup of coffee or drink for being a military man, they’ve never been the recipients of such an expensive gesture.
“I’ve been in the Army for about 12 years and always hear stories about people paying for things,” John said. “That had never happened to me.”
Deutsch has seen similar acts of generosity when military members are at the restaurant, but it's still a rare thing to witness. "It's a nice deal when it does happen," he said. "I thought it was fantastic."
Dave said his friend’s eyes welled up when the manager delivered the good news — and the anonymous act choked him up, too.
“We’re tough guys, but it just hit me so hard,” Dave said. “I teared up. I can’t tell you how much we appreciated that.”
Dave joined the California Army National Guard six years ago — the day after his daughter graduated from high school — and has spent half that time away from his family. A special education teacher in the civilian world, Dave appreciates it when others recognize the sacrifices that military men and women have made for their country.
“You and your spouse have given up a lot,” he said. “The average person doesn’t always know that. The $400 meal hit us so hard — we were in awe.”