A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

Tipping Point

November 15th, 2010

Most Sunday evenings you’ll find me somewhere having coffee with friends, doing my best to finish out the weekend while staving off the coming work week.

On this night my friend Allen Weathers, worship pastor at Turning Point Church, and I were at IHOP enjoying the java and conversation. Our server, we’ll call her “Lori”, was friendly and attentive. More friendly and attentive than most people would be at 9 PM on a Sunday night after working all day.

In the booth behind us sat three people. They spoke loudly enough that it was pretty difficult not to overhear. Their conversation was thoroughly “Christian”. The snippets I heard included everything from church issues to whether or not it’s ever appropriate for Christians to sue someone, to roles in relationships. I even heard a mention of “love languages”, a distinct reference to a popular Christian book by Gary Smalley.

After about an hour they left the restaurant. Lori went over to clean off their table. She picked up the empty plates and walked behind the privacy screen separating the seating area from the kitchen. From our vantage point, Allen and I could see behind the screen as a co-worker asked Lori how she was doing. In a sad and somewhat exasperated tone, she quietly stretched out a one dollar bill. “Those people all ordered food. They sat in my booth for three and a half hours. And they left me a dollar tip.”

I looked at Allen. “Did you hear that?” He did. We sat there, both boiling about the message that was just conveyed. Nothing like talking God stuff in front of your server for three and a half hours and leaving a dollar thank-you for her to remember you by.

And Christians wonder why the world has a negative opinion of us?

Over the years I’ve heard all the different viewpoints about tipping. Some people tip little or nothing because they think they’ve already paid a lot for their food. Some think tipping should be based on the quality of service. (Interestingly, those who hold that view usually have impossibly high standards for service.) Others just build a standard tip into the cost of their meal regardless of service. When I listen to all the different opinions, most of them end up trying to justify tipping less instead of more. An opportunity to be frugal instead of an opportunity to be generous.

Precious few people understand the nature of the service industry and how those who work in it earn their money. More often than not it’s a thankless job. Think about it. As customers, we sit down at the cafe with the expectation that the person waiting on us will be wonderful no matter what kind of day they are having. If the party before us was impossibly rude and stiffed them, we don’t care. We want prompt service regardless of how busy they happen to be. We expect our water glasses to be full and our coffee kept hot.

And we want all this service delivered by a smiling, happy person. If they happen to be having a hard day, we don’t want to know about it and we definitely don’t want to see it in their demeanor because we’re the paying customers and we’re not paying for anything less than delightful. And if our server fails us at any or all points, we will communicate our displeasure by tipping on a sliding scale that starts at cheap and descends to zero.

If you think that’s not true, if you think that’s too harsh, if you think our expectations are not one-sided then answer me this:

When’s the last time you said to your family, “We’re going out to eat. I want us all to remember that the person who will be waiting on us has a life just like we do. Working at this restaurant is how they earn their living. They might be having a great day or a bad day and we need to be understanding about that. Let’s be sure we do our best as their customers to make their day better and not worse. Be polite, be respectful, be friendly. And don’t leave a big mess for them to clean up.”

Um, yeah. That’s what I thought.

What if the person waiting on our table was allowed to extend service based the same expectations we have for them? What if our being rude to them meant we had to wait an hour before our ham and cheese sandwich was delivered? What if they were allowed to grant service only to the level of gratuity we planned to give them? I dare say some of us would still be waiting for the surf and turf we ordered in 1985.

It’s a fact. We have expectations of those in the service industry and more often than not, we don’t hold ourselves to the same standards.

Here’s my crazy idea. Whatever idea you have about tipping, if it’s anything less than “always be generous”, get rid of it. Of all the places to watch your pennies, tipping isn’t the place. Why? Because it’s a real person on the receiving end of that tip. Want to save money? Stop eating so many candy bars. Quit smoking. Buy wholesale or buy in bulk. Switch to a store brand. Use coupons. But don’t go cheap on the tip.

We can never go wrong being generous. When we’re generous we make someone’s life a little better. When we’re generous we help to make up for the cheapskate that came before us. When we’re generous we cause people to wonder about the Source of that generosity. Most important, when we’re generous, we’re following Jesus’ example. He generously gave everything He had because He loves us. Thank God He didn’t base His decision to die for us based on the quality of our service to Him.

Next time you’re dining out, be to your server the kind of person you want your server to be to you. Kind. Engaging. Friendly. Then throw caution and percentages to the wind and be generous with the tip.

And to all of us who claim to be Christian, from one believer to another…please, if you’re in a restaurant and plan to be cheap with the tip, then do the family of God a big favor. Talk about the weather or your work. But don’t drag God or His church into the conversation.

Your server can do without the mixed message.

“For God showed His great love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

“Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
– John Wesley (1703-1791)

Todd A. Thompson – ASliceOfLifeToGo.com