The 100% tip

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I was recently at one of those tex-mex chain restaurants (On the Border) with the family. The service was average at best and the food was far from great. However, I chatted with the waitress a bit and when I paid later, I left her a tip that was roughly equivalent to the bill. In other words, it was in the neighborhood of a 100% tip.

What I did is not unusual for my family. We like to do it and look forward to doing it. We don’t have any formula to calculate how much to tip but are looking for an excuse to tip a lot. It is not about the service or the food because often a server controls neither. I knew the main reason that our service was subpar that day was because the waitress was having to deal with a high school soccer team at a huge table across the restaurant. Obviously, the quality of the food was not her fault either.

Sometimes when we tip a lot, we leave before the server figures it out. It depends on how busy things are for the restaurant and us. However, if I had my druthers, I would prefer to hang around and watch. The other side of generosity is being a gracious receiver of generosity. I like to see their reaction and it gives them a chance to be a gracious receiver (which I will talk about in a second). And, if they come up to thank us, it in turn gives me a chance to be a gracious receiver of their thanks– and I must admit that I need more practice at that.

This time, the server (a young girl in community college) came up to the table, put her hand on my shoulder and very seriously thanked me. She was about to cry. I don’t know if the money itself was enormously significant to her; but for whatever reason, she was emotional. I was awkward in receiving her thanks but I made a valiant effort. And then we went home.

The food was forgettable. I forgot about it immediately. But I won’t forget the look on that server’s face for a long, long time.

That is what generosity will do for a giver. It can make a bad restaurant experience into a good experience. It is truth when the Bible says it is better to give than receive.

Obviously, tipping is just one small way to be generous. There are a number of reasons I like tipping in particular. First, as a friend recently observed to me, tipping is one of the rare acceptable ways to give money in our society. If you don’t believe me, just try going to your neighbor’s house to give them money.

Second, tipping tends to get money to those who often really need it. Your servers are single moms and kids working through school. They are people trying to work a second job to try to make ends meet. They are not wealthy but they are willing to work. In other words, they are safe bets for receivers of your generosity.

Third, tipping is a selfless activity for the most part. You are tipping after the service is done so your tip comes without strings attached. Nor are there any tax considerations. (As a side note, with the new much higher standard deduction in the US, the whole concept of tax deductible giving has been largely decimated. It will be interesting to see if people change their giving habits as a result.)

I want to get practical for a second. If you decide to tip generously, you can decide what that looks like. There is a current movement out there to tip 100% and use Twitter tags and pictures of receipts to document it for the world. I avoid that and I avoid the 100%-to-the-penny idea because I don’t want to do what other people do. I tip what I want to tip based on the situation. I think more in terms of just an amount rather than a percentage. It might be 50% or might be 300%.

This is a mindset change for people that are used to getting out a calculator to figure out a 15-20% tip to the penny. I used to be there and I am not judging anyone for being careful with their money. It is however ironic that the same people that think nothing of spending $25 on a steak are worried about whether to tip $4.75 or $5.25. Frankly, if a person is worried about the tip size, there is doubt as to whether they should be going to the restaurant in the first place.

If you do decide to tip extravagantly, I encourage you to hang around and interact with the server rather than dash. Yes, there is a place for anonymous giving but there is something beautiful about the process of giving and receiving. A good life is built on giving and receiving. If you leave before they find out, you take away the server’s ability to graciously receive. He/she needs to do that as much as you need to give.

I talk about this idea of receiving because I am a notoriously bad receiver. I am a generous giver; but I have a lot of work to do on the other side of the equation which by the way is every bit as important. I tend to get suspicious and uncomfortable when I receive, whether it is something like money or just a compliment. I am honestly telling you this because I want to emphasize that my generous tipping does not make me any better than anyone else. I have a lot of growing to do in this area.

I probably should close this by saying that what I am describing has nothing to do with wealth or being rich. Lots of people at every level of income know the beauty of generosity in regards to tipping. Rather, what I am describing is a way to have a richer life: a way to make a trip to a restaurant about more than just your next meal. It is a beautiful thing.