Tuesday, November 14, 2006

At the Risk of Being Called A Scrooge

Our good brothers Phil Ryken and Justin Taylor have started a little blogosphere lament about Christians and tipping. You can read Phil's comments here and the ensuing reflections and discussion here. Apparently, a Christian brother has offered his anecdotal analysis of stinginess and rudeness among Christians in the restaurant scene. Most of the blog world seems to agree and to have experienced first hand this situation. And our brother Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason has offered some thoughts about how be a better ambassador for Christ while in restaurants.

While I respect Phil, Justin, and Greg’s analysis (now… you know that whenever a sentence is started this way there’s a colossal “but” coming), but at the risk of being the “Scrooge of Evangelicalism,” I have to take a different view of the phenomena.

I’m part of a small band of brethren (call us the “Tipperatti”) who have been laboring quietly, but steadily, for a more just society… especially when it comes to tipping. Our society—no longer secret (the dark robes and hoods don’t play well in the Caribbean sun)—is dedicated to a four-plank platform where tipping is concerned.

#1 – Employers should pay their employees a fair, livable wage. If a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat. But in the case of wait staff who work and work hard, they still may not eat. That’s injustice number one. Injustice number two is a system of employment that shifts the responsibility for fair pay away from the employer to the customer. I realize that’s done in pricing for almost any good. But restaurants are the only places that have avoided already-inadequate minimum wage laws in most states and passed the responsibility directly to customers in the form of “tipping.”

As a Christian, it seems to me that the biblical principle at stake is not generosity (though we should all examine our hearts on this one) but employers paying fair pay. “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight” (Lev. 19:13). Our Lord says, “the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7; see also 1 Tim. 5:18). I know that many of our friends who encourage generous tipping are worried about our witness to the wait staff. But we also have a witness to the employer, do we not? Consider James’ rebuke of employers who horde:
Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter (James 5:3-5).

Don’t we have a witness to uphold with the employer as well? And might our witness for Christ be seen more effectively and lastingly if we were working to improve wages in this case? As a Christian, I think the conversation is lopsided. We need to be talking about wages AND tipping, not just tipping as an alleviation of poor working conditions that others are more immediately responsible for.

#2 – Resist inappropriate social stigmas of every kind. The current system of tipping is built, in part, on an ethic of shame and guilt. People who do not tip “generously” are in danger of the wagging finger, disapproving look, and apparently of religious profiling and scuttle-butt in the Applebee’s kitchen. It’s interesting to me that we think the name of Christ is brought into disrepute because of tipping. Isn’t the Christian the counter-cultural agent in society? Isn’t the Christian the bearer of news even when they don’t have tip money? Perhaps this is another place where we should be questioning the association of Christ and money. We do it when it comes to the so-called “prosperity gospel;” perhaps we should question this association here as well. After all, poor Christians also should be able to eat out... without the association of Christ and money and the stigma of “poor tipper.”

If I have to counsel one more college student, in debt up to their teeth, but who feels the social stigma to eat out (with money they don’t have) and to tip generously (for fear of being thought of as “stingy”), I just may scream.

This stigma is strong. And it even feeds a certain entitlement mentality. My wife and I went to a very nice restaurant in Atlanta once. Once. The tab was about $140. We left a tip as I recall… probably in the ten percent range (this was 10-12 years ago). The waitress apparently complained to the restaurant manager, who actually left the restaurant to find us outside and ask why we didn’t leave a bigger tip! My response: “We were here an hour and left $140 for a fondue meal… between the price of the meal and the labor costs you saved by having us cook our own cheese and chicken… surely you can pay her more than minimum wage.” I wasn’t a Christian then… but I’d probably say the same thing in the face of such cheekiness. The other couple we were with returned to the restaurant and left an outrageous tip. The stigma claimed another victim.

#3 – Advance true biblical witnessing. Whatever happened to "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you”? My greater concern would be for those Christians who spend hours in a restaurant, interacting repeatedly with the wait staff, and who never leave what they do have to leave – news about the Savior. Not that I think a person needs to share the gospel every time they’re out for a meal (though, why not?)… but I’m convinced the overwhelming majority of Christians probably have never shared the gospel or struck up spiritual conversations with the wait staff at a restaurant, even ones they visit regularly.

You see how the social stigma works against actually proclaiming the good news? It occupies us with percentages of the bill instead of with the plight of the souls we should be speaking with. I like Greg Koukl’s points about learning the waiter’s name and making it a point to say “thank you.” Those seem like real starters at a conversation about real issues—heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, Jesus Christ and the wait staff. If we’re going to be out among the lost, well let’s get to Jesus. Let’s have them occupied with either receiving, considering, or rejecting the Savior rather than receiving, considering or rejecting our sitting in their section because of perceived tip inadequacies. Wouldn’t it be better if the kitchen conversation was: “Oh man… here come more praying Christians. They’re kind… but I’m going to hear about Jesus and my need for the umpteenth time. I know the gospel already and I’m tired of having to face it.” If that’s the lament, then perhaps we’re being ambassadors and our being out in public has some social and spiritual value.

#4 – Priorities in Giving. I reckon most all of us would agree that a Christian’s giving should primarily focus on the expansion of the gospel and the kingdom. So, the bulk of our giving should go to our local churches in support of gospel labors the Lord gives us there and perhaps to missionaries and parachurch groups doing good work in other areas. After that, what should be our priorities? Family needs to be sure. Okay… what about after that?

Honestly, with my “spare dollar,” there may still be more worthy goals than tipping. This isn’t an argument for never tipping, or not tipping generously when you do. It’s an argument for a wider view of social giving than perhaps most people consider. When’s the last time you tipped your child’s public school teacher who makes about what the waitress makes in most places and yet has the task of intellectually and socially shaping your child for several hours a day? When was the last time you offered to purchase classroom supplies for your child’s teacher, especially considering that most teachers will pay some significant outlay in supplies that the school is too strapped to pick up? How about the garbage man or the mail man? Tipped them recently… other than at Christmas or Thanksgiving? I’m afraid that many people leave multiplied amounts of cash on restaurant tables out of social pressure and leave other worthwhile servants unthanked and unrewarded. We should correct this where we’ve erred and where we can.

So… I’m continuing my crusade… maybe in Philadelphia somewhere around Tenth Pres! Stickney, if you’re reading this, I’m still holding the fort!


Paul Lamey said...

Thou hast hiteth thy nail on the headeth!

Also, most of the world outside the US has no system of "expected tip". However, in your concerns about a livable wage, do you believe such a standard should be "required" of the employer (as in the minimum wage)? Just curious.

The American system is one of the few whereby one can be served terrible food reheated in a microwave and brought to your table by 21 year olds who only need more beer money for the weekend. Even if the service is terrible and the food yuck, you are still expected to tip (though this rule is unwritten).

Thanks for the thoughtful article.

FellowElder said...

I do think employers should pay as a matter of righteousness a "living wage." I suppose that once a contract is agreed to, whether the wage is sufficient or not, an agreement is reached and both parties should live within that agreement to the extent possible or fairly renegotiated. But the starting point should be a workable salary to begin with. My two cents....

pastor justin said...

Where do I sign up? Count me in.

And, why does that guy at the airport or hotel lay those guilty eyes on me when I don't have a "5" to slip into his hand for "taking care of my bags"? Doesn't he get paid a full wage?

Christopher said...

As a father of four, expecting our fifth, I find the living wage keeps changing.

When my wife and I were in college and both working, we were living high on the hog. Now that I'm the only one with an income, even though I am making more than the two of us did together then, it is very difficult to make ends meet.

JNH said...

The problem here isn't starving college students (if they go out to eat instead of staying home and making pbj, having the money to tip is on their head. let them learn some self-denial and wisdom).

The problem is wealthy, well-dressed parties arriving from evening small-groups or whatever. They probably didn't really treat the Lord's Day as sacred at the meeting house, but just to cement their desecration of it, they go out to eat afterward, employing a host of people in the process (slaves, servants, employees, food-service professionals... it's all the same thing, just different pay rates).

Their girth betrays who their real gods are, and just in case anyone misses it from that, they reinforce it at every turn. They barely treat the people in their own party decently, are downright rude to other patrons, and nearly inhuman to the employees.

Long before someone at the table makes a grand display of ending his prayer in Jesus' name, they've already been recognized as a "Christian" group. The prayer was only going to be 30s, but he sensed the server approaching, and just so she gets a good gospel lesson out of it, he lengthens it to 4 minutes, making sure to be especially thankful for the small group meeting they just came from while terrible heathens were doing other things... like waiting tables.

Meanwhile, every cup at every one of her tables has run dry, something which would later happen to his cup and justify in his mind a severe reduction in her tip. When the orders are eventually taken, requests are made--not special requests, but extroardinary requests. Cheap grace and soda machine versions of God (stick the right coinage/prayer in, get your soda/salvation out) having turned salvation into the greatest entitlement ever (God owes everyone salvation); these "Christians" naturally extrapolate the idea: if God the Creator exists to serve them, then they must really be entitled to immediate, cheerful service by all of the creatures as well.

If you take more than a few minutes to deliver--never mind that you can't deliver what hasn't been prepared--prepare to be berated. And even if you're on time, you'll have to field the complaints. And further demands. The "Christian" table thinks that it's playing its final trump card when it asks to see the manager, but what they don't know is that your heart (Christian or not) has been going up to God for this very thing ever since the hostess chose to seat them at your table. At least the manager is paid enough to endure the onslaught.

By the end, the server isn't expecting a tip anyway, so it's not like some "message is being sent" when it's 10% to the penny... or maybe just the penny itself. At that point, the server is glad to have just survived.

Now, I know this isn't you, Thabiti, but it is real, and it is rampant. In my opinion, if you don't have an extra $20 for a tip, don't go somewhere where you'll have to pay $140 for the meal! You seem to know what the expectations are going into it... so don't go there and then take a stand against those expectations.

The NT is very concerned with conducting ourselves well before all, even to the point of giving up what we feel are rights. Some of the qualifications for elder set the standard even higher for us.

Once we shock the waiting area by setting the needs of other patrons ahead of our own, are pleasant and considerate of our server, engage in cheerful and winsome conversation with her that goes directly to the gospel, tip in such a way that demonstrates that we know that the system has "unjustly" put on us the obligation to make sure the server's wages are liveable... then let's go on a crusade against the hospitality industry employers to pay just, honest wages.

But not until then.

And really... if we can't do that, let's just not eat out. I don't mean just on Sunday. If we can't be humble and considerate, let us consider ourselves not yet sanctified to the point where we may eat at a restaurant.

Anonymous said...

Food for thought:

First, if the server was paid more via employer, you'd pay more for the actual meal, esp. considering slim restaurant profit margins.

Second, "minimum wage servers earn on average $12 to $30 an hour in tip."

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful comments, Thabiti. As a former waiter myself (for six years), I have an insider's look on this issue. Most restaurants these days have a system set up whereby the waiter, if he does not achieve minimum wage between the normal pay of the restaurant and the tips, will receive the remainder of the balance toward minimum wage from the restaurant. So, if minimum wage is $7 per hour (let's just say, for easy figuring), and I get $3 per hour from the restaurant, but only get $1 per hour in tips, then the restaurant will pay me the remaining $3 per hour to make up the difference. I never had to make use of this expedient, since I usually made about $16 per hour in tips alone. But restaurants are required by law to ensure that their employees get minimum wage one way or another. I think the problem from the waiter side of things is pure greed. They think they ought to get a good tip without doing any work. Waiting tables is extremely difficult work, if done well. Most people do not realize this. So the problem from the consumer's point of view is also greed. They think that waiters just sit around and sulk, when in fact any waiter worth his salt is running around like a chicken with its head cut off. In any case, I think greed is the problem on both sides. They make an idol out of it, and of themselves.

FellowElder said...

Bro James,
Thanks for your response... full of passion and conviction. You wrote: "In my opinion, if you don't have an extra $20 for a tip, don't go somewhere where you'll have to pay $140 for the meal! You seem to know what the expectations are going into it... so don't go there and then take a stand against those expectations."

This is really my point. There is an "expectation," yes... but no biblical command. Am I not free in Christ to tip or not to tip? Isn't the extra $20 bucks I have, $20 bucks I earned? Should I feel coerced in any way to give? How would such coercion be any more acceptable than the wrong coercion that goes on in some churches that guilt and chide people into giving? Whatever is the restaurant employee's expectation, that has no final sway on my own stewardship responsibilities and freedoms--even if I am a middle-aged overweight wealthy patron. It's finally my choice, and I shouldn't be regarded a scoundrel for exercising that choice in a legitimate way.

You are most certainly correct when you mention the NT's standards for our living well before others, and we should not let our good be evil spoken of. But I think you go a step too far when you write:
"Once we shock the waiting area by setting the needs of other patrons ahead of our own, are pleasant and considerate of our server, engage in cheerful and winsome conversation with her that goes directly to the gospel, tip in such a way that demonstrates that we know that the system has "unjustly" put on us the obligation to make sure the server's wages are liveable... then let's go on a crusade against the hospitality industry employers to pay just, honest wages.

But not until then."

Where in the NT do you see any statement that requires this order of action? One could argue (with strength, I think) that indiscriminate and continuous tipping before addressing the more gross inequity only perpetuates the problem in the first place. I think Christians are free to do either, it's the insistence that we must do one or the other or one before the other that I think we're beyond what the Scripture warrants.


Anonymous said...

Stinginess dressed in piousness, nice.

JNH said...


I am, admittedly, not very good on the whole freedom of conscience thing and far to much of a casuist. It's entirely possible that I'm making those errors here. Thank you for your help in thinking this through.

What I am talking about is the person who uniquely identifies himself as a Christian--usually accomplished by ostentatious prayer, a "witnessing" comment, or exaggerated conversation, etc.

I believe that because he has attached the name of Christ to himself, he is obligated by the third commandment to do whatever is necessary, short of positive sin, to not bring dishonor to that Name.

Perhaps I am absolutely wrong, but I think that if you want to buck social norms, you shouldn't do it while wearing the name of Jesus, or you are wearing His name in vain.


Duke Revard said...

While reading this post I could not help but think that generous people are always generous. Regardless of the context, a generous person gives graciously to the Church, the poor, a waiter, etc. Meanwhile, a mizer is always looking for reasons why he doesn't have to give. He can always come up with a more "noble" cause to give his money to. However, these "noble causes" tend to remain in more in the sphere of hypothetical than that of the operational. A mizer doesn't give because he treasures money, he love money. To be honest while reading this post I could not help but think of Judas, who was quick to come up with "more noble causes" that money could be directed to. See John 12:3-6.

Luke 12:3-6 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5"Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I have resolved this. We tip the same "$3 and a gospel tract" anywhere we eat regardless of where it is and how the service was.

It is just silly pragmatism to think that the gospel will suffer because of the amount of money I leave for the waiter(ess) following the meal.

On the other hand, it's also silly piety to think highly of myself and/or worry about my "image" in the first place. After all, If I'm presenting the gospel correctly to the waiter(ess) my poor tip will further testify to the fact that there was no good thing in me to merit my salvation.

FellowElder said...

This must be the most spirited conversation to date on this blog!

Which is really interesting... in my opinion, far more interesting than the original post! The comments range from "you must tip every time or you're a pietistic 'Judas'" to "sign me up for the protest against tipping." Every so often, an observation about the gospel itself peeks through the chatter... but only every blue moon.

But on the whole, the comments in the blogosphere remind me of a lot of evangelical preaching I hear (and perhaps my own, I need to go back and listen to some of my sermons). The preacher starts with a text (hopefully), offers an application, then insists on the binding authority of the application rather than the text. That seems to be the pattern in some of the comments: allude to or cite a text related to giving or generosity, apply it to tipping, then insisting on obligatory tipping. And is often the case with bad applications in preaching, some of the comments suggest or state that those not adhering to the "law of the application" are misers, stingy or greedy, while those who do adhere are generous, virtuous and righteous.

However we feel about tipping, we should certainly refrain from assigning motives and judging hearts when it comes to individual behavior in this regard... especially absent anything remotely close to a command to tip or to be "generous" in that particular way. "For the judgment we judge, we shall surely be judged."

And surely it's legitimate to raise the question of faithful and effective stewardship when it comes to giving and tipping. Posing alternatives doesn't make a person a pietist or a greedy thief like Judas. Many of my die-hard tipping friends pass a dozen homeless people on the way to the restaurant, never stopping to give anything to them, and sometimes are angrily opposed to that kind of "charity." The homeless man or woman ends up homeless for any number of reasons... some good, some bad. Shouldn't we protect the most vulnerable in society? Doesn't that include folks in dire straits? Why should anyone who chooses thoughtfully to give their money to a person on the street instead of a waiter be thought poorly of? These, I think, are good questions... not pietistic self-righteousness or greediness.

You see? There I go... feeling the pressure to defend myself because I don't feel obligated to tip. And even now choking down the urge to say, "But I do tip, I do tip!" That pressure is not righteous; it curbs our freedom in Christ and clouds the stewardship and bigger justice questions this post rather ineffectively tries to raise.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post; both insightful and convicting. Although I try to tip generously, I have never actually shared the gospel with any waiters or waitresses.

As a side note, I have always wondered why I have to tip based on the price of my meal. Does it really take any more work to bring out a $10 salad than a $30 lobster? If anything shouldn't the extra tip go to the people who are preparing the meal and not those bringing it out to us. Wouldn't a better system be to have a set tip every time you go out whatever the cost of the meal may be? Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

That waiter or waitress still gets taxed on your theoretical tip whether you leave it or not. They still make around two or three bucks an hour-the same as I made a couple of decades ago when I was a waitress.

If you don't tip you are actually taking money away from them.Not just "not adding to it."

You do realize that because of the very low profit margin in food service, that without tipping your meal would be much higher-probably higher than it is now plus a decent tip? Not to mention it would be harder and harder to find good help as waiter/waitressing is extremely tough work...

So, what would Jesus tip?

Christopher said...


Some places require a minimum tip for larger groups (somewhere between 10-15%), shouldn't you at least try to match that?

$3.00 regardless?

Anonymous said...

If there is some sort of overhaul in the restaurant wage system and they start paying servers more, we will pay more for our food, so this seems to me a moot point. I think there are some bigger issues, like whether Christians should be eating out or shopping at all on Sundays. I mean, just think, if we went home after church, maybe some businesses would eventually close on Sundays and their employees may be more inclined to go to church. But if you do go out to eat, tipping is just one aspect of our witness. Being hard to please, self-righteous and condescending is the worst testimony I can think of. Believe me, I was a server for several years and have seen firsthand the "upstairs, downstairs" attitude of some so-called Christians. It didn't faze me because my eyes are on Christ, not man, but it sure would be nice if the church would consider restaurant workers a mission field since we have decided to make ourselves such a presence amongst them every Sunday. If you don't want that responsibiltiy, go home, change your clothes and put your Bible away before you go out to eat.

doug said...


Wonderful post! I have been similarly vexed on this issue and appreciate the additional insite you've shared. Thank you!

One thing you stated, "... it even feeds a certain entitlement mentality". This is a really good point. A tip (or gratuity) by definition is non-compulsory. Has anyone even stopped to wonder at how strange it is that we are even talking about a tip "rate". A tip/gratuity is "an award (as for meritorious service) given without claim or obligation". The very fact that the manager of that restaurant took the time to pursue you out into the parking lot proves your point. Obviously, he felt that they had been defrauded in some way. (Your "cheekiness" made me smile)

In the 70s, when 15% became the new 10%, the ostensible reason for the increase was due to inflation and rising costs. For anyone who knows even the first thing about percentages it was easy to see the sophistry of this lame explanation. When costs of meals increase, so do tips ... and in the same proportion to meal costs. So tips already (and automatically) adjust themselves for inflation. That is, they do if businesses are being honest about their meal costs. And that is a clue, isn't it?

Anonymous said, "First, if the server was paid more via employer, you'd pay more for the actual meal, esp. considering slim restaurant profit margins". That is precisely the point! Businesses are hiding a portion of meal costs in the tips to make the menu prices look more attractive. The rub comes when a customer decides to give a lesser tip, or no tip at all.

And that's not all. Many businesses take the tips one gives to a waiter/waitress and puts them into a general pot to divide between all the servers. Gone is the final illusion, that one is rewarding service when one tips. What one is actually doing is helping the establishment settle its payroll.

No wonder an entitlement mentality exists. And we, the consumer, have been hijacked to the cause. And, because this is a social norm nowadays and not an overt obligation, it makes sense that social pressure and stigma is placed on those who balk at these "unwritten rules" more heavily than in the past. That is why we now have managers flying out of their restaurants to confront patrons for their supposed negligence.

Absolutely incredible!

Jess Connell said...

Wow. I can't believe how stingy some people are.

The fact is, you are using the waiter or waitress' services. You need to pay for their services. Right now, it's factored into their wages. Ought it be? Perhaps not. Are you writing your congressman about it? Are you petitioning about labor laws? Likely not.

So where does that leave us? To exercise our "principles" and leave waiters and waitresses hacked off about getting a brochure instead of the money they need to feed their kids or pay for their books?

Surely we can factor in the cost of the tip as PART of the cost of eating somewhere. Otherwise, there are a plethora of other options: called Wendy's, Chick-Fil-A, McDonald's and others, that DO pay a minimum wage. Go to those, if you are so entrenched in your "principles" that you can't spare a few extra bucks to someone who is working for those.

Keep in mind, these people have NO idea of your principles or your "$3 regardless" rule when they serve you, fill up your sweet tea for the 5th time, etc. They are working and offering a service and deserve to be properly compensated. Right now, AND in the future once that legislation you're (ahem) working on is passed.

FellowElder said...

Welcome. Actually, prior to going into the ministry full-time, I worked for five years on among other things trying to raise the minimum wage in every state in the country. Also did a lot of work advocating for a range of other benefits and opportunities for low-skilled, low-paid entry-level work. And I'm still involved whenever my old outfit needs a consultant or some commentary. So, yes, I think I'm doing my part on that (ahem) legislation you referenced.

But having said all that, the legitimacy of any person's comments are not bound together with their political or social activity. Just as your comments are worth considering, even though you're probably not doing all or even most of what you could on some issues you think/care about, so are the comments of others. Perhaps we should squash all the ad hominems.

The waitress is providing me a service? Hmmm... maybe. But so are a lot of other people in the world whose employers pay them to provide the service. In my mind, the main question is, "Whose employee is the waiter or the waitress?" If they're mine, then I not only want to pay them adequately but I want them to come my home and serve my very pregant wife for a while. I'm getting robbed coming and going! :-)

Actually, I'd rather the employer charge a cost for the meal that supports the wage needs of their staff. I assume this would up the cost of the meal, and I'm happy to pay that additional cost. And presumably, so are you, if in fact your tip money is seen as covering the wage deficit to begin with. In my mind, those who tip should theoretically have no problem with a system with higher meal costs and better wages. If we wanted a system that worked for everyone it would be a system where waiters and waitresses receive a livable wage for their labors from the employer, and we customers pay for the meal we came to the restaurant for.

I spend my time in Wendy's, etc. But ain't I free to go to Wendy's or a sit-down restaurant of my choice? My main objection to "tipping by coercion" is two-fold: (1) it allows an unjust wage system to exist where employers don't pay their folks (shall we talk benefits, too?), and (2) some portion of the population is subjected to ostracism and scorn by folks who judge them because they don't use their own hard-earned money to tip "well" or at all. Neither of those are biblically justifiable.

Anonymous said...

It saddens me to hear the comment regarding tipping , "Where in the NT do you see any statement that requires this order of action?"

What about "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?" and "Love your neighbor as yourself?" I think most people in the US should know by now that wait staff are paid mainly through tips. I'm sure this originated to motivate the waiter to provide adequate service. Whether or not the system needs to be changed, not tipping doesn't solve the immediate need for the waiter to be paid. It should be understood by both parties that this is so. If one desires to bring about social change, a grass roots effort seeking to personally deprive the person who served you of their tip doesn't seem like the Christ-like solution. And sharing the gospel while not leaving a tip is kind of like saying, "be warmed and filled. . ." Maybe if you object so strongly to the system, you shouldn't frequent restaurants that assume tips will be left. Titus 2 talks about how we should act so that "no one will malign the word of God" and "so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive." This isn't talking about watering down the gospel, but being the kind of person that will make a non-believer see your life and want whatever it is that you have. If the only window into your life that non-believing wait staff see is that you pray before your meal, perhaps even have a great conversation with your friend, or lovingly serve your wife, but deprive them of the tip they were working to earn, they will not want anything to do with your God. So in response to the statement that the Bible doesn't say anywhere that you should tip, I would say that looking for a rule on every little thing is what the Pharisees did. Jesus summed up all the commandments by saying, "Love the Lord your God. . . and love your neighbor as yourself." I don't think this applies to mankind in general, but to how you treat individuals you come in contact with. Do you really think it's loving not to leave a tip, even if you share the gospel? And as far as the effect of your sharing the good news -- I think the following verses tell us how to live if we're going to be out sharing the gospel. Tim. 3:7 (...he must also have a good reputation with outsidesr), Col. 4:5 (be wise in the way you act towards outsiders), and other such verses, not to mention I Tim 5:18 "The worker deserves his wages." Right now the US restaurant system expects you to pay the waiter for service. I don't think any waiter would consider your tip a "gift", but a wage. I applaud your efforts to change the system, but depriving the worker of his wage doesn't seem like the answer which makes the gospel attractive. 1 Cor. 5:20 says that we are Christ's ambassadors. I urge you to represent Him well while in a restaurant by paying as expected for the service you receive. Let non-Christians despise us for pursuing eternal gain rather then temporal gain, not for being stingy.

FellowElder said...

I'm sorry to have saddened you. I really am. And I'm humbled by the tone of your response and your attempt to offer scripture in your counsel to me. Know that I'll read and re-read your comments for its warmth, instruction and love (with the exception of your last sentence where you felt to judge my heart and motive). A couple of initial responses....

I don't think I'm violating "do unto others" or "love your neighbors" by choosing if, when or how much I will tip. I think I'm indeed living by those rules when I say in the post that we need to be focused on "just wages AND tipping" and not a lopsided "tip generously but leave the root of the problem unchanged approach" (see end of point 1).

You wrote: "sharing the gospel while not leaving a tip is kind of like saying, "be warmed and filled. . ." Why? I preach the gospel every Sunday, by God's grace, and I don't offer anyone a tip for coming (some of my congregation may tell you I need to!). Do we really think we add luster to the gospel with a "tip" of all things? Isn't that to cheapen the gospel and to deny that it (the gospel itself) is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. My waiter friend's main problem, if they're not a Christian, isn't their perception of my generosity or stinginess, but their perception of their sin and need for the Savior.

You also wrote: "So in response to the statement that the Bible doesn't say anywhere that you should tip, I would say that looking for a rule on every little thing is what the Pharisees did." The funny thing is... that's what I've been saying about all those who are adding a "law" re: tipping. I'm not actually looking for a rule, but rather arguing for freedom. I'm happy for everyone to tip; I'm not arguing against it. I'm arguing against the social expectation that says everyone MUST tip or they are stingy and should stay home. That, it seems to me, is to be uncharitable in a different way and on an issue where there is no biblical support.

Finally, you wrote: "I don't think any waiter would consider your tip a "gift", but a wage. I applaud your efforts to change the system, but depriving the worker of his wage doesn't seem like the answer which makes the gospel attractive." There are, I think, two problems in your thinking here. One: a person who does not leave a tip is not "depriving" anyone of their wage. Their wage comes from their employer, which is the restaurant, not the patron. It's the "depriving" language that suggests entitlement, and we need to resist that. Few of the folks on this block would probably have seen welfare reform a few years back as "depriving" poor people of livelihood. At the time, most of the opponents of welfare decried the "entitlement mentality and programs" of "big government" and used those labels as ammunition in ending the system. If an aversion to entitlements were correct there, they seem just as legitimate here. Two: only the Holy Spirit of God makes the gospel attractive. None of our tips do. The logic here is "we must adorn the gospel with 'something extra' (namely tips)." Men don't esteem the Savior for tips because their hearts are darkened and they love darkness. We must be sure we're relying on the sovereign operations of God in making the gospel effective in people's lives. For the sake of the gospel, we should divorce in our thinking any association between tips (inherently beneath the Savior's glory) and the gospel.

You've written much, and I'm thankful. this is a couple of quick responses. Do know that I'll continue "chewing on" what you've written here and am thankful for your comments and tone.

Grace and peace to you,

Dan Edelen said...

Ask most servers what their least favorite time to work is and it will likely be Sunday lunch. Why? Because Christians filing out of church for lunch leave lousy tips or nothing more than a tract.

Folks, we are the fragrance of Christ. We can be a perfume or a stench. If we are a stench in the nose of unbelievers because of the Gospel, then let us be a stench. But if we are a stench in the nose of unbelievers because we're cheap, self-centered, and underperform the worldly in generosity, then we need to get our house in order.

We are ambassadors of Christ wherever we go. As ambassadors, we either confirm or deny the message of the Kingdom we represent. When I leave a generous tip, it shows that I, as an ambassador, truly believe in the generosity of the Leader of the Kingdom. No, it's not the Gospel condensed down to money. My tip won't save anyone. But it will, on the other hand, represent a tangible expression of the Gospel message I carry. If we should have the opportunity to evangelize our server, what better way to show we're serious about our Savior and about truly loving the server than to back up our talk with godly generosity.

The "silver and gold" passage from Acts is badly taken out of context. God did something in individual man's life that was better than silver and gold. He gave him healing and gave him new life in Christ.

However, does that mean that every single encounter we have with a lost human being will...

a. Lead to a supernatural healing?
b. Lead to a conversion?

Obviously, the answer to both those is no. Some plant, others reap. But the generosity of the church is ALWAYS in play, no matter what the outcome. Sometimes it will be healing or conversion. But it can always be generosity.

Acts 2 ends the passage on Pentecost noting the generosity of the newly-Spirit-filled believers. Their care in meeting needs knew no bounds. The unsaved saw this! This was a new thing! It was attractive, too.

In the West, we live in a mop-up stage of evangelism. Everyone has heard of Jesus. You can turn on the radio anywhere in the West and hear a Christian radio station. In some ways, because Christians don't live out of a full vision of the Kingdom, our walk hasn't matched our talk. The unsaved see this. It's part of the "they're all hypocrites" excuse we always hear.

The problem for us is they're right. We're not walking the talk. Therefore, people have stopped listening.

In a postmodern society inoculated from the Gospel by Christians who don't live out the Kingdom, the only way we're going to open people's closed ears is if we truly live out the Kingdom. Then, all objections are stymied and people have to take the message seriously. But if we don't believe the message enough to actually live it, then the unsaved aren't going to believe it, either.

That's the state of the Church today.

Always be generous. And always let people know the reason we're generous is because our God gave His only Son to die for our sins, the ultimate act of generosity in all of history.

Anonymous said...

This issue points to so many countless other "robbings" that are taking place in the name of capitalism. I think there are just as many groups of thieves, called managers and owners that are in the sales business, sitting back and collecting top dollar from the hard work of one who recieves the minuimum wage for a commision If we are going to call out restraunt owners we should call out all people who use manipulation by holding out carrots you can never reach in order to produce hard work that is mostly benefiting themselves.

At least with restraunt tipping there is an opportunity to overcome the greedy employer and show someone how much you value them. You can't slip the kid who refinances your house enough of a tip to make a difference since they aren't serving as many people as waiters do in a night.

FellowElder said...

Usually in a conversation of this lenght, and this amount of "heat," it's helpful to do a quick re-cap. So, here's something of a recap. Things that are not in dispute:
a. We are ambassadors for Christ
b. We are to take the gospel to everyone
c. Tipping is a form of generosity in most cases.
I think we all agree on these basic individual points.

Things that are in dispute
a. That "tipping" is by definition "generosity." (I would argue that cumpolsory tipping is not generosity but legalism, and that the rich person who leaves 10% when they could have easily left 30% isn't being generous at all. Think widow's mite here)
b. That the Bible requires tipping from all Christians all the time in all circumstances.
c. That tipping is to the gospel in our day what miraculous signs were to the apostles in their day (This is the biggie in my mind. And, please... no cessationist-continuationist responses; that's not my point :-)).
d. That we can automatically conclude that someone is generous or stingy based on their tipping habit.

Would the apostles have been called cheap in our day? Judging from the blog comments, I think so. I think "silver and gold I do not have" is applicable here. It shows us two things: (a) a likely disposition to give it if they had it -- a point in favor of the "must-tip" party; and (b) no reluctance to work the works of Christ when they didn't -- a point in favor of the "may-tip, share-gospel" party. As for the miracles that followed their act, the Lord granted them to authenticate the message. We don't have to perform miracles (and tipping is not a miracle) in order to proclaim the gospel. But the passage is relevant. And as for the end of Acts 2 where people addressed needs... read carefully. Is that not among Christians? Is it not the case that what the unbeliever noticed was the mutual care, love and provision INSIDE the church? And not a "diffused" giving policy like tipping? In other words, "by our love for one another they shall know we are His disciples" --not by our love indiscriminately and randomly expressed or societally determined as in tipping.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I should better clarify and qualify my previous comment. Me and my wife's flat tip rate (and gospel tract)is what WE tip for the two of us when we are eating out. We don't have any kids so it's usually just the two of us. If we are with a larger group, others may tip more or less in addition to what we leave. That is simply up to them.

My somewhat humorous comment about my $3 tip being a portrait of my depravity amkes a pretty clear point: When I am sharing the gospel with others I need to remember that it is the same gospel that saved a mean and lowly sinner such as myself. It is a terrible thing for me to give a high impression of myself to someone I am witnessing to because that would be a lie -- I simply am not "all that". Matter of fact, I am the worst sinner I know!

So my point is that I would never use the amount of my tip to try to show a waiter(ess) that I'm some GREAT PERSON. I believe that works against the message of the gospel!

Anonymous said...

Dear Thabiti,
First of all, please forgive me for implying by my comment that you are personally stingy. As you said, the Lord judges hearts and I in no way meant to judge yours. By what you have written, there can be many motives for not tipping. Stinginess is just one of them and I didn't mean that it applies to you personally.
Thanks for the recap. I guess I disagree on the point, "Tipping is a form of generosity in most cases." I think perhaps the bottom line in where we disagree is that it seems that you place waiters, welfare recipients and beggars in the same general category -- in that giving a tip is just handing out money. I think the difference is that the waiter is providing you with a service, for which he or she is expecting to be paid mostly by you, not his employer. I agree that the system would be better if the waiters were paid more by the employer, but that hasn't happened yet. I guess there is an unspoken agreement by sitting at a restaurant table that you are contracting with the server to provide service in exchange for a tip. In most cases, you're not giving something for nothing. And yes, if the service is horrible, and the restaurant isn't busy and the server treats you like an annoyance, then most likely they didn't earn the tip they were expecting.
Anyway, I don't think there is a rule for a Christian to tip. I think generosity would be leaving more than expected for good service or leaving a decent tip for bad service, but if the person serving you provides a service to you, then in today's restaurant system, in a way you are the co-employer with the restaurant. Kind of like getting in a taxi and paying the driver for taking you somewhere even though he may work for a cab company and doesn't own the cab. So having a waiter come across your path is different from meeting someone who asks for your money on the street or an organization that asks for a donation. In the case of a waiter or cab driver, the person hoping to receive money from you has provided you a service.
Thanks for listening - and keep on preaching the gospel, brother. You gave your testimony at my church one Sunday and I was blessed to hear of God's goodness to you! I pray he will use your preaching to draw many to Himself.

FellowElder said...

So good to hear from you again. Thanks for the additional comments.

You wrote:
"I think perhaps the bottom line in where we disagree is that it seems that you place waiters, welfare recipients and beggars in the same general category -- in that giving a tip is just handing out money. I think the difference is that the waiter is providing you with a service, for which he or she is expecting to be paid mostly by you, not his employer."

My language was probably too loose in the last comment I left. I don't think of tipping as just handing out money. I understand the service side of this. And yet, in my own conscience, I can't quite justify personally overlooking poverty and its effects while tipping as a rule. In a year's time, should I leave $1,000 in tips or give some or all of that to the homeless shelter down the block. Perhaps I should do both. But assuming my cash is limited (and it most certainly is! :-)), it seems to me that generosity as well as urgency/level of need should play a part in my use of the Lord's resources. Particularly where the Scripture is clear that I'm to care for the widow, the orphan, the alien or stranger but knows nothing (explicitly) of the waiter--tipping system we've been discussing. Just a thought.

Grace and peace,

Anonymous said...

Surely there are better things to preach than this?! Why not focus on how much we spend on entertaiment in general, rather than to lead others into expensive restaurants, run the waiter around, and then not tip? The Gospel deserves more than this; this is certainly akin to "straining a knat" if I have seen it.

FellowElder said...

I don't think anyone said this is worthy of preaching. Almost everything would be better to preach than tipping. No disagreement there.

Anonymous said...

I have just arrived home from a wonderful six weeks in the USA. I live in Australia which like most of the rest of the world has no system of expected tipping. Whilst I was in a restaurant outside Disneyland enjoying breakfast with another Aussie friend we decided to ask the waitress what the whole deal with tipping was all about. She said that this was her thrid or fourth waiteresssing job and that she had moved there because this employer paid her the minimum wage whereas in the last place she worked in Arizona the employer only paid her $2 per hour. We really thought she was kidding. But she assured us that she was being truthful. She did point out the the minimum wage was nothing to write home about either but at least she could survive if patrons were less than generous with their tipping. Elsewhere on my travels I engaged other people both those who live of the "tips" and those who don't and they invariably described themselves as the working poor. I found it profoundly sad that so many people who work so hard are paid so miserably. By my calculation wait staff in Australia would earn the US equivalent of between $12-$15 per hour and most of them are nowhere near as courteous or proficient as the many I had the pleasure of being served by during my stay. I gladly tipped every one of them.

Matt H said...

"After all, If I'm presenting the gospel correctly to the waiter(ess) my poor tip will further testify to the fact that there was no good thing in me to merit my salvation."

"So my point is that I would never use the amount of my tip to try to show a waiter(ess) that I'm some GREAT PERSON. I believe that works against the message of the gospel!"

Jeff, these are some of the silliest and most unchristian statements I've heard in all the various "tipping" threads lately. Are you suggesting that our actions don't affect how people perceive the gospel when we present it? Yes, it is always the work of the Holy Spirit, but shame on us if we knowingly get in the way by our rude and stingy actions. You'll "never use the amount of my tip to try to show a waiter(ess) that I'm some GREAT PERSON," but apparently you will intentionally use the amount of your tip to show the waiter you are a bad person. What ever happened to adorning the gospel with gracious lives and preaching the gospel with our lives, only using words when necessary??? What you are obviously saying in these comments is "Let us sin more that grace may abound!"

I'm sorry for laying into you, but please, brother, I beg you to reconsider what you are doing. You are essentially saying that you will purposefully do things that the wold considers evil in order to show them that the gospel saves sinners. This is what Paul is talking about with "all things to all men." We must not offend nonchristians by doing the things that are to them a clear offense.

Anonymous said...


You wrote: "Yes, it is always the work of the Holy Spirit, but shame on us if we knowingly get in the way by our rude and stingy actions. You'll 'never use the amount of my tip to try to show a waiter(ess) that I'm some GREAT PERSON,' but apparently you will intentionally use the amount of your tip to show the waiter you are a bad person."

I am sorry, but nowhere in my post did I say my flat rate of tipping was a license to be "rude and stingy". You carried my comments on to your own conclusion based on your opinion of a $3 tip. If a waiter(ess) views my tip in the same way as you have, then my cheerful gift will have to serve as an example of depravity.

The point is that, of myself, I am a bad person. The imputed righteousness of Christ is the only righteousness I have. My own flesh is vile and disgusting. Truly you wouldn't contend with that!

You also wrote: "What ever happened to adorning the gospel with gracious lives and preaching the gospel with our lives, only using words when necessary???"

Ummm... what Scripture reference is that... or are you quoting St. Francis to me?

Finally you wrote: "We must not offend nonchristians by doing the things that are to them a clear offense."

The message of the cross IS foolishness to those who are perishing. Nearly everytime we proclaim the gospel and ask lost people to "deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow Jesus" on some level they will be offended... well perhaps unless they are being drawn by the Holy Spirit.

I openly invite reproof, as it is an evidence of God's grace.

Anonymous said...

My goodness. Talk about cheap. Please tell me what denomination you're all affiliated with so that I can avoid it like the plague!

Matt H said...


I'm not talking about the message. I'm talking about our lives. And sorry, I'm by principle not a prooftexter. If you don't think that there is any reason to go out of our way for others to show temporal mercy to them, well, I'm sorry, but there's probably nothing I can say to you that will be accepted as worthy reproof. (By the way, do you have a problem with quoting St. Francis when the words are good?)

No I will not contend with your statement that our "own flesh is vile and disgusting." But we have been predestined unto good works to glorify God in ordinary ways here on earth.

Listen. If you live in a culture where a 15%-20% tip is simply the expected norm, why would you intentionally give less when the only possible reaction for the server is to be disgusted and offended with your lack of simple American manners. (They are at that point offended by you, not the gospel) If you and your wife go out and spend just $30 on dinner, 15% is $4.50. (A lot of people would give $6 for descent service) I think you earlier said you also leave a tract (If this is wrong, ignore it). If you leave a bad tip with a tract you have just smeared mud on the gospel and given your server another reason to not want to be a Christian. THEY ARE NOT OFFENDED BY THE GOSPEL BUT BY YOU. Please, go ahead and leave your $3 tip, but do not let your server know that you are a Christian. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE.

Dan said...

You who do not tip appropriately (read: in line with our cultural norms and expectations) really should consider not identifying yourselves as Christians while in restaurants. Shame on all of you! You can win this argument on a technicality, and take verses WAY out of context, but the end result of tipping below the generally accepted amount is that Christians are seen as cheap, greedy, and hypocritical by almost all restaurant workers.

How does that advance the God's kingdom?

I have also worked in restaurants, and know first-hand that Christians are generally the worst tippers out there. Lovely seeds we're all sewing, eh?