This Server Looked Out For Others: How One Small Act Of Kindness Changed Her Life Forever

By: Mia Williams | Last updated: Feb 19, 2024

Step inside the doors of Ruby Tuesday, and you’ll find more than a delicious lunch. You’ll find Sarah Hoidahl, a single mother working hard to make ends meet. 

Known for her compassion and generosity, Sarah’s kindness came to the fore when two women from the National Guard came in one day and she went beyond expectations in an incredible act of selflessness!

Sarah's Dream Day! 

Sarah Hoidahl, a 21-year old single mom working as a waitress at the local Ruby Tuesday on Loudon Road in Concord, clocked in and got ready to take on the day. Little did she know that this would be no ordinary shift! 


Source: Facebook

As Sarah went about her duties taking orders and delivering food, two female National Guard officers sat down at one of her tables. This moment would prove to be life changing for Sarah – an exciting opportunity was about to present itself! What happened next?


How One Woman Made Lunch Special for a Pair of Servicewomen

The ladies from the New Hampshire National Guard were in need of a pick-me-up when they sat down for lunch. 


Source: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

As the two servicewomen spoke it became painfully apparent that their struggle with the government shutdown had left them in dire financial straits. All they could think about was ordering something cheap from the menu. 

Financial Woes

President Obama had to act fast. With the government shutdown looming, he signed the Pay Our Military Act – an admirable decision aimed at ensuring our service members would still get paid. Despite this move, not everyone was fortunate enough to benefit from it. 


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As Sarah overheard the women talking about their financial predicament, her heart sank. She could relate all too well; a single mother working hard at her job as a waitress just to make ends meet, she knew the hardships of life all too well. Her struggles had become an everyday reality and she could empathize.

Sarah's Simple Gesture - A Life Changing Moment

As Sarah went about her work at the restaurant, she just couldn’t get these women out of her mind. Serving their country with the New Hampshire National Guard, yet not getting paid for it? It seemed preposterous! She felt that something had to be done. 


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So when they finished their meal, instead of bringing them the bill, Sarah returned to the table with a note. Little did she know that this small act would bring about huge changes in her life!

Sarah's Generosity

The women ordered modestly priced meals and their bill came to around $30 – more than Sarah’s earnings that shift. But Sarah didn’t let that faze her and paid for both their meals.

Source: Dan Smedley/Unsplash

Though Sarah walked home empty-handed, her heart was full of pride knowing that she had made someone else happy. No matter how little you have, a little kindness can go a long way. 


Generous Surprise for Disheartened Service Women 

Walking into Ruby Tuesday, the two servicewomen felt downtrodden. They had lost their paycheck and had no idea how they could afford even a basic meal now. 

Source: Reddit

But their despair was quickly replaced with joy due to Sarah’s generosity. They were elated and thanked her profusely for her kindness.


Sarah, A Real-Life Angel of Kindness!

The two women were beyond grateful for Sarah’s act of kindness and had to share the news on Facebook. And it didn’t take long for the National Guard and Ruby Tuesday to jump in too! They shared a picture of the note and Sarah, along with an incredibly heartfelt comment from one Facebook user – “On behalf of an ex-military (USMC), thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and kindness!” 

Source: Reddit

Sarah’s act earned her much recognition on social media. She is truly an angel sent from above!


Sarah Sparks National Conversation About Helping Military Families in Need 

“My heart goes out to military families struggling to make ends meet,” Sarah told WUMR recently. “My bills don’t stop if my income does, and I know it’s the same for these brave folks who protect us every day. We need to do our part to look after them.” 

Source: Reddit

Her comment quickly spread on Facebook, with one user writing, “If the government won’t help our troops, then we must step up and act. Kudos to Sarah!” This story has started a much-needed conversation on the importance of taking care of those who serve us so loyally. Let’s all do what we can – no matter how small – to show our gratitude for their service!


Singing Sarah’s Praises

When the National Guard posted Sarah’s act of kindness on their Facebook page, Ruby Tuesday followed suit and posted their appreciation. 

Source: Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

Giving this “unsung hero” a shoutout on social media, they praised Sarah for setting an “example of generosity and care”, and expressed their pride at having her in the Ruby Tuesday family.


Generous Act Leads to National Recognition

Who said American kindness was a thing of the past? Sarah’s story sparked a wave of positivity around the country and warmed people’s hearts. It all started when her story was shared on Facebook, quickly racking up thousands of likes and shares. 

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It wasn’t long before it made national headlines – people couldn’t get enough of the single mother who selflessly paid for the two struggling service-women. It didn’t stop there, soon enough celebrities were talking about Sarah’s kind gesture! 


Ellen Shows Single Mom Love!

When news of Sarah’s story reached Ellen DeGeneres, the talk show host knew that she had to have the single mom on her show to tell her inspiring story. In front of a captivated studio audience, Ellen welcomed Sarah with open arms, saying, “you’re a good person”.

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Without missing a beat, The Ellen Show had Sarah recount the extraordinary event that took place at the restaurant. With Heartfelt sincerity Sarah shared, “it just got me thinking, ‘geez, that’s really difficult. I’m a waitress and a single mother. I know how it is.” Now that’s what we call heartwarming!


Ellen’s Response

Ellen couldn’t believe it when Sarah told her that after she had taken care of the bill for the two women, she was left with just $8 in her pocket – barely enough for gas to get her home. 

Source: TheEllenShow/YouTube

So on live television Ellen pulled out the cash that Sarah had put out and handed it to Sarah.But there was more…


Kindness Rewarded - Ellen Gives Sarah a New TV! 

When Ellen asked Sarah if she watched her show, and Sarah explained that she couldn’t as her television was broken, Ellen gifted Sarah a brand new, 50-inch, flat-screen TV.

Source: TheEllenShow/YouTube

The young waitress couldn’t believe what just happened – all because of her act of kindness. But like kindness itself, Ellen did not stop there…


Momma, I Got You Covered!

Calling out to Andy to, “bring momma her checkbook”, Andy brought on to the set a giant chequebook! 

Source: TheEllenShow/YouTube

To Sarah’s amazement and joy, Ellen slowly wrote out a check for the humongous amount of ten thousand dollars! Tears of joy streamed down Sarah’s face as her emotion spilled over. 


A Life-Changing Moment: Ellen Gives Sarah the Support She Deserves

Ellen’s signature was like music to Sarah’s ears, as she embraced her with tears of joy. After receiving the enormous check, Sarah could hardly believe her luck. This generous sum would be life-altering for her as a single mother struggling to support her 18-month old son while working at a restaurant. 

Source: TheEllenShow/YouTube

And the crowd was just as moved as Sarah. It seemed everyone was rejoicing with Sarah in her good fortune. 


Sarah Didn't Know What Her Honesty Would Lead To 

In a later episode Ellen explained to her audience what Sarah had done, and showed a clip of Sarah talking to someone she believed was local news – when it turns out it was actually one of the producers for The Ellen Show! 

Source: TheEllenShow/YouTube

To ensure that Sarah gave honest answers, they used the same cameras as for the show. Little did Sarah know that her honesty was about to result in her appearance on The Ellen Show! 


The Surprising Set-up: Ellen Pranks Sarah with an Interview! 

You won’t believe what happened part way through Sarah’s interview. Sarah was told she had a call, and on the line was none other than Ellen DeGeneres on live television telling Sarah she was actually on her show! 

Source: TheEllenShow/YouTube

Much to Sarah’s astonishment, what started out as just another interview quickly grew into something extraordinary – we can only imagine the look on her face when she heard those four words: “Hi Sarah, I’m Ellen!”


"Surprise!" Ellen Leaves Sarah Speechless

Sarah was speechless when Ellen revealed that the man she had been talking to wasn’t a reporter, but someone from the show. She admitted that she had been checking up on Sarah and wanted to know how she was doing. 

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Sarah shared with Ellen the immense appreciation she had received from people around the globe. To top it off, Ruby Tuesday gave her an incredible bonus! Making matters even better, Ellen told everyone present that part of the $10,000 Sarah received from her would be used to buy a car for her and her mother. Audience members were spellbound.


A Mother and Daughter Share the Road in Style! 

When Ellen asked Sarah about her car, she explained, “it has four wheels that get me from point A to point B”. Though sharing the vehicle with her mother can be a bit of a challenge, they make it work with some helpful friends by their side. 

Source: TheEllenShow/YouTube

Ellen then pulled out an enormous purse on camera, only to remember that what she wanted was with someone else. 


A Dream Come True For Sarah! 

A crew member came on to the set and handed Sarah a key to… a shiny brand new red Hyundai San Jose Sport!

Source: TheEllenShow/YouTube

With cameras in tow, Sarah could barely believe what she saw and her emotions bubbled over when she opened the door to the car and stepped inside. Words simply couldn’t express how she felt. It was truly a dream come true for her.


Sarah Takes Delivery of Her Car 

Sarah’s excitement had to give way to patience before finally receiving her car, while the paperwork processing the car was completed. After the anxious wait, Sarah couldn’t contain her joy when she received her dream car. 

Source: TheEllenShow/YouTube

“It has been a long wait for this car,” she said with a bright smile. “But I really can’t complain…it’s going to be nice.” 


Keeping it Real

Notwithstanding all the attention that came her way, Sarah has remained humble and modest throughout. Sarah still cherishes her time at Ruby Tuesday’s, although the Concord location closed its doors in 2019. 

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After eight years working there, she says she felt like part of the Ruby’s family. When talking to a local news outlet about it all, Sarah said, “I just want to wish my Ruby family the best, and thank them for these last eight years.” 

We hope others learn from the example set by this extraordinary woman.


Today's Struggling Servers

In 2019, Time reported that servers were struggling under the weight of low wages and unreliable tips. Servers work long shifts on their feet, relying on the generosity of tips from strangers to claw a living above minimum wage. 

A service employee sitting at a booth.

Austin Distel/Unsplash

It is hard to imagine that a story like Sarah’s would happen today in the midst of America’s new restaurant landscape.


The Pandemic Changed the Landscape

When COVID-19 started to spread throughout the United States, businesses were forced to shut down and restaurants made a move towards carry-out services. 

A restaurant sign declaring their dining area is closed.

Ivan Radic Licensing/Wikimedia

Since people couldn’t sit down in the restaurant and eat at a table, the service industry didn’t have a lot of use for their servers. According to Time Magazine in 2021, nearly 80,000 restaurants had closed altogether since the start of the pandemic.


Restaurants Are Short-Staffed

As the United States recovered from the throes of the pandemic, the restaurant industry suffered in a unique way that made its wounds difficult to recover from.

An image captured at twilight shows a modern McDonald's restaurant with its sign illuminated against the evening sky

Source: McDonaldsCorp/X

Restaurants that survived the ordeal are finding it difficult to find employees to hire, many are not willing to jump back into an industry with low pay and bad working conditions.


Customers Are Unhappy With Restaurants

As American restaurants are losing benevolent servers like Sarah from their workforce, the public is growing increasingly unsatisfied with staffing shortages and longer food wait times. 

A customer on their phone with an unhappy expression.

Gabriel Gonzalez/Unsplash

The National Restaurant Association estimated that nearly two-thirds of restaurant employees had lost their jobs due to the effects of COVID-19. This is one of the contributing factors to customers growing increasingly frustrated with the restaurant experience, which is slowing the recovery of the industry.


People are Dining Out Less

Vox reported in 2023 that people were eating out 5% less than the previous year. While short-staffing and bad service from servers are commonly cited reasons, there is a confluence of factors that are driving traffic down. 

A plate of delicious food sitting on a table.

Maddi Bazzocco/Unsplash

High levels of inflation have seen many restaurants raise their prices, discouraging more customer dining sessions. There are also fewer restaurants to eat at as a result of closings.


Ruby Tuesday is Struggling

According to Reuters, Ruby Tuesday had over 400 restaurants in 2019, but in 2020 it was forced to file for bankruptcy. 

An exterior shot of a Ruby Tuesday restaurant.

Mike Mozart/Wikimedia

According to the Sun, Ruby Tuesday was not immune to the string of restaurant closings and server lay-offs. In 2023, Ruby Tuesday is down to only 200 locations that it had across the United States. Over 30,000 workers depend on the restaurant chain for employment.


Many Restaurants are Closing

Many states are dealing with high levels of fast food and restaurant closures, even after the COVID-19 lockdowns ended. Some are calling it a mass exodus as more and more restaurants permanently close. 

A sign posted on the window of a business indicated they are closed.

Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

The Los Angeles Times called 2023 “the year that killed L.A. Restaurants.” This change has affected all restaurants types, from fast food to fine dining.


Empty Dining Rooms

According to Vox, the average American ate out an average of 216 times per year in 2000. By 2018, this number had decreased to 185 times. It seems like the golden era of Americans eating out at restaurants is declining.

An empty dining room in a restaurant.

Mx. Granger/Wikimedia

People sometimes prefer to avoid restaurants nowadays, which they perceive as having poor service quality, according to a Pymnts survey. There just isn’t the same perception of value that there once was.


Tip Culture Is Failing Servers

One reason that servers are paid so little by business owners is the assumption that they will be earning more from customer tips. 

A small number of coins resting on a US dollar bill.

Kenny Eliason/Unsplash

Business owners get away with paying workers less by saddling their customers with hidden costs to compensate their workers. However, this seems to be backfiring as the industry struggles. According to Pew Research, most Americans only tip 15% or less when they dine out at a sit-down restaurant.


Americans Now View Tipping Negatively

Bankrate survey from 2023 found that 66 percent of Americans say that they have a negative perspective on tipping. 

A pair of customers eating at a restaurant.

Helena Lopes/Unsplash

41 percent of respondents said that they believe businesses should pay their employees more instead of relying on tips. 30 percent of those surveyed felt that the current tipping culture has gotten out of control.


Should We Eliminate Tipping?

While it’s clear that tipping has created problems for servers, it isn’t unclear how helpful eliminating the practice will be in the current economy. In the short term eliminating tipping would cause a burden on restaurants which might not be able to absorb the higher payroll costs.

A man holding his cell phone and two $1 bills.

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

Still, a move to eliminate tipping would help address income gaps between staff members at restaurants. Many other places in the world have service industries that operate just fine without tips.


Customers and Workers Need To Look Out for Each Other More

Sarah’s story is inspirational because of the struggles both workers and customers experience in the restaurant industry. Both sides are experiencing struggles with wages, tips, and prices that would make it easy for both to become angry with each other.

A tip jar with folded bills inside.

Sam Dan Truong/Unsplash

However, if more people acted like Sarah and helped out their fellow Americans, then things would improve for everyone. Removing the hostility from hospitality is a noble goal we can all learn from.