For a helpful blog post on Christians and tipping, read this by Trevin Wax.
I used to work as a server in a restaurant for a number of years, helping to pay my way through school. For those who’ve worked in a restaurant, particularly as a server, you get to see what people are really like, and especially what Christians are really like. They’re pretty easy to spot: they usually pray before their meals, wear “Jesus is my homeboy” T-shirts (or something similar), usually order iced-tea or water with their meal, and come in unusually large groups (almost always wanting their checks to be split).
Once I served a guy with a “Youth Ministry” T-shirt, who came in with (his) two kids, and left a $0 tip. What most people don’t realize is that I lost money serving him because I ended up tipping out around $4 other service staff. Servers generally tip out 3-4% of their total sales, regardless of how much tip they get. That’s just how the restaurant industry works–and Christians should care.
It’s amazing how cheap many Christians can be–the same ones who’ve richly received the grace of God in Christ Jesus and have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3ff). But this is the very thing many Christians forget when dining out: God saved us by grace, not by works; and we’re called by God to be gracious to others and generous in all circumstances–even when, especially when, someone doesn’t deserve it. After all, a working definition of grace is “getting something (great) that you don’t deserve.” And, if you happen to say “grace” before your meal, especially in a group setting, your server knows. So as a Christian dining out, you’re automatically representing Jesus to your server. And if I remember correctly, Jesus gave us Something greater than we can ever deserve or work for.
So instead of asserting my rights as a patron and paying customer, here’s what I try to do when I dine out. I make sure to be polite to my server and not be obnoxious. When things take a long time and the server apologizes, I say “no problem.” I even try to get to know the server a little bit (like are you a student, what are you studying, how long have you been working here, etc), because chances are, your server likes to talk (or else, they probably wouldn’t be working in that industry). And I make sure to tip 20%, sometimes more if they’ve done a really great job. With the worst service and attitude, maybe I’ll leave 15%, but not less than that. I realize that my server has probably seen me say grace for my meal. Heck, I might even invite him/her to my church at the end of the meal. Because honestly, that extra few dollars you leave with them goes a long way. Think about it: 15% of a $20 meal is $3; 20% is $4–a $1 difference. That extra dollar communicates a lot and means a lot. You’re representing Jesus to be a generous God. You’re not wasting your money; you’re giving in generosity for services provided to you. I don’t know of a better investment of a dollar than to be a good witness. And isn’t that a worthy investment for God’s glory?