Most people are familiar with the stereotype that Christians are habitually bad tippers. While many stereotypes do have some factual basis, this one is supported more by perception than actual fact. In their study, “Are Christian/Religious People Poor Tippers?,” Benjamin Katz and Michael Flynn of Cornell University prove several points about the relationship between religion and tipping:
“First, Jews and those with no religion tip significantly more than Christians and members of other religions. However, the average Christian tips 17 percent of the bill when receiving good restaurant service and only 13 out of 100 Christians receiving good service leave a tip below 15 percent of the bill.”
So if the research proves that Christians, as a whole, are not bad tippers, the question remains: where does this stereotype come from and how do we change it?
First, there tends to be viral media coverage of events in which Christians behave badly. Take Dayna Morales’ story for example. Morales is a Bridgewater, New Jersey waitress who recently was denied a tip on a restaurant bill because she appeared to be gay. In an interview with ABC News, Morales says that she never told her customers that she was gay when she introduced herself. She gave a “Normal introduction, ‘My name is Dayna. I’ll be taking care of you.’ Right away the mom looked at me and said, ‘I thought you were going to say your name was Dan.’” After allowing Morales to finish serving her and her family, the diner then left this note on the $93.55 bill:
“I’m sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle and how you live your life.”
While the female diner never explicitly said she was a Christian, the media wasted no time portraying her as a “cheap bigot” and writing her off as just another stingy, self-righteous Christian.
In a similar instance this past October, a couple left a note on their credit-card receipt in lieu of a tip:
“Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. Queers do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours. We hope you will see the tip your fag choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’S love, but none shall be spared for fags. May GOD have mercy on you.”
And in yet another story, an Applebee’s diner crossed out the 18 percent gratuity charge on her bill, leaving the comment, “I give God 10 percent. Why do you get 18?” To top it off, this woman is a pastor.
Pastor Alois Bell has since apologized for her behavior, but the damage is still done. The Applebee’s waitress posted a photo of the bill with the retort, “My mistake sir, I’m sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries.”
The waitress is right. If everyone used their faith as an excuse not to tip, every waiter, waitress, and service worker would need to look elsewhere for a decent income. Kelly Phillips Erb, a writer for Forbes Magazine, explains how restaurants figure wages based on revenue, which would include the 18 percent service charge ignored by Bell. She says, “If customers like Pastor Bell routinely ignore service charges (which, so far as the IRS is concerned is mandatory and not discretionary), lower revenues could translate to lower wages for servers.” Waiters and waitresses are paid well below minimum wage, and as a former waitress myself, I can attest to the fact that tips are how servers make an income.
During my time waitressing, I experienced the best and worst of the service industry, and the best and worst of Christian diners. For over a year I worked the Sunday morning and afternoon shift at a local pizza place. While the majority of my customers were very kind and gracious, I quickly learned why the Sunday crowd is notoriously dreaded by servers. Because I was working on a Sunday, I’m sure many of my customers assumed I didn’t attend church, which might also have led some to assume I was not a Christian. What they did not know was that most Sundays I dashed out of the back of my church’s sanctuary as the service was ending, changed into my work uniform in the restroom, and then made the quick drive over to the pizza place.
On more than one occasion, I had customers ask me if I had been to church that morning. One woman even told me that if I had answered no, she would not have left me a tip. I cannot even count the number of times I was left a tract in place of a tip. And then there was the customer who felt the need to leave me an actual Bible.
At first, I was deeply offended by all the judgment being heaped upon me every Sunday. But eventually I learned to laugh it off and understand that many of these people had nothing but good intentions and kind, if slightly misguided, hearts.
While I was able to see past the errancy in my customers’ behavior, what would such actions mean to someone who does not know the Lord, the very person their “evangelism” is meant to reach? What kind of a Christian witness does that show–when one can dish out the words of the Gospel without demonstrating the actions in generosity and love?
1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Are we glorifying God in the way that we treat those who serve us? If we are representing Christ in all that we do, we must take special care to ensure that our actions are a kind, loving, and generous reflection of Christianity. And let us not forget that Jesus once humbled himself to a position of service. Would you tip Jesus?