“We have something for you,” the customer, Richard Brooks, told Rivas. “The only reason we came to breakfast today was to give you this tip.”
Brooks pulled out a pile of $100 bills and counted them into Rivas’s hand, explaining that he and his friends were members of the $1,000 Breakfast Club. Each person had contributed $100 to leave for the server, $1,600 in all.
Rivas, 29, said he almost burst into tears that Saturday morning in June.
He said since his family immigrated to the United States from Venezuela in December 2022, he’d been saving money to buy his mother new hearing aids, and the tip now allows him to buy them. He and four family members have humanitarian parole so they can work in the United States until December 2024, he said. He hopes to get an employment or student visa so he can stay longer.
“This is a golden opportunity — I want to be able to contribute to society in the U.S.,” Rivas said.
He said he was shocked to receive such a large tip from the $1,000 Breakfast Club.
After a six-hour shift, he said he is usually lucky to take home about $200 in tips.
“Sixteen hundred dollars is unheard of,” Rivas said. “Servers work hard, but a tip this large is rare. I’m still amazed they wanted to surprise me like this.”
Brooks started the $1,000 Breakfast Club earlier this year after his brother, Justin Brooks, mentioned he’d gone to breakfast in California with a group that left a stack of $100 bills for their server.
“For years, I’ve given out single $100 bills to people at random in appreciation for a job well done, or just to brighten their day,” said Richard Brooks, 63, a lawyer who works in Boston. “More than anything, I’ve enjoyed watching the look on their faces as I hand them the money.”
When his brother told him about his own $100 bill outing, “It just hit me that this was a great idea and I should do something with it,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the idea is long overdue.
While he was attending law school in his 20s, he said he worked as a waiter on campus at Boston University for five years to help pay his bills.
“I’ll never forget the first time I got a tip that was worth anything,” Brooks said. “Somebody gave me $20, and it just made my day.”
In January, he decided to post on Facebook:
“I want to start a group to go to breakfast, 10 of us, and we each bring $100 to tip the waiter,” Brooks wrote.
“The Thousand Dollar Breakfast Club. Anyone can go,” he continued. “We will find a small place where the server will be shocked to get $1,000. It will be a fun quick morning breakfast and will blow the mind of the server!”
Ten people — a few friends and some people he didn’t know who saw his post on Facebook — showed up at the first breakfast in March at an IHOP in Framingham, Mass., while another three who couldn’t make it each sent him $100, Brooks said.
“I chose IHOP since they take bigger tables and I also knew that breakfast was a time when waiters aren’t making as many tips because the bill is usually lower than for lunch or dinner,” he said.
When he thanked the server and handed her $1,300, “the look of surprise on her face and the happy look on everyone’s face at the table told me we were on the right track,” Brooks said. “It’s a great pleasure to give money to people you don’t know.”
He said group members decided they would continue to visit a different IHOP every few months in the greater Boston area and ask that a single server be assigned to their table at random so the money would have a greater impact.
“A thousand-plus dollars is a lot of money, but it doesn’t go as far if a bunch of people are sharing it,” Brooks said. “By giving it all to one person, you’re doing something that could make a difference in their life.”
About 20 people now belong to the club, but not everyone can make every meeting, he said. Some of the members didn’t know each other until they started bringing $100 bills to breakfast.
Brooks said he picks up the tab for the group’s meals.
“They chose to come and give away $100 to make someone happy, so it’s the least I can do,” he said.
He said it doesn’t matter if his group doesn’t get top-notch service.
“We don’t know what’s going on in the server’s day — isn’t that the kind of person you would want to help?” he said. “If bad service happens, we’ll give them the money anyway to help improve their day.”
Jeff Paris, a special-education teacher from Reading, Mass., brings his wife, Melissa, and their 1-year-old daughter, Eliza, to the breakfasts.
“I really love making new friends around the table — the camaraderie is incredible,” he said. “I don’t have the means to do something like this on my own, and most of the other people are everyday working folks, too. But together, what we do really adds up.”
“It’s a small effort for us, but the impact it has on those recipients is huge,” said Janet Meaney, 73, a club member who said she was among the first to sign up.
“It’s a wonderful way to thank hard-working people,” she said.
On the group’s third outing together, the giant tip recipient was Tulio Maldonado, a waiter at an IHOP in Saugus, Mass. Brooks counted out $1,300 and handed it to him on Sept. 23 while his reaction was captured by Boston’s WCVB Channel 5. Paris had contacted the TV station, thinking that the group’s story might inspire others to do something similar, Brooks said.
Paris said he was hopeful that people in other towns would copy the club’s idea and start leaving $1,000 tips.
“[Tulio] told us he was going to pay his bills with it, and that makes you feel good to know you helped make that happen for him,” he said. “We’re proof that you don’t need to be a celebrity or a millionaire to do this.”
Brooks said he recently heard from someone in Atlanta who hopes to start a club like his, and someone in Chicago has also expressed an interest.
“We’d really love for this to catch on,” he said.
Rivas said that would be fine with him.
“Someday, I’d like to be in a position to give back to somebody else in this way,” he said. “The $1,000 tip. It’s brilliant.”