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Thursday, January 31, 2013


The whole point of a tip is that a customer does not have to leave one: Tips--at least in the classical sense--are small bonuses given in recognition of superior service.  It's a little known fact that the practice, such as it was, originated accidentally with eccentric nobleman Wilfred Spoonscot.  Spoonscot wished to express his appreciation to a waiter who had, in accordance with his (Spoonscot's) wishes, hand-fed him an entire plate of wild rice, grain by individual grain.  Spoonscot had forgotten that he had placed his changepurse under his hat--a habit he had developed while on a Madagascaran safari in order to prevent the purse from being snatched by lemurs. Thus, when he "tipped" his hat to thank the waiter, several coins fell into the waiter's hand (and on his head--he was quite short), and Spoonscot was too embarrassed to ask for them back.  Other diners saw Spoonscot's act of magnanimity, and not wishing to be outshone by a lemurphobic rice nibbler, quickly adopted the practice as well.

That's how I like to imagine it happened, anyway.

We've come a long way from the original concept of "tip as reward."  Indeed, tips have become such a routine part of the restaurant experience that we only truly wrestle with the idea when we consider NOT tipping.  And it probably takes truly horrendous service to merit such action.

From what I've read and seen, Alois Bell, a pastor in the St. Louis area, did NOT receive horrendous service when she took some friends to a local Applebee's.  She did, however, have more than eight people in her party, which led to an automatic 18% tip being added to her bill.  Now, I understand the annoyance of such a surcharge.  In a sense, it's insulting: It almost accuses the customer of planning to stiff the server.  Moreover, my understanding has always been that a "standard" tip is 15%--where does Applebee's get off arbitrarily slapping on an additional three percent?  But I also see Applebee's point: After all, if a large party (however one defines "large") comes in, a server may have to work a bit harder, and the restaurant may want to take steps to ensure that the server is NOT stiffed.  At any rate, if this is the restaurant's policy, one should really complain to the management and not target one's wrath at the poor waitress.

That, however, is just what Bell did.  On her bill, in a space where she could have added an "additional tip" (beyond the 18%), Bell wrote: "I give God 10% why do you get 18."  Chelsea Welch, a colleague of Bell's waitress, took a picture of the bill and posted it online, where the photo quickly went viral.  Yesterday, after the pastor complained to managers over the "embarrassment" this photo had caused, Applebee's fired Welch.

I guess I understand why Applebee's fired the waitress--what she did was probably against some kind of corporate rules.  At the same time, though, I can't help but wonder about Alois Bell.  Here's a woman--a "good Christian," right?--offended that another woman--a woman who presumably makes little more than the minimum wage (and may well make less); a woman whose corporate overlords have threatened layoffs if forced to comply with the Affordable Care Act--should receive an 18% tip (which looks like it amounted to all of $6.00 and change).  Bell was so offended by this that she felt the need to engage in a bit of petty snark.  She then complained to Applebee's managers NOT about their tipping policy, but rather about the fact that she was embarrassed by the fact that her own snark went public--despite the fact that the actual picture (from what I can see) does not show her name.  ("Yes!  That was MY bill!  Me!  Alois Bell!  And I'm embarrassed that people saw it!  I, Alois Bell, am embarrassed!")  And this has led to the firing of another waitress, who probably needed the subsistence wages a lot more than God needs 10% of Bell's salary.

Look, far be it from little ol' Jewish me to presume to understand Jesus Christ better than the Right Reverend Alois Bell, but didn't the J-man say something about "turning the other cheek"?  I can't help but think he would have been a good tipper, too.

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