Eating Out and Making Christ Look Bad

Does Jesus care about how much we tip? That question has been on my mind this week in light of an incident in St. Louis which went viral. A large group ate at Applebee’s a few weeks ago, and the computer added an automatic 18% gratuity to the bill (which was split amongst the party). One person objected, and wrote on her receipt, ‘I give God 10% Why do you get 18%’. She crossed out the automatic tip and wrote 0. Above her signature she added ‘Pastor’.

One of the other servers took a picture of the receipt and posted it on Reddit, where it went viral. Though the signature wasn’t completely legible, it was enough that people identified the person. When the pastor found out, she called Applebee’s to complain and reportedly ask that people be fired. Applebee’s did fire the server who put up the picture for violating the customer’s right to privacy.

There are stories about this all over the Internet (one of the first here and the follow-up). I came across it in a UK newspaper article by the server who was fired. How should we process all this?

  • It’s a total non-sequitur to claim that giving 10% to God has anything to do with how much to tip a server. They’re unrelated. [Plus, how do you figure 10% for God? While that may be far above the average giving today, biblically, the total tithe in the OT was more than that, and the NT doesn’t often mention numbers—though when it does, it tends to be something like half (Luke 19:8) or everything (Mark 12:41–44; 10:21). Instead, it says the standard is that our giving should be sacrificial and generous, just as Jesus gave himself sacrificially and generously for us (2 Cor 8:9)].
  • We may not like an automatic tip, or even the tipping system in general. But it is what it is. Servers in the U.S. get paid less than minimum wage, and tipping is part of their necessary compensation. Other countries pay a normal wage, and then tipping is more about good service, and an extra. But the way to protest here is not to steal from servers. That won’t change anything, but it does withhold from those less well-off what they’ve earned, and God makes clear that he’s no fan of that (James 5:4).
  • Christians have a horrible reputation for tipping. The common perception in the restaurant industry is that Christians are cheap and lousy tippers. I waited tables for a year in college and saw it. I talked to a restaurant manager this week, and she confirmed it—and she’s a Christian! Is this reputation reality? A recent study by researchers at Cornell indicates partly but not entirely. But in a way, it’s a question of perception more than it is about reality, what a friend calls ‘emotional truth’. The emotional truth is that we’re seen in general, as a group, as bad tippers.
  • In fairness, the pastor has now apologized and recognizes that she embarrassed her church and her ministry. Did she feel that way before her name was public? It’s reported she asked for lots of people to be fired; she skates by that issue in the interview. I can see why Applebee’s would fire the server for violating a customer’s privacy. Even so, did the pastor go out of her way to ask the server be forgiven and reinstated? How has she represented Christ, in the original incident, and in the aftermath?
  • That’s my biggest concern: how we represent Christ. Everything we do is to be for God’s glory and will reflect on him (1 Cor 10:31). Interestingly, Paul counsels that specifically with regards to what we eat or drink! The reality is that non-believers think badly of Christians on this issue—just see some of the comments on Gawker about this (warning – not for the faint of heart). How are non-believers going to praise God for our good works when they think of us as stingy tightwads (1 Pet 2:12)?
  • Eating out is a privilege. As Christians we should figure (at least) 20% on top of the bill. If that’s a burden, then don’t eat out. Many Americans don’t grasp how rare it is to eat out with the frequency that we do. We have to go beyond and make sure that how we tip, just as in everything we do, we represent Christ well.
  • Finally, if you insist on leaving a tract of some kind, please, please, please make sure you tip generously with it. Otherwise, you’ve just made the problem that much worse.

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