Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Tipping

In North America, whenever we eat at restaurants, tipping is a common practice. Depending on what kind of services, which state or province, the amount typically ranges between 10-15%. Some restaurants automatically add a 15-18% gratuity for groups larger than 6 persons. In the services industry, tipping forms quite an important part of a worker's monthly take home pay. When the tipping amount is greater than the average amount, things work out fine for all. However, what if the tips fall below the standard practice, or in some cases, no tipping at all due to an accidentally spillage of orange juice on the sleeves of a customer? I have heard horror stories about how the lack of tipping can even impoverish an already lowly paid server. One waitress I know told me that whenever she receives less than the minimum amount of tip for the day, she has to fork out her own money to tip the chefs and kitchen staff. From the perspective of the kitchen staff, why should all the tips only benefit front-end servers, while the back-end cooks bear the bulk of the food preparation?

Sometimes, I feel that people simply have a wrong understanding of what tipping is all about. New arrivals into North America often have to grapple with why there is a need to tip in the first place. They thought that the tip ought to reflect the quality of service. They feel that it is not their responsibility to cover any shortfall in the wages of the restaurant employees. Blame it on the provincial government for failing to legislate a minimal wage that is consistent with inflation. Blame it on the rising cost of living. Blame it on the owners of restaurants who try to cut costs indiscriminately. While some of these blames are understandable, I believe that there is a need to educate people about tipping. This social etiquette is not only important from the standpoint of sustaining the services industry, it is an important social grace.

Christians can lead the way to be generous tippers. It is truly a way to demonstrate that it is better to give than to receive. It is also a way to be thankful to God for his mercy on us. As much as we have received mercy, show grace to others. Let me suggest the following TIP paradigm.



Being thankful is one of the hallmarks of a Christian believer. Margaret Visser, in her latest book: "The Gift of Thanks," says that a heart of thankfulness 'can be a key to understanding many of the basic assumptions, preferences, and needs of Western culture' (1). This is a bold statement, and I will venture to say that it should not be limited to Western culture, but to all of human nature. Didn't the Apostle Paul remind the Church to give thanks in everything?

I remember leading a hot discussion in church before. There were some vigorous views and debate about a certain subject. One participant said some pretty negative words to me about my view. If I had insisted on a robust rebuttal, I might have stoked up some pretty big flames. Instead, I said 'Thank you.' It must have been the Spirit of God at work, for after a simple 2-word reply, the temperature of the discussion was lowered a couple of notches and we were able to end the discussion cordially and with everyone having learned at least an additional perspective. Being thankful is an important attribute. I would agree with Margaret Visser that it is a universal attribute. In this sense, in trying to shape the future, a spirit of thanksgiving will go a long way in an age of rising globalization. As people groups continue to migrate from place to place, as workers travel internationally for business and pleasure, as people interact on the Internet, learning how to say 'Thank you' in different languages can go a long way in building bridges among cultures and societies worldwide. The Japanese say, "Arigato gozaimasu." The Spanish say: "Muchas gracias." The Taiwanese say: "Xie xie." The Vietnamese say: "Cám ơn." South Africans say: "Baie dankie." The Koreans say: "Kamsahamnida." The French say: "Merci." Israelites say: "Toda raba." I believe that a thankful heart goes a long way in producing a gracious society. As we tip, be thankful in all things. After all, we too have our imperfect moments, and there are no perfect restaurants, cooks or servers. Let our gratefulness determine our level of tipping instead of the quality of service.


This may seem to be strange. How can tipping be called a form of investment at all? We do not get stock options, or shares and definitely no monetary dividends. Even though it may not reap immediate monetary returns, I feel that our small tipping can contribute positively in loving our neighbor as well as being a good neighbor ourselves. All of us are recipients of the giving of others, one way or another. Just think of the hospitals where we were born, or the schools that we go to. Consider the organizations that we work in, and the little public services we use from time to time. I live near a convenient train station, where a trip downtown costs less than $3 arriving in less than 30 minutes. Such a service would not have been possible if there were no investments at all by anyone. In this sense, I am dismayed whenever some commuters abuse the trust system by not paying for their rides. Our present society feeds on investments made in the past. It is only our bounden duty to provide for others in the future, as much as our predecessors have endowed upon us during their times. When we tip well, or generously, we are investing in the industry. We are saying to them that not only do we appreciate what they are doing, not only do we want to help their wages, we are investing in the future of the trade. Which of us want to see more shabby restaurants, more disgruntled servers, or poor quality cooking? I have heard the saying: "If you pay peanuts, you make monkeys out of people." Similarly, if we tip miserly, we do the service industry a disservice, by sending them a message that we do not believe in their future.

Now, let me get something straight. I am not saying that we condone poor service. Tipping has nothing to do with expectations of good service. If I can put it this way, by seeing tipping as an investment, tipping has nothing to do with excellent or lousy service standards. We may choose not to tip EXTRA, for poor service, but we ought to tip regardless. Distinguish between basic tipping and additional tipping. Basic is something given regardless of the quality of service. We should not reduce this basic level, though we can choose to withhold anything more, due to any unsatisfactory service. People are imperfect. They may have their down times. Let's maintain a gracious attitude so that we can help the service industry in our very small way.


What do we do when we encounter poor service? I must say, do not use tipping as a weapon to tell the server 'You deserve it.' For all we know, the waitress may have had a bad day. However, her house rental is fixed. Her bills are not decreasing in any significant way. Learn to be patient and encourage him or her in her work. Who knows? We may even save one from self-depression. Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas-Nelson publishing recommends 4 strategies for dealing with poor customer service. My earlier two points have covered some of them. Nevertheless, they are worth reiterating.

  1. Be more understanding;
  2. Express gratitude;
  3. Demonstrate patience;
  4. Extend grace.

The part about demonstrating patience is actually something very biblical. Remember what Jesus said: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31)?

We would not want to be on the receiving end of an impatient customer. It gives us stress. It can make us angry. It kills our zest for life. If every person learns to be more patient each day, instead of a vicious cycle of impatience begetting intolerance, we can start a movement of not complaining, of being thankful and develop a virtue of patient living. I remember reading a road sign near a hospital that says: "Be patient. Not a patient." I would want to suggest that it applies beyond hospital grounds.

So, my fellow readers. Tip well. Give appropriately, even generously if you can. Be thankful, invest in the future and demonstrate the virtue of patience. Let me conclude with Margaret Visser's excellent quip from St John of the Cross.

"At the end of the day," writes Saint John of the Cross, "you will be examined in love." And the fruits of our loving, our giving, and our gratitude will provide the evidence: "Only what you have given, be it only in the gratitude of acceptance, is salvaged from the nothing which some day will have been your life." (Margaret Visser, The Gift of Thanks, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2008, p392-3)

Some Helpful Tipping sites include:
1) (
2) Tips on Tipping for Canadians
3) List of Different Tipping Guidelines for Various Services
4) How Much to Tip? (Vancouver)


Rosie Perera said...

This reminds me of a story Gordon Fee told once. I hope he doesn't mind my repeating it here. He was out to lunch with a Christian friend of his. When it came time to pay for their food, Gordon put down a moderate tip. His friend reached across the table and shoved the tip money back towards Gordon with a vituperative scolding: "You don't tip more than you give God!" Gordon told us that he was thinking (I don't think he said it openly to his friend): "Who says I only give God 10%?"

YAPdates said...

Thanks Rosie. I think I have heard that before and it is nice to hear it again.

Latest Posts