A North Carolina Waffle House is making a waitress return a $1,000 tip she received from an anonymous patron, the Charlotte Observer reports.
Shaina Brown was working an overnight shift on Mothers’ Day when one man she was waiting on put $1,500 in the tip line and told her to give $500 to a woman there, and keep the remaining $1,000 for herself. “You have a good spirit,” the man told the single mother of three, according to the Observer, as he left in a cab.
But the Waffle House isn’t letting Brown keep the tip. They’ve told her that such big tips need to be given in cash or check, and confirmed to the Observer that “large tips are refunded to patrons as a regular procedure,” to avoid patrons who later want to dispute the charge or ask to be refunded.
“I feel like they stole from me,” Brown said. “They did exactly what they teach us not to do.”
Large “angel tips” have become something of a common occurrence in the United States in recent years. Across the country, anonymous or semi-anonymous patrons are throwing down thousands — sometimes over ten thousand dollars — on gratuities. One man, under the instagram name “tipsforjesus,” has even been traveling the country leaving mega-tips and instagraming the people who receive them. His profile reads, “Doing the Lord’s work, one tip at a time.”
But these acts of generosity belie a critical problem among the service industry: Waitresses, and many workers who rely on tips and low wages, are struggling. Tipped workers are only required to be paid a $2.13 per hour minimum wage, and the effects of such a low wage show: Restaurant workers suffer through poverty at almost three times the rate of the rest of the workforce, and tipping can lead to wage theft and racial or gender discrimination.
Random acts of kindness for these low-wage workers are inspiring in part because of how dire their situations are. Often, the people receiving the tips are struggling to make ends meet, or are overheard dreaming about being able to do something they can’t on their limited budget. When they get the tips, they’re not going out to treat themselves, but just to get the basic necessities. When asked what she was going to do with a $446 tip, for example, an Indianapolis waitress said, simply, “Pay bills, pay bills right on time, that’s what I’m definitely going to do.”