waiting tables, washing feet: a gratuities tutorial

image courtesy of ethisphere.com

[I recently came across this infographicfrom Conde Nast Traveler.  It highlights tipping customs all over the world, and even explains in detail what is expected here in the United States.  Then I remembered a blog post I’d written about how Christians are often poor tippers — and, therefore, poor witnesses for Christ.  Here is that essay.]


At a restaurant during Sunday lunch:

  • “Do you have any idea how expensive it is to feed a family of five AND leave a 20% tip?!”
  • “If I wanted to clean up after my kids, we’d have eaten at home.”
  • “We paid to eat here, and we’ll sit at this table until we’ve fully enjoyed our time of Christian fellowship.”
  • “Although I’m a Christian, I’m a stingy, selfish, inconsiderate person and don’t mind showing it in public — especially to someone as lowly as a waitress at Chili’s.  Now where were we?  Oh, yeah, I was critiquing today’s sermon…”

One of my favorite bloggers is Randy Morgan, over at Your Best Life Later.  I just read his latest post titled The Sunday Lunch Crowd,” and wanted to send you his way.  It’s worth a read, especially if you ever go out to dinner on Sunday afternoons.  I’m going to add to his thoughts just a few of my own below.

I Was a Waiter Once…

Waiting tables paid for the last year of my undergraduate degree.  I never liked working the Sunday lunch crowd, despite the fact that they were all “like me” and Christian.  Randy addressed, in his essay, both the horrible tips and the large groups who sit forever, preventing their servers from making any cash above the miserly gratuities, which they’ve so begrudgingly given.

But one thing Randy didn’t mention was the way these “good Christian” families generally make no attempt to clean up after their kids. I’ve even heard some Christian mothers say, “If I wanted to clean up after my kids, we’d have eaten at home.”  I’m not saying these parents need to bus tables or wash dishes.  But they could at least pick up a few of the messy fragments of crayons that were smashed with salt shakers after being dipped in honey mustard sauce.  They could transfer some of the half-eaten french fries and chicken fingers from their tables to their plates.  Or they could utilize a few of the extra napkins they asked for in an attempt to at least begin the process of cleaning their second bottle of ketchup off the wall — or was that the first bottle… and the reason for the second?

Waiting tables was the catalyst for me to reevaluate my Christian witness through tipping.  If you are a Christian, you represent Christ everywhere you go and in everything you do — but ESPECIALLY on Sunday afternoon when you’re dressed in your Sunday best, church bulletin in hand (to get 10% off your total meal purchase).*  And just in case anyone is still wondering, leaving a gospel tract is not an acceptable substitute for tipping.

And the Best Tippers Are…

Some of the best tippers I had were big groups of drinkers and college girls with their dad’s credit cards. Next were my regulars, who were also those whom I enjoyed serving the most — real conversation and real appreciation… and sometimes leftover portions of dessert (illegal for me to eat?).

But the best tippers (far and away) are always other waiters.  I would double my tips on a Friday or Saturday night with one 8-top if the waitstaff from the restaurant next door came in for drinks after work.  There’s a lot to be said for empathy.  When you understand someone else’s situation, you’re much more likely to respond appropriately and in love.

Mandatory Service for All Christians?

Maybe the church should ask its members to fulfill a mandatory service requirement, waiting tables in the restaurant industry.  Funny, isn’t it (or sad), that it’s almost impossible to imagine many of our church members humbly fulfilling that position of service?

And you know what I think… if we’re not willing to wait tables, we’re for sure not willing to wash feet.


  • Randy Morgan is the man.
  • The Sunday lunch crowd DOES NOT represent Christ well.
  • As a matter of fact, large groups of alcoholics are more generous, kind, and thoughtful than are Sunday lunch Christians.
  • Gospel tracts are not suitable for tipping.  [Nor, in my opinion, are they suitable for evangelism.]
  • Servers should not eat their customers’ leftovers.
  • If I’m ever in charge of a church, there will be a mandatory requirement that all members wait tables for a period of at least one month.
  • If you can’t leave a generous tip, don’t go out to eat.  [This one wasn’t covered in the post, but should’ve been.]
  • Please think about how you act in public, and how it reflects on my God.
* You know the 10% you save with that church bulletin would be a great start for a tip.  And it’s basically free.



Filed under evangelism, woe to us

17 responses to “waiting tables, washing feet: a gratuities tutorial

  1. well I’ll probably look bad here. I find it annoying that restaurant owners passed off paying their employees to their customers. That shouldn’t be my responsibility. I lived in a state where the wage for waiter was 2.50 an hour (in Oregon they have to get minimum wage – $8). I know the argument is that waiters would have no incentive if they didn’t get tipped. But then again, I don’t need much service in a restaurant. I don’t need them to constantly come check on me. Leave me a pitcher of water – I can pour my own. Heck I don’t mind getting up to pick up my food. I’m paying for the food, I don’t really care about service. But that’s my preference, some may like that aspect.

    • dude, yeah, you look horrible. you’re a greedy monster.

      actually, i kind of agree with you. i don’t like the system as it is, but because it is, i feel like the christian response is something like what i’ve mentioned (which money was really only part of, honestly).

      what i’d be really interested in knowing is what happens in oregon when they get $8 / hour. do people still tip 20%? what’s expected there? is service way better there than other places because of the money incentives?

      because i feel like most places if all servers got was minimum wage (and no tips), fewer people would take the job — and then they’d do it really poorly. and i already feel like it’s hard to find good servers — except in college towns probably. [but i suppose i care a little more about the service than you do.]

  2. rando

    I hate to respond, being that I, myself, am a server and pay my bills and school through the food service industry. I may be considered bias because of that fact but, I am a Christian first. I’ve worked many jobs in the service industry (pizza delivery, coffee shops, restaurant server) and it was the same story for every job. Sunday lunch crowds, Wednesday night youth group crowds, and Bible study groups were dreaded by everyone that works in food service. For the most part, they are demanding, messy, thrifty (not cheap), and low tippers. But maybe the worst part for me was the fact that I would not be treated with respect, let alone like a fellow brother in Christ. Maybe it’s because I’m working on a Sunday or a Wednesday night and not in Church so I can’t possibly be a Christian. I don’t know, I could go on and on with this topic, but one point I want to make is that you are an ambassador to Christ and to whatever Church you may go to… but your server or waiter may be an ambassador to Christ also, trying to make an impact on their coworkers. Don’t ruin their progress by being bad customers.

    • rando, you’re not biased. you’re informed. you know way more about the situation than do most of the christians eating out on sunday afternoons. and i’m with you on this stuff.

      i really like your thought that by acting rudely, many christian patrons are actually hurting your own witness among your fellow servers. great point.

      thanks for coming by, and for commenting.

  3. Brittney

    I agree whole-heartily with “rando.” Working at a coffee shop, we have tons of Bible studies going on at different times. Although for some reason, 4 groups of Bible studiers (?) would come in on Tuesday morning–my least favorite shift due to the attitudes, lack of respect and rudeness from the groups. I had to remind myself to be cheerful, although honestly, I had to bite my tongue from saying some ironic comment about Christianity. I tend to take it as ignorance.

    • just curious, how old are these bible “studiers” that come in on tuesday mornings?

      • Brittney

        One group of 50ish. One group of early 30ish men. And then the others vary. I have noticed, people studying their Bible by themselves are so much nicer then groups. Strange. Maybe, in groups, we oft forget about people outside our group.

        • that’s not a bad hyphothesis, sis. though i’d offer another one:

          if an individual’s studying his (/her) bible, chances are his motivation is purely “christian” (for lack of a better term). he simply wants to know God and be more obedient to him (or something like that). if a group is studying the bible together, there are so many other possible factors for those individuals to be a part. most of them are of a social nature (ie. wanting to belong to a group, a desire to be seen as good and moral, etc). i’d argue much church attendance — particularly in the southeast united states — is due to this.

          what do you think?

          • Brittney

            I think that is a viable reason. I also think individuals are so vulnerable and aware of their surroundings, where groups are group-centered, or inward-thinking. Which flows from what you said to a degree.

  4. Katie KM

    Wow. This was informative. We don’t tip at all in Australia. It’s been good to read all sides of the debate but I agree with Charlie here. In Australia, waiters/waitresses are paid a decent amount – I’m guessing this would range somewhere between $16-25 an hour – and incremental increases would occur as you worked your way up. I don’t understand why restaurants can’t just pay their staff decent wages? What’s so difficult about that? If it can happen in OZ, why not America?

    I’ve only been to America once (LA for 3 days) but I can also empathize with the lady who said I can’t afford to take my family out AND pay a 20% tip – that’s probably just cause it’s unheard of where I come from – but there is some truth to it. I’m not sure we could actually afford to eat out if we had to pay 20% on top of the cost of the meal. Different countries, different systems but I think the States needs to address this – it seems terribly unfair for both the staff and the customer.

    • i do wonder what would happen if restaurants just paid the waitstaff decent salaries. i assume the costs of food would simply rise in order to cover the cost of labor. i doubt we’d end up getting out of a restaurant any cheaper than having paid the current price plus a tip. and the incentive for servers to perform their jobs well would be lost. i also figure without the opportunity to make a whole bunch of cash during some of their shifts, the number of people wanting to wait tables would drop off, and every restaurant would be short-staffed — leaving us with even worse service.

      however, i’m really interested to know how the service is in places where waiters are paid well and not tipped. i’m also interested to know if the price of food in those restaurants dropped by 20% by paying staff lower wages, would clients be happy to pay a tip of that same amount — and in some way gain control of how good the service is.

  5. Wow! That’s something to think about.

  6. Great post, and sadly so true. I used to work for tips, so I can relate. I always try and leave a decent tip. This makes me think of people who put the “fish” on the back of their cars. I never have because I cut too many people off. Why is it so hard to properly represent Christ in EVERYTHING we do?

  7. I think I am having Deja Vu… didn’t you do this very same post some time back with the same shout out to Randy? If not.. this is scary Deja Vu.

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