Most servers will tell you that the worst shift to work is Sunday lunch. When asked why, they’ll respond, “Because Christians don’t tip.” In case it’s not obvious, working Sunday lunch means having tables filled with diners who were just at church. The widespread perception of “Christians don’t tip” aligns with my own experience, the experience of every person that I know who has worked for tips and, dare I say, the experience of almost every person you know who has ever worked for tips. In fact, I was once told that my tip had been given to God. Not a Christian at the time, I retorted, “Can you send God my car bill then?” Sadly, Christians being known as poor tippers affects their ability to share the gospel.
Setting aside the ongoing arguments about whether or not waitstaff in this country should be paid higher hourly wages instead of tips, there is an assumed contract when a customer sits down to eat at a restaurant. Requiring the ability to multitask, juggle many different personalities, and not allow the impatience and irritation of others to externally affect you, waiting tables isn’t an easy job and most of the compensation comes from tips. Working a busy shift only to be unjustly undercompensated by people is demoralizing and, frankly, a form of oppression. The Bible has quite a bit to say about the monetary oppression of others.
In the Bible, conversations about the monetary oppression of others is always within the larger rubric of God’s justice. Possibly the most well-known verse that covers wages is “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages'” (1 Timothy 5:18). Denying a server his wage is in direct violation of the Bible (later in this article, I interact with the oft-repeated counterpoint that bad service forfeits wages).
Of all people, Christians should be the most generous with their resources, including the resource of money, above and beyond owed wages. Through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians have been given new life, adopted into the family of God, and will one day enjoy all of God’s blessings throughout all eternity. Being stingy when eating out reveals a heart that has yet to grasp the immeasurable grace that is being poured into the Christian’s life.
Christians have been bought with a price, and demonstrating love towards others is one of the ways in which Christians give thanks to King Jesus. Obviously, demonstrating love is also an excellent way to model before others the love that Jesus has for his own. Unfortunately, the inverse is what often plays out in restaurants across the country.
In restaurants, most religious tracts find their way into trash cans, having never been read. Left by people who either didn’t leave a tip or left an insultingly low tip, those religious tracts are wadded up in irritation, at best; at worst, servers mock Christianity as they bitterly toss the insulting tract into the wastebasket. Attempting to combine grace (the religious tract) with overt selfishness is the antithesis of the love of Jesus. Why should anyone listen to discussions about selfless love from an individual who demonstrates an unwillingness to even meet the minimum requirement of selfless love? Anyone who can afford to eat at a restaurant can afford to leave a robust tip; make no mistake, failing to do so is selfish, unloving, and disobeys God’s expectations of justice.
Now about the rejoinder that poor service forfeits wages. An important question that many diners probably never ask themselves is, “How do I know that this poor service is the fault of the server?” During meal times, a restaurant is most often the exact opposite of a well-oiled machine. When busy, restaurants are a chaotic, dangerously pulsating high-wire act. There are many variables that come together and determine whether or not a customer’s dining experience is good, bad, or somewhere in between. The industry’s secret is that most of those variables are out of the server’s control. Too many orders go to the kitchen at once; the hostess over-seats a section without enough overlap; someone didn’t prep enough of a needed ingredient; inexplicably, the manager sent the server on an errand (it happens, more than you’d probably guess); the order gets lost in the chaos of the teeming, frenzied kitchen. And that’s only naming a mere five negative variables out of many.
All five of the things that I listed in the paragraph above will contribute to customers receiving a less than ideal dining experience. And all five of those things are outside of the control of the server. Except, of course, many customers will choose to punish the server. While doing the best he or she can to ensure that the customer has as good of a dining experience as possible, the server is the one who bears the brunt of the customer’s dissatisfaction. Unless a Christian can tell me with 100% assurance that the server is indeed at fault, leaving a paltry tip is running the likely risk of committing the sin of stealing. The server earned a tip, and unjustly holding back the earned wages is tantamount to picking the server’s pocket.
One final thought. While holding back earned wages is stealing, that doesn’t mean that it’s ok for Christians to tip poorly even if they know that their poor dining experience was the fault of the server (a big “if,” by the way). Going out to eat in a restaurant is an incredible luxury that many of us take for granted. Not leaving a tip because your drink orders weren’t filled fast enough or because the server forgot about your appetizer is a level of ungraciousness that is astounding, especially if you’re a Christian. Your Savior paid an incredible price for your salvation; stinginess does not reflect well on your heart’s response to your salvation provided by Jesus. Tipping well in all circumstances as thanksgiving and as a means to demonstrate love and mercy to another human leaves an impression on servers. Think about that the next time you bow your head to thank God for your meal while the eyes of the waitstaff are on you. Your tip may very well be a means that the Holy Spirit uses to soften the heart of your server to the love of God.