Recently Chelsea Welch, a waitress at a St. Louis Applebee's, was fired after posting a customer's receipt on line. The customer, a pastor, had crossed off the automatic 18% large group tip, written in zero, and added: "I give God 10% why do you get 18?"
The result has been a public relations nightmare for Applebee's and sparked a larger conversation.
Iowans all know that at Sunday brunch time, restaurants are packed with the after church crowd. But what we generally don't know is that the wait staff dreads these customers. "No one wanted the church crowd," writes Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon; "they don't tip."
Wait staff generally earn sub-minimum wage, and rely on their tips as the main portion of their income, so a stiffed or shorted tip hits them where they live.
"The pastor simply exposed something that is all too common to Christian thinking," writes Vaterie Tarico of AlterNet: "the sense that giving to the church and to religious charities is the be-all and end all of generosity."
This is hard to document and largely anecdotal, and I know plenty of generous conservatives and tightwad liberals. But the tipping issue is in part a question of empathy, writes Tarico:
Many of us give generously to wait-staff because we know what it’s like to be in their shoes. “Servers work hard for little money. A lot are just trying to pay their way through college or even just trying to make a little cash in high school, or even supporting a family.” “My friend works in a restaurant and I asked him how much he get paid. He said $2.00/ hr. and only depend on tips. I said, that’s against the minimum wage law? I need work just to survive to eat. Thinking about him, I always give at least 18% or 20 for the services they do.”It's also a dynamic of social distance. Half the small towns in Iowa have a change jar on the counter to take donations for the local sick child or family whose home burned down, and those are regularly filled by the neighbors and friends who know them and are like them. But if you go into town to a sit-down restaurant, the waitress may well be of a different age or class or race or personality, and thus they're less of an individual.
It's a phenomenon Cracked - yes, I'm citing Cracked - calls the "monkeysphere." Our brains are literally only big enough to make X number of people, about 150, "real" to us. Our chimpanzee relatives live in clusters of 30 to 50, because that's all the social relationships their smaller brains can handle. Any individuals above that are dehumanized, or rather de-chimp-anized.
The tipping ethic would be an interesting and difficult phenomenon to study. It also helps explain why some social conservative candidates have struggled to raise money.
Neither Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum were able to turn their Iowa caucus wins into long-haul sustainable campaigns, and money was an issue for both. If your base supporters are all tithed out with ongoing commitments to their own churches and charities, they may not want to or be able to fill out a quick check to a surging campaign. Or if they do, the check might be for $25 instead of $250.
That's not to say social conservative causes aren't well financed. But it does help explain why those issues are often organization-driven rather than candidate-driven, and why social conservative appeal alone has not yet been enough to clinch a Republican presidential nomination.