Scrooge McDuck Eats Out: Why Christians Should Tip Well

Ethics, Featured, Religion — By on July 19, 2012 at 7:00 am

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?

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  • Nathan Bennett

    My dear sir, I have but one thing to say, and that is YESYESYESYESYESYESYESYES.

    Well, one more thing.

    “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).”

    THIS is a good line.

  • Kyle Keene

    Well said. And now I crave hot wings.

  • Sarah Parro

    I generally like and agree with your thoughts, but I think it’s important to say that when you tip, you’re not just engaging in an act of goodwill; you’re paying somebody’s paycheck. There’s got to be a decent bare-minimum no matter what, even when you get poor service. I slack off in my job sometimes, but I don’t get paid less.

  • jamesfarnold

    Hey Sarah! Glad to hear from you.

    Just a thought: are all jobs created equally? For instance: would it be fair to pay a mechanic the full amount if he did a shoddy job repairing your car? It doesn’t seem like it (if you paid at all; you may need to have someone else do the work), though maybe that has to do with life/death (safety of a vehicle) rather than pleasure/entertainment. I’m not sure.

  • http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/ Mackman

    You’re right, but poor service is something that happens to Christians and non-Christians alike. And while you are paying somebody’s paycheck, it is still an act of goodwill, as the tip is entirely voluntary. I was trying to get at what I think is the root of the problem: Why do Christians tip poorly more often than non-Christians? Why do Christians lack that goodwill more often than non-Christians?

    Tipping is an opportunity to express satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, with the dining experience overall. I think Christians should have an inherently good dining experience, and have more reason, not less, to express thanks and generosity than non-Christians, which is what I was trying to get at in my post.

  • http://profiles.google.com/nonesuch42 Jessica Harmon

    The thing about tipping in the US…it’s less voluntary than other places. It may not be required, but it is sure expected. We’re expected to tip 15%, even 20% if the place is nice. I usually tip between 15 and 20% (math is hard, I round up), but in Central America (in my experience) is 10% is standard, but not expected from locals. When I was in Europe, some restaurants added stuff to the bill. Some of it was probably a gratuity, but it was hard to decipher. They always seemed really surprised when I gave them tips though. They didn’t set it up to make tipping easy. You know, when you have a $15 bill and you pay with a $20 how servers usually give your change in $1s so you can leave whatever amount you want? In Europe they gave the biggest bills possible as change. It made it hard to tip like I normally would since I was always running out of small change.

    Hank Green has a good video about tipping. He’s not a Christian (but is very private about his beliefs), but anyone with enough money to go to a restaurant could use his advice. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsYTLVMQsbE)

  • http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/ Mackman

    This post wasn’t really about “tipping” as a practice, or even about what affects tips in general (re: Hank Green’s video): I think that, given that it’s a practice here in the US, it’s a problem that a disproportionate amount of Christians fail to tip as well as their secular counterparts. I think it reflects a fundamental legalism and ingratitude, a lack of personal grace resulting from a vastly inadequate understanding of God’s grace towards us in allowing something so amazingly delicious as Dr. Pepper with cherry syrup in it to simply exist.

    When we fail to leave a tip, we imply that we are less than happy with our meal. And the tipping statistics implies that Christians, as a whole, are less happy about their meal than non-Christians. It should be the other way around: Dining out should be a joyful experience characterized by generosity and gracious gift-giving (or “tips”, as the gifts are called).