Christians are terrible tippers. It is a reputation that is repugnant to me, but unfortunately lived down to by too many Christians.
Have you known Christians who pray before the meal, don’t tip, but leave a gospel tract? How about the angry Christian who blames the server for the kitchen’s mistake, and still gives little or no tip after the server fixes the mistake? Or the Christian who shares the gospel to the server but gives a measly 10% tip or less at the end of the meal?
I have known and witnessed these astonishing acts of gracelessness. Out of shame on the behalf of believers in Christ behaving badly, I have left an extra large tip to cover my the lack of my brothers and sisters in Christ and apologized to too many servers for the actions of others.
I do not want to come across as self-righteous. Rather, I am speaking to challenge and convict bad-tipping Christians to repent and live out their faith with a gospel-driven mentality in all areas of life, including tipping at restaurants.
Jared Totten, who has worked for years in the service industry, gives some insight on how the gospel can change the way we tip:
Put your money where your mouth is…
In my line of work, I’ve experienced good tippers and bad ones. But the most memorable ones were the Christians who tipped like legalists. I’ve worked in the service industry longer than I have in the church (at least according to my W-2s) and am currently bi-vocational, working part-time as a hotel shuttle driver. I am paid below minimum wage much like restaurant waitstaff, so tipping is an expected part of my income by my employers.
The most personally painful moments have come when the occasional Christian convention or retreat takes over the hotel and the entire group tips poorly. I’ve found myself apologizing to my fellow tipped employees—even trying to use the opportunity as a springboard into presenting the gospel. Believe me, that’s a tough sell! And I’m sure they’re thinking the same thing as you right about now:
“What does a tip have to do with the gospel?”
I’m glad you asked. I’ve had many hours behind the wheel to ponder this very thing. Here are three personal guidelines I’ve formed as the gospel relates to Christians and how we tip.
1. Your tip should reflect Christian generosity.
God’s generosity towards us should affect the bank account. Every Christian knows that. But there is perhaps no better test on how great a hold the idol of Mammon still has on us than how we tip.
“I disagree”, you’re thinking. “What about tithing and charitable giving?”
Yes, but we do both of those with our “Christian hat” on. When we give in such ways we are acting out of our Christian sensibilities.
When you tip, however, I bet you’re all business. Right down to the penny (or rounded down to the dollar if you’re lazy or bad at math). But when testing your heart against the idol of money, how you handle the last 90% matters as much as how you handle the first 10%.
2. Your tip should demonstrate grace—not law.
If there’s a problem with my meal, the last thing I do is take it out of the tip. I want to give the server every chance to make up what could be honest mistakes or problems out of their control. To begin subtracting from the tip before giving the server an opportunity to make it right reflects the heart of a hard-nosed legalist, not a heart stricken by grace.
But—and this is a huge “but”—nothing models gospel grace like a generous tip even after a server has blown it and failed to “make it right.” I know this is a hard pill to swallow for many of us (myself included), but why should the tip be the last thing to be impacted by the grace that has been poured out on us?
I’ve talked to Christians who will simply gush about the grace of Christ towards us… and then not think twice about leaving a terrible tip for terrible service. Why reinforce the system of law by which the whole world runs when we have the resources of grace to draw from?
3. Your tip should embody the gospel.
I know, I know. “Embody the gospel? In a tip?!”
But if the gospel really is the all-encompassing reality that it is, then it should affect every area of our lives and every area of our lives can reflect it. Your tip should be a tangible outgrowth of the grace and generosity you yourself have received as not just an undeserving but ill-deserving sinner. We have all performed below what was expected of us and even in direct rebellion against the one we were made to serve.
Yet the gospel is this: God gave out of his riches both generously beyond what we could have hoped for and graciously beyond what we ever could have earned. And if God has given out his endless and bottomless generosity on our behalf, we have that same treasury to draw from. The gospel allows us to release our vice-grip on earthly riches and instead use it to apply the gospel in our own lives in the most practical ways.
P.S. Don’t leave a gospel tract unless you’ve done points 1-3.
Okay, so maybe tracts aren’t your thing (if they’re still a thing at all). In my context, it’s church pens and invite cards. But if you have anything you like to leave in the name of outreach, don’t leave it unless you are tipping out of generosity, grace, and the gospel.
To leave a gospel tract with a poor tip is unattractive at best. To leave a tract instead of a tip is often downright detrimental (especially those ones that look like paper money at first glance). But a tract with a generous tip—especially after poor service—well, that might actually preach.