Yesterday, a restaurant server posted the following photo to reddit; it’s already going viral.
The story: The pastor was part of a large party who ate at this server’s restaurant. Like many American restaurants, this particular one has a policy of adding an automatic 18% tip for large parties. It’s something the computer does automatically, not something the server has any control over.
According to the server, the pastor’s party tried to get around the automatic 18% tip by asking for separate checks, even though the same person was paying for the whole table. The server says that everyone was happy with the service; they just didn’t like the idea of a compulsory tip.
The result? The pastor scribbled out the tip, leaving none at all, and adding the note, “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?”
(As a side note, I suspect the server would have been happy with 10% of the diner’s income as a tip. Only 18% of the cost of the meal is a bargain.)
Oh, and just to drive the point home, the diner made sure to add the word “Pastor” above their signature at the bottom.
If you’ve read my book TORN, you know that I had similar experiences waiting tables:
“Sundays are the worst,” one of the servers explained to me. “That’s when the church crowd goes out to eat.”
“What’s wrong with the church crowd?” I asked.
“Oh, honey,” she said. “They’re usually the most demanding, and they’re always the worst tippers. I guarantee you, if you see your table praying before the meal, you can mentally subtract a third from your tip.”
Standing nearby, the manager cracked a smile. “They already gave at church,” he said. “They don’t have any money left.”
In the book, I talk about what this means for the reputation of the church. (Hint: It’s not good.)
Yes, a lot of us think the tipping system in America could be improved. In many countries, servers are paid a decent wage, and tips are an added incentive to reward a job especially well done. I know a lot of people who think it should be that way in the United States, too, but it’s not. In most states, servers are paid only a little over $2 an hour (yes, you read that right), with the expectation that they will make their living from tips. You might not like that system, but if you choose to express your displeasure with it by tipping your server poorly, the only person you’re hurting is the server—someone who is already living on very little money and depending on your tip to help them pay their bills.
As a former server myself, I always tip at least 18-20% unless the service was just so unbearably horrible that it destroyed the dining experience. Even then, I still tip, just not as much. If I can’t afford the tip, I don’t eat out, or I eat someplace where diners aren’t expected to tip. Otherwise, I consider paying my server to be part of the cost of the meal.
I think everyone should tip that way, but if you choose not to, do me a favor: Don’t pray before your meal, don’t go out to eat right after church, and don’t sign your receipt with the word “pastor.” In short, don’t let people know you’re a Christian. Because when Christians are the worst tippers, it destroys our witness. We’re supposed to be the generous ones, not the stingy and selfish ones. And I can tell you from experience, when servers see a pattern of Christians who tip poorly, it makes them far less interested in any of this “Jesus stuff.”
It’s worth noting that the original image above was posted on reddit’s “atheism” forum.
And for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, please don’t leave these as part of your tip:
No. No. No.
Bad Christian. Bad! No!
As I put it in the book:
Why would anyone think that tricking and disappointing a broke food-service employee would be a good way of spreading the Christian good news?
Remember, whatever you do, wherever you go, whenever you tip, you are representing Jesus. And what makes the most difference in that moment isn’t your words or your theology; it’s your grace, love, and generosity.
If we miss that, we’ve missed the gospel.
An update: The story has now been confirmed by several press accounts, but with a few detail changes. The pastor had been described as male by the reddit poster, but was in fact a woman. The size of the party was 10, not 20. And the server who posted the image—and has now been fired—was not the same server who waited on the table. I’ve made a few minor wording changes to the post to reflect the updated details.
Second update: I’ve written a follow-up post to address responses to this post.