December 10, 2013

Serial big-tipper doles out $500 to Portland waitress

Seth Collins surprises Emily Young at Flatbread Company in Portland, as he travels the country repeating the kindness in memory of his late brother.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

Emily Young was finishing up with the last table of her shift Monday afternoon at Flatbread Company in Portland when the customer called her over.

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Server Emily Young talks with big tipper Seth Collins after he surprised her with a $500 gratuity on a $43.90 bill Monday at Flatbread Company in Portland. “I feel very lucky,” said Young, 30.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Watch Seth Collins’ YouTube channel.

She had had a miserable day for tips, waiting on just four tables. Now, she had a customer who wanted a few words.

“It seemed like he might complain. Then I saw him smiling,” Young said. “Then he gave me the money.”

Young got a $500 tip around 2 p.m. from an apparently super-satisfied diner named Seth Collins.

Collins, of Lexington, Ky., has been traveling the country for more than a year giving $500 tips to servers at random in memory of his late brother, Aaron.

When Collins called Young over, he stood up and explained quietly that he had been giving out big tips around the country in memory of his “little brother.”

Young stood motionless with an almost blank look on her face. When Collins held out his tip for her, a fan of $20 bills, Young laughed a nervous laugh and strained to find a few words of thanks.

“I feel very lucky,” said Young, 30, a Portland resident who also writes fiction and works part time at Longfellow Books. “Maybe I’m just in shock.”

Collins’ lunch bill Monday was $43.90, for him and two companions. So the tip was comfortably over the 20 percent standard.

Collins’ travels have been well-documented on social media and by newspapers and TV. He’s given out 82 really big tips, totaling $41,000, since July 2012.

In fact, Young and her co-worker Marcus O’Toole were talking about Collins, sort of, Monday morning. They had heard that someone was going around giving generous tips. Because Monday’s lunch shift was so slow, they joked about how wonderful it would be if that big tipper walked in.

And he did.

“I was just wondering what I was going to do about not making much money today,” said Young.

Her immediate plans for the money were to give some to O’Toole, the only other server on duty Monday afternoon, and to buy a round of beers for friends she meets up with regularly on Monday nights.

“Maybe I’ll have two beers,” Young said. “And pay some bills.”


Aaron Collins died unexpectedly in July 2012 at the age of 30, and wrote in his will that he wanted his family to have a meal in his memory and leave a really, really big tip. A video of the first $500 tip and the reaction it got went viral and prompted people to donate more money to the Collins family, enabling them to do more big-tipping in Aaron’s name.

An organization was founded, Aaron’s Last Wish, and about $50,000 was raised to keep the tips flowing.

Aaron’s Last Wish is not a federally recognized nonprofit and does not have tax-exempt status. It is registered in Kentucky as a nonprofit limited liability company.

Collins, 34, said his brother was always taking friends out to dinner, leaving big tips, and generally giving his money to others. He said he remembers his brother giving a waitress a $50 tip because she confided in him that she was thinking of quitting. Aaron Collins gave her the money and said “don’t give up,” his brother said.

“When we were kids, Aaron would add money to the tip if he thought my parents hadn’t left enough,” said Collins, who worked in information technology for years before beginning his tipping journey. “He always had an appreciation for people in the service industry and wanted to make sure they knew they were appreciated.”

Aaron Collins was a “jack of all trades” said his brother, working in construction and computer repair and as a handyman. His family has not disclosed the cause of his death.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Seth Collins steps back and records server Emily Young after he surprised her with a $500 tip. “Maybe I’ll try to get somebody to let me do a TV show, giving out tips,” he said.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


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