Restaurant Tipping Guide for Christians
A "Tip" for Christians
Who Dine Out
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There was a glorious Christian concert at the Arena tonight. Everybody was blessed… well, except for the waiters working downtown that is.
I am both a Christian and a Server at a downtown Nashville restaurant. One of the most personally embarrassing ordeals I ever go through at work is when there is a large, highly publicized Christian event, and "my people" come out en masse to eat. Only because I walked into the break-room during a gripe session and found her in mid-sentence, a fellow server asked me an honest and long-deserved question, "Why are religious people the worst tippers?"
It’s true. As a whole, Christians are thought of by restaurant workers to be among the absolute worst tippers of any single identifiable group. Sundays after church, and during events like the one mentioned, Christians go out in large numbers, perhaps unaware of how poorly they are representing the gospel to a very specific and largely "unreached" people group – their servers. This is not a letter from a waiter complaining about how some people tip though; this is a letter from one Christian to others, to inform them of the horrendous damage many of us do to the Christian witness on a regular basis.
Probably the best answer to why we are often the worst tippers is very likely, "cultural ignorance." Living such vastly different lifestyles than many servers and bartenders, my belief (or honest hope) is that the average Christian is simply unaware that 15% of one’s total bill is the expected minimum gratuity one should ever leave in a full-service restaurant. Anything less is personally offensive to the person who served you.
Many family oriented, frugality-minded Christians eat out infrequently it seems, and it is sometimes a large indulgence for them to even go to a restaurant (I understand that, but your non-Christian servers don’t). Especially after giving at church on Sundays, the tip is an easy place to begin to cut back. However, whereas others may get away with leaving less, for the Christian it comes down to the fact that personally offending a person all but destroys your chance of winning them to the Lord (Pr 18:19). For the Christian, it must never be an issue of whether the server even deserved a good tip or not – do you deserve heaven? No. We are called to reflect this in our dealings with the world, by being both merciful and generous to those who may not always be deserving of it either. Most of the time though – and no matter how generous you just were in church to the family whose house burned down – the typical Christian comes across as downright stingy. Don’t believe me? Ask any server’s honest opinion (when they’re not waiting on you of course).
Tonight, a Christian couple had a problem with their food taking much longer than it should have (remember, they were on their way to the concert). Management was diligent to attempt to rectify the problem by giving the couple half off their meal (a $20 discount where I work). Guess what they left the server? Thirty cents - then they rushed out the door to go worship God! (Matt 5:23-4) Of course he let me know about that! As someone whom I’ve had many conversations about the gospel with, and a genuinely open person ordinarily, he could only rant, and ask me, "Do unto others, huh? Turn the other cheek, huh? What about forgiveness?! Or patience??? And these are the people that dress up every Sunday and give their ten percent, and think that earns them the right to go to heaven?" (I’m not exaggerating - that is exactly what he said, except for the parts not suitable for print.) If only that were an isolated incident!
We fail to realize that because we tend to appear all at once, in large groups, giving good service becomes extremely difficult. Servers frequently wind up penalized rather than blessed by our presence, and then we "judge" them under extreme conditions. The server mentioned earlier? She was upset because her customers not only left her a poor tip; to make matters immeasurably worse, they also left her a gospel tract. This is too common an occurrence. As if you think that’s going to make up for not paying someone for services rendered, much less show her God’s "abundant" love? Believe me, your 10-cent tract - AND Christ’s reputation - is going to wind up shredded in the trash can. I know; I was once a non-Christian server. "Because of you, God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles…" (Romans 2:24)
Most of us take great pains to study the cultural norms of a foreign land before taking a missions trip, to ensure that we do not unknowingly offend someone, but I’m afraid that we have dropped the ball on the home front. We are told to be wise in the way we treat "outsiders" (Col 4:5) and to be generous on every occasion (1 Cor 9:8). Tipping well only for top performance implies a "works based" mentality, not the gospel. The sad fact is, Christians are known for being 10% tippers even for good service, which hurts your server to the heart. I once even had a more experienced Sunday lunch server laughingly tell me, "Well God got His ten percent today, so I guess I got the other five." She was quite graceful and good-natured about it actually, but to whomever sparked that comment, I am ashamed to call you brethren, and only hope I can serve to educate you with this.
So please, especially if your server will know you’re a Christian, consider your tip a missions offering, and try representing your Father’s lavishly giving nature. Tip 20% (take the total tab, double it, and move the decimal - $42 tab = $8.40 tip). Got a social outing as a group? Why not conspire to leave $20 beyond what you would have? I know a (very) few people who regularly drop an extra $5-$20 when no one is looking, just to make up for how badly they know the rest of their group tipped. God sees that too!
However, if you finally decide that you cannot practice the simple cultural norm of tipping adequately (if not extravagantly) - in the future, when you’re going to a Christian event that typically fills up our local restaurants - for the sake of the gospel…could you at least practice the discipline of fasting?