Mystery couple drinks bottle of wine at Hot Springs restaurant, leaves $1,700 tip

She found a stack of hundreds as she cleaned the table. The couple told her to keep it when she rushed to return it.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — A big tip at a fancy restaurant is sometimes expected. The servers at a steak house work hard and usually have to know their stuff. 

But a waitress in Hot Springs found out a big tip can mean even more, after what she thought was a dropped money clip turned into a perfectly timed tip just before the holidays.

“I’m in shock. I wish I would have hugged them or I wish I would have told them how grateful I was,” said Emerald Trotta when describing her interaction with a couple she served early in her Friday night shift at 501 Prime in Hot Springs.

In a Facebook post, Trotta says the couple ordered a bottle of wine. She joked with them about her rookie skills when it came to wine service and promised to have the process down pat the next time they visited. 

The couple enjoyed their bottle and Trotta added another party as they paid their check.

They slipped out before saying goodbye to Trotta, and so she went to work cleaning the table.

“Before I can grab anything I see a stack of hundreds on the ground in a green paper clip,” Trotta said. She and her boss describe her mad dash to find the couple to do the right thing and return the roll of Benjamins.

“At which point she said ‘hey, I think you dropped this,’ and the couple waved her off and said ‘No. Thank you. It’s yours,'” said David Aldridge, the general manager of the upscale steak house and bourbon bar.

That’s when the shock started.

“I didn’t know what to say,” Trotta said. “I couldn’t get a word out except ‘thank you’ and I turned around and I walked inside and I counted it, and it was $1700.”

Trotta has barely had time to share the story beyond the Facebook post because she’s a single mom with two elementary school boys. She only recently got the job at the steak house, and by day she works the counter at another busy restaurant, 1217 Cafe.

Trotta and Aldridge know a good waiter or waitress in an expensive place can expect a big “toke” once in a while, but even there, this tip was big.

“I’ve been doing this more than 30 years. I’ve seen a lot of great tips, and seen some gracious people,” Aldridge said. “That’s probably the largest tip I’ve seen.”

In addition to coming just before Thanksgiving week, the timing is perfect for Trotta, who has a big date of her own scheduled.

“I go [Tuesday] to see my loan officer to see if I get the loan for a house, and so this is down payment money,” she said.

The Mystery Couple, who may wish to remain anonymous, and the cash tip makes it difficult to track them down, though they do have their names from the reservation. Trotta understands that, but she really wants to say thanks and make a promise to them.

“I hope these people see this, and that given the opportunity I’m going to try and pay it forward,” she said. “Because, yeah, I want to be able to help other people the way they helped me.”