Overheard one morning in a New York Subway near Broadway: “I only made eleven dollars last night because it was a gospel show and the people only wanted the complimentary ice tea and they wanted it now!”
This young man experienced what so many in the service industry already know—when it comes to tipping, Christians are cheap. Servers do pretty well in tips during the weekday lunch hour because the shopping and business crowd aren’t cheap. Evenings are even better for tips because lovers, friends and partiers also aren’t cheap. But the tipping pool dries up for Sunday lunch (and gospel concerts) because here come the Christians.
A friend of mine, and an experienced server, said that they had never met another server who wanted to work the post-church rush. The reasons? Customers on Sunday afternoons are “rude, impatient, and the least self-aware people [they] have encountered while working in the restaurant business.” And yes, Sunday afternoons are notoriously bad for tipping.
Here are some things you need to know if you ever go out to eat:
- Servers make minimum wage or less. Where alcohol is served they can be paid less because it is assumed they will make money on tips.
- Many servers, especially when starting out, work few shifts and those can be as short as two hours. In general, a server is lucky to get 20 hours a week in one restaurant.
- Higher-end restaurant have fewer seatings, so, although the tips will be larger because the check is larger, the waiters make less money than they would in a restaurant with higher turnover.
- The more courses you order, the more your server has to work on your behalf.
- The person who waits on your table will split their tips with the kitchen staff.
- In some restaurants, the kitchen tip is a simple 15% of the table receipts. This means that if you tip only 10%, it is theoretically possible for the server to be out of pocket for the evening.
- It is not customary to tip in all parts of the world. The language of generosity is not the same everywhere.
My friend insists that there are some wonderful customers in after church on Sundays, but she added that she “would rather work Friday nights with the drunk people than Sunday afternoons.”
What do these this firsthand experience with Christians say about us and our Lord?
1 Timothy 6:18-19 (ESV) says of people who can afford to eat in restaurants and go to Broadway gospel shows: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
What might we say about ourselves, and more importantly, about a life in Jesus if we were to follow Biblical teaching and be polite and generous customers?
My server friend is a Christian and she really enjoys what she does. Perhaps it is because she is a Christian that she is such an excellent server. It’s in how she views other people. She works hard to facilitate their experience while in the restaurant. She does this by showing respect and being pleasant. She listens to what they say and tries to intuit what they need so that she can give them the best service possible. This, for her, is the essence of the service industry, but is it not also the essence of living in Christ? To love and respect people because they are created in God’s image and to put their needs over yours?
Yes, servers are paid to do this, but Christians are commanded to do it. But there is an even more compelling reason—we have been recipients of God’s Grace and, so, out of gratitude we share that grace with every human being with whom we come into contact—including our server at a restaurant or at a Broadway gospel show.
. . . crossing the line between knowing and doing
I thought it was awesome that my wife’s reaction to over hearing the conversation in the New York subway was the same as mine. We both looked at each other, I am convinced by the Spirit’s prompting, and whispered something like, “I want to do something about that.” It turns out she’s much more generous than I am, because she doubled what I had in mind. When I gave him the overdue tip, I told him that we were Christians and that this means we take joy in giving. And we were sorry he wasn’t treated more generously the night before. His face was a combination of disbelief and joy, as was that of his companion.
My wife explained to me her view as we walked away. She firmly believes that the cost of the evening is not just the meals and the tickets to the show; it’s the tips as well. If people can’t afford both, then they can’t afford to go out. It’s wrong to make your server subsidize your night out.
For Christians to be considered generous, we need to exceed the standard. The standard is around 15% in a restaurant, five dollars on the bed in the hotel every morning and at least a couple of dollars for every suitcase that someone handles for you. And then, of course, we need to express the joy and gratitude that comes from living in the generous Grace of our Redeemer. Perhaps then our servers would prefer spending time with us on Sunday afternoons, or better yet, Sunday mornings, than with the drunks on Friday nights.