This is a column I couldn't have written a few years ago. Back then, we still had young kids at home, which meant that "date night" consisted of duct-taping the boys to the bed for an hour while we ran out to Walmart for more duct tape. (Note to DFCS: Just kidding. Mostly.)
It's not like we really wanted to take the boys with us out to some nice restaurant. They'd have been more likely to conduct a sword fight with their steak knives than to worry about which fork was for dessert.
But now that they're old enough to stay home by themselves, my wife and I occasionally get to go out for a relaxing meal at a fine dining establishment, which for us means anyplace you don't have to stand in line to order your food.
The problem is that the two of us don't actually eat very much when we go out. That's not because we're cheap. OK, we are cheap, but that's not the reason. We don't eat much because a) my wife is a tiny little thing; and b) I'm striving mightily not to become an enormously huge thing.
What this usually means is that we end up splitting an entree. We'll order a 12-ounce steak with baked potato, for instance, or maybe chicken Parmesan with a side salad, and then divide it up: one-third for her, two-thirds for me. Even then we often end up taking some home in a doggy bag.
Also, we don't drink. Alcohol, I mean. We do drink other things, such as water, sometimes with lemon and sometimes without, depending on our moods. Hey, everybody has to take a walk on the wild side.
Needless to say, neither of these scenarios -- the shared entree and the water order -- particularly endears us to servers. Sometimes we can literally see them doing the mental math and concluding that a tip based on our measly bill isn't going to be worth their trouble.
The best ones try to hide their disappointment and treat us as if we were running up a $100 tab. Too many, though, simply write us off, so that I have to stand up and wolf-whistle just to get my water glass refilled. I won't even go into what I have to do for a fresh lemon.
What the latter group doesn't know -- and what I don't tell them in advance -- is that, for servers who treat us well, I always calculate a 20 percent tip based on what we would have spent if we'd ordered two entrees and soft drinks. The ones who act as though we're invisible because we're not pretending to be Donald Trump get a straight 15 percent of the actual bill.
So remember, servers: you can't judge a book by its cover -- and you can't judge a patron by his drink order.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and college professor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.