Did You Hear the One About the Angry Pastor and the Restaurant Server Who Went Viral?

My buddy, Steve Sjogren, first alerted me to the image of a receipt on which a pastor refused to leave a tip because she already gave 10% to God. He suggested I might want to blog on the story.

Since then, I’ve learned more of the details:

A Friday night meal at Applebee’s resulted in more than either the
customer or a waitress working that night bargained for after a pastor’s
refusal to pay a tip was shared online.

Though the embarrassed patron has apologized for her actions, the old
adage of the customer always being right may have some truth to it, as
the waitress who posted photo evidence of the tip snub lost her job for
doing so.

The trouble began last Friday, when Pastor Alois Bell went to the
local chain restaurant with several others following a service at Truth
in the World Deliverance Ministries.

When the bill came, she did not include a tip on the signed copy of her receipt. She did, however, include the reason why.

“I give God 10 [percent],” the note on the receipt read. “Why do you get 18?”

The waitress, who has been identified only as Chelsea by The Consumerist,
posted a picture of the note on the popular user-powered news site
Reddit, along with the caption, “My mistake sir, I’m sure Jesus will pay
for my rent and groceries.”

“I originally posted the note as a lighthearted joke,” she told The
Consumerist. “I thought the note was insulting, but it was also comical.
I posted it to Reddit because I thought other users would find it
entertaining.”

Her post instantly got the attention of other users, and eventually
the news media. The popular story also got back to its source – Bell –
on Wednesday, though she was less amused than others who had seen it
before her. She called the Applebee’s where she had eaten to voice her
frustration over the sharing of the image, which includes her signature.

Chelsea was fired by managers at the restaurant following the call,
despite reportedly being a model employee before this incident…

In an interview with The Smoking Gun,
Bell apologized for her actions, which she described as “lapse in [her]
character and judgment,” adding that she did leave a $6 cash tip on the
table for the waitress who served them that night – who was not
Chelsea.

“My heart is really broken,” she was quoted as saying. “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”

Is billing customers 18% for tips a good policy? Probably not and probably not smart either. While many restaurant patrons are no doubt cheap, inconsiderate of the hard work done by servers and other restaurant personnel, a customer alienated because of a set charge for tips is not likely to return, meaning no business and no tips.

Was Applebee’s right in firing the server? Probably. Whether it was in the company manual or not, she seems to have willfully violated the privacy of another person for what she characterizes as a lighthearted prank. It hardly seems that.

Was the pastor wrong to refuse to pay the tip and to do so invoking both God and her calling as a pastor? I feel so. I also think that she was right to apologize.

Here’s a look at the receipt and Pastor Bell’s note.

The entire incident evokes all sorts of thoughts and feelings from me.

[Read the entire post here. Warning: The rest of the post is overtly Christian, based on my reactions as a Christian pastor to an incident involving a Christian pastor.]

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Author: MARK DANIELS

  • sheknows

    Well, like you say, a couple of thoughts come to mind. First of all, most people in the modern world USA know that tips are now about 20%. It is one of our UNSPOKEN social guidelines, although occassionally you will see it included in higher end restaurants and hotels. Applebees is neither. I could understand if there was a waitress union or something they must conform to, but that is not the case. I saw a tip jar at a local restaurant/pub that has a small paper on it reading “If you like our service, show a kindness. Thankyou”. It was stuffed with tips. Applebees lacked subtlety.
    Should she have been fired? I don’t think so. The customer was insulted by the MANAGEMENT insisting on 18%, not the waitress. She really brought to light a customer reacting to a bad management decision, and that is why they fired her.
    The customer was embarrassed, and should have been for stiffing that particuliar waitress with a ridiculous excuse. The customer was insulted by the restaurants policy and shouldn’t have taken it out on the waitress.

  • The_Ohioan

    I enjoyed the exercise and think your points are well made. All the waitress had to do was cover the name to stay out of trouble. The pastor seems to have brought her troubles on herself. Which is what most of us usually do.

  • adelinesdad

    My understanding is that the 18% tip was automatically added due to the fact that it was a large group, which (although I don’t eat out much) I understand is pretty common practice in order to protect waiters and waitresses.

    I think it is destructive to our society that we live in a culture where private acts, even wrong-headed ones, can go viral. Among all the other good and bad things it does, the internet has overstimulated our meddlesome natures. With some exceptions where there is some compelling reason, private acts and conversations should remain private. The reason given why the note was shared in this case is that the person thought it was funny, which obviously is not a very compelling reason.

    Some justify the publishing of the note by saying that the woman deserves to be outed as rude and hypocritical. I’d respond by saying we all have our character flaws and moments of poor judgment. Maybe she really is a good person at heart, or maybe she isn’t and just upset that she got caught. Either way, I think the right to privacy includes not being thrust into the public spotlight against your will or knowledge to face the judgment of the masses just because someone thinks it’s funny.

  • zusa1

    I agree adelinesdad.

    Even good people have bad days. Can’t we cut each other a little slack?

  • ordinarysparrow

    In the big picture … this is likely a powerful lesson for this pastor… sounds like she has been humbled, brought to her knees…maybe she will stay there… and this will be a blessing for her and her church members…

    Have long believed when one is on a committed spiritual path that life finds many ways to humble the egoic so it serves the Higher rather than demanding the Higher serve it…

    I am sorry the other woman lost her job…

  • http://elijahssweetespot.com tidbits

    A contrary view.

    The Pastor displayed egocentric anger twice. Once in writing what she did on the bill and again in calling the restaurant to complain when she learned of it being posted online. The kind, selfless [dare I say Christian] approach would have been to reach out in compassion to the employee, insist that the employee not lose her job because of the Pastor’s angry reaction to two situations, and perhaps even offer a belated tip.

    Given the ego based reaction of the Pastor I question whether any current expressions of humility or regret are more than an attempt to save face after having been caught publicly in an embarassing situation.

    Of course, I don’t read the hearts of others, so this is just one speculation.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Amen Tidbits and Jason…..

  • zusa1

    I don’t think Applebees had any choice but to fire her. The original exchange was between a customer and an employee of Applebees. This was not a private transaction between the waitress and the customer. The original waitress kept the issue “in house” when she showed the note to another employee. In my opinion, the second employee committed an ethics violation by publicly disclosing details of Applebees company business: a complaint regarding Appleby’s tipping policy.

    And is this kind of thing on the internet just another form of reality TV type entertainment?

  • zusa1

    According to Applebees, she did pay the tip.

    “Applebee’s spokesman Dan Smith said Friday that the group was large enough that an automatic 18 percent tip was added to the bill.

    The full cost for the table was $34.93, including the tip, which Smith said the customer paid despite the comment.”

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57567225/applebees-waitress-fired-for-posting-customer-comment-online/

    Is this gossiping gone viral?

  • cjjack

    I waited tables for a living in the days when it would have taken a long time to upload a photo of anything to the internet, let alone have it “go viral.” There were times when I got “stiffed,” and times when customers filled out the comment card in a way that got me a sit down conversation with the manager.

    I took it as an opportunity to learn and get better at my job. Taking one of those comment cards or less than stellar tips and attempting to exact some sort of retribution out of the offending customer would have been terribly unprofessional. Sometimes you wait on jerks and cheapskates. It comes with the territory. I chose to focus instead on the good tips and great interactions with good customers.

    Now, I’m not a Christian, but I did go to read the full story on Mark’s blog. The points about pastors being sometimes responsible for their own negative image (#3 and #4, for those of you reading along at home) are spot-on. I was that spiritually disconnected restaurant server, and though I never waited on one, I’ve run across a few pastors who thought their job title entitled them to talk down to me.

    This pastor was full of herself, and wrong to write the comment. The waitress who uploaded the photo was unprofessional for doing so, and at the very least deserved to be disciplined.

    This incident reminded me of an exchange I had with couple that were regulars at our restaurant. They were elderly, very nice, very particular about their service, and anyone who hadn’t waited on them before was warned that they’d probably bring up religion if there was a chance for conversation. The couple felt it was their duty to shepherd us young folks towards a more spiritual outlook. My first time, the gentleman brought up the work going on at a particle accelerator and said “why are scientists trying to discover how the universe was created, when we already know? It’s right there in the Bible, after all.”

    I replied by pointing out that St. Thomas Aquinas said that faith and reason are not opposites, as they both seek the same thing: Truth. The old man smiled, clapped quietly and said “bravo, young man…well done.”

  • Jim Satterfield

    Looking at the picture of the receipt it looks like the $34.93 did not include the 18% tip.

  • zusa1

    Jim, That’s what I thought too. Not sure about discrenpancy.

  • sheknows

    In the article it did say she went back and left a $6 tip, but for another waitress. My understanding is that she did not pay the 18%, but complained about it.
    Just a side note: 4 of us went to dinner at a very nice restaurant and the bill came to $92.75. Nowhere was there mention of an included tip. Maybe it is supposed to be policy as jason states, but I haven’t seen it here in Omaha.
    I also eat at Applebees with my friends, but again..no tip on the check.
    Even if there was though I doubt any of us would write a note like that.
    She should have taken it up with the manager and perhaps he could have explained it to her BEFORE she left that note.

  • sheknows

    Shge also made it VERY personal when she wrote ” I pay God 10%, why should YOU get 18%”. That was rude and hurtful.

  • dduck

    That note seemed to be a joke and was, I think, directed at the restaurant. In NYC it is automatic and not optional. And, to travelers, the included service charge is included and then you are expected to also tip. This can be confusing and embarrassing, I know.
    All in all, give the woman back her job and we all learned a lesson about the quirks of the internet.

  • The_Ohioan

    Sarcasm is always hostile, or so I was told by another pastor.

  • adelinesdad

    jason,

    I have not worked as a waiter but I have worked in fast food and my wife was a waitress. In any case, I’d bet although we’ve all probably done something that we feel ashamed of, and maybe even been humiliated by having that mistake made known to people who don’t know us and were not involved, but few if any of us have had that humiliation magnified to a “viral” degree. I came to settle on this principle (that private acts and conversations should remain private absent a compelling public interest) in response the nurse that committed suicide in England. Though it was almost universally agreed that her mistake was minor and understandable, she apparently could not handle being thrust into the public spotlight even if the public was largely sympathetic. Those of us who have not been in that situation can’t speak to the feelings that accompany it. And some people are more prone than others to be traumatized by this. Without going into the boring details of my theories of social institutions, I believe privacy is an important principle to social cohesion.

    It is true that the pastor’s response does not live up to the Christian ideal of “turn the other cheek” and to look for blessings in the disguise of humiliation. However, no Christian, even men and women of the cloth, would claim to live up to that ideal to any degree of perfection. Similar to the ideal of not coveting and not lusting and many other Christian ideals, they are ideals to strive for but no one comes close to achieving them in this life. Given the magnitude of her humiliation (that few if any of us have experienced) I choose not to judge her for her harsh reaction. Though I agree that the ideal resolution would be for her to ask for the waitress to get her job back in an expression of forgiveness, thus hopefully repairing some of the damage done to both parties. Pride may get in the way of restitution, like it often does for most of us.

    ETA: For the record I don’t judge the waitress for posting the receipt, and I feel bad that she lost her job and as I mentioned I hope for a resolution that has her getting it back. What I am lamenting is the culture that made her feel it was OK to do it: a culture that I believe undervalues privacy and underestimates the power of social media to undermine it.

  • zusa1

    adelinesdad, Well said.

    I feel bad for the waitress too. She is young, and I try not to dwell on the poor judgement I sometimes used when I was young. It’s ironic that it was probably the virility of the posting that created the PR situation for Applebee’s where they felt they had to fire her.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Lots of bigger issues in the world but this one has peels… a few more peels…

    The pastor showed her butt, a shadow emerged through the ego that left the note at APPLEbees…All of us are mainly blind to our shadows… the pastor acted out some kind of angst on someone that likely did not deserve it… We don’t know what the acting out covers… it could well be an engulfing person from the past that demanded she give that which should of been a gifting or something she felt should not be given away?….or it could be an inflated egoic that has ‘stolen the pelt’ of self – importance from standing in front of the congregation week after week… instead of being the servant the inflated egoic wants to be served. We really do not know… But the pastor has been given a chance to gain a deeper self knowledge of her own dark…

    ” “Like all other lonely or hungry things, ego loves the light. It sees light, and the possibility of being close to the soul, and it creeps up to it and steals one of its essential camouflages. In a hunger for soul, our own ego-self steals the pelt” Clarissa Pinkola Estés

    The above is one of my all time favorite quotes from Dr. E….

    If we are honest, there are times when we too are visited by the shadow material… it just comes out…much like my little niece that soiled her pants and looked up at her mother that was holding back a scold; ” It just tumbs out.” …What is different here is much to the pastors dismay her’s came out on the World Wide Web… OUCH!

    When shame and blame are taken away from these kinds of events, they really are fertile opportunities for becoming a ‘ real ‘ human.

    I really hope and will pray the pastor learns and grows from this humbling and that the waitress is offered a better job somewhere else by some soul with a compassionate heart…

    Sometimes the ego or the super-ego will not let us see and take ownership for full range of experience in being human…. Sometimes we are jerks and the shadow comes out to dance…. Forget, ” Except for the grace of God there go i.” ….There go i is where the wheel meets the road for most of us. We are perfectly imperfect people…

  • dduck

    In the words of that great philosopher Yogi Berra: S____ happens.

  • Jim Satterfield

    sheknows, a group of 4 is not considered a large group. A large group is one that the standard seating of the restaurant can’t handle. When they have to consolidate tables or occupy multiple tables even though they are all together is when you might see an automatic addition of a tip.