A Breakdown of Infamous Applebees Pastor “Tip-Gate”

A Breakdown of Infamous Applebees Pastor “Tip-Gate” February 7, 2013

Yes, I just added “gate” to a word that really doesn’t merit it. But honestly, pastor Alois Bell’s “zero” tip at an Applebees recently has become the most talked about non-tip in recent history.


In case the stone you’ve been slumbering under doesn’t get wifi, here’s a brief summary of the story.

Pastor Alois Bell, who heads a ministry called World Deliverance Ministries Church, occupied a table at her local Applebees with at least seven other folks. We know this because the receipt indicates an automatic 18% gratuity added for parties of eight or more, which is the company’s policy. When the bill came, Bell struck through the tip with her pen, writing a “0” in its place. And then, to drive her point home further, she added the following note:

“I give God 10%. Why do you get 18%?”

And then she signed the receipt “Pastor Alois Bell.”

Chelsea Welch, a waitress at the restaurant, took a photo of the receipt and posted it to Reddit, a news aggregator site, where it went viral. Subsequently Pastor Bell got buried under a mountain of hate mail from people all over the country, so she went to the Applebees manager and complained that her reputation had been ruined. Per the company’s policy, the waitress was fired, and that’s when the story really hit the mainstream news.

So, what to make of all of this? I’ve come up with a highly empirical scoring system, which I’ve dubbed the “WIN-MEH-FAIL” system, to assess various ups and downs in this tip-gate drama. (Hint: there’s a scarcity of winning in this story. Sorry Charlie Sheen.)

First, let’s take a gander at Pastor Bell’s written note. Clearly she draws a false correlation between tipping and tithing. See, Christianity calls on you to give away a

Pastor Alois Bell

tenth of what you make, whereas tipping is not based on your gross income, but rather on the bill for the food you put in your face. – FAIL

Next, there’s the matter of crossing out the auto-tip. I get that she may feel the 18% is excessive, or maybe her service was sub-par, but in most restaurants – particularly big chains like Applebees – the menu clearly states the terms of automatic gratuities being added. So by coming into the restaurant and eating at a big table, you enter into a sort of social contract with the restaurant and its staff to abide by those rules. – FAIL

I’ve read several stories about this, and some accounts have noted that Chelsea Welch actually was not the waitress taking care of Pastor Bell’s table to begin with. Rather, her associate did, and then showed her the receipt later in disgust. I don’t blame the server for showing her friend, as the lack of tip and the extra note were especially offensive. I don’t even begrudge them for putting the receipt online. But come on, folks – how hard is it to blur out the name of the patron? Welch, in protesting her firing, has claimed she took every possible measure to protect the identity of the customer. But obviously, that’s not the case. I’d also point out that Reddit is a site particularly known for its trolls, and although it’s hard to truly know the heart of Welch at the time, it seems likely enough to me that she meant specifically to embarrass and maybe even harass Pastor Bell. – FAIL

Former Applebees waitress Chelsea Welch

Some folks have criticized Applebees for canning Welch in the wake of the scandal. I understand wanting to stand up for the “little guy,” but first, the company has a corporate policy that was violated. Second, the potential loss of business if they bent the rules when an employee violated the privacy of a patron could be huge, so I don’t blame them for what they did. It sucks, but I get it. In response, some people have started online petitions to get Welch her job back. Ah yes, the petition: the contemporary answer to the question, “What is the absolute least I can do while still patting myself on the back for being a quasi-activist?” – MEH

Last but not least, there’s the promotion of negative stereotypes of Christians being notoriously bad tippers. Being ridiculously cheap is one thing; doing it and then putting a fine point on the fact that you’re the pastor of a church is going out of your way to make the faith you claim look bad. And the thing is, I agree to some extent with the stereotype. I waited tables for years, and I’m sure many of the good tippers I had were Christians. But the fact is that the bossiest, most unpleasant people to wait on generally came in well-dressed with their families on Sunday afternoons. And overall, those folks tipped far worse (if at all) than anyone else I waited on. In fact, there were many times (yes, really) when they would leave a Bible tract for me instead of an actual tip.

Funny, but when I showed the tract to my apartment manager, she didn’t care to accept it as rent payment.

We Christians wonder why folks see us as judgmental, selfish or hypocritical, and then we see stories like this. Don’t agree with me? Ask someone you know who has waited tables; I’m betting they’ll have a similar story. So what do we do about it? For one, I try to make a point to tip generously, whether people know I’m a Christian or not. But if it happens to come over the course of a meal, I usually tip more. That’s because in that moment, like it or not, I represent all other Christians to that service person. What I do and say matter, whether it’s only to one person, or if it becomes a viral sensation online. But it really shouldn’t matter. If I’m acting out of love, in a way that reflects how I would want to be loved, then the right thing to do is more than clear.

"goodness, some pple shld just learn not to speak at all"

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  • Rev. Eric Atcheson

    There’s an intersection of faith and religion here…just like you, I wondered about the stereotype that Christians = bad tippers, but when I learned the pastor’s identity, I wondered about how people might respond to the stereotype of African-Americans = bad tippers. Given how wonderfully and richly influenced by African-American culture Christianity truly is, I worry about how this story affects us (both personally and collectively) on multiple demographic levels. I was disgusted by the pastor’s actions because they did not, in my mind, reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And people would say the same thing about me about some area of my life, I am sure. But I was disgusted before I learned anything about the pastor other than her vocation. I wonder if others felt the same.

    In the interest of full disclosure–I also worked briefly in a tipping industry (delivered pizzas before going to seminary), and I can say that I definitely engaged in some profiling based on stereotypes of tipping that I am not at all proud of, including after sometimes being stiffed by African-American customers and visibly Christian customers. There’s a lot of societal factors at work here in addition to personal faith, and I wonder to which people responded to.

    • StevenG

      She made a point of writing “Pastor” on her check, not “African American.” She wanted it known she was acting not only as a Christian, but one of Christian authority.

      • StevenG

        Her role in the church made her feel she had the moral superiority to challenge Applebee’s policy

  • I, too, waited tables – back in college. And consistently the worst tippers were self-identified church groups.

    I disagree about Applebees handling of the matter. In a public statement, they talked about firing the “team member” for her actions. The use of the euphemistic term “team member” does a disservice to the one-sided team a below-minimum-wage employee is on. And the term begs for better treatment than this employee was shown.

    Granted, the employee broke company policy and should’ve been disciplined. But instead of firing her, it would’ve been a PR coup for Applebees had they brokered an apology from all sides, including the pastor and the waitress. By firing her, they implicitly condoned the pastor’s actions and sent a message to the collective wait staff that it’s ok to malign the hard work they do, both from a customer’s perspective and a corporate one.

    Pastor Bell said it was a momentary lack of judgment that led her to stiff the employee. But it was a conscious decision to take her frustration to Applebees and not to stand up for the employee and show some grace.

    Nobody comes out of this thing smelling like roses. But out of all the parties involved, it’s the young waiter that I have the most sympathy for. Applebees and the pastor were both in a situation to help right a wrong, and neither did.

    • Sherry

      Very well said, and I agree.

  • Thank you. It’s nice to see Christians responding to this sort of thing. I’m really, really tired of other Christians using Christ as an excuse to act selfishly and in bad faith. Just yesterday I had some of the worst customer service ever from America’s Christian Credit Union. I think I’ll take my money to the pagans and see what they do with it.

  • The thing that is interesting about the receipt you show a picture of is that the total bill is only $34.93–for 8 people (that’s less than $4.50 each) and the tip is for $6.29. Were they just having snacks or drinks?

    • could have been just her part of the bill, or hers and someone else. That, or they seriously were cheapskates, big time.

    • Michael K

      Apparently the party had asked for separate cheques so the 34.98 would have been for 1 or 2 people.

    • rdkyl

      In the version I read, the party appeared to be trying to get around the tip in any way possible, including splitting the checks into separate bills. The tip still was there, because no matter how you split it it was 8 people, and she still didn’t want to tip her part.

      • That makes sense.

        • Michele

          No it doesn’t.

          They made the waitress do extra work splitting the check so they wouldn’t have to tip her. Tips are servers’ main or only source of income. THAT is NOT a “Christian” thing to do.

          • Mary

            I don’t think James meant that what they did was right. He was just trying to solve the mystery of why the bill was so low.
            You are right that it isn’t a Christian thing to do.

  • I’ve read other stories about this, including the fired waitress’s rant on reddit, and I never knew the offender was a pastor! At best, this shows “Pastor” Bell’s condescending, holier-than-thou attitude that, sadly, perpetuates the stereotype. She could have shown genuine, humble, Christian love by going back to the scene of the crime and handing the waitress a special “love offering” from her church (even if it’s only $20), apologizing, inviting her to service, and pleading with the manager to give the other girl a raise instead of firing her. We would even have forgiven this so-called “pastor” if she had made it into a public spectacle. Instead, this “pastor” chose to look down her nose at this unclean servant girl — and then upped the ante by calling the restaurant and demanding firings. She could have seized the opportunity to prove her faith, but her actions instead reflect the rampant ignorance and self-aggrandizement that convinced me to stop attending church many years ago. That hypocrite and her ilk are fake Christians who will never fulfill their destiny. I’m glad I don’t worship their god, for that god is certainly not the one described in the Bible. What a message of love and forgiveness the world has learned from it…or at least, could have.

    • Nini

      You make a great point but you would think in this day and age restaurant’s would just pay these girls a regular salary so they won’t have to depend on tips. Unfortunately some people just don’t believe they should have to leave a tip behind especially when they come in and spend a large amount of money on food. I totally agree the pastor lady could of handled it better than what she did!

  • Paul Anderson

    Agree on some points, disagree on others, but overall, good thoughts. Still think Applebee’s handled the entire situation very badly. Having the customer call on Wednesday morning to demand everyone be fired, and firing Ms. Welch by lunchtime Wednesday, indicates an overly quick, knee-jerk reaction. Should have taken more time to flush out all the details, talk to the legal and HR departments, and come up with disciplinary action for Ms. Welch that would fall into the “up to and including” (termination) clause in the social media section of their employee handbook. On your points regarding Christians and tipping – very sad but true. I’m often embarrassed by fellow church-goers and the horrendous tips (if any) they leave the servers. I always START with 20%, only go down to 10-15% for extremely poor service, and often go above 20% for very good service. With all the rude, demanding and thoughtless customers that they have to deal with, and most times the very overbearing, unsupportive, demanding management that they deal with, not to mention the less than minimum wage pay that they earn, servers deserve every bit of the tips I give them. As Christians, we should be known as the most generous, kind, giving, respectful, and loving customers that servers ever come in contact with. Instead, in most cases, we have the exact opposite reputation – one that I for one don’t think Christ is pleased with.

  • StevenG

    Pastor Bell clearly thought this was a “teaching moment,” and she needed it to be clear that she had some authority therefor she chose to identify herself as a religious leader on the check. Undoubtedly she expected this lesson to be shared with others at Applebee’s and not just the individual waitress.

    • Mary

      It sounds like the good rev missed that the lesson was for herself, not the waitress.

  • First – Nice article. Good balance and level thinking.
    Second – Many of the writers on this site (including the writer of this article) offer fantastic insight and an opportunity bring important issues into the public sphere for discussion. For that I applaud all of you. AS a writer myself, I just wish you guys did a bit of proofreading before publishing. Leaving letters out of words? Come on, that’s lazy. Polish you work so that its form reflects the fantastic quality of thinking that goes into it. It’s easier for some to dismiss quality insight/argument when they can point to hasty grammatical errors and call your intelligence into question (which is laughable, but unfortunately, it’s a reality).

    Just my .02. Carry on.

    • typo police

      You left out a letter in one of your sentences. Polish your work better next time.

    • ricardo

      You wrote, “…an opportunity bring important issues…” when I believe you meant “…an opportunity to bring important issues…” Come on, that’s lazy. Furthermore, for a writer, your general writing style is abysmal.

  • SouthernB

    Perhaps you would like to read the actual reddit posting before you accuse someone of doing something they didn’t? She tried to protect the identity of Alois Bell. She asked people to stop trying to find out who the person was. She disguised Alois Bell as a man, not a woman. The original picture on reddit did show the signature but you couldn’t make out who it was. After people there were trying to find out who the person was, Chelsea worked with reddit admins to crop the photo so that the signature was no longer visible. All she had wanted to show anyway was the adding of “pastor” that Alois Bell placed above her name. To me… that screams “I want to be identified!”. Alois Bell is a liar. She did not get harassed or anything of the sort until AFTER she went to the press because no one on reddit knew who she was. Alois Bell made a statement to the press that that she learned of the receipt being posted from Yahoo news, NOT reddit. The Yahoo news article did not show the signature. That was where I first found out about it. I didn’t know where it took place, who the waitress was or who the pastor was until Applebee’s and the pastor went to the news. For someone to claim she is so embarrassed over this event she sure is laughing a lot in interviews. Have you seen any of those? To me it looks like she’s enjoying the attention. If Alois Bell hadn’t left that nasty note and skipped out on the tip, no one would have ever known about this. If Alois Bell hadn’t called the restaurant demanding everyone there that night (and one manager that wasn’t even there) be fired, no one would have ever known about this. If Alois Bell and Applebee’s hadn’t gone to the press, then no one would have ever known about this. Report accurate information.

    • The signature was not obscured. That’s what I reported.

      • SouthernB

        I didn’t disagree with that. I disagree with you stating ” I’d also point out that Reddit is a site particularly known for its
        trolls, and although it’s hard to truly know the heart of Welch at the
        time, it seems likely enough to me that she meant specifically to
        embarrass and maybe even harass Pastor Bell.”

        I have read the conversation that took place when the receipt was posted on Reddit and it was more than obvious that the above statement is not true. She made a mistake and posted the receipt with the name exposed and then tried to right the wrong by having the original image edited before this even went viral. She made people think it was a man, not a woman even after Alois Bell got her fired. She asked for people to stop trying to find out who it was and for them to stop banging down internet doors. She really meant no harm. She’s a kid that made a mistake.

        I think two things can be learned from this…

        One, don’t put anything in writing that you don’t want others to know you wrote. I thought all of us learned that in elementary school when we got caught passing notes in class.

        Two, be careful what you put on the internet because once it’s there you can’t ever take it back.

  • Mardee Brosh

    What would Jesus do? Yeah, not that, Pastor Bell. She and Applebees should both be ashamed of their handling of this situation. As a proud Progressive Christian (and pastor’s daughter), I think we should hold ourselves to a higher standard and I am saddened when I see people professing to be Christians acting this way. We can and should be kinder, more compassionate, and more loving. Jesus was pretty specific about that, at least in my readings of the big book.

    • Nayners

      Whether a person leaves a tip or not has nothing to do with what Jesus would do. Either a person is a cheapskate or they’re not. People who aren’t affiliated with ANY religion are kind and compassionate. It disgusts me that this woman wrote the note, obviously didn’t think anything was wrong with what she wrote, then turned it against the server. Yet she says she’s a “pastor”. I’d tell her to go sell that to someone else because I’m not falling for it.

  • No one has really addressed the question of why “Christians” are bad tippers. I am Christian and I always try to leave a good tip. Why do some do the opposite?

    • Mary

      Some Christians have a superiority complex.

    • heenan73

      There’s a difference between “A Christian” and “A person who claims to be a Christian”

  • JohnWeidman

    I believe you have a typo in the second sentence. You say “pastor Alois Welch’s ‘zero’ tip” — don’t you mean Bell (the last name of the pastor) there — not Welch (the last name of the waitress)?

  • Nini

    Reading this made me wonder why waitresses still work for tips anyway. You would think in 2013 the food service industry would pay these ladies a regular salary because you can’t live off tips alone and they make enough money to just pay the waitress so when thoughtless people come in and don’t tip it doesn’t affect their earnings!!!

    • Donalbain

      Yes, why on earth would a company attempt to pay its staff less? Hmmmmm…

      Now THAT’S sarcasm!

  • ludicrous_speed

    If you leave a rude note signed with your name in a public location, you are not allowed to complain that your privacy has been violated after you find out that the public has viewed it and now knows what an asshat you are. Chelsea Welch didn’t ruin Alois Bell’s reputation, the pastor did that all on her own.

  • smrnda

    There were also those tracts dressed up to look like 50 dollar bills. Nothing nastier than putting what looks like a 50 dollar bill in front of someone living in poverty, only to have it turn out to be a fake.

  • Paula Thompson

    Of all the ills in society that need to be addressed, this is the best that you do?
    Man get a grip, a life, and a clue!

  • plutosdad

    I would normally agree that the waitress should have hidden the name, but the patron went out of her way to clarify she was a “Pastor”, and by doing so she actually did it as a representative of her church, not just as herself. So making sure to put the name down was entirely appropriate.

    Really if she is getting hate mail, she can only blame herself.

  • Dood

    Like the writer stated, she doesn’t know the difference between tithing and a tip? I wonder what she preaches to her congregation. I cringe when thinking about it.

  • Sandi

    Since when did religion have anything to do with social graces? An atheist tips too!

  • I hope you all are aware that:

    1. Chelsea Welch was shown the receipt by another server. She did not serve the table, never saw the customers there, did not know Alois Bell’s correct gender (she thought the customer was a man), and did not get the full story before fabricating her accounting of what happened.

    2. According to Applebees, Alois Bell was charged the full 18% tip, crossing it out does nothing.

    3. According to Alois Bell, she left the tip in cash on the table, meaning her total tip was 36% not 0%. It is not an uncommon practice to leave the tip in cash and most servers say they prefer cash tips.

    Good work destroying her life though.

    • Scott


      • Cowboy Coder


  • frankyburns

    God owns cattle on a thousand hills. If there is an issue, better to favor the waitress.