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Image for What Happened When We Gave Away $5000 in Tips

What Happened When We Gave Away $5000 in Tips

By Frank Blake
A listener makes a profound observation. A simple interaction saves the day. Lessons from a generosity challenge thanking waiters, baristas, and others in service.

I sometimes receive messages from listeners that stop me in my tracks.

Many of you have a gift for expressing something fundamentally right through a story or phrase that I know will stick with me.

Recently, one of these unforgettable notes arrived as a follow up to the Crazy Good Turns "Thank a Server" Challenge.

What's The 'Thank A Server' Challenge?

It's an idea we'd cooked up just before Christmas and the holiday season. In it, we sent a hundred $50 Thank You Gift Cards to listeners, asking that they in turn give the card as an outsized tip to a restaurant server, barista or other service industry worker.

Why did we do this?

Because we think those stories of people who go to a restaurant and drop a massive tip for the server are awesome. We also recognize that not everyone has the means to do that. So we wanted to make it possible for more people to be disproportionately generous, even if just for a day.

The whole thing was done on the honor system. Listeners decided to whom they wished to give the card.

While we asked nothing in return, we received back many wonderful notes from people who'd enjoyed the experience. You'll see some of those notes at the bottom of this post.

(By the way, you can join the #GoodTurnsTeam to be part of future giveaways like this. Go here to sign up.)

What I want to tell you about is one of those notes.

The Lesson From The Lonely Cab Ride

The message came from Patricia in Naperville, Illinois. Just before the holidays, she was trying to fly out of Chicago's Midway Airport to visit her family for the first time in three years.

But Patricia was caught in the snarl of travel difficulties that grounded so many planes this holiday season. Her flight was canceled.

Patricia was devastated, and found a cab to begin the lonely ride home. But during the drive, things began to change. Here is how she describes the experience:

"While I stepped into the cab feeling heartbroken that I would not see my family, I got out of the cab feeling so connected to simply bringing warmth and light to the people around us.

"It was [because of] the generosity of spirit and humanity that the young man [driving] showed me. We had a real conversation."

When she exited the car, Patricia gave her $50 Thank You Card to the driver.

"At first, he didn't want to take it. But I insisted and told him that our conversation was a gift to me. I felt connected and not the least bit lonely."

Patricia says she learned a lasting lesson from the experience. In her words:

"It's easy to fall into treating each other like we are just transactions. So it's striking when suddenly someone 'sees' you, and you see them.

"That's what this person did for me. See the human first, not the customer or the worker.

"How can I do that more often during life's transactions? Take a breath and see the person first."

See the person first. What a profound idea to carry with us.

The 'Deal' With Being Real

Patricia's story brought to mind a book I'd read recently, 'From Strength to Strength' by Arthur Brooks. It has a chapter discussing "real" and "deal" friends. The author's point is that "deal" friends are "transactional," and suggests we ought to spend time cultivating more "real" friends.

Sure. That sounds right.

But perhaps a more basic starting point, before addressing the question of forming friendships, is the difference between treating others as "real people" or "deal people."

Retail workers, clerks, airport staff and others in any line of customer service know what it feels like to be treated like a "deal person" — just something at the end of a transaction.

Every time we see someone becoming furious or abusive to a front line worker, we should know that it is dehumanizing. And it dehumanizes those on both sides of the transaction.

Real friends may be rare. But real people are everywhere.

Let's act accordingly.

The story of the cab ride home from the airport is a vivid reminder: Try to see the person first.

Highlights from the 'Thank a Server' Challenge

Image for Catarina S., San Francisco, CA

Thank you @crazygoodturns for helping me spread some holiday cheer. Barista Jessica at @bluebottle was delighted to receive her $50 gift card from you.

- Catarina S., San Francisco, CA

Image for Amelia P., Columbus, OH

Meet Oscar, a truly special young man who works at Mi Tradicion, a restaurant in Gahanna, Ohio. This place is a family favorite and extremely popular in the community. On a recent Friday evening, I visited the restaurant to celebrate my sister's birthday. While Mi Tradicion was packed and beyond busy, Oscar excelled at making sure no customer went unnoticed. He was responsive, courteous and poised beyond his age. Well Done Oscar!

- Amelia P., Columbus, OH

Image for Barry C., Hammond, LA

We gave the $50 Gift card tip to our favorite barista/church musician, Regan, today at PJ's Coffee in Hammond, LA. Big smiles and hugs!

- Barry C., Hammond, LA

Image for Diane & Jim W., Stoughton, WI

Barista Ana loved your gift card. Merry Christmas and Thank you!

- Diane & Jim W., Stoughton, WI

Image for Donald K., Colit, TX

Nicole, of Winewood in Grapevine Texas, coordinated our annual luncheon. She remember us from last year, arranged for our entry into the restaurant an hour before opening and ensured our luncheon was wonderful. All that with the lovely smile you see in her picture.

- Donald K., Colit, TX

Image for Ed B., Plymouth, MN

Given to Louise at Margie's Roosevelt in my hometown of Eveleth, MN!

- Ed B., Plymouth, MN

Image for Kevin M., Middleton, WI

It was a genuine honor to present your $50 gift card to Zumira for going above and beyond. Thank you for the opportunity to add cheer to her holidays.

- Kevin M., Middleton, WI

Image for Kristi N., Hadley, MA

Dear Friends -

Loved sharing generosity with one of my favorite workers at my fave restaurants - and she is going to share the $50 with her wonderful colleagues!

Thank you dear friends for giving me another opportunity to make someone's day!

- Kristi N., Hadley, MA

Image for Mark D., Waco, TX

I gave my card to this young lady, Katrina. She works at Bush's Chicken in Waco Texas. Her job is to wait on customers when they order from their vehicles and deliver their food. Today the wind chill is 10 degrees. She is extremely grateful to y'all (yes y'all!) and told me to tell you "God Bless and Merry Christmas.🎄"
Thanks for helping me make her day!

- Mark D., Waco, TX

Image for Steve D., Dawsonville, GA

Thank you for allowing us to recognize the wonderful people at the Red Elephant who always serve with a warm smile.

- Steve D., Dawsonville, GA

Image for James G., Gainesville, FL

Since we awarded it to her before the end of our meal, we were stunned ourselves when she delivered our check with the gift card applied to our bill! She said she was so grateful for us, that she wanted to pay it back to us. This is exactly the kind of person that Torrie is. A loving, servant heart, always honoring and giving to others.

- James G., Gainesville, FL

Image for Tim M., Smyma, GA

I gave it to a youth leader at our church who has worked diligently to keep the youth engaged all during Covid. He was very appreciative of the kind gift from you all. Thanks for doing this.

- Tim M., Smyma, GA

Image for Susan M., Atlanta, GA

Our server at our favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant tonight said she "will have a low key Christmas but that's okay." When we gave her this gift card, she was very grateful and said we just didn't know how she can really use it. We were so happy to see her happy!

- Susan M., Atlanta, GA

Image for Lorrie L., Marietta, GA

I gave the thank you gift card to a server who had to work late on Christmas Eve. He was very appreciative of the Gift Card as he was working extra hours over the holidays to earn for school expenses for the next semester and this helped. Thank you for allowing us to do this for him!!!

- Lorrie L., Marietta, GA

Image for Diane B., Lake Wales, FL

Our server was overjoyed and had tears in her eyes because we chose her!! We frequent Grape Expectations in our little town and she is just the most wonderful girl. Thank you for letting us do this! Feels good to give!

- Diane B., Lake Wales, FL

Image for Briley B., Decatur, GA

Frank and Team, Thank you for allowing me to participate in the "no strings attached" gift card giveaway. Great story here—I offered the card to our waiter (on the right) at Ponko Chicken in Decatur, GA, and he immediately asked if he could give it to his co-worker who he thought needed it more than he did. Very cool!

- Briley B., Decatur, GA

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