Two thousand thirteen will go down in history as the year of sharing restaurant receipts via social media.
First it was the Applebee's employee who shared a a photo of a check left by a pastor who included no tip, for religious reasons.Then there was the pushback and subsequent Instagram account by Tips for Jesus, a group (or individual) leaving enormous tips because it's the Christian thing to do. Next came racial slurs printed on receipts, complaints about needy kids, anti-gay rants and people saying that it was President Obama's fault that they did not have enough money to pay for a meal.
It's entirely possible that this sort of thing has been happening for years. It's likely, in fact, that a server has been stiffed for being gay in the past, and it's definitely true that every now and then a stranger leaves a huge tip for a server for no apparent reason. (That was sort of the plot of a 1994 Nicholas Cage movie, It Could Happen to You.)
But in 2013, these little slips of paper stating what people ate and the the total cost of their meals were plastered all over the Internet in an attempt to gain pissed off, confused or newly wealthy servers 15 minutes of fame.
And I'm so over it.
Just last week, a waitress at a Cracker Barrel in Nebraska was given a tip of $6,000 by patrons who want to help her go back to school. According to the report on the Huffington Post, "Over the course of the meal, the teen recounted to the two patrons the tale of her youth in foster homes, right up until the happy ending when she and her siblings were taken in by a wonderful family." And now she's saving up to go to Trinity Bible College. One of the patrons happened to be an alum of said school, and wanted to help her realize her dream. It's heartwarming, really. Touching. But it doesn't restore my faith in humanity any more than this Buzzfeed post does.
It's not the gesture to which I object. It's the social media-ing of it all.
I think it's great that a down-on-her-luck server got to experience the best of humanity thanks to a generous stranger. And I think it's awful when diners use a server's personal life to make a statement about their beliefs. But if I don't know you personally, I probably don't need to hear about it. And I definitely don't need to see a photo of your receipt with a Kelvin Instagram filter. It's still a just a piece of paper.
Of course, the sharing of said paper--when it contains a nasty note--generally accomplishes two things. One, the asshole and the saintly server each get 15 minutes of fame, for better or for worse. And two, someone gives the server more money than he or she had coming because the world now feels sorry about the injustice.
Take Applebee's (I swear, half of these receipt-gate scandals happen at Applebee's) server Chelsea Welch, who received an unfortunate message on a receipt while working at a franchise in St. Louis. In lieu of a tip, the patron, pastor Alois Bell, left a note that read, "I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?" This was in response to the automatic 18 percent gratuity included for her large party at the restaurant, a common practice that the IRS recently did away with.
Long story short, Welch posted a photo of the receipt on Reddit, where intrepid Internet investigators soon tracked down Bell and started sending her nasty messages. Bell called Applebee's, Welch was fired, Bell and Applebee's were raked through the mud on the Internet, and Welch ended up with dozens of job offers and monetary help, which she says she declined. And did the world learn anything from the very public debate?
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In response to the initial Applebee's debacle, someone left a note on an Applebee's receipt that read, "I give God 0% so you get 28%."
Not to be outdone by someone who doesn't even tithe, Tips for Jesus was born. Someone or some group of people has been leaving thousands of dollars in tips on receipts around the country. And even though the Bible suggests you don't make a show of your devotion, Tips for Jesus set up an Instagram page, documenting all of his/her/their good work. Most recently, Tips for Jesus (or @tipsforjesus on Instagram) left a $4,000 tip on a bill of $1,076.92 at Pearl's Liquor Bar on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Some aspiring actor can now pay his rent. Hallelujah!
The tips left by the mysterious good Samaritan always go through, which is nice for the servers. But do we really need an aged-looking, blurry Instagram photo of a happy/confused waitress holding a receipt with a giant tip to make us feel good about the world? Do you need that to make you feel good, Tips for Jesus? I'd almost rather see the Instagrams of the food than of a piece of paper.
Of course, I have to give Tips for Jesus credit for its good work when there are still a bunch of people out there screwing people out of tips for various reasons. In late 2012, a woman racked up a $138 tab at a restaurant, then in the tip spot wrote, "single mom, sorry," and below that, "thank you it was great." While I agree that such a note sucks, what on earth was accomplished by posting a photo of it online? NOTHING. People started trash-talking single moms, then other people (likely single moms) started saying it was a hoax to make single moms look bad. WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THAT DEBATE?!
Recently, a New Jersey waitress and former Marine produced photos of a receipt that contained a homophobic message instead of a tip. The waitress claimed that the family of four ate a $93.55 meal, then left a note on the receipt that said, "I'm sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle & the way you live your life."
Crappy? Yes. Newsworthy? Not really? Legit? As it turns out, no. Apparently, the family who left the receipt recognized the image floating around the Internet and came forward with a time-stamped receipt and credit card statements proving they did in fact leave a tip. The waitress had faked the whole thing. But before her hoax was revealed, she had managed to accrue a number of monetary contributions from strangers, which she claimed to have donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, though the organization has never received anything from her. Other facts about the waitress were revealed: she was dishonorably discharged from the military, never served in Afghanistan, and never had brain cancer, as she once claimed.
This whole kerfluffle reminds me of Linda Tirado, the "poverty lady," who greatly embellished her dire financial straits in an editorial picked up by Gawker and the Huffington Post, and received more than $60,000 from well-meaning strangers taken in by her sob story. Crowd funding is great when it's for a worthy cause. Unfortunately, it's also an easy way to make a quick buck, because apparently we're all gullible.
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But back to these receipts. Look, I'm sorry if some idiot server identifies your children as "needy" when you bring them into a bar that's 21 and up. And I'm sorry if someone refuses to tip because of Obama, and I'm really happy for you when Jesus grants you 500 percent tips.
But really, I don't care, and all this receipt-sharing is just encouraging people to create fake sob stories and fight for 15 minutes of fame. I show my appreciation for servers by tipping more than 20 percent, and I bitch about the small injustices in my world on my own personal social media pages, not Reddit or Gawker or any other public forum.
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As a restaurant critic, I've seen all manner of terrible service. But I've also been a waiter, and in that role, I saw even worse customers. Is any bad behavior while dining out excusable? Of course not. But please, spare us all the Internet pity party.
And for God's sake, if you must Instagram boring pieces of paper, at least make sure they're legible and not terrifying.