Tip Creep and Giving a Worker His Wage

The other day we were having dinner with a friend, and he expressed his frustration over “tip creep,” or the ascent of expected tips at restaurants and other service venues that has taken place in recent years.

Fifteen percent used to be the standard tip with anything above being considered generous. Then the standard became 20 percent, and now some places (in big cities mainly) are suggesting 25 percent.

A New York Post article highlighted the topic last month:

As a former waiter at an Upper East Side diner, Brian Moore considers himself a generous tipper. But he’s set off by the increasing number of people with their hands out, and a “sense of entitlement” that skips over the time-honored equation whereby a generous tip is considered a reward for a job well done.

“It’s just expected no matter what,” 48-year-old Moore says. “Sometimes I feel like I’m going through life like Robert De Niro going through the nightclub in ‘GoodFellas,’ tipping people right and left just for smiling at me.”

He’s got plenty of company. Consumer experts agree the average New Yorker is being besieged by an ever-growing number of service workers who are after an ever-growing slice of their spending money. Not only are there more hands reaching into your pocket, they’re expecting more: “Suggested” gratuities can run to 25 or even 30 percent, a number that might have been laughed off just a few years ago.

We’ve discussed tipping and Christlikeness on this blog before; the consensus was Christians should tip if they want to be a good witness. Unfortunately, Christians are notorious for not tipping, which doesn’t reflect the generosity God has shown us. (And, if you use that logic, Christians should be the most generous tippers.)

My basis for tipping — and I err on the side of generosity — comes from 1 Timothy 5:18: “For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.'” This verse is speaking specifically in the context of those who minister to us within the church, but it quotes parts of Scripture that have a wider application to laborers in general.

As a former server (and the former roommate of a server), I know that restaurants often pay a low wage (sometimes below minimum wage) that anticipates servers will make 20 percent on tips. So when you refuse to up your tip, you’re not penalizing the restaurant but the worker.

My roommate used to tell me about how badly she felt when pastors would come in and be friendly to her but tip the bare minimum when she felt she’d done a good job. To her, it communicated that they hadn’t valued her service (and, by extension, her). It’s unfortunate that that’s what a “standard” tip communicated, but it did.

So what’s a Christian to do with the reality of “tip creep”? Do we stick with the old standard and disguise the fact that we’re Christians as to not send the wrong message? Do we tip erring on the side of generosity even when the person serving us has only done an average job for the sake of our testimony? Or do we blaze new trails into ultra-generous tips to fit the phrase “Christians should be the most generous tippers”? (Which I’ve heard people say on many occasions).

I’ll leave you with one more tidbit from the article:

So the slow shift toward ever higher tips will continue, begging the question: Where will it end? Ten percent was the norm back in Eisenhower’s day, and it’s taken 50 years to reach the point where 25 percent isn’t unthinkable. How much longer before we’re seeing a suggested gratuity of 40 or even 50 percent?

I’m still a believer in generous tipping, but I’ll have to stop eating at restaurants long before then.

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About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, who is a family pastor, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.

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