I was surfing The Gospel Coalition the other day and I stumbled across a link to this post about tipping. The author argues that there is a perception among servers, supported by his own experience, that Christians are poor tippers and just generally poor diners in general. I’d heard this before, and a little bit of digging turned up several articles referencing a study done by Cornell University. On average, Christians do not, in fact, tip poorly; individually, however, about 13% of Christians leave less than the “average” 15% tip, which is about twice the rate of a non-Christian. This means that Christians stiff their servers about twice as often as non-Christians do (not sure what I mean? This article has a good summary).
Now, the first article I linked to does an excellent job of demonstrating exactly why we, as Christians, should take the utmost care to follow up our words about the grace and generosity of God with graceful and generous actions: in this case, tipping well. So I’m not going to talk about that. Here’s the thing I don’t get:
Why don’t we tip well?
Now, it’s true that sometimes you will have a genuinely poor experience–bad service, bad food, etc.–but that doesn’t happen to Christians anymore than non-Christians. So why do we tip exceptionally poorly twice as often as non-Christians?
I think it has to do with attitudes. I think it has to do partly with an expectation of excellence, which cuts the server coming and going; if the server is good, he’s merely fulfilling our expectations and therefore undeserving of any particular praise or reward, and God help him if he fails to meet our expectations. After all, we do our job well every day and we don’t expect any special treatment, so why should our server get rewarded extra just for doing his job? (I’ll just say this sounds more like the Pharisees than anything Jesus or Paul ever talked about and leave it at that).
Or if it’s not that, it’s stewardship: I’m supposed to be a good steward, and so I’m not going to tip well. I already paid for my meal, why should I pay for it again? Of course, this line of reasoning eventually forces us to say outright, “God wants me to hold on to these two dollars rather than give them to you,” and if the stewardship of those extra two bucks is really that important, perhaps eating out wasn’t the best decision anyway (by the way, this is coming from a guy a year out of college working and just about breaking even, supporting his wife through grad school).
I really think attitude is key here. Why are you at the restaurant in the first place? It’s not to save money; it’s not to merely sustain yourself; it’s not for any reason of utility or thrift. You are there, quite simply, to eat, drink, and be merry. You are there to rejoice that God has provided for you, to rejoice in the abundance of creation, to rejoice in the many creative and delicious ways humanity has learned to use God’s gifts!
So act like it! I can’t remember the last time I had an unpleasant experience when dining. I’ve had bad servers. I’ve had bad food. But I haven’t had a bad overall experience since I don’t know when.
So the vast majority of the time? I’m spending quality time with my wife, my friends, my parents, my parents-in-law; I’m eating great food; I’m drinking delicious Cherry Dr. Pepper (or even better, Dr. Pepper with grenadine in it). Why wouldn’t I be generous to the person bringing me all this edible happiness? Why wouldn’t I want to make the person serving us happy as well?
That’s something my wife likes about me. She laughs at how enthusiastically I scour the menu for what I want to eat (probably hot wings, to be honest). She laughs at my excited amazement when the server sets the dish on the table. And at the end of my restaurant experience?
I have eaten. I have drunk. I have been merry. In short, I have feasted, and the feast isn’t quite over. Now, as the cap to the great time God has allowed me, I wish to extend some small token of appreciation, a bit of monetary happiness, to God’s agent in the matter. I wish to be generous, as God and so many people have been generous to me.
Some meals will go poorly. But the vast majority of the time, we should laugh and eat and drink and enjoy not only the fruits of our labor but also the lavish riches of God’s grace. And at the end of that joyful experience, will we dare to be miserly in our tipping?