One Small Change: Tipping My Hand

Cara Strickland has been such an encouragement to me in my blogging journey. She’s always there with a kind comment when I most need it. Her own blog, Little Did She Know, is full of insight, vulnerability, and just plain beautiful writing. I love her call to small, doable change here for us today.

Photo by: Soon of Groucho, Creative Commons
Photo by: Soon of Groucho, Creative Commons

As I drove to brunch this last weekend, I noticed a chef coming out of the posh restaurant to which I was going. He walked slowly, cigarette in hand, before stopping in front of a bar and lighting up, far away from the customers he served. There, away from being seen, he leaned heavily against the storefront and let his shoulders sag.

As I approached my friend, waving and smiling, our waiter came to the table, situated on the patio. He was smiling too, and dressed in black long-sleeves with a bright red tie, in 97-degree weather.

We spent a lovely morning talking and eating and catching up. Our waiter took good care of us, making sure that we were comfortable, adjusting our umbrella, filling our water glasses. He treated us with grace.

It is easy for me to picture what a person in need, or a person hurting, looks like in my mind. I will tell you this: that person is not smiling at me, pulling out my chair and asking what I’d like to drink.

Several years ago, I got involved with a nonprofit dedicated to helping those in the restaurant and hospitality industry. At first, I was surprised. These people have jobs and they eat better than I do, I thought.

What I didn’t see was the multiple jobs and inconsistent hours, which are sometimes cut when things aren’t as busy as expected. I didn’t know about the strained and broken relationships, lack of health insurance and extreme loneliness. I began to learn about the largest industry in the United States made up of my neighbors and friends and brothers and sisters in Christ.

I found out that this industry has the highest rate of alcohol and drug abuse in the country. But then I spoke to servers and dishwashers and chefs and hotel maids and desk clerks. Off the clock, I have seen the tension of working while others sleep or play, the struggle of making ends meet, but also the longing for ends to meet in their souls. Drugs and alcohol do not sleep, they are always present.

This seems a big thing. But it is a little thing that I have found to do in response. Now, when I go out to eat, I tip as if I were receiving it, with love, with care. If I can’t afford to tip this way, that day, I don’t go.

Photo from Seattle Municipal Archives, Creative Commons
Photo from Seattle Municipal Archives, Creative Commons

But more than that, when I say ‘thank you’ I look my server in the eye. When I speak, I speak to a person, as a person with feelings, emotions, hopes and losses between us.

One of my favorite services in the Book of Common Prayer is compline, discovered as I explored the world beyond my evangelical upbringing when I was in college. There is a prayer housed within which goes like this:

Oh God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

When I pray this prayer, I think about those who serve, and clean and do other people’s dishes. I think about the mothers walking the floors with their babies, and the child snug in her bed as the babysitter watches TV, and her parents work long into the night. And I ponder this thing: that somehow, beautiful and inexplicable, this life we have in common depends on one another, and our mutual toil.


cara strickland

Cara Strickland writes about life and faith in Washington State. In her spare time, she has the honor of writing restaurant reviews for a local magazine.

She enjoys deep conversations, cups of tea, and books as well as laughter, liturgy and community.

You can connect with her further on her blog, Little Did She Know or Twitter.


32 thoughts on “One Small Change: Tipping My Hand

  1. As a former restaurant industry worker of 6 years, I really appreciate this post. Working in the industry can often make you feel like less of a person. But the things you have started doing are exactly what makes a worker feel like a valuable person. They are the same things I do now, too. Tip well, express gratitude often, and treat the workers like they are intelligent and important people.

    1. Thank you, Joshua!
      I have to say, some of my favorite people work in the industry. They are interesting, friendly, fascinating, and yes, so important.
      I’m glad you’ve had the view from the other side and that it has changed the way you eat out.
      Thanks so much for saying hello!

  2. I was praying the other day, about to share some white bun and ham sandwiches with my grandchildren, and part of what I prayed was thanking the Lord for the person that raised the pig and butchered it. There were a few quiet giggles, but a good conversation afterward about ‘our common life’. I love being alive and the decades are flying past until we see Jesus!!

  3. As someone who’s worked in the hospitality industry for more than 25 years (I started as a singing waiter), please accept my robust thanks for this. I know what it’s like to be treated as non-human. When a server approaches my table and asks “how are you tonight?”, I always ask the same in return. The human connection – the look into his or her eyes – is just as important as the tip.

    Germane to the conversation, I’ve recently been on my own journey in learning how to recognize and treat people who are homeless as people. I know how that sounds…but just like it’s easy to treat servers as a function and not a person, I find it far too easy to treat homeless people as if they don’t exist. I’m working hard to change that.

    All my best to you.

    1. Oh Ford,
      I love the way you’re using your intimate knowledge of the industry to spread beauty.
      I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a singing waiter. I’m sure you have some stories…
      You’re right, tipping is important, but the human connection is irreplaceable, no matter how much you tip.

      Thank you for your challenge regarding the homeless community. This is one of my struggles as well, and I’m asking for Jesus’ eyes in this as well.

      Thank you so much for commenting, Ford.

  4. My mom worked as a waitress for many years in the kind of “posh restaurants” you describe. She told me so many stories—some hilarious, and some heartbreaking. To this day, I tip at least 20%—my wife is with me on this—and if we can’t swing it, we don’t go. P.S. Was raised Episcopalian, and I love the Prayer Book quote.

    1. David,
      Isn’t it amazing how our perceptions change when we hear stories from the people they happen to? (Or experience them ourselves?) I love the way that you and your wife have embraced tipping, not as an “extra,” but a necessity.
      Thank you for sharing your story with me, it means a lot.
      (and I’m glad you enjoyed the prayer, I think that evangelical youth rebelled by praying common prayer :))

      1. The tip is a necessity to the wait staff—it’s part of their pay. My mom taught be that. (And though I’m now Catholic—my own rebellion, perhaps—I still love the BCP.)

  5. I loved this. My husband has really challenged me in this area. He is an extremely generous tipper. I tend to be more of a penny pincher, especially when dining out. But he has really helped me find joy in being somewhat extravagant with our tips. And now, it’s one of the things I love and appreciate most about him.

    1. I love this, Courtney.
      There is nothing more fun that giving an extravagant tip, no strings attached.
      And I’m delighted that you’re finding joy in this process. Eating out can be so impersonal, but I’m finding that this small change in attitude and behavior really make a difference in the whole experience.

    1. Thank you for sharing this, Rivikah!
      It breaks my heart that restaurant owners have to think in this way, needing to protect their employees from controlling patrons.
      All the more reason to treat people like people!

  6. Great insights, Cara! I have a number of friends who have worked at restaurants in various capacities and know how true this all is. The stories they’ve shared! Even if I didn’t know all this, my years working in retail showed me we never know what another person is going through and the person on the other side of the counter (or table) is a person who deserves to be treated with respect. And so I do.

    1. Yes Leigh!
      This is so not limited to restaurants, for sure! I’ve spent my fair share on the other side of a counter, and it meant the world when people would make eye contact and smile. The smallest things…
      We all need respect and humanity.
      Thanks for your comment, friend!

  7. Thanks, Cara! When I moved to a new place and found myself working at Subway for a few months, it changed the way I think about tipping in fast food/coffee shops. Some don’t allow it, but if there is a tip box, now I try to at least put in my change (yes it adds up!) or a dollar. These people aren’t officially working in a role that “deserves” a tip, but it is no fun to make minimum wage for being on your feet all day, and a few extra dollars can make someone’s day.

    1. Love this perspective, Katie!
      It’s so easy to avoid the tip jar, isn’t it?
      I’m always working to remember that people are working so that I can eat (and generally live my life). It’s humbling, and such a place of connection.
      Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thank you for this, Cara. Beautiful. I served meals at a bed and breakfast for several years and was always so grateful to those people who asked me about my life–whether it was simply a “how are you?” or a “how long have you been working here?” It was easy for me to feel invisible and intrusive as I poured yet another glass of water. Those simple questions, those generous tippers, helped me pay the rent and feel like a real person.

    1. Oh Shar,
      I love this. It doesn’t take much, does it? And your thoughts on not wanting to be intrusive, yes, I see that as well. I love the idea of public interactions with people being more about everyone there. There is a reason I sometimes choose not to be at home to eat, I want others to be a part of it.
      Thank you for sharing!

  9. Cara, as always I love how you challenge yourself to live out your faith in your everyday actions. This is something my husband and I feel strongly about, too, and the prayer you shared challenges me further on it.

    1. Thank you, Kim!
      These little changes really help. It’s so easy for me to get overwhelmed and feel small. I love the idea of focusing on one small thing and really thinking into it and pressing through.

  10. Love seeing you here, Cara!

    I just read this quote from “Mere Christianity” (C.S. Lewis) the other day, of which I was reminded when I read this blog: “Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help.” Cultural difference? I know tipping really isn’t as big of a thing in England nowadays, though I don’t really know much about the restaurant and hospitality industries over there. Now, I’m curious.

    1. I don’t know a lot about it either. I’ll have to ask my British friends.
      Thanks for sharing this, food for thought, certainly.
      I think that the hardest thing I’ve learned is that I’m not always a good judge of who “needs help.”

  11. Amen to this, Cara. And thank you! While our son was getting his science requirements out of the way in preparation for med school (after majoring in philosophy in college!!!!), he worked as a bellman. He’d come home, late at night, exhausted. And he told me, clearly, “Mom, be generous when you tip the people who wait on you in restaurants and hotels. They really deserve it and they’re not paid nearly enough.” I’ve followed that advice religiously ever since then. (That was almost twenty years ago now . . . )

    1. Such true words. It’s amazing how different the restaurant and hospitality professions are from other kinds of jobs. My eyes have really been opened, and I’m so glad.
      Wonderful to hear from others who make people a priority. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Thank you for these thoughtful words Cara, they really spoke to me – and inspired me to make a ‘small change’ in this area.

  13. I’m late to this post/conversation, but SO well said, Cara! I had a few restaurant jobs as a teen/young adult, and I have often thought how great would it be if we could all experience a food service/hospitality job somehow in our schooling/training? We all eat out at some point, and it really is humbling/eye-opening to be on the other side of the counter/table. Sorry for all the slashes, just typing as I think here 🙂 I always try to tip as much as I can as well, having lived for those tips! Now living in NZ, things are different–no tipping (or very rarely)!

    1. Thank you for saying hello, Elisabeth!
      I agree, it’s makes such a difference if you’ve been on the other side of a hospitality exchange. It’s easy to feel entitlement creep in when dining out.
      I know you’re finding ways to make connections with those serving you even in the absence of tips in NZ 🙂

  14. I too tip a minimum of 20%. I loved this post. People that serve us and especially those who do it well deserve not just our tip but our recognition too. And not just in restaurants but in every facet of life where we come in contact with another human being. If a checker at Target is especially gracious or kind I tell them. The young man, Kevin, at my local Goodwill knows how much I appreciate him. I was deathly sick for 3 1/2 years and it was the kind people that I so appreciated. They made a big difference by doing the smallest of things. Like the nurse helping me to the shower for the first time after major surgery when other nurses had mistreated me the night before because I was allergic to the pain medicine I was to self administer via a pump. They refused to request different medicine for me so I laid there in pain instead of pushing the pump that made me itch all over and be in misery. Once you experience evil people while being chronically ill you come to appreciate the kind and thoughtful people all the more. I personally wanted them to know I did not take their kindness lightly.

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