What got me started thinking about this topic were a couple of things: the fact my daughter Maddy is a server at a local restaurant right now; and I saw an article online about the St. Louis pastor who, in protest of the automatic 18% gratuity charged by Applebees for large parties - crossed off the tip and wrote, “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” The arrogance behind that comment and the fact instead of apologizing, the pastor got the waitress who posted the comment online fired from her job, annoyed me. It would be easy to write it off as yet another ploy by the media to criticize Christians, but Christians do tend to hang themselves sometimes, and I decided to do some investigating of my own.
That investigating included asking all the young people I know who work as waiters and waitresses what they thought about working on Sunday. It was rather depressing to hear every single one of them tell me they did not like working the Sunday morning church crowd. There were actually two main reasons: 1) The best-dressed groups and church fashionistas tend to be rude and arrogant to servers and 2) they are cheap when it comes to tipping. Now, maybe this is limited to the circle of young people I know - or maybe it is just a regional phenomenon. Regardless, it is shameful to learn and I am thinking about hosting an online poll about it just out of curiosity to find out how widespread it might be.
In addition to asking my young wait-staff friends, I did some observing on the sly. Last Sunday for lunch I went to a Coney Island. It was the kind where you pay at the register before you leave. There was a well-dressed family in front of me - dad and son in button-down shirts and mom and daughter in dresses. I know I’m stereotyping, but I would bet they had just come from church. I was trying to resist, but just couldn’t and I took a peek at the bill while the man was signing it. It didn’t take my mad-math skills to note he left a tip which barely missed being five- percent of the families’ total bill. Five percent is pretty cheap. I was quite disappointed in him.
Maybe that is part of the problem. Debt. God does take care of me above and beyond my needs, but not necessarily above and beyond my wants. I have known many Christian families who live house-poor or debt-poor or car-poor or whatever the latest and greatest toys are-poor. I have a feeling if we blindly stacked up Christian-family indebtedness next to secular-family indebtedness we would not see a difference between the two. Christians have been sucked into the feverish materialism of this society just as much as anyone else.
The thing is, I think sometimes Christians have misguided ideas about what God expects from them with the money He entrusts to them and how He will respond to their giving. The Bible does admonish people to give their money - and God promises blessings on those who have faith to do so. But I have known people who give to God’s work, which is what they should do - and I think they are trying to be faithful - yet they don’t live within a budget. They simply expect God to make their money cover all their needs AND wants because they donate to Him. They consider that expectation to be faith. Pretty sure it is more wishful thinking than faith because my experience has been God always covers my needs, and sometimes He blesses me by providing my wants as well. But wants are not a given and frankly, if I am honest with myself, they are not always the best for me anyway.
So what does all that have to do with eating out? Well, if you are a Christian and you are living within a budget - then, please, set your budget up so it allows you to be generous to the people who serve you when you eat out. If you are a Christian who doesn’t follow a budget and so when you eat out you are not really sure if you can afford it and therefore you skimp on the tip - then don’t eat at those kinds of restaurants in the first place. McDonald's and Taco Bell are tip-free and much cheaper than sit-down establishments.
I try to be very conscientious about living my faith. I pray before I eat no matter where I am at. I do it for no other reason than I am truly grateful God blesses me with food. I know people see me praying and make judgments, good or bad. It seems to follow, as I am very aware my tips help my server pay his/her bills and take care of his/her needs, I should be generous and loving when I pay for my meal. I always want to reflect God to the people I encounter - and not in just a public way by showing my faith when I pray - but also privately between myself and the server when I generously tip. It feels like the right thing to do.