Sunday, March 18, 2012

Where Are The Tipping Christians?

'Look at that...' photo (c) 2011, Kevin Lawver - license:
A dear Christian brother of mine manages a sit-down restaurant. We get together for breakfast on Tuesdays and, occasionally, I get to hear his wild stories about things that happened at work. Some of them make me laugh. But honestly, many of them make us both want to cry.

For example: did you know that there are people who regularly enter restaurants with every intention of getting a free meal? Their plan is simple: feign dissatisfaction every step of the way until the restaurant breaks down and offers to pay for the meal.

Many of these people even passive-aggressively act like everything is fine in front of the wait staff, then unload on the manager on their way out the door—or on the restaurant’s customer feedback web page when they get home. The gift cards come in the mail, and they get to eat the next 2 meals for free. Then the cycle begins all over again.

The ubiquity of social media has made it possible for damning customer feedback to go global in seconds. This raises the stakes extremely high for service industries of all kinds to bend over backwards to please their patrons, lest a conversation explode on Twitter about a bad experience. And with that comes even more of the situations I describe above. People are leveraging the power of social media to get handouts—because it works.

But perhaps the most disconcerting stories I hear from my friend are the ones about openly professing Christians who dine at his restaurant. He’s been in the restaurant business for a long time. And apparently, it’s a well-known fact in the restaurant industry that the people who are more open about their Christianity (either by their gospel presentation during the meal, or by their leave-behind tract on the table) are the lousiest tippers around.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying these people can’t really be Christians. But something is terribly wrong with a theology that isn’t tuned to the obvious, everyday opportunities to express common courtesy and surprising generosity; with a theology that places outward piety above personal sacrifice; and with a theology that views people as projects, with no regard to their physical or financial needs.

This is where I climb off my soapbox and attempt to turn this conversation into something positive.

Joy and I were talking in the car on our way home from a restaurant this morning when this topic came up. She has a Christian friend working part-time as a server who had echoed the same tipping experience to her. Joy’s response was, “I can’t let it bother me. I’ve just decided to be a 20% tipper myself, and to leave the occasional $20 bill on the table when I can.”

“Be the change you want to see,” I said. “I like it.”

We should be grieved that people are marring Christ’s reputation at the restaurant table (of all places). But knowing this, and knowing the Gospel of Christ, should free us and motivate us to offset this sad epidemic with unusual generosity—to compliment and respect our servers; to make it easier for them to bus the table; to be patient and forbearing with them when things are busy; and doggone it, to put our money where our mouths are on our way out the door. This generosity is not something we do to earn God’s favor; it’s a spontaneous response to God’s favor.

If you think you can’t make a difference today, take heart. We have an opportunity to show a peculiar Christian kindness and generosity (both personally and financially) in places like retail stores and restaurants, where common courtesy is sadly so rare.

Here’s to changing the story.


  1. I always make it a point to tip over 20 percent especially at places I go all the time and have a growing relationship with the wait staff. Also if we sit there visiting (which christians are prone to do) I make sure that I also tip extra for the ammount the would have made had someone else been sitting there during that time. I just think it's the right thing to do. A lot of my friends think I'm nuts but I don't care.

    1. It's amazing how much people working in the industry appreciate simple kindness as well. Recently, when I had cancer and was struggling to pay the medical bills, the owners of my favorite Thai place showed up at my door several times with soup and other food, and some money to help with the bill. I was overwhelmed by their kindness.


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