Cindi Grady had just finished serving a large group of diners at Cracker Barrel in Branson, Missouri, when her manager asked her to step outside the restaurant for a moment.
That’s when she spied a silver 2008 Ford Fusion with a shiny red bow on the roof.
“It’s not new,” Gary Tackett tells Grady in a YouTube video shot by his daughter. “But it’s new to you.”
Tackett and his wife, Roxann, regulars at the diner, had noticed Grady’s blue dented jalopy in the lot — courtesy of one too many run-ins with deer, one window was covered in plastic and the hood was strapped down. The Quitman, Arkansas, couple decided their favorite waitress, who has worked at the restaurant a little over two years, needed some new wheels.
On Nov. 29, the Tacketts presented Grady with keys to the vehicle.
“I cannot believe that someone would be that generous to me,” a smiling Grady told NBC affiliate KARK of Little Rock, Ark. Tackett’s daughter shared the video of the four-door tip on social media. Since then, the story has been shared thousands of times.
Grady isn’t the first Cracker Barrel waitress who has risen to Internet fame, however. In January 2014, Abigail Sailors had a lengthy conversation with two customers and wound up telling them her whole life story. When the 18-year old college student collected their bill, she found more than $6,000 in tips.
“It’s wonderful that there are people out there who do things like this,” said tipping expert Mike Lynn, a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. “It’s human nature to identify and try to help real people.”
Janella Escobar, the director of corporate communications for Cracker Barrel, agrees. Escobar said the guests who patronize the restaurant chain, famous for its old-timey rocking chairs, help nurture a family atmosphere with staff.
“Cracker Barrel’s mission is to please people,” said Escobar. “It’s wonderful when we see our guests turn around and live out that mission.”
In February, Myles Eckart, 8, stumbled upon a $20 bill in an Ohio Cracker Barrel parking lot. Rather than pocket the dough, the boy penned a heartfelt note and presented it to Lt. Col. Frank Dailey, who was eating at the restaurant. Myles’ father was killed in Iraq, and in the note the boy thanks “Soldier” for his service and says that in his family, “We like to pay it forward.”
Reports of headline-grabbing tips have surfaced elsewhere. North Carolina bartender Chrisi Kemp scored a $1,000 gratuity on a $14.01 bar tab. Despite terrible service at an Iowa restaurant, a couple left a hefty $100 tip for their waiter and a note that read, “We’ve both been in your shoes. Paying it forward.”
In Branson, Grady is back at work slinging pancakes and chicken pot pie but now after a shift she can head home in style.
“I’m still shell-shocked,” Grady said in a social media post.