An open letter to a fired waitress: I’m sorry we are so stingy

Chelsea Welch is a former Applebee’s waitress, recently fired for uploading a picture of a receipt from her work. Said receipt had been issued to a party served by one of her co-workers. The paying customer, Alois Bell, a St. Louis area pastor, went well out of her way to avoid a tip.

The large party had triggered the 18% auto-tip on the meal. Rather than paying the tip, pastor Bell marked out the auto-tip and added “$0” to the bill. Making matters worse, the “pastor” wrote “I give God 10% why should I give you 18?” across the receipt. She made sure to add the word “Pastor” above her signature.

After the story went viral The Smoking Gun heard from Bell,

“My heart is really broken,” Bell added. “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”

A spokesman for Applebee’s said it apologized to Bell for violating her “right to privacy” and confirmed that Welch “is no longer employed by the franchise.”

Look closely at the receipt and you will see the party of 8 people spent only $34.93 on the meal. That is an average of $4.37 each. Have you ever eaten at Applebee’s? Spending that little means

sharing meals or eating only appetizers. Typical menu entrees can exceed $11 each. The current special is 2 for $20. A party of three people eating a normal entree with tea or soft drinks can easily spend–before tip–as much as Bell’s entire party. [A friend suggested the $34.93 was only Bell’s portion, not the entire party. This seems to be the case. 2nd Update: A CNN interview claims the 18% was included in the total and charged to Bell’s credit card. The image does not seem to support the report. -MD]

Sad as it is that one server was chastised and stiffed by a customer, and Welch fired by her employer, I am incredibly thankful they brought this nonsense to light, and I’m compelled to write this open letter to Chelsea:

Dear Chelsea,
On behalf of some followers of Jesus Christ, I apologize. One dirty little secret of Americanized Christianity is how badly some of our tribe tip at restaurants. This is a terrible reality, but I am thankful you have brought it to light. Whether you realize it or not you have done us a great service.

Even though pastor Bell is embarrassed now, we should have been embarrassed for years. We have known about this attitude for a long time. Even though our Savior was generous, too many of us are stingy.

In fact, the excuse given–“I give God 10%”–is something I have heard in the past. After reading your story a friend of mine posted to Facebook about family members, both of whom are restaurant servers. They know servers must split tips with staff who do not work the floor. They know Sundays are the worst days to work, since many Christians do not order expensive drinks or tip well on what they do order.

Before the annual meeting of my own tribe social media becomes a flurry of reminders to tip well. I often wonder why the stinginess of many followers of Jesus is so well known it creates this cause for concern, but it remains so common.

I know it’s likely you made less than $3.00 an hour from the restaurant. If your former employer is like most restaurants your tips are part of your salary. Our chintziness is certainly no blessing to you.

It is obvious such poor character on our part is evidence that every negative thing you have heard about followers of Jesus might be true. Believe me that it is not a universal problem, but it is far too widespread. According to Yahoo you said, “I’ve been stiffed on tips before, but this is the first time I’ve seen the Big Man used as reasoning.” The “Big Man” is not the reason; He’s a convenient excuse for our own lack of generosity.

For many years my wife and myself have tipped 15, 20% or more on almost every meal. We have given gift card balances to our server far exceeding a regular tip. Only utterly awful servers do not receive good treatment. I dined with one pastor who left a $100 tip, well exceeding the cost of the entire meal. Many of us “get it.” I am so sorry you had to deal with one who does not.

Believe it or not, the God we (and pastor Bell) claim to serve is not chintzy, cheap or stingy. He is, in fact, extravagant. That we do not follow His lead when dealing with hardworking people in your field is to our shame.

I have no idea whether you will see this. The Internet can be a strange beast, so maybe you will. If you can email me through the “Contact” link above I will send you some money to help offset your loss of income. My family is not rich, so this will not be like that Nicolas Cage split-the-lottery movie. But, I will send you something. Please consider it a tangible apology for our pitiful habit in this area. Jesus is a lot better than how we tip.

Very Sincerely,
Marty Duren

The original image upload was on the sharing site under the title, My mistake sir, I’m sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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  • In my earlier years I was friends with most of the servers at the Chili’s in Lawrenceville. I found out that the 2 hardest shifts to fill with servers were Sunday afternoon and Wednesday night for just this reason. My church (and yours) was especially well-known for large groups of teenagers and college students coming in with groups of more than 10, half of which would only order water. It’s really sad that we as Christians are so renowned for being horrible customers. So much for charity.

    • martyduren

      Many years ago when I was a teen my pastor said, “If I order nothing but a cup of coffee I still leave at least a dollar tip.” That was when coffee cost 45 cents.

      If a person is so hard up for cash that a tip is out of the question, McDonald’s, Arby’s, et al, do not require tipping. He or she should go there instead. But, I fear, this is more about our hearts than anything else.

  • David Browning

    Good stuff! I remember being a server in the 90’s and all of us hated working a Sunday lunch. Not because of late Saturday nights, but because of the attitudes and stinginess of fellow Christians. It was BEYOND noticeable from the other 6 days of the week! And the negative witness left on fellow servers made impressions for life. Very sad.

  • Too bad the server was fired. I guess now they have an opening. Perhaps that’s something Pastor Bell could look into doing for a few months so that maybe she’ll have an inkling as to what servers do to pay their bills.

    • martyduren


  • Gary Snowden

    Thanks for the very appropriate letter, Marty. I hope that Chelsea does indeed see this and respond. My wife and I also typically tip at least 20% and more than that if the service is really good. Knowing that these servers depend on tips to supplement a very meager salary prompts us to do so.

  • Jacob Lancaster

    I worked at an Applebee’s for a short period of time a few years ago. I remember that the floor manager had a Sunday lunch motto that he used, “They’ve heard from God, and they’re pissed”.

    While working at a Friday’s restaurant for a year and a half gave me even more insight into the tipping habits. You can become very cynical, and begin to fall into the trap stereotyping, seeing certain types of people and realizing you’re probably going to get stiffed on the tip.

    The church crowd seemed to have an attitude of one who’s just had to pay their protection money to God for the week, and is loathe to give up more of their money to server after listening to a lecture on how they need to serve others for free.

    Whatever happened to being a cheerful giver?

    • martyduren

      “They’ve heard from God, and they’re pissed”.

      That’s the hardest I’ve laughed all week. I hate such as reputation is ours, but it looks like we’ve earned it.

      Time to change things up.

  • martyduren

    Applebee’s has posted a response here:

    Just to be clear, I’m not arguing Welch should not have been fired for violating policy. I’m just happy to try and help since it turned out that way.

  • If we aren’t giving God well beyond 10 or 18 percent then I wonder if we’ve given Him our lives.

    • I don’t know, Adam. If we are giving 10% like many tithing advocates today say we must give, are we really giving Him 100% of our lives? ;)

  • Nancy

    In my younger days, I worked as a waitress. This has given me a bigger appreciation for those who serve in restaurants. I understand how the pay works and so I try to be generous in my tipping. Only once have I refused to give a monetary tip to a server and that was because she was rude and inconsiderate of us. I left her a note on a napkin however, explaining that I had waitressed as well and that she was getting no monetary tip from us because of her ill treatment of us. I pray that it served as a wake up call to her.

  • The article I read stated that the $34 was the “pastor’s” meal. They asked for separate checks. The “pastor” also claims that she did leave the appropriate tip amount at the table.
    Whatever. Now she’s humiliated, and rightly so. She got caught as a cheapskate and used God as her rationale. That’s just dumb.

    • martyduren

      Thx, Dale. I made an edit. I did miss the designation of it being only one meal.

      I also read her claim of leaving $6 on the table. That’s 17.1% of her bill. Not sure what to make of that.

      • kay

        i work at a restaurant. so her check is 34.93 and the Auto 18% $6.29. she cross the tip $6.29 and wrote $34.93 at her check. so she left no tip at all

        • martyduren

          Thx, Kay. That was a little confusing to me if no one else.

        • Dave Miller

          She claims she left the tip in cash, and that in the end, the credit card bill had the whole amount. Ms. Bell claims that she actually ended up leaving a 12-13 dollar tip.

        • martyduren

          Huh. Sounds like she would have been a lot better off just agreeing to the fixed amount.

          I guess after one girl gets fired over a “privacy” issue, the actual server isn’t likely to speak up to help clarify.

        • Sierra

          Applebee’s admitted on their twitter that she did not leave a cash tip, but that her card was charged the 18% because it was part of the bill.

        • Alyssa

          Even if she actually left a cash tip- writing that on the receipt is a horrible witness and can very easily turn someone off to Christianity… I would think a pastor should be very aware of that.

  • Debra Ward

    Just wondering if that pastor considers her 10% to God payment for services rendered, or “thanks” for a job well done?

    • martyduren

      That would be a “boom.”

  • letjusticerolldown

    When I saw this story I would not have imagined writing something in defense of the pastor–but here goes: The biggest trigger on my stingy heart is a demand. Stand up in a pulpit and demand that ten percent be given–my heart closes up. There is nothing that creates a stingy response from me than required gratuities. The freedom to generosity is the freedom to stinginess.

    • You shouldn’t look at it as someone standing at the pulpit demanding 10%. You should look at it as GOD being generous enough to let you keep 90%. Just Sayin.

      • letjusticerolldown

        I don’t. I see God’s grace. Period. The 10% is His. The 90% is His. He lovingly placed it in my open hands. And I will keep open hands to Him.

        Just sayin’ that if you stand in my face and demand I give 10% into your offering plate–in Jesus’ name–it does zero to nurture of heart of generosity and love to God.

    • Required gratuities are commonplace for large parties at restaurants. The reason behind this is because the server is usually not picking up any additional tables while the large party is there. If they’re there an hour and a half, the server makes less than $5 in wages. If that table doesn’t tip anything, then their wages is all the make. The required gratuity is there to protect the server, so next time you feel stingy, be thankful for the sake of the servers that the policy is in place.

      • letjusticerolldown

        I do grasp that and tip generously.
        Do you ever overpay the IRS? Why not? Don’t you appreciate people who have sacrificed their very lives for your freedoms? Somehow when someone is standing outside the door on payday with a gun to your head and demands your paycheck it is amazing how generosity just drains away.

        • There’s quite a difference between the Federal Government and a server making $2.80 per hour. I have, on many occasions, tipped extra on top of the required gratuity because 18% is less than my normal tip. I don’t appreciate people demanding money, but this sort of policy is there to protect the server, so I see it as that rather than as a greedy corporation forcing me to tip.

  • Kat

    I heard of one church in a Deep South State giving its members on Sunday postage paid post cards to leave for servers to fill out about the table of Christians with the church address on it. Question like: did the table tip well, were the kind, courteous, etc. What a great way to hold us accountable!!

  • interviews with Pastor Bell and the fired waitress (not the server).

  • I was a server at the ‘bees for several years and was told the same thing by a churchgoer once. I replied that she better be glad I waited on her (yes, I did go there) because almost all my coworkers were not followers of Christ, and that attitude was offensive and could keep someone from EVER accepting Christ.

    On the other hand, sometimes on a big table or party, servers are overwhelmed or lazy and rely on the auto-gratuity. We weren’t there to experience the food and service, but on the surface it appears this “pastor” is being stingy and self-righteous.

  • Jacob Lancaster

    I just recalled what I think was the worst tip that I ever received. The patron left an obviously fake $100.00 bill sitting on the table for me as my tip. When I flipped it over , I found that it was a tract that read, “Disappointed? You won’t be if you choose Christ!”, and then went on to to say something about trusting in Jesus and not in money or wealth.

  • Lateisha Shanequa

    you thought 8 people ate for $35? You’re a moron …..

    • kay

      its a split check. so her portion is $35

    • martyduren

      Oh, it is possible. Exactly the way I described. Split appetizers and drink water. It can be done.

      But, besides that, I probably am a moron. :^)

  • Colby Dollar

    “I give 10% to God, why do you get 18%” this “pastor needs a good sermon on Haggai 2:8, “The silver is mine and the gold is mine declares the Lord Almighty”. We have nothing that has not been given to us by God, to have an attitude that SHE GIVES GOD ANYTHING, is dishonoring to our Lord and Savior. It All belongs to Him, and i thank God daily for providing for me and my family, for without Him i would have nothing. I, I , I, is all we here from today’s Christian in America, there is no I, there is only we. We “Christians” are set aside to be a light to the world, not to join in on the worldly attitudes of non-believer’s. Brothers and Sisters, one body, one church, one Goal. That Goal is to bring Glory to God by sharing the Good news of the Gospel, and shame on us if anything we say or do makes it harder to complete the task set before us by God. Father forgive us our sins, humble us and use us to show others the true wonder of who You are. forgive this pastor, give me the ability to forgive her as well. because i know i am capable of making the same mistake, in Christ’s name Amen.

  • jess

    I do want to say at least one thing—not all Christians are like that. I was a waitress one summer. My best tip night was Sunday, every week without fail. I and most people I know have always been fairly generous tippers, so I am always surprised when I hear about Christians who are not. I am sad and angry when I hear these stories, but still shocked bc/ I honestly have never seen it myself.

  • AS a Christian who works in a restaurant, I get hammered when my “people” do not tip. The one bad thing erases so many good things I try. Lord, bless Chelsea and this “pastor”. They appear to need it!

  • I heard a local radio call in show recently with several calls from waiters and waiteresses (current or former). Seems that servers have a hierarchy of expectations about who will tip or won’t tip. Unfortunately Christians were right at the top of the “bad tipper” list, followed closely by the Junior League ladies who see how little they can each eat (thus demonstrating how thin they are).

    My only problem with the auto-gratuity is when it doesn’t get referenced at all in the menu or on the receipt brought to the table. Especially if the service has been really bad.

    The whole equation is skewed it seems to me. We Christians should be generous, and we aren’t, and employees should remember the customer pays the bills (i.e. customer service genuinely matters). We all seem too entitled these days.

  • Dave Miller

    Marty, any server who posts a credit card receipt on the internet, especially one with the signature on it. It was as inexcusable as Ms. Bell’s behavior. But Chelsea is not the victim here. The server who took care of Ms. Bell is. Chelsea deserved to get fired.

    • martyduren


      Generally, I think we are in agreement.

      I’m pretty sure I neither unjustly criticized Applebee’s nor defended Chelsea Welch’s actions. Whether right or wrong, whether she deserved to be fired or not, I’m thankful attention has been drawn to the tipping habits of Christians in a way that is bigger than a few random blog posts and Bible conference sermons.

      Applebee’s tagged me in a tweet yesterday to a FB post explaining their position. I’m a “right-to-work” kind of guy, so my observations were not centered on their decision (which I don’t have a problem with). My willingness to send money to Welch has nothing to do with whether she deserved to lose her job. That is irrelevant to me; I didn’t put together a Kickstarter or take up a collection for her.

      I do have a small disagreement: I do not believe the actions are equally inexcusable. Bell calls herself a pastor. Welch, at this point, has not even claimed to be a Christian. Bell is held to a higher standard than Welch. Or, she should be.

  • AeoAeo330

    I’ve never been much for religion. This was exacerbated when a coworker was renting from a church a place to live and they went out of their way to make life miserable for them until they moved out. This pastor doesn’t help. You, however, sound like you are grounded in reality. I’m glad to hear you are willing to help out.

    It would be awesome if we all could do a group-tip-thing since the waitress is going to be short on cash for a bit, but short of that, I’d like to help out some too. Can’t spare a whole lot, but would like to put something with yours. This doable?

    • martyduren

      I got this post to the right person to get it to Chelsea. So far I have not heard from her. If I do, I’ll let you know and we’ll figure out a way.

      Thx for your kind words and your generosity.

  • Marty, Your example is an inspiration but I have a slightly different idea. A few minutes ago I quoted your link and posted this to the Applebees site. I’m hoping Chelsea sees it.

    “You know what? I think the author is an amazing human being and he’s right.
    I also think we should follow his example but in a slightly different way.

    There are tens of thousands of us outraged at the treatment of Chelsea Welch. Why don’t we each give her a tip? Just a couple bucks from each of us.

    The only reason she was working for these asshats was to pay for college, so let’s help her.

    Obviously we have to be careful and make sure it’s the real Chelsea so she’d have to post here in some way linking to her own FB page and have some way to positively ID her like a state license with the official numbers blocked out or something. That and a Paypal address.

    Come on people, you want to do right where Assholebees can’t? put your money where your mouth is.

    Indignation for them being wrong is one thing, fixing it is another.”

    So if you hear from her, let us know.

  • Laura

    Thank you for writing this. I empathize with Chelsea Welch in this situation, because I work with the public in the food service industry and I know how rude and awful people can be. As a Christian, I also find Pastor Bell’s behavior embarrassing. I hope that Ms. Welch and others do not judge the God we serve by our actions. It is behavior like this that turns people off to Christianity. The world is always watching us. It’s important to remember that and to act accordingly. How are we representing Jesus to the unchurched?

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