The Witness of Tipping

I had a friend in college who worked as a waitress. She once told me that her coworkers would often complain about having to work on Sundays at lunchtime. Their reason why? “The only people who come in are Christians on their way home from church. And Christians are bad tippers.”

I’m guessing that we Christians can owe part of our bad reputation among wait staff to the fact that many of the after-church restaurant patrons are elderly individuals who may just have a set habit of tipping a dollar or two, despite the fact that a dollar or two gets you considerably less than it did thirty. But the problem isn’t limited to our elders. I remember once being to dinner with a group of friends from high school on a visit home from college. They weren’t all Christians, but one was a rather outspoken Christian. And this outspoken Christian, after we had all chipped in our share, insisted that we leave a smaller tip than what our contributions were adding up to. “You’re just supposed to double the tax, and that’s the tip,” she said. In Pennsylvania, that amounts to a 14% tip, not even the expected 15% minimum… and there were nearly 10 of us that this waitress served. I’m not sure how she convinced the rest of us to take pack some of our contribution, but I remember wanting to leave quickly before the waitress picked up the money off of the table because I was so embarrassed.

What motivates us as Christians to be so stingy? Are people trying to be good stewards while ignoring Scripture’s exhortation to give generously? Christians need to realize that tipping is an act of witness to a waiter or waitress; and the waiter or waitress is going to make judgments on your character based on how well, or not well, you tip. Trust me. I’ve worked for tips before as a pizza deliverer, and that job completely changed my opinion of one church near my home after they tipped me very poorly (something like $1 on a $50 order), and my opinion wasn’t, “Well, they’re just trying to be good stewards.”

A few practices that I try to keep:

1.) Always tip at least 20%.

2.) Don’t “punish” your waiter/ress for bad or disappointing service with a smaller tip. Instead, show grace.

3.) If you give your waiter any reason to think you’re a Christian (being well-dressed on a Sunday afternoon, praying before your meal, faith-related conversation at the table, etc.) know that there’s a good chance that you’re representing the Church and maybe even Christ to your waitress, especially if s/he’s not a Christian him/herself. I once left a restaurant and realized 30 minutes later that my table forgot to leave a tip. On top of that, we had our Bibles out and open on the table. I went back, found our waiter, apologized and gave an even bigger tip than I would normally give.

4.) Take time to get to know the person waiting on you, especially if you’re a repeat customer. I’m still not too good at this one, but want to improve. Waiters and waitresses expend a lot of energy trying to make their customers feel good. It’s a very selfless act. Building a relationship with them and providing the conversational space for them to say now they’re doing or share from their life outside the restaurant could be a breath of fresh air.



3 thoughts on “The Witness of Tipping

  1. Love it, Mike.

    Here’s my perspective. A lot of Christians who go out to lunch after church are middle to upper middle class, and, though this is a generalization on my part, probably either a) never worked as a server or b) did that kind of work so long ago that they forgot what it’s like. Either way, I imagine that for the typical middle class evangelical, the life of a server is pretty hard to imagine, not to mention the fact that it’s a real stunner to a lot of people that servers only subsist on tips.

    As with many things, it’s a class issue. But here’s my question: how did Christianity in America become the realm of the middle class?

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