I’m thinking I should start with a couple of disclaimers. First of all, I am fully aware that I am wandering away from my normal position of Biblical certainty to more of a Biblically informed opinion. One that might rub some people the wrong way. If you disagree, I don’t think your a heretic who has deserted the faith. That being said, the position I advocate here is one that I fully believe in and is my strong advice to every Christian.
The second disclaimer is that I’m mostly thinking of the most common situation that requires tipping (at least, in most of the USA), eating out at a restaurant. There are probably situations outside of this where refraining from tipping is okay, but those situations are far less common and I have far less experience thinking about them.
Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, let’s dive in to five reasons that every Christian should tip. Three of them are Biblical reasons and two just have to do with the financial realities of being a waiter or waitress.
Biblical Reasons Why All Christians Should Tip:
1) Because Jesus said so
Hold on a moment, you might be thinking, Jesus never said anything about tipping, there probably wasn’t even a gratuity system in his day. That’s perfectly true, but he is the one who uttered these words: “laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). Well, wait a minute, you’re thinking if you’re in a contrary mood, wasn’t that specifically in the context of him sending the 72 disciples out to preach? Isn’t it talking about why they should accept hospitality from others? The answer to both of those questions is “yes,” but the important point is that Jesus’ bases his teaching that they should accept hospitality when on mission on the general principles that those who work deserve to be paid. He doesn’t argue “because you are on mission you deserve your wages;” his reasoning instead is “because those who work deserve wages you deserve to receive material blessings when out on mission.” For Jesus, if you work, you deserve to be paid.
2) Because God has given you what you don’t deserve
This is specifically in response to the notion that you can stiff the waiter on the tip if their service was bad. The good news of the Gospel is that even though you were bad and deserved punishment and not mercy, God gave you mercy anyway, at great cost to himself. God the father sent his son to die in your place for your sins. You can get over some bad service.
3) Because Generosity is a fundamental characteristic of who God is and a hallmark Christian Virtue.
God’s generosity is absolutely essential to who he is. Even the most famous summary of the Bible highlights God’s generosity: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, emphasis mine). Additionally, we read in the book of James: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, emphasis mine). In other words, God isn’t just a generous giver, he is the generous giver.
As we are conformed into the image of Christ who gave up his life for us, we should expect to grow in generosity.
Practical Reasons why all Christians should tip:
4) Your waiters and waitresses are making below minimum wage
The federal government (and most state governments) require all workers to be paid a minimum amount. Well, most workers. Restaurants get away with paying servers far less than the minimum wage because it’s the expectation of the server, the restaurant, and the government that you will tip your servers. If you stiff the tip, it’s possible that the server will make less that hour than what the government says is the minimum they should be paid. You might object that it’s not your fault, but it is. Everyone’s expectation is that it is your responsibility to pay your servers.
5) Many waiters pay tips too
Many restaurants require their servers to “tip out” to the other restaurant staff (such as busboys, hostesses, kitchen staff, etc). This means that servers are often required to tip something along the lines of 3% of the total bill to the rest of the workers even if they weren’t actually tipped. If you stiff them on the tip, it’s very possible that you could create a situation where they would have to pay in order to serve you (I actually didn’t know about this one until recently when I read this post from the Simple Dollar. Learning about “tipping out” was actually the inspiration for this post).
How much should you tip?
In a way, I hate to even bring this issue up. There’s no Biblical command about how much you should tip, so the legalism danger meter is off the charts high as I wander into this question. Plus, generosity is a matter of the heart, not following some standard percentage.
At the same time, it seems silly to make this case only to have someone go off and tip 2% on every bill. So here we go.
Growing up I remember that I was told that 15% was the expected baseline tip. You were supposed to tip that unless there was bad service in which case you would tip less, or good service in which case you would tip more. Personally, I really think 20% is a good sweet spot. It’s high enough that I’ve never felt like I was shorting my server, and as an added bonus it’s slightly easier to calculate than 15% (at least it is for me). So my personal recommendation is 20%. That’s not a Biblical requirement, and I make no claim that it’s a perfect amount. It’s a nice round number that seems fair and is easy to calculate. I would recommend that if you pick an amount such as 20% that you never dip below it. Feel free to go above when the service was great or when you are feeling generous, but try not to dip below it.
Anecdotally, I’ve heard from my friends who have worked in the food service industry that many servers have a negative opinion of Christians. They see Christians as a group of 12 people who come in all loud and obnoxious on a Sunday afternoon, all split one appetizer that they bought with an expired coupon, ask for all sorts of freebies, and then leave a gospel tract instead of a tip (that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture). Doesn’t exactly sounds like the light of the world to me.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being frugal or asking for freebies or leaving a gospel tract, but if you’re going to be a difficult customer please tip your server well. It’s just the right thing to do.
Ultimately, I think that the more you come to see God as one who is generous and who does good things and gives good gifts to those who don’t deserve it, the more generous you’ll become in your tipping.
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