Those forgiving pastors

Neetzan Zimmerman recounts the story of Alois Bell, pastor of a St. Louis church, who took a group of her flock to her neighborhood Applebee’s for dinner. The bill included an 18% gratuity built in, which is the restaurant’s policy for groups of 8 or more people, something that is fairly common. Serving large groups is tricky (especially if they order separately and want separate bills) and unfortunately some customers try to stiff the wait staff by under-tipping. (This whole business of tipping is a complex one and I expressed my own views on it back in 2005.)

But the pastor crossed that gratuity out in her bill and instead put a zero for the tip, scrawling on it for the server “I give God 10% why do you get 18”. She also inserted her title of ‘Pastor’ over her name.


The server showed the receipt to another server Chelsea Welch who, while she thought it was insulting, also thought the receipt had comedy potential. Wait staff can regale listeners for hours with the atrocious behavior of some customers and share such stores with each other. As is the practice these days, Welch took a photo and posted it on Reddit with the name of the pastor [see this comment], restaurant, and herself removed, but keeping the word ‘pastor’. But this is the age of the internet with any number of amateur sleuths willing to do the detective work to identify a sanctimonious pastor and they quickly set about trying to identify the cheapskate who was using tithing as an excuse.

Word of the online hoo-ha quickly reached Bell from a friend who identified the online receipt as hers. When her name was finally revealed, Bell said that “My heart is really broken” and “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry” and that what she did was a “lapse in judgment that has been blown out of proportion.” She also claimed to have left $6 tip in cash, which makes no sense since that would amount to over 17% of her bill of $34.93 and be more than she gives to her god, unless she is also poor at mental arithmetic.

So how had she tried she make amends? By apologizing to the server for her snide remark? No, by calling the Applebee’s restaurant and demanding that everyone involved be fired. The restaurant did not agree to that nor to her backup demand that the next time she ate at her neighborhood restaurant that she be served by an entirely different staff. The restaurant, however, did fire Welch.

Clearly Bell does not think much of Jesus’s recommendation that people should turn the other cheek when injured by others.


  1. glodson says

    As a former server, waiting on a large party is problematic, as you note. It is a skill, and being done well is quite difficult, depending on the group.

    But this is the worst part: it takes up most, if not all, of our time. Often it is just the large party you get, and that’s it. You might get one other table if you are sharing the party with other servers(which makes it even worse as the money is split.) The larger parties often stay longer. Which eliminates the money generated from other tables over that course of time.

    So this pastor got to waste the time of her server, likely cost her money from lost chances for other tables, and the total bill is only 200 dollars. That is not good for any server. It is, actually, a waste of time. We are only looking at about 36 bucks, and that’s if she doesn’t have to tip out to a pool for the hosts and bussers. If the large party acted like most I’ve had in my experience, they will stay longer, meaning that in the time I could have had six tables, I just have the one.

    It happens, part of the gig. But to get stiffed like that, and on such a dubious line of reasoning, that stings. It isn’t like the server was asking for 18% of the pastor’s total income. Just of the bill.

  2. Cathy W says

    …not doing anything to dispel the attitude among servers that “church people” are lousy tippers, either.

  3. Alverant says

    From the horror stories I heard at other places I almost think she should be grateful the pastor paid the bill AT ALL. Yep, some people claim that pastors have refused to pay their bill because they think they’re entitled to a free meal.

    glodson, I have to ask, who tips the best? I often go dining alone and there have been times I’ve been treated lousy at times. One place stuck me next to the emergency exit in January (back when it was still freezing in January) and got my order wrong. People say bigger parties means a bigger tip so the solo diners get left behind. Is that true?

  4. Alverant says

    To clarify, I’m not defending this pastor. What she did was very rude and she’s only crying now because she got caught and humiliated. It’s another example of religious privilege. I’m only saying there are worse people.

    That being said, I don’t like the tipping system. The state assumes a given number of tips for tax purposes. Wait staff sometimes get short changed by math mistakes. Tipping is used as an excuse to pay below min wage. The system is messed up and needs to go away. Wait staff need to be paid a living wage or tips need to be worked into the price. Forget this $8.99 pricing crap, say the menu item is $12.00 and have it include tax and tip. That way you know exactly how much you’re paying without needing a calculator.

  5. dianne says

    Someone should have taken Pastor Bell aside and whispered “Streisand effect” in her ear before she started demanding that everyone in the restaurant be fired. Now she’s made herself and her church a mockery for life, instead of just a few minutes until the internet lost its collective focus.

  6. glodson says

    glodson, I have to ask, who tips the best? I often go dining alone and there have been times I’ve been treated lousy at times. One place stuck me next to the emergency exit in January (back when it was still freezing in January) and got my order wrong. People say bigger parties means a bigger tip so the solo diners get left behind. Is that true?

    That just sounds like a poorly run restaurant. Now the placement of the seat might more a function of which server is up next in the seating rotation. At least, it should be. The idea is to make sure we all get a chance to make money, and if that’s the section that has an open table and is next on the list, then that’s where the hosts will put you. If it was an empty place, this would be a poorly run host desk.

    It is an issue of diminishing returns. I never minded waiting on a solo costumers. They tend to be in and out the quickest, and I could actually get a decent tip. It wasn’t uncommon for a solo customer to have a 20 dollar bill, and leave me 5 or even more. A larger table will often take longer, demand more of my attention, and not tip substantially better. I could easily devote enough time to take care of the guy buy himself, and have plenty of time to take care of other tables. And they’ll leave. My favorite section, of all time, was one with two four top tables, and two two-top tables. I would walk with over 200, easily, on a busier night. Meanwhile, a large party can make your night, or break it in half.

  7. MNb says

    Still, no matter what a jerk pastor Bell is, that waiter never should have published her name on internet. You’re onesided for once, MS.

  8. says

    Praise be to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I do not live in such a shambolic country.

    Employees should be paid a fair, living wage.

    They should not be forced to beg for table scraps in order to support themselves.

    Shame on the American employers who turn their staff in to beggars and shame on the American consumers who are complicit in this.

  9. Mano Singham says

    The server didn’t publish the name. She thought she had eliminated all identifying information. She apparently did not anticipate that the posting would go viral and that people on the internet would take the trouble to track the person down.

  10. frank says


    I see this sort of like the politician who gets caught on camera saying what he actually believes (e.g., 47% of American voters are essentially useless), and then claiming that he was wronged. This customer, through her embarrassment , implicitly acknowledges that she was a jerk. But she wanted her jerkiness to be a private affair between her and the subject of her jerkiness. I think it would have been better if the server had published all the details.

    One occasionally hears stories of customers leaving $100 or other large tips. No one fires the server who leaks stories like that.

  11. nobonobo says

    I give God 10% why do you get 18

    Well, perhaps because the waitress actually does something useful.
    Maybe her church offerings should be checks, pay to the order of God.

  12. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    with the name of the pastor, restaurant, and herself removed

    I have read that the original posting was with signature visible … and I have seen copies of that image with the signature visible.

    The waitress was clearly in the wrong, and she DID violate the customer’s privacy. I would have fired her.

  13. Mano Singham says

    You are right. She had blocked out the restaurant name and date and credit card number but not the name.

    As to whether the restaurant should have fired her, that depends on their company policies and there seems to be some question as to whether she violated them and whether they apply them consistently.

    Even though the server should have blacked out the name, I still think that Bell was wrong, both in what she originally did and later calling for the firing. If you are going to say mean things to servers, you should not expect them to keep it private.

  14. Paddy Test says

    Thank you, commenters! I KNEW I had seen the name on the photo; but later pictures had it blocked out. My husband pointed to this article to say I was wrong about the details.

    I seem to be one of the few people on various sites saying yes, she should have been fired – because she left the name on the receipt. Look at all the grief the customer has gotten because her privacy was invaded.

    Sure, the pastor was rude. But if my name had been exposed I would have been upset; and if I got all the harassment that Bell is now getting, I’d probably want the server fired as well. Now calling for “everyone involved” to be fired was extreme, if she did call for that. But the server who posted it – yeah.

    (Note: in almost all cases I tip 20%; the rare cases when I give small tips it’s because the service has been very very bad. So not condoning the pastor’s actions – but heartily condemning the actions of the person who posted the receipt).

  15. stonyground says

    The comparison between 18% of a restraunt bill and 10% of your whole salary is a false one. In any case, the waitress did something to earn her 18%, God does bugger all to earn his 10%. What does an all powerful deity need money for anyway?

  16. Jared A says

    Hold on, who precisely is the pastor paying her 10% tithe to? Doesn’t tithing go to pay her own salary?

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