If you’ve spent any time in or around the service industry, you know the old truism about working the Sunday lunch shift. The idea is that waiters don’t like Sunday brunch and lunch because the after church crowd tips poorly. You can find people joking about it in memes and hear servers and bartenders swap stories about getting stiffed on Sundays. Not exactly a flattering look for the church crowd.
But is it accurate? That’s a little harder to say. A 2010 study from Michael Lynn of Cornell University and Benjamin Katz of HCD Research found that in general, Christians tip about on par with the general public, leaving a little over 17 percent on average for good service. That’s pretty much within the 15 to 20 percent range of the rest of America. Only 13 percent of Christians studied say they leave less than 15 percent. That’s not a lot of Christians, but it’s about twice as much as the public at large.
In other words, it is both true that Christians are statistically average tippers and that they are more likely to tip poorly than the average diner.
The study did find that people of Jewish faith and people with no religion at all are statistically the most generous tippers.
There are a few possible reasons for this, according to the study, and some of them are more valid than others. Lynn and Katz speculate that Christians may consider other forms of financial giving to take the place of generous tipping. They also say that Christians might perceive Sunday servers as not going to church and, therefore, not “deserving” of generosity.
Whatever the reason, Christians as a whole can keep Matthew 25 in the forefront of their minds when it comes to tipping and all forms of charity. In many states, servers make far less than minimum wage, since the law counts on tips to make up the difference. That’s legal, but it also means that many servers are dependent on the generosity of their diners for things like rent, childcare and healthcare. In other words, when you tip your server, you’re likely tipping someone in need — and Jesus will always identify with those in need.
Many diners see tipping as a sort of test of a server’s ability to deliver a great experience, and certainly people in the restaurant industry should and usually do strive to provide their guests with a good experience. But best laid plans go awry, and if you’ve worked in the restaurant industry, you know how many things can go wrong that end up costing you a needed tip — things outside of your control. That can’t always be helped, but Christians can always remember to be gracious, understanding and patient with a server in a stressful job. The COVID-19 pandemic has made waiting tables a far more hectic, demanding and even dangerous environment, with the industry bleeding workers over complaints of mounting rudeness among guests.
Christians can’t necessarily turn that around on their own. But what they can do is turn the Sunday lunch shift around, devoting themselves to generosity. Statistically speaking, Christians aren’t necessarily bad tippers. But the perception does exist, and it’s a perception Christians have the power to change.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.