That Reduced Tip

The story is now known, but there’s a bigger story as sketched by Brian Palmer:

When Applebee’s tried to impose an automatic 18 percent tip last week on the bill of Atlanta pastor Alois Bell, she crossed it out, reduced the tip to zero, and added the note, “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?” A waitress posted the receipt online, earning Bell nationwide derision and the server a pink slip for violating Bell’s “right to privacy,” according to Applebee’s. Over the weekend, the restaurant chain suffered an avalanche of criticism. More than 20,000 angry Facebook commenters responded to the company’s attempts to explain its decision to fire the offending waitress….

Tipping had an inauspicious start in America. When the practice migrated from Europe, many consumers considered it bribery. The Anti-Tipping Society of America, a lobby group of traveling salesmen, pushed many states to ban the practice. When the laws were struck down or repealed under pressure from restaurant and hotel owners who profited in saved wages, members of the media suggested that a tip should total no more than 10 percent. Since then, the national tipping rate seems to have risen inexorably. Guides from the 1960s suggest that an appropriate tip ranged from 10 to 20 percent, with 15 percent representing the average. Tipping a server 10 percent is now widely considered a serious offense, and a Zagat survey from 2012 found the average restaurant tip has risen to 19.7 percent.

America’s churches should be so lucky. When the Christian research group Empty Tomb began tracking tithing in 1968, mainstream Christians gave 3.3 percent of their income to a church. Those donations have steadily dropped, falling to a mere 2.38 percent in the most recent survey. Evangelicals like Bell typically give more, but their donations have also fallen by around 30 percent since the late 1960s. Churches could really use the cash, too. Only 10 percent of U.S. congregations have an endowment that exceeds their annual operating budget. Even the Mormon church, the international tithe-collecting champion, fails to pressure the faithful into a full 10 percent tithe. There’s little data on U.S. contributions, but Canadian Mormons pay about 8 percent of annual income to the church. (Fortunately for Mormons, the church hardly needs the money.)

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

    Well, a 20% tip on a $20 lunch is $4. A 10% tithe on a $40k income is $4,000. We’re not really comparing apples to apples, because people don’t spend their entire annual income on meals at restaurants.

  • phil_style

    Well, the whole situation could have been avoided had this person paid the tip and chosen not to return there again.

    Leaving a snarky note, irrespective of how one might justify the magnitude of the tip being required, is rude.

  • pepy

    I received my bill for a family meal at a restaurant where they had automagically applied the 18% tip. I thought, HMMMMM, even though it was the noon meal, I had planned to tip 20%, but since they chose 18%. That is what I paid.

    I am sure there are many stiffs who do not recognize the wait staff adequately, but in some cases, the 18% is less than what they would have received for good service.

  • Kyle J

    They will know we are Christians by our frugality, eh?

  • Jeremy

    Yeah, tipping is an interesting one. It makes sense from a lot of perspectives. The server’s wages are essentially tied to performance. It’s also risky when you work in a cheap place or your customer base are cheap jerks. The restaurant also gets nearly free labor, so can hire more people.

    In this case, the problem is that she is a pastor, SIGNED it “Pastor” and invoked God…all while stiffing the waitress. She then compounded the problem by calling Applebees and demanding they fire everyone rather than repenting of what she admits herself was a bad attitude.

    That said, it was extremely unprofessional of the waitress to post up the receipt with identifiable information. I probably would have fired her too.

  • Adam

    I want to apply this statement to income tax. “I give God 10%, why do you get 30%?”

  • david

    I agree with Adam at #6. And don’t render unto Caesar a dime more than what is Caesar’s.

    I just think it’s presumptuous to tack on the tip to the bill–I know many restaurants do that when the party is above, say, 8 people. But if it’s me and a friend and you automatically tack on 18% or whatever, you’ve gone from appreciation for service to service charge. On a cruise, the company tacks a tip on to your total bill before you leave. Thankfully I had excellent service.

    And to all wait personnel–you ignore me, don’t stop back by the table, etc–you expect 15-25% for that? Yes, I worked 2 yrs waiting tables, long enough ago that 15% was EXCELLENT.

  • Kyle J

    @Adam

    I’d like to see Christians apply it to how much they spend on their housing.

  • Steve Sherwood

    I think this about tipping. Always tip more than the situation calls for. With an added couple dollars, you give a gift to someone that will at the very least brighten their day, and give them a positive impression of you (and if they know you are a Christian, of Christians/Jesus). That seems like a small cost for a lot of potential good will. If service is bad, I leave 15-20% if it’s good or I’m a regular, I try to leave considerably more. Cleaning service at hotels and shuttle drivers, too. And, I find it softens my heart to others, which I need. God gives grace to me lavishly beyond what I deserve or earn, so this is one small way I can communicate the same to others (even less than ideal servers).

  • RDH

    So far, Steve Sherwood is the only one here with a Christ-like attitude, in my opinion. Why do well-fed, middle-class, church-going Christians balk at paying some poor, likely lower-class, server a 15-20 percent tip? You probably wouldn’t invite her to church and if she did attend and wasn’t dressed properly you’d stick your nose up; so at least give her a few bucks for bringing your food to you. Good grief, no wonder real people dislike church-goers.

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t mind tipping at restaurants, and generally I tend to be pretty generous. In general, though, I think the whole practice is kind of an awkward social practice. In restaurants, it at least makes sense, because the service is kind of an additional thing to the food itself, and a good waiter or waitress can really have an effect on the experience. There are other situations, though, where it seems like you’re expected to tip, but it’s less obvious what the expected percentage should be.

    For instance, I think it’s odd that I’m expected to tip the person who cuts my hair. It’s not that I don’t want to be kind to her, but it seems to me that the price I pay for my haircut is simply the price for a service already. So it seems odd to me to have to pay a tip for a service, when you’re just paying for a service. Again, it’s not that I necessarily mind paying a bit more, it just can create some awkwardness if you don’t know what you’re expected to pay.

  • Barb

    we have a ministry here called “Big Table” http://www.big-table.com if you are interested. Some interesting facts are that the food service industry is one of the largest employee groups in the country and also one of the most unchurched–they work on Sunday. They also have many of the biggest needs. Kevin Finch (founder of Big Table) has a tremendous heart for workers in this industry. He’s found that one reason they dislike church is that Christian resturant goers have a horrible reputation for under tipping and holding a table too long. This recent news story about Applebee’s is a perfect example. The more I learn about the stress that these workers endure the more I want to tip and behave with grace when I’m in a restuarant.

  • Evelyn

    Seems much of this could be avoided by restaurants charging a little more for their meals, paying their staff a little (a lot) better, and then a smaller tip being the norm… hmmm… sounds like Europe :-D (it’s a system that works pretty well here, even if it doesn’t exactly encourage the customer service culture y’all are used to).

  • Jordan Litchfield

    In response to Evelyn #13, I grew in America, worked as a waiter at Bob Evans during Bible College and now live in the UK, and I don’t think that service in restaurants in the UK is as good as in the US. Because waiters are already getting a set wage there doesn’t seem to be as much motivation to provide 1st class service, while we always felt the need to provide good service. I’m not saying the service here is always horrible, but I definitely don’t find it to be as prompt or attentive.

  • JustforQuix

    As an aside to the article: I can attest, as a former Mormon, there is indeed intentional doctrinal, institutional and social peer pressure to get members to tithe. Yet if one donates less than 10% and declares oneself a “full” tithe payer there is not much actual pressure beyond a yearly tithing settlement in front of the local congregational bishop. It’s not like they pull one’s W-2s or anything. However if one tithes less, or not at all, there are penalties that can be imposed including being prevented from participating in “saving ordinances” like the temple system.

  • Rob Henderson

    I constantly challenge my congregation to be good tippers. Money talks and it speaks volumes to a struggling mother waiting on tables to buy diapers for her kids or the college student who needs money for their books and housing.

    How can I truly speak to the world that I as Christ’s representative truly care unless I open my wallet and put my money where my mouth is?

  • Ben Thorp

    From my point of view, anything added to the bill by the restaurant is a “service charge” and is mandatory, whatever the percentage. A tip is an additional amount left at the discretion of the customer, if they feel that they have received better than expected service.

    But then, I’m in the UK, where I think this would be a common understanding, and where 10% would be a normal tip.


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