She found it incomprehensible that the hostess was telling her lies. Her children were starting to become impatient because she had been waiting for what felt like an eternity to get a table. She was furious when she realized the lie her server had told her.
She groaned. The kids were getting hungrier and crankier by the minute. She was aware that all hell was about to burst loose at any moment. Before she could talk to the waitress she waved down, Maddi, her youngest child, started screaming.
Kate Bradford, a single mother of two, was familiar with the challenges of finding a restaurant that welcomed families. But finally, she had located the ideal diner.
She made a reservation for a table at the Texas Roadhouse, located just a few streets from her house, for a table at 6 PM because they had planned to celebrate her father’s birthday with a steak supper tonight. What could go wrong, you may wonder?
Like any mother of young children, Kate was extremely anxious about the upcoming restaurant outing.
She had heard the horror stories from mothers and the bile from childless eaters in blogs and reviews, but she had the sense to plan beforehand for any scenario. Or so she figured.
Kate arrived at the Texas Roadhouse with baby number three and a six-year-old in tow, armed with a diaper bag, crayons, puzzles, toys, and other diversions.
Despite being 15 minutes early, they hoped to be seated right away. Kate saw with satisfaction that it didn’t appear to be overcrowded. Kate was beginning to regret her choice as Cole and Maddi were becoming restless.
The hostess smiled as she welcomed them, but she scowled when she spotted the two little children. Kate’s nerves were tense from anxiety, and she was anticipating the worst: a sarcastic remark, a critical glance, anything… and she was prepared to take revenge.
She reminded herself over and again that they had just as much right to be here as anyone else. With a smile, Kate stated, “We have a reservation.”
The hostess apologized and said they would have to wait for a table to open up because they were a little early after looking up her name in the book and directing them to the waiting area.
As Cole began to clench his fists, Kate responded in disbelief, “Fair enough.” He cried out, “Mommy, I’m hungry!” She argued softly, “We can’t eat without Grandpa anyhow.”
There were a lot of men in the bar area that night, and there was a huge game on TV. In order to get as far away from the commotion as possible, Kate picked up Cole and then Maddi onto the high bar stools at a small corner table.
They shouldn’t have to wait too long, she thought. Cole continuously swung his legs, kicking the table with his shoes. As the ten minutes dragged on to fifteen, Kate was about to lose her temper.
Kate looked around the busy pub, spotting people’s faces. Joel, her father, arrived late. When she picked up her phone and tried to call him, there was no answer, and she became concerned.
While Maddi held her birthday presents, Cole began to fidget. He then casually mentioned that he had to use the restroom after looking up. But it quickly became evident that the hostess had lied to Kate when she went with him to the restroom.
Except for the booth in the far corner, all of the booths were occupied by diners. Kate initially reasoned that there must have been a mistake before becoming enraged.
What made the roadhouse refuse to let them use the booth? They definitely weren’t a family restaurant, despite advertising themselves as such. Kate then took the picture that went viral on Facebook.
She turned to the closest waitress and questioned why they had been waiting in line for so long when a booth was available.
However, at that very moment, Maddi began to experience an epic toddler tantrum. Kate had had enough of her when she began to scream and stomped her feet.
“There is an empty booth! I’ll show you!” Kate snapped. This wasn’t the first time she had endured terrible service because she had disruptive children, but this was really just too much.
She got up and started to lead the confused server to the dining area and pointed triumphantly. “Right there, in the corner!”
The waitress stammered, bewildered, plates of steaming food sat poised on her arms. Kate had blindsided her with her confrontation. She was just doing her job.
She started to explain, but as Kate drew closer, she felt her smug face fall as she realized her terrible mistake. The table was unoccupied, but it wasn’t empty.
The table had been reserved for some VIP guests. At first, Kate was confused–was there some sort of conspiracy going on here?
Places had been set, it seemed, but the guests hadn’t arrived. She was right to be annoyed, It was reserved for ghosts. But then, Kate’s stomach started to turn as she took it all in. It was a lonely table.
At that moment, Kate wished that the ground would open up and swallow her. Here she was, complaining, while she sat and waited for a table so she could have a steak dinner with her family.
The gravity of the situation hit home as she understood how lucky she was…her problems were small. Something terrible had happened to these men who were supposed to be in that booth tonight.
The table was neatly set for five, and there was a vase in the middle of the table that held a miniature American Flag. There was also a full-sized flag hanging on the wall, lit by a single candle.
It was an eerily forlorn sight, and Kate’s heart filled with sadness when she realized what it all meant. There was a letter, typed and framed upright, and when Kate read the words, her heart broke.
Kate’s eyes filled with tears as she realized that the party of five who the table had been meticulously set for was not going to walk into the doors of the Texas Roadhouse anytime soon.
Her face flushed with shame, and she knew that this particular group of men was never going to be able to enjoy the diner’s trademark ribeye steak ever again.
“We remember and honor the five slain police officers, Sergeant Michael J. Smith, Officer Michael Krol, Officer Patrick Zamarripa, Senior Corporal Lorne Ahrens, and Mr. Brent Thompson, who worked for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police Department, that the Texas Roadhouse restaurant reserved a table for,” the framed text read.
“We thank you for your service. May you rest in peace,” the sign concluded tragically. And the sheer weight of the words hit Kate like a ton of bricks.
Kate’s father, Joel, arrived and found Kate standing motionless at the memorial table. Even Cole and Maddi were also quiet for once – as if they somehow understood the somber tone of their mother’s discovery.
Joel apologized to his daughter for being late and just then, a waitress walked up to the motionless Kate with a smile on her face.
“Bradford? Party of four? Your booth is ready,” the waitress said. At their freshly cleared table, Kate sat in silence as she thought about what she had just seen.
She knew in the back of her mind that there had been some sort of tragedy, but she hadn’t been paying attention. Then she turned to her father and asked: “Who are the Dallas 5?”
The table had been set for the “Dallas 5”, 5 brave police officers who had died while in the line of duty. The incident was deemed the most deadly for law enforcement since 9/11.
The tragedy occurred on July 7, 2016. A man named Micah Xavier Johnson had ambushed and fired upon a group of police officers in Dallas, Texas.
Micah Xavier Johnson killed five officers and injured nine others. Two civilians were also wounded. Johnson was an Army Reserve Afghan War veteran who was outraged over police shootings, and this drove him to commit the atrocity.
But there was one restaurant that was not going to let these policemen’s brave efforts go unnoticed. They were determined to give these heroes the recognition they deserved.
The Texas Roadhouse, In addition to the heartbreaking tribute table, donated 5% of all sales on that memorable day to the Assist the Officer Foundation (run by the Dallas Police Association).
This organization provides assistance to officers and their families in the event of illness, accidents, and other events that lead to loss of income. But it’s not the first table of honor the restaurant chain has laid.
In fact, the family restaurant chain has made an impression on many of its diners with similar tribute tables.
Kate’s photos, as well as others, have been circulating on social media, and thousands have commended the touching gesture with positive comments.
One Facebook user wrote: “…I’ve even seen Wounded Warrior reserved parking spaces at the restaurant in Altoona, PA.
They are by far my favorite restaurant, not just for the great food, but the patriotism and professionalism they constantly show!”
“Texas Roadhouse where I live reserved a table for the two firefighters who were killed in the line of duty by an arson fire… one of those firefighters was my brother-in-law,” another Facebook user wrote.
“He left behind a wife and four [daughters]. Plus countless family and friends. Thanks, Texas Roadhouse.”
Some other Facebook users have spotted other tribute tables as well: “The empty table. They had it set up in the canteen at Iowa City VA hospital when I was there Friday. Happy Veteran’s Day LeRoy.”
“So poignant and God bless Texas Roadhouse for saving this table even though they were so busy.” And, recently, Texas Roadhouse set up yet another tribute table.
In August 2021, another tribute table appeared in a Texas Roadhouse in Papillion and quickly spread to other branches across America.
The tribute table is set for 13 – complete with 13 roses, 13 beers, and a U.S. flag. The Papillion Texas Roadhouse knew they had to do something when they discovered two of the men were locals.
“13 fallen but not forgotten. Today we honor the fallen soldiers that tragically passed on Thursday, including two of our own local heroes,” The Papillion restaurant wrote on their Facebook page.
“We send our condolences to the families and friends of the soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country.” Above the text is a heartbreaking photo of the table.
On August 28, the Pentagon identified 13 men who tragically lost their lives when a bomb went off outside the crowded Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
They were 11 Marines, one Navy sailor, and an Army Special Forces soldier. An unknown man dressed all in black committed the terrorist attack by a suicide bombing outside the airport.
Texas Roadhouse is doing what they can to show support for servicemen and servicewomen and their grieving families. But not only do they support active soldiers, but they are also known for their outreach and hiring initiatives for veterans.
While their tribute tables are a big hit with their customers, the manager of the Papillion Texas Roadhouse says they don’t do it for the good publicity.
“To be able to put the table out and show our support for the 13 men that died. We had one local that passed away in that group of 13,” said Texas Roadhouse Papillion service manager Drake Weaver.
“We don’t do this for publicity, we’re literally out here just trying to support our men and women that are serving our country.” But, it turns out that the restaurant chain can’t please everyone.
While the vast majority of their customers appreciate the tribute tables Texas Roadhouse sets up, of course, there are a few customers who have complained about them.
One such person even wrote a lengthy complaint for a Texas Roadhouse in Buffalo on the Trip Advisor website. But what could he possibly have had an issue with?
Apparently, the man thought the restaurant he visited in Buffalo was showing “disrespect” to fallen service members because their memorial table display was “incorrect.”
“While in attempt to honor fallen soldiers on veterans day with the Pow/MIA Table Display, the display was incorrect and missing items,” he wrote angrily on Trip Advisor. So, what was missing?
“Missing the round table, bible, and black napkin, no purple heart affixed, no hat or helmet, and the write-up on the table completely omitted them with no explanation,” the man wrote in his complaint.
“I explained this to the owner asking that they correct the display, take it down, or get a correct reference sheet with the explanation of why they are omitted,” the man continued. And it gets worse.
“The owner said he had no problems with it last year and no one else has complained, that it was ok to offend me and my brothers and sisters, that he was way too busy running his restaurant to fix it,” the man continued.
“No problem,” he concluded, “let’s see how it affects your reputation to disrespect and disregard us while poorly honoring us on a day where you should.” But did the “incorrect” tribute table warrant such a bad review?
Surprisingly, the man who wrote the scathing review wasn’t technically wrong. Traditionally, the ‘missing man table’ or ‘fallen comrades table’ was extremely specific.
It consisted of a round table with an immaculate white tablecloth, an empty chair, a single red rose, and a plate complete with silverware. Every element of the table display is steeped in tradition and imbued with meaning.
Traditionally, a ‘missing man table’ must be round to symbolize the “never ending burden” of active servicemen and women, as well as those who remain missing.
The tablecloth must be white to symbolize the purity of service members’ hearts. A single red rose signifies the family members of missing service members. A yellow ribbon tied around the vase represents the hope that the missing service members will still return home.
Other traditional elements on the ‘missing man table’ include a slice of lemon to symbolize the bitterness of the fallen or missing soldier’s fate and a pinch of salt to represent uncertainty.
An overturned glass symbolizes the inability of these service members to drink to a toast. One lit candle on the table acts as a beacon to guide the missing home. Still, most Americans appreciate Texas Roadhouse’s gesture.
The Texas Roadhouse chain has also been known for honoring fallen officers and veterans alike with reserved tables and discounted meals at all their branches across America.
They really go the extra mile to display compassion and patriotism, even if it affects their bottom line. We need to give credit where it’s due.
It’s easy to take things for granted in life, like being able to enjoy a night out with loved ones while eating a delicious meal.
Sometimes we forget just how much dedicated public servants do to protect America’s citizens and how much they risk each and every day–putting their lives on the line. Texas Roadhouse’s beautiful tributes remind us to stop and say “thank you.”
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.