The act in question seemed innocent enough – waitress Colleen had accepted a customer’s fake $20 bill as payment. The duped restaurant worker claimed she had no idea the note was counterfeit, but the police questioned her anyway. Yet behind the scenes, all was not quite as it seemed…
For 12 years, Colleen had worked as a server at a chain called Red Robin, a restaurant that serves up casual fare such as burgers and fries. Colleen worked at the Des Peres branch in Missouri and had always dreamed about waiting tables, as she explained to the “Dude Be Nice” project.
“I knew for years I wanted to do this, go out and be a server,” Colleen said. “It was just kind of my ‘get out and have fun and hopefully make a difference’ job,” she added, before walking off to fulfil her duties and check on one of her tables.
And according to Colleen’s co-workers, she certainly had made a difference, despite having four children and a life of her own at home too. Fellow server Tina summed up her colleague’s attitude when she said, “Colleen is the type of person who would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it.”
And Tina is not the only person who has high praise for Colleen. Indeed, branch manager Kelly corroborated Tina’s story. “[Colleen] literally has left behind her shoes for team members who don’t have slip-resistant shoes, [and she] would take her belt off to give to somebody on the PM shift,” she recalled.
Colleen’s kindness didn’t just extend to her co-workers, though. “She knows no stranger,” Tina added. “And it just is the way that she talks to people and gets on their level and kind of puts the aspect of her being a server outside the box.”
In fact, there were two regular patrons for whom Colleen had done something extraordinary. Sierra, a server at the restaurant, explained more. “We had a couple here, Greg and Fran, they pretty much would come in every single day,” she remembered. “And Fran had a lot of medical issues.”
Specifically, Fran had cancer, and Colleen had made herself available during her customer’s treatment. She’d pop to the couple’s house or go to the hospital to visit Fran. Her co-worker Jaden described her actions as “going way over and beyond.”
Sadly, Fran passed away, but her husband Greg continued to come to the same Red Robin every single day. He said, “Colleen, instead of just being an employee of the restaurant, was like a friend to us.” The waitress even organized an event to honor her late customer’s memory.
Therefore, with all of Colleen’s goodness noticed and appreciated by those around her, it was seemingly out of the ordinary that in 2016 police turned up at the restaurant to question the golden girl. Previously, you see, the waitress had unwittingly accepted some counterfeit money from one of her Red Robin patrons.
After the restaurant realized the money was fake, they called the police to hand the bills over in correct, law-abiding fashion. And, although that seemed to be the end of the incident, the authorities subsequently met with Colleen again in order to ensure the bubbly waitress wasn’t involved in the unlawful plot.
The police officer responding to the call spoke to Colleen just outside of the restaurant. Before going in, he told the waitress, “I got assigned your $20 bill case from a little while ago. They started to hint a little bit at the fact they actually knew and that possibly you [did too] – now, again, I’m not kidding you.”
An incredulous Colleen could only repeat the same story she had presumably recounted when she first spoke to the cops. “It was in my server book with my cash. All I did was collect the money!” she exclaimed in defence.
“I’m so sorry, Colleen,” the officer said, as the waitress made her way into the restaurant. “This is not the way I wanted your Wednesday to go.” But then, as she opened the doors, Colleen realized what was really going on – and got what was likely the surprise of her life.
Inside, the restaurant was packed to the rafters. Confetti flew into the air and everyone present whooped and hollered: it was a surprise party for the waitress that everyone in Des Peres knew and loved. The Dude Be Nice project had been working with Red Robin and the local community to honor Colleen for all she’d done for her family, co-workers and customers.
Brent, the founder of the project, grabbed a microphone and explained the proceedings to a stunned Colleen. “Every single person here, you’ve done something in their lives that they love you for,” he said, as the heaving crowd cheered in agreement.
Furthermore, to make the night extra special, the team had laid on a few surprises. First up, they brought one of Colleen’s family traditions to Red Robin – Monday night family dinners. They even transported the table from Colleen’s house so the meal could be extra authentic.
The only person missing was Colleen’s daughter, Bethany, who lives in California. But when her mom’s favorite guacamole burger came out from the kitchen, guess who was carrying it? That’s right, Bethany herself; another sweet surprise from Dude Be Nice was to fly her in for the big occasion.
As dinner came to a close, there was one last event on the agenda. And Colleen’s son Adam hinted at the finale when he revealed a little bit more about his mom’s favorite activities. “She loves dancing, she loves live bands,” he said. So, the local group she loved most, Griffin and the Gargoyles, came to play her party.
So as Colleen danced the night away, it became clear that the party – and the prank that got it started – accomplished just what her friends and family wanted: to shine a light on the deserving Colleen. And according to her husband, Ernie, that’s just what his wife warranted. “She’s done so much for so many people, but she would never put the spotlight on herself,” he said in admiration.