I'll never forget the first time I went to England. My college choir went for a tour immediately after the spring semester. Dr. Gene Black, director of the A Cappella Choir at Samford University, gave his standard speech about being gracious in each home where we would be staying. In particular, he said to eat everything set before us, whether we liked it or not. "No big deal," I thought. Well, the baked beans with breakfast seemed a little odd, but I loved the tea and scones each day. One thing I couldn't stand, however, was the steak and kidney pie. Well, I liked the steak just fine, and I never met a pie I didn't like. The sheep kidney part was (forgive me) hard to swallow.
At the end of our tour we stayed in the same home in London we did when we arrived two weeks earlier. The father asked me how I enjoyed my time in England. "Oh, I loved it!" I exclaimed. "What was one thing you did not like?" he asked. Without thinking, I said, "Sheep kidneys!" His smile turned to a frown. About that time his wife set my breakfast plate before me. There sat two perfectly shaped, freshly cooked . . . whole sheep kidneys.
I have had better days at being gracious at the dinner table. Being gracious is always necessary, but not always easy. Which leads me to the subject of how Christians behave in restaurants.
Recently I went to lunch with a group of church leaders in Asheville, N.C. As we sat down at a local restaurant, I greeted our waitress Kim, and asked her how she was doing. "Well, I am OK," she replied in a less-than-enthusiastic tone. As we prepared to say grace before the meal, I asked Kim if we could pray for her. While she gave no specific request, we asked the Lord to give her a better afternoon than she had experienced in the morning.
After a lengthy meal (you know how ministers can shoot the breeze while filling our faces), Kim began to talk with us. She told us how she and her fiancé were looking for a good church in the area. We told her of a good church, and spent several minutes visiting with her. When we left, she was beaming! We had made her day.
I wish I could say that is the effect Baptists have on waiters and waitresses across the country. I wish I could say that is the effect I have had every time I was served at a restaurant. Sadly, that is not the case. In fact, as I have talked with those who wait tables, and with believers who eat out a lot, it seems that those who serve our meals in restaurants have a pretty clear opinion about us – especially when we come to dine following Sunday morning services.
Three subjects typically come up when a waitress honestly describes why Christians eating out on Sundays are among the least favored customers. First, we are rude. We may have made a joyful noise at church, but let our menu order be wrong and we lose our joyful song. It is one thing to discuss being a servant in Sunday School; it is another to be served undercooked chicken!
Second, we church folks have the most unsupervised kids on earth. Okay, so they have been cooped up in church for most of the day – does that give them the excuse to turn the local cafeteria into playland? It may be cute to us when little Johnny throws his beans across the room, but those who clean up after him miss the humor.
Finally, and worst of all, we believers have the reputation of being the cheapest tippers on the planet. I suppose it is because we have just given so sacrificially to support the Lord's work. Yeah, right. Maybe some of us are just cheap.
The next time you go out to eat, consider the following: 1) If you are a cheap tipper, or are otherwise simply not an example of how Jesus might treat a waiter, please don't pray before your meal. To paraphrase Lincoln, better if they think you are not a Christian than for you to open your wallet and remove all doubt. 2) If you are going to leave a gospel tract, please, please, please, leave a good tip. I once had a fellow hand me what appeared to be a $20 bill. I unfolded it to discover it was not money at all, but a brief explanation of the gospel. Clever, huh. No, pretty stupid actually. The waitress will not see it as clever when she tries to buy diapers for her baby with a $20 bill that won't spend! I try to leave a 20 percent tip. If that means eating out less to tip well, so be it. And by the way, I am not Miss Manners, but in the new millennium 10 percent is CHEAP.
Okay, perhaps you are not sure at this point if you will ever go out to eat again. Let me encourage you with some simple, positive steps you can take when eating out.
First, if you are going to show Christlike love to the waitress, and tip well, by all means do pray before your meal. You might say to her, "We are about to ask God's blessings on our meal. Is there anything for which we might pray for you?"
Second, make an effort to speak to her about the Lord. However, remember R. A. Torrey's rules of witnessing in public: never embarrass the person and obey the Holy Spirit. If she is busy doing her job, respect that. Still, I have found it takes almost no time to ask, "Has anyone told you today that God loves you?" as a means to encourage her. Then, if she responds to you, and if time permits, share as much of the gospel as you can.
Third, by all means, do leave a tract with a good tip. I have seen people come to Christ this way. You may also!
A few years ago three ministers were eating in a restaurant in southern Indiana. They were breaking from a national witness-training seminar. As they fellowshipped together, their joy was contagious. The waitress was encouraged by them, so she brought them dessert on the house. A pastor said, "Let me tell you why we are so happy. It is because of what Jesus did in our lives." Another pastor began to share. She stood there, listening. As the pastor got to the place of asking her to receive Christ, she was called to another table. "Another seed sown," they thought. But she soon came back, pulled up a chair, and sat down! Another in the group actually got up and began to pour tea at the other tables. And the waitress gave her life to Jesus! You never know if the next waiter you meet is a divine appointment from God.
Imagine this scene: next Sunday, across America, thousands and thousands of believers stream from churches into restaurants. In little diners and large cafeterias, smiles are the expression of the day. The patrons are courteous, even if the corn should have been beans, and if the tea was sweet instead of unsweetened. Along the way, thousands of prayers are offered for the servers, thousands of conversations bring up the name of Jesus to waiters and waitresses, most of whom really need an encouraging word. Just how many lives would be positively influenced for the kingdom of God? How many discouraged people, working a second or third job – that single mom, that struggling college student, that weary grandma – could be encouraged with the love of Jesus. Multitudes could be affected if we not only said grace, but demonstrated it as well.
The Fields Are Ripe…
A British research organization says that at least 44 percent of the world's 1.6 billion Christians claim to belong to the faith but rarely attend church. The research suggests several possible reasons for this phenomenon. Some people believe Christian values are important but church involvement is not. Some want church involvement only at major life events, such as births, weddings and deaths. Still others feel uncomfortable in church because of social or cultural differences or because they believe they would be shunned because their lifestyles. – Alabama Baptist, April 8, 1999
Research reveals that Washington state is the least religious region in the country. In a massive sampling of 19,761 adults 18 and older during a six-year period, a pollster found that 29 percent of the state's population attend a worship service in a typical week. In contrast, 56 percent of the population attend a worship service in a typical week in Louisiana. Louisiana represents the country's most religious region. – Insight, February 15, 1999
Large majorities of Americans say they're religious and think spirituality is important, but that doesn't translate into commitment to a single religion or hours of worship, a MacArthur Foundation survey has found. More than seven out of ten Americans surveyed said they are religious and consider spirituality to be an important part of their lives, USA Today reported. But about half attend religious services less than once a month or never. The finding also suggest that people are equally decided on whether it is best to explore different teachings or to follow one faith. – Christian Index, March 4, 1999
According to a 1996 poll of 1,033 people conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University, 74 percent of Americans "absolutely believe that Jesus was a real person." Another 19 percent "mostly believe," and only 7 percent "do not believe" or "are uncertain." – Dayton Daily News, March 28, 1999