'Tips for Jesus' spreads the wealth in massive restaurant tips
NBC -- An anonymous patron is leaving a trail of generous gratuities on bar and restaurant tabs across the country, signing each credit-card receipt with the same name as the Instagram account he uses to document his largess: @TipsForJesus.
Micah Olson learned about the man Tuesday night only after he left the Phoenix restaurant he co-owns. The mysterious man arrived with a woman and asked Olson, who was working behind the bar, whether he had ever heard of Tips for Jesus. Olson hadn't.
"Oh, you'll hear about it later tonight," the man laughed — and then proceeded to order several $70 drinks for himself and his friend.
When the man closed his tab, he bought a round of drinks for Olson and his fellow bartender and left a $2,500 tip on his $530 bill.
"I've had great tips, but nothing like that," Olson told TODAY.com. "When he was done, he called himself a cab and said, ‘You'll probably hear more about this tomorrow.'"
According to his Instagram account, the mysterious man is "doing the Lord's work, one tip at a time."
His gratuities have ranged from $500 on a $24 bill in Hollywood, Calif., to several $10,000 tips, all dropped within the last three months at bars and restaurants along the West coast, in the Pacific Northwest and in several Midwest states.
Ben Swerdlow-Freed, 24, who waits tables at Bar Louie in Ann Arbor, Mich., remembers the man well. He left a $3,000 tip on an $87 bill. The Sept. 8 receipt was the first one posted on "Tips for Jesus."
"When I initially read it, I thought it said $300, which still blew my mind a bit, then realized, whoa, there's an extra zero there," Swerdlow-Freed said.
The mysterious benefactor assured Swerdlow-Freed the tip wasn't a joke, and even asked him whether he needed to consult with his manager because of the size of the final bill.
"I asked him why he did it, and he said I had good beer recommendations," he said. "It was very shocking. I was shaking so hard I could barely serve the next table."
Each of the bills appears to be paid with an American Express "black card," which is reserved for its elite customers. Once, however, the man paid two caddies $300 each in cash while playing golf in Ogden, Utah.
"Caddies are cash only #tipsforjesus," he wrote in the caption of the picture he posted.
Last weekend, when the man left a $5,000 tip on a $576 bar bill at a neighborhood bar in Port Orchard, Wash., the bartender called up his boss.
"Of course I was skeptical. If it's too good to be true, it's probably not," said Darryl Baldwin, owner of Moondogs, Too. "I thought, ‘We'll wait and see if it clears.'"
It cleared, and 11 staffers working that night will get be sharing the joy in Thursday's paycheck.
While the man used to sign his credit card slips with his moniker (and sometimes add a smiley face and a "God bless") he recently got a "@tipsforjesus" rubber stamp, which he admits he was too eager to try out. "A little aggressive with the new stamp. Racer 5's will do that," he wrote on Instagram.
All of his charges appear to be processed without exception.
"Tipsforjesus pays its tabs," he wrote on one post, apparently responding to the owners of a South Bend, Ind., restaurant that challenged the authenticity of two $5,000 tips he left.
Based on the types of eateries involved, the mysterious benefactor appears to be a college football fan because several of the gratuities have lined up with games. On the day Notre Dame played the University of Southern California, he wrote the USC slogan "Fight On" on his receipt.
Baldwin, the bar owner in Washington, said the man was very polite and appeared to have a great time talking and dancing with his friends.
"He said he had owned very well-known businesses, and he made a lot of money and was now spreading it around," he said.
Baldwin said he wouldn't be surprised to learn that the man was once in the service industry.
"It's seems like everyone in this world has been a bartender or server at one point in his life," he said.