My journey as a pastor, a writer, and a restaurant server all began at roughly the same time. Almost seven years ago, I started off training to be a pastor, ended up falling in love with writing, and started waiting tables to make ends meet.
As the church, the written word, and waiting tables all fall inside my scope of interest, I felt compelled to say at least a couple of words on St. Louis Pastor Alois Bell’s infamous stand at Applebee’s this past week. Wow, I never thought I would have occasion to write that sentence.
Ok, so here’s a couple of observations that have come to my mind since I heard the story.
1. Our Choices Affect Others. Nowhere is this simple truism more true than in this story. Did the St. Louis pastor anticipate her pietistic statement on a restaurant bill to be broadcast all over Reddit? Of course not. And were the servers at Applebee’s anticipating such wild popularity over their tongue-in-cheek post? No. But both parties have found that what is whispered in the darkness will be exposed in the light. Even the smallest note, or the most insignificant social media post has consequences. We are wise to watch our words, as well as our actions.
2. Christians Have a Bad Name in Restaurants. How do I know this? Because I have waited on my own people for close to seven years now. It is heartbreaking to see folks praying at a table, who are content to speak down to you, demand much from you, then give well-below the cultural standard for service.
For us Christians, being demanding, rude, and finally stingy is status quo. It need not be this way.
3. Waiting Tables is Hard Work. I have come to the conclusion that the work of food service is 5% knowing the menu and 95% knowing people- and specifically difficult people. Restaurant work can definitely be rewarding, but it can also be soul-crushing. Particularly when people are unkind. As a people who value seeing and calling out the image of God in our neighbors, the church has every reason to make service a pleasure.
4. We Are All Skilled at Unkindness. This is why Jesus came down and served us. Because we are ill-tempered and in need of saving. If you find your heart and your emotions turned against Pastor Bell, you are in good company. But what is your record with kindness? Are you kind in restaurants and full of rage on the highways? Are you a generous tipper and a sorry tither? Are you good at giving grace to everybody but the graceless? Me too. That’s why Jesus came. For all of us.
5. There’s Nothing Complicated to being a Good Customer. So the next time you go out to eat, there is no reason to stress out and ask yourself, Am I treating my server like a person? Really all you need to do is to treat your waiter like a person. That goes for when you go to Applebee’s, Starbucks, or McDonald’s every bit as much as when you go out to a fancy restaurant. Do you like it when people look at you in the eye, say please and thank you, then pay their bill when it is due, without cutting corners? Perfect. Now you are ready to eat out.
A good man once said, Do to others as you would have them do to you.