Cincinnati 'tip war' raises over $34,000 for restaurant workers in hometown rivalry

It all started with a $1,000 tip on Jan. 9.

February 6, 2021, 9:56 PM

A rival "tip war" that's been escalating for nearly a month has now generated over $34,000 for Cincinnati restaurant workers struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It all started on Jan. 9, when an Xavier University alum in town to show his daughter the school ate lunch at Cincinnati staple Zip's Cafe. After chatting with his server, a fellow Xavier alum, the man left a $1,000 tip on a $54.59 bill and a note on a napkin that said: "Please share this tip with all of your employees as they work so hard and are dealing with COVID. Go Xavier!"

The restaurant shared news of the generous tip on Facebook -- unbeknownst to them, inspiring two University of Cincinnati fans to one-up the Xavier tipper.

"Earlier this week I saw a Xavier fan tip $1,000 at Zip's. I believe now more than ever we need to support our local restaurants. Let's see how long we can keep this going," the guests wrote on a note, along with a tip for $1,001, to the Keystone Bar & Grill on Jan. 14. "Bearcats up by 1!!"

The patrons asked that the bar share news of their generous tip on social media as well, "not for recognition, but to inspire others to do the same for those in the service industry," Keystone said in its dutiful Facebook post the following day.

"The service industry has been rocked by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last ten months and we need a little more kindness in the world today," the bar wrote, while also highlighting the Xavier-UC rivalry.

"It's your turn, Xavier fans!" the post said. "Who will be one-upping the Bearcats by leaving a $1,002 tip at your favorite local bar or restaurant?"

In the weeks since, in what's become known at turns as the "Crosstown Tip-Off Challenge" and the "Crosstown Tip Wars," Xavier and Cincinnati fans have been egging each other on to the tune of $34,252.06 total, according to an ABC News count as of Feb. 6.

The highest tip reported so far appears to be for $2,500, left at Kirby's in Loveland on Feb. 5 with just "GO UC!!!" written on the receipt.

Zip's Cafe owner Mike Burke told ABC News it's typically unprofessional in the service industry to "brag about a big tip or complain about a small one." But he thought that very first tip was worth sharing.

"I think it was just the friendly generosity that really had more of an impact with the staff," Burke said. "Seeing somebody do something so generous just really put quite a few smiles on people's faces, that's for sure."

"I think it put a smile on more people than just the people that were directly affected by it," he added.

What makes Cincinnati's hometown rivalry so unique, Burke said, is the proximity: The schools are fewer than 3 miles apart.

"I think it's one of the closest rivalries in all of college sports," the Cincinnati native said.

In a show of that competitiveness, Zip's found itself in the challenge again on Jan. 31, when someone left a $1,250 tip -- this time for Cincinnati.

The money has been split among the staff, said Burke, who never anticipated the ensuing tip war the cafe's post would spawn.

PHOTO: A hundred dollars generous tip sits on the table in a leather folder in an undated stock image.
A hundred dollars generous tip sits on the table in a leather folder in an undated stock image.
STOCK IMAGE/Shutterstock

"I think that everybody understands that obviously, not everybody's able to do this," Burke said. "But I will say, I just hope it keeps getting bigger and bigger and it spreads to everybody that's working hard and struggling a bit."

After initially closing for two months, Burke said his cafe has been lucky enough to get by during the pandemic -- though others haven't been as fortunate. The restaurant industry has permanently lost more than 110,000 eateries and drinking establishments as of Dec. 2, according to a survey from the National Restaurant Association.

The establishments that have found themselves in the middle of the tip war have been quick to express their gratitude.

"We were absolutely floored Monday night when we received this incredibly generous tip! We cannot say thank you enough to our amazing guests!" the Goose and Elder said in a social media post on Jan. 25 sharing news of its $1,002 tip for Xavier. "These acts of kindness ignited a friendly competition between hometown rivals XU and UC in an effort to support local restaurants and staff dealing with the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic."

'We look forward to the continuation of this competition in support of the Cincinnati restaurant community," the post continued.

"We know there are many great places that could be chosen and are humbled and grateful that we are one of them," China Gourmet posted on Jan. 30 after receiving a $1,010 tip for UC. "The generosity from so many to help support our service industry staff is incredible!"

For those keeping score, ABC News has tracked 26 tips at restaurants and bars in Cincinnati and Kentucky, based on local news reports and social media posts. Out of those, 10 have gone to Xavier, totaling $10,720; meanwhile, 15 have gone to UC, totaling $22,032.06 -- handily putting the Bearcats in the lead.

In a rare show of unity, one tipper left $1,500 to Incline Public House on Feb. 1 -- without designating a rival.

"I love both teams," the note on the receipt read. "Support our restaurants!"

Related Topics