I have a few conflict-of-interest disclosures to get off my chest before wading into this mess:
- My daughter Larissa spent many years and countless long, hard hours of her young life waiting tables while attending university.
- I am a generous tipper for good service. See #1 for the reason why.
- When I worked in P.R. for an international Christian aid organization years ago, I used to cringe in embarrassment on the very rare occasions when our office went out for lunch together. Typically, I’d be one of the very few in our party who left a tip. Many of my über-devout colleagues never tipped our servers. Ever. One even openly blamed his modest wages as his excuse for stiffing the waitstaff, to which I would immediately respond with something charitable like: “Then you should be eating under the Golden Arches, you frickety-frackin’ cheapskate!”
Claire Gordon, writing in Daily Finance, has recently reported on a distressing dining-out trend in some Christian circles that brings me back to those embarrassing moments.
She writes about a young male waiter who went to retrieve a $10 bill peeking out from under a diner’s plate recently, when he reportedly noticed something curious about this generous tip. The tip wasn’t monetary, but took the form of advice printed on a fake $10 bill:
“SOME THINGS ARE BETTER THAN MONEY like your eternal salvation, that was bought and paid for by Jesus going to the cross.”
The waiter, who makes $2.65 base pay an hour, didn’t take well to getting so self-righteously stiffed. (The verb “to stiff”, by the way, means: “To cheat someone of something owed; to fail to give or supply something expected or promised.” Urban Dictionary)
While this fake $10 tip nonsense certainly isn’t the rule among Christians, writes Gordon, it may not be an exception. These phony bills appeared at least as far back as the summer of 2006 during the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, when they began to show up around town under the empty plates of retreating restaurant diners attending the convention that year.
The rumour that Christians are poor tippers has apparently been whispered in restaurant circles for a long time. Even Justin Wise, the director of a Lutheran ministry in Des Moines, Iowa, wrote in The Lutheran magazine in January 2009 that many waiters try not to work Sunday brunch so as to avoid notoriously stingy churchgoers.
“Christians don’t tip very well. As a matter of fact, we’re pretty cheap. What makes this worse is that we paint ‘cheap’ with a religious-sounding veneer and call it ‘being a good steward.’ Nothing like hiding behind the Bible to camouflage your stinginess.”
Claire Gordon explains that this is a particularly uncomfortable phenomenon to face for a religious community that values generosity, justice and service. Daniel Readle, a pastor at a Baptist church in Cleveland, on his blog Christ and Culture, wrote:
“By leaving tracts and not tips, that person is saying to their waiter or waitress, ‘You are not a person, but rather just a notch on my belt of evangelistic pride’.”
I understand that there are a considerable number of restaurant patrons who oppose the idea of compulsory tipping, particularly feeling pressured to tip a proscribed percentage (15-20%) whether your service has been stellar or merely mediocre. We can generalize that there are indeed in our society the generous tippers, the under-tippers, and then there are the nothing-at-all-tippers.
Let me just say that if you are planning to leave no tip at all for cause (let’s say, for example, you’ve witnessed your server spitting in the soup), then the only decent thing to do is to go directly to the restaurant owner with your complaint before you leave the building. You do not stiff your server because you don’t like your food – that’s the pervue of the kitchen chef alone, not the poor waitstaff. If you don’t like your food, you politely ask your server to return it to the kitchen, or to adjust your bill, or speak directly to the restaurant owner. You don’t punish your server.
Here in Canada, a BMO Bank of Montreal Mosaik MasterCard study of over 1,500 English- and French-speaking Canadian adults has found that 78% of us regularly leave a 15% average gratuity after dining out.
Other countries can vary: in fine hotel dining rooms of Brazil, Costa Rica or China, for example, no tip is required because a 10% gratuity is routinely included in the bill. And in most Russian restaurants, you’re warned to tip 10% in cash directly to the waiter (if you just leave it on the table, management might pocket it).
But whether you oppose the practice of tipping on principle or not, you have to wonder at the motivation of the dim bulbs who came up with the very un-Christian-like idea of printing phony $10 bill “tips” to distribute to unsuspecting restaurant servers.
Did they think at the time that this idea was oh-so-clever? Noble? Amusing? Do they congratulate each other with silent smirks whenever they slide a fake $10 bill under their empty plates and scurry quickly out of the restaurant like the hypocritical slime-cowards they are?
A study on this trend was conducted recently by Dr. Michael Lynn of Cornell University. He actually found that Christians are not in fact bad tippers; they gave an average of 17.3% for good service, well within the 15% to 20% norm.
Only 13% of Christians left no tip even for good service. That’s a small minority of Christians, but still almost double the percentage of unaffiliated non-religious diners who left nothing, and more than six times the percentage of Jewish diners who chose to stiff their waitstaff.
So while it is statistically false to say that Christians are bad tippers, it is true that Christians are far more likely to stiff their servers than people of other religious (or non-religious) persuasions. This is unfortunate, because this reality taints the reputation of all Christian restaurant-goers.
Because of these penny-pinchers, Dr. Lynn adds that waiters are indeed more likely to give bad service to anyone who appears outwardly Christian, or to call in sick for their Sunday shifts.
Some researchers, however, describe the “Sunday effect”, in which Christians tend to act more charitably on Sundays. For example, an interesting study published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making actually suggests that religious people are more likely than non-religious people to respond to an appeal “for charity” only on days when they visit their place of worship; on other days of the week, religiosity has no effect on their desire to be generous. (“When are religious people nicer? Religious salience and the “Sunday Effect” on pro-social behavior”. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 5, No. 2, April 2010, pp. 138–143)
Maybe this Christian generosity on Sundays hasn’t hit those who think sliding a fake $10 bill under their empty restaurant plate is a decent way to treat others.