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Dining Out Like a Christian

January 23, 2009 Length: 11:21

In this podcast Steve gives a simple way to get to know someone quickly: take them out for dinner. He discusses how both CEO's of international corporations and the scriptures tell us that how people treat waiters and waitresses says volumes about their personality, ethics and spiritual life.

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I remember vividly dinner with Harry and Sarah and a few friends at a nice restaurant in Abilene Texas.  Harry was a former rock musician and heroin addict who had become a Christian.  In those days, there was only one “nice restaurant” in Abilene and it was usually busy.  We were seated and we began a vigil.  Our waitress zoomed past our table several times without acknowledging that we even existed. A couple of lame attempts to wave at her were totally ignored, she knew better than to make eye contact with anyone.  When she finally showed up with our water and silverware she slammed the glasses down, water splashing over the edges of the glasses, she distributed the silverware like she was dealing a hand of Texas Hold’em, then rushed off without saying a word.  Harry smiled, arranged his place setting and straightened up his silverware and sat back and kept talking with us as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.  Our waitress darted from table to table splashing coffee and water, and tossing plates and dinner rolls at the diners.  She eventually made it back to our table and whipped out her little order tablet and said unceremoniously, “What do you all want?”  Harry looked her up and down and grabbed her arm and said,  “I’ll bet you stay so slim because you run ten miles a night…I don’t know how you do it!” and he smiled.  Her shoulders dropped, her face melted into a smile and she said, “Yeah, it is busy… what’ll you have?”  Our table got the best service in the restaurant that evening. 

In a USA Today article about CEO’s and personality, Del Jones writes, “How people treat waiters is a magical window into their soul”.  This doesn’t seem like psychological rocket science, but apparently it is for some people.  Del Jones writes about two groups of people that have caught on to this principle:  CEO’s of huge corporations and clients of “Its Just Lunch” dating service.  In a survey of the dating service clients they said how dates treated waitstaff was the first thing they noticed, how they tipped was second, some even stayed behind and asked the waiter if they were tipped well.  He also interviewed several CEO’s of mega international corporations and ALL of them without exception agreed with the Waiter Rule.  They said, How others treated them as the CEO says nothing, but the one principle that never fails is “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person”, and consequently someone you should be wary of doing business with.”  “Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with,” one CEO said. “Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.”

The true measure of a person is how they treat those “beneath” them, one time encounters with someone who has no meaning or purpose for them except to serve a desire of their flesh.  BMW North America President Tom Purves, a native of Scotland, a citizen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, who lives in New York City with his Norwegian wife, Hilde, and works for a German company. That makes him qualified to speak on different cultures, and he says the waiter theory is true everywhere.

I’ve been to restaurants with a LOT of people in my life. Dates, friends, employees, employers, priests, monks, abbots and bishops. I’m constantly amazed how accurate this simple interaction is in unmasking a person’s true character… I’ve found that even people who bend over backwards to appear nice in other settings, (especially in Church) unravel when their food shows up wrong, cold or late, they get ignored, or they don’t get their refills or extra butter.  You will know in one hour whether a person is humble, and regards himself as the servant of all or if she or he is an arrogant, self centered egoist. Over the years I’ve lingered behind to apologize for my table-mate’s behavior, I’ve slipped additional money under my plate to make up a cheap tip or as a propitiation for the rudeness of my friends and, it is sad to say, even clergy at my table. 

If you are dating someone and want to know how you will be treated in the marriage, you’ll see it with a waiter.  Oh… they might be nice to you when you are dating, but as Archie Bunker once said about why things go downhill after the wedding: “You don’t keep running after you’ve caught the bus”.  If you want to know what a potential employee/employer is like, if you want to get to know your priest (or any spiritual relation), take them to a decent restaurant when it is fairly busy, then just watch them interact with the wait staff. Dinner out is a cheap and quick personality test and quickly reveals a lot about their personality and relationship issues, and yes, even their spiritual depth and maturity.  These are some of the external indicators of a person’s inner life:

Are they polite?
Do they speak to them like human beings?
Are they condescending or rude?
Are they demanding, self absorbed, or act like yours is the only table in the restaurant?
Do they get angry or criticize them harshly when they leave the table?
Do they make allowances or adjust their expectations according to how busy they are?
Are they complimentary of small services or attentiveness?
Do they say “Please” and “Thank you”?
Do they smile or joke with them or treat them like “servants”?
Basically, at any time are you embarrassed by how they speak or act toward the waiter?

BUT… I have to say, there is something more important here because being a Christian is more than just learning to “be polite”.  What these CEO’s and savvy dating services have learned is what the Scriptures teach us:  out of the mouth comes what is stored in the heart….That is truth in ALL situations, not just at Church or in what someone might consider an important or “meaningful relationship”.  In fact, it is in the meaningless relationships that our true spirituality is revealed… or it might be better said, the fact that we regard some relationships as more meaningful or don’t see the potential for encountering Christ and acting according to the gospel in every personal encounter we have is a true indicator of the depth of our spirituality. 

Having worked restaurants in the Bible belt, and having friends who were waiters and going out with a lot of Christians over the years… I can confirm the well known fact among waiters that Christians are universally pretty self centered, demanding and lousy tippers and even at times leave tracts underneath a cheap tip.  This is the perfect litmus test of how we compartmentalize our spiritual life and faith. It is evidence that we have not learned what it means to be the icon of Christ to everyone around us.  If the gospel is wrapped in self absorption, impatience, rudeness, condescension, legalism and lack of grace how can we expect anyone to hear or see Christ in us, much less read a piece of literature or visit a website we leave on the table?  The reality of the spiritual life is repentance is the stripping away of everything of US that blocks the view of Christ in us to those around us.  We remove everything that is not the essence of the gospel which is God’s mercy, forgiveness and generosity to those who, as St. Paul says in Romans 5, are sinners, ungodly and enemies.  St. James calls us to demonstrate the love of God in treating the least of these in the same way we treat the celebrity, the rich and powerful.  Colossians 3 enjoins us to clothe ourselves with Christ’s compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience and to let our conversations always be full of grace.  These virtues are not attained without a renewal of our minds in Christ and conscious practice by living in the present moment with every person we encounter.

And finally, the question you all have been thinking about but are afraid to ask:  How should a Christian tip? Do we tip with grace or law?  If the service is lousy, tip like the gospel and Christ crucified: with grace and mercy for the sinner.  If the world tips 15% and Jesus says if we are constrained to go one mile go two, we should be tipping 30 in my opinion, and not grudgingly, but with forgiveness and compassion on the lowly. 

Jesus may as well have said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for waiters.”

Now go to your favorite restaurant and sin no more.


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