Are Christians Bad Tippers?

Photo Credit: Reddit

It was the restaurant receipt seen round the world.

As you may recall, late last month, a St. Louis-based pastor left controversial comments on an Applebee’s stub in protest of an automatic gratuity policy. The text read, “I give God 10% — why do you get 18?” After a waitress posted a picture of the receipt on Reddit, it went viral. Pastor Alois Bell’s identity was subsequently released and the employee who shared the document was fired (read the whole story here).

Following Internet furor over the pastor’s message about tipping policies, some critics are asking: Are Christians bad tippers?

Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, an English professor at Liberty University, recently made the theological case that religious Americans should tip well in an article for Christianity Today. In her piece, she shared her own experiences with bad Christian tippers during her younger years as a restaurant worker:

I experienced this dark underside of Christian culture while working my way through college as a waitress. My earliest waitressing years were at the kind of pancake joints where Christians love to congregate after Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening services. The other servers and I always dreaded these shifts: the after-church crowd came in to “fellowship” more than, you know, eat, and that meant pushing together a lot of tables so they could camp out for a long time without buying much more than the endless cup of coffee. Not that any restaurant manager worth her salt would begrudge them that. My fellow servers called them the “Holy Rollers.” Knowing there would be little, if any, tip left at the end of their meal, the servers saw the Christians’ robust attempts at “friendliness” instead as pushy and arrogant. The memories still pain me now.

Decades later, my students who work as servers assure me that little has changed.

Are Christians Bad Tippers?

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While Prior noted that Christians are among the most benevolent in society, she also called believers out for not tipping at the level they should. In explaining the reasons for alleged lackluster tipping, she said it’s possible that religious Americans are ignorant to the low hourly wages that restaurant workers generally receive (i.e. they assume they make more than they really do).

Additionally, a down economy could be at play, however, she settled on bad theology as the central reasoning for a perceived dearth in Christian tipping (her arguments can be read in full here). She continued:

It goes back, I suspect, to the unfortunate sway Gnosticism has had on Christianity since its early years. Gnosticism is a dualistic worldview that separates the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, elevating the spiritual and denouncing matter as evil. Under this view, giving one’s money to support a Christian mission is seen as good, but spending money on earthly pleasures—like eating out—while not necessarily bad, isn’t quite as good.

This Gnostic influence on the church can be seen in much more insidious ways than in poor restaurant behavior (for example, in thinking of the role of pastor as a “higher calling” than that of, say, an accountant), but spotting and correcting such heresies often begins with the small things.

But while some Christians may actually be terrible tippers, in a separate post, Christianity Today highlights research that comes to a different conclusion, as it finds that churchgoers actually give above and beyond what they should when dining out. The analysis is based on a post on LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer’s blog, where the social scientist recently attempted to dispel rumors that Christians simply aren’t good tippers.

Stetzer highlights a study that was done last year about self-reported tipping. Entitled, “Are Christians/Religious People Poor Tippers?,” the investigation into the matter — one of the only known studies of its kind — was published last year in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Researchers Michael Lynn of Cornell University and Benjamin Katz of HCD Research found that the perception that Christians and the religious are bad tippers is not necessarily rooted in reality.

Before continuing, it should be cautioned that self-reported data takes into account only self-perceived actions, not events as they have actually unfolded. It’s entirely possible for respondents to over or under assess personal tipping patterns. Still, the results, collected in a web survey, are worth examining. Here’s what the Lynn and Katz have to say about their three, key findings:

The results of this study produced three notable findings about the relationships between religion and tipping. First, Jews and those with no religion tip significantly more than Christians and members of other religions. However, the average Christian tips 17 percent of the bill when receiving good restaurant service and only 13 out of 100 Christians receiving good service leave a tip below 15 percent of the bill. Second, worship frequency has no significant main effect on reported tipping. Third, worship frequency significantly interacts with service quality such that the effects of service quality on tips were stronger the less frequently the tipper attends religious services.

In his analysis of the results, Stetzer claims that “facts are our friends” and that perception, in this case, is not. While some may believe, based on anecdotal examples, that Christians are horrible tippers, at least one study exposes that this isn’t the case.

Stetzer went on in his blog post to encourage Christians to be “better tippers for the glory of God,” as he claims that the issue is harming believers’ reputations.

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