Tips for Jesus struck again, this time in Philadelphia.
After drinks ($150) and dinner ($250) a diner left a $2,000 tip for the bartender and $5,000 to the server. Those latest tips bring Jesus’ total extravagance to nearly $150,000.
An anonymous diner or group of diners has been tipping for Jesus since last fall, leaving absurdly generous tips at restaurants and bars in more than a dozen cities in the United States and Mexico. Each receipt has been stamped with the Instagram handle @tipsforjesus, where photos of the tips and the ecstatic recipients are posted.
The tech-savvy Samaritan is rumored to be former PayPal VP Jack Selby and a few friends from his inner circle. While maintaining their anonymity, the group has released public statements and given a few interviews explaining their mission. Despite the insignia and the extensive coverage by religious press organizations, they prefer to keep some distance between Tips for Jesus and traditional Christian philanthropy, calling theirs ‘agnostic’ giving.
The Tips for Jesus crew is hoping to inspire an army of munificent copycat tippers. They try to create an internet sensation with each new episode, harnessing the power of social media through the 75,000 followers of their Instagram account. And it’s exactly the kind of off-kilter, feel-good story that the internet likes to run with.
The problem is, as an act of charity, this kind of giving falls flat.
With the gap between rich and poor ever widening, plunking down the occasional out-sized tip isn’t especially effective or even moral. It smacks of hubris and privilege, more like the drunken lark of an entitled frat boy than genuine altruism. And while no one would argue that restaurant servers aren’t worthy of largesse, the Tips for Jesus recipients aren’t exactly hash slingers working the midnight shift at Denny’s. Whatever their true identities, the Tippers definitely dine like tech millionaires of a recent vintage, and the Instagram photos show receipts for high-end sushi bars, craft cocktail lounges, and blow-outs at clubby steakhouses—the kinds of places where a server makes a solidly middle class living and is more likely to use a tip windfall to buy a big screen TV than to pay an overdue electric bill.
Not that I think they should stop.
Tips for Jesus is probably not destined for long-term sustainability, but it’s bringing attention to charitable giving and packaging it for a new generation of givers. Some of them just might take their philanthropic impulses and find their way to more conventional forms of charity. In the meantime, it’s fulfilling the fantasy of everyone who’s ever waited on tables.