AP skirts key element of ‘tips for Jesus’ story

As anyone who’s done it can testify — or, to be candid, so I’ve heard — waitering is a tough job. People are rude, hours are long, and wages are often sub-sub-minimum wage, all in the hope of getting some tips. Thus it ever has been, apparently, and thus it ever shall be.

Or, shall it? Someone, the Associated Press informs us, is running around leaving massive, and verified, “Tips for Jesus” on restaurant charge slips:

NEW YORK — The $111.05 New York restaurant receipt includes a $1,000 tip and the words “god bless!” scrawled across it.

The handle @tipsforjesus is stamped next to an illegible signature.

In recent weeks, similar tabs have popped up in restaurants from coast to coast and even in Mexico, with tips of as much as $10,000 — all charged to American Express.

So who’s the anonymous tipster leaving a trail of generosity across the continent?

Tips for Jesus — an Instagram account filled with photos documenting the tips — has more than 50,000 followers. The account displays photos of smiling servers holding receipts with outlandish gratuities on bills also tallied in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Phoenix and Ann Arbor, Mich. On Twitter, Tips for Jesus has nearly 3,000 followers but no tweets.

The Instagram feed comes with the tagline, “Doing the Lord’s work, one tip at a time.”

Well, that’s made the day for several servers, and good for them. But, there’s something missing here, isn’t there? Let’s look a bit further:

The tipster also wrote his cellphone number at the bottom of the tab, telling Cramer to call him if American Express had any issues with processing the receipt.

After seeing the amount, Cramer said he understood why the credit card company might be suspicious and he himself was curious. So he called the number. The man who answered reassured the manager that the tip was real.
The man demanded anonymity, so Cramer did not pursue tracking his identity.

A $1,000 tip also went to a waiter at the Hungry Cat in Los Angeles after three men finished their dinner, said restaurant spokeswoman Jannis Swerman. One of them stamped the check @tipsforjesus.

In another photo, a Phoenix bartender beams looking at his $2,500 tip.

Again, I’m happy for the waitstaff and barkeeps and so forth. But what does this have to do with Jesus? They could’ve stamped the receipts “Tips for Kilroy” or “Tips for Gandhi” and generated perhaps as much buzz, right?

I say this because there is nothing — not a thought, suggestion, question, answer, comment, nothing — in the 691 words of this story to explain why these are called “Tips for Jesus,” what Jesus is supposed to represent here, or why Jesus is invoked. If you can find any of these in the story as cited above (follow the link), you’re a far more gifted person than I am — and feel free to apply for my job here.

It’s just not there, people, and it bugs the heck out of me. It’s so obvious, so clear that there are missing questions in this story. Even if the AP can’t find who this tipper is, surely there’s some sociologist or religious studies professor or someone who could offer a comment. Worse coming to worse, they could’ve lifted their ban on quoting the highly verbal Greg Packer just to get some “outside” voice here, couldn’t they?

I apologize for the rant, but, really, there’s a hole in this story large enough to drive a 2014 Jeep Cherokee through. That no editor at the Associated Press apparently thought to question the writer on “why” — there’s almost no back story here — is maddening.

Please note the “almost” in the above paragraph. At the end of the piece, the AP finds someone else who’s being generous, but at least they identify the person and offer an explanation for the explosion of generosity:

Seth Collins, of Lexington, Ky., has been leaving $500 tips around the country — following his late brother’s instructions.

Before Aaron Collins died last year, he gave his brother a mission: Eat, be merry and leave a giant tip.
Through his family, he’s given away more than 80 tips throughout the U.S.

Maybe that should have been the lede.

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About Mark Kellner

Mark Kellner has been interested in religion since his pre-teen years, and has written about religious news actively since 1983. His work regularly appears in Adventist World and Adventist Review magazines, where he is news editor, and in The Washington Times, where he has contributed since 1991, most recently writing about trends in religion. He and his wife reside in the Maryland suburbs, midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

  • Brett

    What’s to say? Ms. Dobnik is uncurious to the point of malpractice and the AP editors overseeing her work the same.

  • Darren Blair

    After reading it, I’m thinking that the article is a case of the writer trying too hard to stick to the bare facts. This is a case where it would have been perfectly fine to call in someone for outside input.

  • srishti kapoor

    I read the AP story and you got confused at the conclusion. Seth Collins is different from the tipsforjesus guy, they have separate instagram accounts and are different people doing similar things.Seth leaves $500 every time while the tipsforjesus leaves larger, variable amounts.


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