We Got A Free Dinner In Santorini, And I Don’t Know Why

My primary goal with this blog is to provide advice as it pertains to points, hotels, and airlines, but occasionally I need some advice as well. Let me start by saying that this is ridiculously insignificant, but I’ve been thinking about this an inexplicable amount of time for the past several days.

As I mentioned yesterday, we spent the past four days in Santorini, and had a lovely time. The food was a highlight of our visit, because who doesn’t love Greek food? We went out to dinner just about every night, and without exception every meal was great. However, one meal left us confused, and I’m curious if anyone can make sense of it.

An unusual meal…

I’m sharing this part of the story for context, and not to poke fun at a language barrier. We went to a quiet restaurant for dinner, which had only one other table taken. We were dining early (by Greek standards) and the restaurant wasn’t in a touristy area, so I guess that’s not too surprising.

When we arrived at the restaurant, the lady who seated us was really nice, and she checked on us twice during the meal to see how everything was (which isn’t that unusual, and matched our experiences at some other restaurants).

But our conversations with her were also a bit odd.

“Let me know if you need any recommendations,” she said. I always like hearing what people who work at a restaurant like most, so we asked her what her favorite dishes are. She said “I’m not really sure, let me call your server, she can give you some recommendations.” Okay, typically when someone proactively offers to provide recommendations, I assume that’s what they’ll do.

When she came back later during the meal she asked us a few basic questions (where are you from? how long are you here for?) and they were all questions that were totally typical. We asked her some questions as well. She explained her English wasn’t very good today because “I have a cold, and you know, am drunk.” Hmmm…

She then told us about how she’s actually a teacher, and she just does this job on Santorini in the summer (there are lots of people only working there seasonally, which is normal). “That’s great, what grade do you teach?”

“First grade.”

“That must be fun. How many years have you been teaching for?”

“Oh I don’t teach… but I would like to.”

Maybe you had to be there, but it was just a very odd conversation.

Then comes the end of the meal

After we wrap up a great meal (with appetizers, mains, and a couple of drinks), we ask for a check. A few minutes later the same lady comes over and says “it’s on the house.”

I figured something was lost in translation, given the previous confusing conversations we had. I wasn’t sure how to react, so rather than thanking her profusely right away, we were just confused. We figured maybe we were misunderstanding her, maybe she thought we were someone else, or something. So we asked some follow-up questions.

“Sorry… what?”

“It’s on the house.”

“Thank you… but… why?”

“It is our pleasure.”

“Okay… thank you that’s really nice. Are you sure?”

If someone offers me something and I understand why, then I’d of course quickly be grateful for the gesture. But in this case I was just confused. I was worried we were misunderstanding her, or she thought we were someone else, or something.

I’m still trying to figure out why we were offered a free meal. It’s one thing if this was the hotel restaurant and they decided to comp a meal (either because you had service issues, or you were spending a lot of money, or whatever). But it wasn’t. The only other thing I can think of (and I’m really grasping at straws here, because I don’t get it) is that somehow she figured out I’m a travel blogger and thought I’d write about it, though that seems highly unlikely, since the reservation was in Ford’s name (and unless she’s going to serve me the meal on a plane, I’m not going to write about it). 😉

So can anyone please solve this great mystery for me, so I can stop thinking about it?

Comments

  1. OK on a more serious note it’s Pride Month in Greece and this is clearly Heterosexual Guilt(TM).

  2. Occam’s razor. She liked you and she was drunk. Perhaps it was enough that you enjoyed your meal. Southern Europe is one of those places where you can run into stuff like this from time to time.

    I also think that sometimes when the cruise ships leave the island changes a little. 9 to 5 can be over-run in the summer with people making their way up the cable car, invading for a few hours, and then riding their donkeys back down to their ships. Maybe you just ran into someone who likes those who stay for the night.

    Or, again, maybe she was just really drunk.

  3. She actually doesn’t own the restaurant or even work there. She was just a drunk customer and you guys left without paying.

  4. Maybe it was because she thought she was being weird as she said she was drunk or that she lied about the first grade teaching or maybe she thought that she didn’t provide good enough communication and was bad at English or maybe the restaurant wasn’t getting any business and in a final attempt before they might shut down she offers Americans a free meal so they (you) would go rave about the restaurant

  5. The other day I was out to dinner outside of Dallas. The waiter asked “are any of you in the service industry, you know like restaurants or hotels?” I said, “my wife used to be a chef and I write about the hospitality industry.”

    “Oh great, he said, it’s hospitality appreciation night here and everything’s half off!”

    The restaurant was actually pretty good. They didn’t ask for more detail or proof. #winning

  6. @Gary Leff: I’ve seen this on occasion before. Was it a week-night by chance? When I was younger we used to go this bar/restaurant in my hometown every Monday where they had “Industry Appreciation Night” and gave 35% off for anyone who worked in restaurants. They would give out cards where you were supposed to write in your name and where you worked, but they never verified whether we actually worked in a restaurant and none of us did. We just wrote in random chain restaurants. They didn’t care because they were probably still making profit even with the 35% off and on a Monday, those tables would be sitting empty anyways. And it worked. We were young and this bar ended up being our go-to place and we made it a little tradition for several years to go there every Monday.

  7. Ben,

    You and Ford had the privilege to experience the hospitality spirit that our country is proud of. It was exactly this, and nothing else. The lady just thought she could offer a meal and she did, that’s all. They just liked you guys, and we Greeks often extend such gestures to people we like. So there’s no mystery, it’s just… Greece.

    (btw if you and Ford make a stopover in Athens, I will be more than glad to have a beer with you, just send me an e-mail)

  8. Perhaps they were just hoping for a great TripAdvisor review since they were a bit off the beaten path. On the other hand, the only comparable experience I have was in Sicily after I didn’t eat the main course of some mystery food in a small family run restaurant. I wasn’t complaining, I just didn’t care for the food and was more than happy to pay for the meal I didn’t eat. The owner brought me another entree and I ate it and the entire meal was comp’ed. I’ve been told by owners of small hotels in Italy that bad TripAdvisor reviews can really hurt their business and it takes a lot of excellent reviews to offset one scathing one.

  9. I’m probably the only one who read the headline for this article in the Dana Carvey/Robin Leach voice.

  10. @Earl Lee…

    If Lucky gives name of restaurant and everyone goes there and said their friend had a free meal and I would like the same. They will be out of business. LOL

  11. 20 years ago when my best friend and I were backpacking through Europe, we were in northern France and went into this little mom and pop shop to order a meal. We ordered in French and the owners were fascinated that we could speak their language as we are ethnically asian and I guess this small town in the middle of nowhere also didn’t get a lot of tourists. When we explained we were from Canada and thus learned French in school, they were so impressed that they gifted us our meal. We experienced many kindnesses on that trip that to this day, I still remember and try to pay it forward when I see fellow travellers.

    Sometimes, people are just nice 🙂

  12. You were recognized by someone as a blogger and hoped you’d write something favorable to help their business? We don’t even know the name though.

  13. Surprising, especially in a country like Greece, where sometimes waiters try to overcharge customers.

  14. Maybe they’re practicing to be the next Priority Pass restaurant? Seriously, it’s weird but I get free meals all the time for a variety of odd reasons. One time the server thought I looked like I was having a bad day so comped my meal. Another time at TGIF the manager came up to me to say dinner was on the house. Confused, I asked why. She said she was just ‘paying it forward’. But who am I to question the karma I’ve been gifted?

  15. I went into a mini mart in Athens to ask directions years ago as a backpacker. I ended up talking, drinking and eating things off the shelves with the owner(?) for a couple of hours. I was totally drunk and he called someone to drive me to my hostel. No charge for anything. So Greek hospitality I guess.

  16. This is exactly why Greece is in such economic turmoil (and the same can be said in Italy). There is too much cultural pride and not enough economic sensibility. To Santos’ point, you probably weren’t special at all. She gave you a free meal.

  17. hypothesis: Only time a woman will generously buy a guy a meal is when she is convinced he is gay.

    Data point added

  18. Jesus, most of your comments are really depressing. The rat race has strengthened the cynicism in you.

  19. @Gary Leff: I’ve seen this on occasion before. When I was younger we used to go this bar/restaurant in my hometown every Monday where they had “Industry Appreciation Night” and gave 35% off for anyone who worked in restaurants. They would give out cards where you were supposed to write in your name and where you worked, but they never verified whether we actually worked in a restaurant and none of us did. We just wrote in random chain restaurants. They didn’t care because they were probably still making profit even with the 35% off and on a Monday, those tables would be sitting empty anyways. And it worked. We were young and this bar ended up being our go-to place and we made it a little tradition for several years to go there every Monday.

  20. @Debit. What is your F$%king issue? You are such a piece of trash oh I mean garbage for picking a fight with Lucky.

  21. It is quite sad that most people tend to question, analyze and be suspicious of such overt acts of kindness and generosity. Just appreciate the nice gesture, perhaps even send a thank you card to the restaurant.

  22. When I was in Greece we went to Zakynthos which is obviously not as mainstream as Santorini; while we never got an entirely free meal it seems like every place we went to we got either a free course, free drinks, or free something. It may be a cultural thing, I had the same type of befuddlement, but I don’t think it is because she knew you were a blogger.

  23. Wow this brought back a memory for me of something i haven’t thought about for a long time. Maybe 8 years ago or so, I was at a restaurant in Brooklyn and out of nowhere, a woman walked in, happily announced she was drunk, and told the waiters to bring appetizers out to every table (there were only about 6 two-tops at the time). I asked one of the waiters who she was, and she confirmed she was the owner. Like you, I also never received any kind of concrete explanation. So i concluded simply that she was having a really good day, was drunk, and performing an act of spontaneous kindness made her feel good. It seemed by far the most reasonable explanation.

    You’ll never really know the truth (unless you go back there and ask her), but I can imagine that this is the same thing. She was having a great day, got drunk, and felt like doing something nice for someone in the quiet off-season. And i don’t blame people for being skeptical/cynical, as i think if you haven’t experienced something like this yourself, you may not believe it can happen.

    For someone who’s traveled as much and as often as you do, the fact that this hasn’t happened to you yet makes me think you were about due!

  24. Search for the restaurant in TripAdvisor, and perhaps Yelp. What others post nay give you a clue.

  25. Strangest thing happened today I had a rare discussion with my Uber passenger about politics . He’s liberal and I’m a trump supporter. Then we spoke about flying he flies 500k miles per year. He’s premier or something on United. To get from LA to Hartford CT he’s flying LAX-EWR-SFO-BDL. Hopefully I missed something and he has a reason to be in NY for a meeting. Crazy. He actually tipped me knowing I was a trump supporter instead of giving me 1 Star. He must have known I was OMAAT reader.

  26. 20 years ago my dad got an unexpected free dinner at his favorite Greek Restaurant (in Germany) with no further explanation. The next day the Restaurant was closed for good and the Greek owner (who was not present on that last night) was never seen again. Rumors had him just narrowly escaping tax investigation.

  27. I was in Amsterdam this time last year, dining alone in an upscale restaurant (think Michelin starred – it was my splurge for the trip), and at the end of an excellent meal I asked for the bill and was told in hushed tones that it had already been taken care of anonymously by another patron (this place maybe had 12 diners in it). I was then offered a selection of chocolates, given a small pot of honey from the beehives on the roof, offered of a complimentary private car back to my accommodation and graciously escorted from the restaurant by the manager. I still don’t understand it, because it must have been a 400 euro meal including wine. It does happen.

  28. One can safely assume that she doesn’t like the owner ( aside from any other additional motivations re the free meal). ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’ and ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’

  29. She’s a beginner to English and confused the words “teaching” and “learning”, it’s her first year learning (first grade) and she hopes one day she’ll be good enough to teach. The meal was free because she was greatful for the opportunity to practice with polite native speakers and the drinks probably made that happiness slightly exaggerated so she comped the meal. Mystery solved

  30. She put Rohypnol in the food, then she abused you and Ford. Neither of you can or will ever remember anything about it.
    That’s at least what Bill Cosby thought.

    Hard to disprove theory, by the way.

  31. prob b/c she knew you were a gay couple and thought you were cute.
    I once got free five dishes at One if by land, Two if by sea, b/c the waiter assumed my friend and I were a gay couple.

  32. also, while i mostly find debit’s comments bizarre, i’ve had experiences when female wait staff or bartenders give out meal/drinks on the house when I’m with other gay guys. so, while debit’s delivery might be uncouth, it’s not entirely incorrect.

  33. I get frequently free cocktails and glasses of wine at my local Intercontinental hotel. I visit them 1-2 weekly on average.

  34. They say there is no such thing as a free lunch.

    Nobody ever said anything about a free dinner.

  35. In Iran and other places displaying Persian culture, people providing goods and services typically will offer something for free knowing full well that the protocol is for the customer to insist they pay and after a few rounds of back and forth the business person breaks down and accepts the payment. I’ve had this happen at stores, restaurants, even taxis. It implies hospitality but no one really expects anything to be exchanged without payment. If the customer were to accept the good or service for free it would put the businessperson in a very awkward position since it would be extremely rude to renege on their offer. I’m not going to assume that these specific cultural values are universal but I just thought the comparative experience could offer an explanation.

  36. John H is correct. In Greek, “μαθαίνω” can mean “to learn” or “to teach” depending on context, and she got confused by (or was not aware of) the distinction in English. She was trying to say that she was a first-year English student.

  37. This doesn’t surprise me, I’ve actually had quite a few meals for free in Greece. More often, it’s free appetizers, drinks, etc. I always thought it was because I am Greek-American, but recently a Polish friend of mine found herself in Greece, and she experienced the same.

  38. A few years ago we were in Rome for my wife’s 50th birthday. After a couple nights at the concierge recommended tourist traps (I find most concierges send you to the places you ask for but not the ones in Rome. sigh, it was all about the kickback) we found a local place on our own. This was the night of her birthday. We had a lovely meal with the usual after dinner drinks on the house. As we were leaving the owners gave us a bottle of wine as a birthday present. They didn’t comp the meal, but that gift gave me the same sense of local hospitality that you all have discussed on this thread. It enamored me to Rome for the rest of my life in spite of the city’s flaws and penchant to take advantage of tourists!

  39. A few years ago I was in Cuba with friends and we were having lunch at a small neighborhood cafeteria. We had a long chat with a local guy. When we were ready to leave he insisted that WE pay for his beer. So these things happen. Oh wait…

  40. I think she figured you are a travel blogger. Did you take lots of photos? Because that’s a giveaway.

    She probably expected you to post a review on Tripadvisor with photos..

  41. Loved your post Lucky!
    Your story reminded me of my honeymoon at Santorini. We had made a reservation at a popular local Greek restaurant near the hills where the locals stay. When we were arriving it looked like the place was closed for a private function but no biggy maybe they reserved a table for me and my wife. When I ask for my table, the waiter/owner was stunned and told me that it was a Christian holiday/celebration so they are closed but they did not informed me. Then he said no worries come join their family for the feast with Wine and amazing roast lamb was on the house. The whole situation was so confusing but the owner and their family was very nice and was asking where were we from etc. But we feel very uneasy to crash someone’s holiday party so we quickly ate and thanked profusely!

    It was an amazing memory and the best roast lamb in my life.

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