Bethany Provencher is a waitress at IHOP. When she went to work on New Years Day, she probably thought it would be an ordinary waitressing shift. What she wasn’t expecting was for a famous person to walk through the door- let alone a special celebrity she was in love with. However, seeing the star walk-in was only the first step of an incredible story.
Everyone knows what it’s like to struggle and feel like the world keeps knocking you down. Many times life can be hard, but it’s important to remain optimistic because you never know what is around the corner. The world is full of generous souls who do what they can to bring a smile to people’s faces. Anyone who has worked as a waitress knows it’s not an easy job, but Bethany’s customer made it all worth it.
New Year’s Shift
So you’re at an ordinary neighborhood IHOP located in St. Charles, Illinois. As soon as you walk through the door, you smell delicious creamy buttermilk pancakes covered in sweet maple syrup. It’s New Year’s Day, and people gather with loved ones, laughing and enjoying their breakfast.
Behind this beautiful scene is Bethany Provencher, spending her New Year’s workings hard to make ends meet. As a single mother who just moved from Florida, she needed to take that shift. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to join in the festivities like her customers. What Bethany didn’t know that it wasn’t just another day at the office. Her life was about to change.
Her Empty Apartment
We all go through difficult periods in our lives, but at this particular moment, Bethany really needed a win. She just moved to a different state, basically starting her life over, and raising an 11-year-child on her own. Thankfully, she was able to move into an apartment, but it cleaned out her bank account.
Bethany wasn’t in a great financial state, and once she paid rent, she didn’t have enough money for furniture. They were living in an empty apartment. She explained to ABC News in an interview: “I have absolutely nothing to move in with- like, not a dish. Nothing.”
Even though Bethany was experienced different obstacles throughout her life, she managed to look on the bright side and tried to stay positive. “Good things can only come,” she expressed to ABC News. “Blessing all around. I pray every day, so I know we’re gonna be good.”
So no matter what curve ball life threw at her, Bethany was a fighter who had a strong belief in a higher power. She knew giving up hope is easy when things don’t go our way, but the waitress always stayed strong. She prayed every day and never lost hope, and then one day, when she least expected it, something incredible happened to her. Some might call it a miracle.
A Famous Face
On this fateful New Year’s Day, things at IHOP were going as usual until suddenly, something crazy happened. A special someone walked into the restaurant, and this person put a huge smile on Bethany’s face. Maybe smiling isn’t the best way to describe it, the correct term would be- she was freaking out!
The customer was a celebrity who sat down at Table #19 with his wife and four children. His wife also a recognizable face. But Bethany was ‘fangirling’ over him! The star-struck waitress recalled that moment, “I freaked out and called my mother in the bathroom!”
Number One Fan
As you probably already guessed, Bethany was a diehard fan of this particular celebrity, which made her even more shocked when he walked into IHOP that day. She elaborated on the subject and told ABC News, “My mother sat in line for three or four hours for tickets to go see him for me when I was a kid. I went to two of his concerts, and he looked at me twice. I know he looked at me. I know he did.”
This was obviously not just another celebrity to her. It’s someone from her past that she looked up to as a kid- and apparently, locked eyes with. Would she have the chance to speak to him? Or should she act like a professional, and treat him like every other customer?
Playing it Cool
Everyone reacts differently when they see their favorite celebrity in person. Some people freeze up, and others get nervous and make fools out of themselves. Bethany, however, didn’t do that. As soon as Bethany saw the celebrity surprise guest, she went to get her manager, Gabriella Rivera.
Gabriella later told ABC News that she had to calm Bethany down. “She actually is the one who brought it up to my attention. And I told her, I was like, ‘Okay, that’s awesome. Let’s take a breath’.” Thankfully, Gabriella was there to help Bethany stay cool, but she also helped her waitress in another way.
Lucky Table 19
It was pretty clear to Gabriella that important this celebrity was to Bethany; she did a little something to make her day – she assigned that table to her. Bethany was about to serve her celebrity hero and his family. This experience was a dream come true for this single mother.
However, with all the butterflies and nerves going through her body, how would she act? I can see this going one of two ways. She could either try to be professional and take his order as a regular customer. Or, she could completely lose it and remind him that he looked at her during his concert when she was just a kid.
May I Take Your Order?
Bethany was on the job, so she had to go through with her. She walked right over to table number 19 and asked the family for their order. She figured that even famous people want to eat breakfast without getting attacked. At the end of the day, they are humans too.
So Bethany stayed calm and proceeded to give them there meal. She didn’t even trip or anything (which I definitely would have done). She didn’t bother the family and let them eat in peace. The waitress didn’t think was that she made any kind of impression on her celebrity idol. But her crazy day was about to get crazier.
Already The Best Day Ever
If all that happened that day was that Bethany got to serve her favorite celebrity, she would have been totally fine. It was such an exciting moment for her that if he walked out after his meal, she would have considered it one the best days of her life.
This kind of thing doesn’t often happen- meeting your hero, let alone being their waitress. I mean, I was a waitress for years, but no celebrities sat at my tables. And for Bethany, this was a particularly special experience because she felt as though they shared a connection all those years ago. What Bethany didn’t know is that the fun was about to start.
An Interesting Request
When the waitress brought the family their bill, her favorite celebrity was acting a bit strange. She didn’t really understand what was going on, but Bethany recalled that instance, “He gave me the receipt, and he folded it up, and he told me to put it in my pocket and wait until he left to open it.”
As weird as this request was, it must have been pretty exciting too. There had to be a reason he wanted her to wait to open it. Did he write her a note? Maybe leave her a generous tip? Whatever it was, it had to be something good. Bethany just needed to wait eagerly to find out for sure.
The 2020 Tip Challenge
After her hero told her to wait until he left the restaurant to look at it, Bethany said she “did just that.” But as soon as the celebrity left with his family, she opened the receipt: “When I opened it, I freaked out,” she exclaimed. The waitress got the biggest tip of her life- a $2,020 tip, to be exact.
The entire bill for the table was $78, and her hero paid her $2,098 for it. This wasn’t a mistake or anything because he also wrote a note saying: “Thanks, Bethany. Happy New Year. 2020 Tip Challenge.” Apparently, there was some sort of trend going on where people were tipping waitresses $2,020 in honor of bringing in 2020. Okay, I know you just want to know who this celebrity was already.
A New Kid On The Block
The famous face Bethany was such a fan of was none other than Boston Native Donnie Wahlberg. He is known for founding the hit ‘80s/’90s boy band, New Kids on the Block. When she attended one of his concerts, Bethany thought he looked right at him. To be fair, I thought me and Jesse McCartney locked eyes when I was 13-years-old at his concert.
Anyways, Wahlberg is also known for his acting career starring in horror films, including Saw and Dreamcatcher. Plus, he is famous by association, considering his little brother is a household name in Hollywood- Mark Wahlberg. But what’s the deal with the 2020 challenge? And more importantly, who’s Wahlberg’s wife?
His Famous Wife
If you’re not up to date with celebrity gossip, Donnie Wahlberg has been married to Jenny McCarthy for six years, and she was sitting right beside him when Bethany waited on the family at IHOP. Back in the ‘90s, McCarthy started a career as a model, but later she broke-out into other areas of the entertainment industry.
She starred in the movie BASEketball (led by Matt Stone and Trey Parker- the Creators of South Park). She was a host on The View for a while, and you can currently see her on the American Reality Singing Competition, The Masked Singer, where she is a judge. She was completely supportive of her husband joining the 2020 Challenge, but they weren’t the only ones to do it.
Other than his generous heart, Wahlberg’s motivation to leave such a large tip was to keep up with the viral trend that was going around the country called the 2020 Tip Challenge. It basically means that if you could afford to, you should show some love to your servers and leave them a $2,020 tip to bring in the New Year with.
ABC News reported that other people tweaked up this method a little but tipping waitresses $20.20 because $2,020 is more than most people can afford, but others still wanted to join this generous trend. Obviously, Wahlberg was in a position where he was able to give his waitress $2,020, but he may not have known how much it helped this single mother.
Furniture and a Fresh Start
Donnie Wahlberg helped Bethany get the fresh start she so desperately yearned for. He was kind of like her guardian angel in a way. She left she shift on New Year’s Day with $2,020 more than she had when she walked in. And all she had to do was be kind and gracious to her table.
Maybe she would have gotten a tip if she wasn’t the best waitress, but her kind positive attitude must have attributed to the generous amount. Either way, this meant Bethany could finally furnish her home. She told the ABC News interviewer, “Now I can have a fully furnished place.” But this act of kindness had a much larger effect.
A Powerful Impact
Looking at the story, it’s safe to say the best part is that Bethany got a humungous tip from her celebrity hero. Still, the waitress admitted something that makes us look at the scenario from a different perspective. Bethany said that the money didn’t mean so much to her. It was his kindness that she appreciated.
Of course, the tip helped the struggling single mother at the end of the day; but Bethany saw beyond the physical cash and saw the beautiful soul in the person who gave it to her. All that money was cherry on top of this selfless gesture that made her feel like someone out there cares.
Where the Challenge Began
Donnie Wahlberg was just one of the generous people to participate in the 2020 Tip Challenge. Wahlberg was actually inspired by Danielle Franzoni’s story. Danielle was a formerly homeless woman who was able to turn her life around, thanks to the 2020 Tip Challenge. She worked at Thunder Bay River restaurant in Alpena, Michigan- Apparently, she was the first lucky recipient of this challenge.
After Wahlberg heard Franzoni’s heartwarming story, he wanted to popularize the phenomenon by doing it himself. He was so moved by her story and how happy she became that he wanted to do something impactful too. And he did when it came to his IHOP waitress that day.
A Tough Morning
During a CNN interview, Franzoni recapped her exhausting morning: “I had actually woken up at like four o’clock that morning to my neighbor’s house being engulfed in flames. So I came to work, like, super emotional.” The woman’s day didn’t start off too well, and she probably didn’t get much sleep.
She was running on adrenaline when she arrived at her shift, but she put a smile on her face and stayed positive. That’s when two regular customers at the restaurant decided to do an act of kindness to make their waitress’s life much better. Just like Bethany, Franzoni never saw it coming.
Couldn’t Believe Her Eyes
Similarly to Bethany, Franzoni was a struggling single mother- only she had three kids and was pregnant with a fourth. However, when she picked up her customers’ bill that morning, she got a massive surprise. She received a $2,020 tip and was in disbelief. She later recalled this emotional moment.
“They wrote on the receipt. ‘Happy New Year, Danielle. 2020 Tip Challenge.’ I cried. I started crying and went right to my manager and asked him if it was real.” She was just completely flabbergasted that something so incredible can happen to an ordinary person like herself. She couldn’t believe what was happening.
The CNN interviewer who was talking to Danielle Franzoni looked empathic when she said, “That doesn’t happen to people like me.” he asked her, “Why do you say that Danielle,” and she responded, saying: “I’m a recovering addict. And I’m a Detroit native, born and raised. I moved up here to Alpena to start over and to get sober.”
Obviously, this woman went through some extremely difficult times, that’s why she was in utter shock when something wonderful happened to her. The CNN reporter wanted to understand her past a little more, so he continued to ask her questions. She had some unfortunate tales to tell.
Has Nothing but her Kids
At the time, Danielle Franzoni was recovering from substance abuse and was two years sober. Before receiving that massive tip, she was really having financial difficulties. She had just made the big move to Alpena and really didn’t have much. She had the clothes on her back and three kids to take care of all on her own.
Since she couldn’t afford an apartment, the single mother lived in a homeless shelter with her children. People cope differently under these types of circumstances, but Danielle wanted to power through. She was determined to stay sober and find a job for the sake of her kids. Similarly to Bethany, she stayed positive.
A Roof Over Their Heads
She finally got her job as a server at the restaurant, but she had three kids to support. In her words, the waitresses “don’t make great money.” She told CNN that when she got this generous $2,020 tip, her life completely changed. “I’m gonna build a future because of this. My kids have a future, and I have a home. It’s a big deal. It’s a really big deal.”
Danielle had tears in her eyes, going from a homeless shelter to an apartment because of one tip is a huge deal. The waitress gratefully said: “I moved into my own house today. Like, that was able to happen, and I did that today. They gave my kids a life that they didn’t even know that they didn’t have.”
A Chance at a Better Life
The way Franzoni sees the situation is that these two golden-hearted regulars who left her such an amazing tip, really gave her a fresh new start in life. “It’s a blessing. I’m trying to bring my kids home. I am trying to, you know, do right. And I have a chance.”
The tip meant the world to Danielle and her family. Now they have a second chance to have a better life, which seemed impossible. There have been countless servers who were involved in this spreading phenomenon, and they all have incredible stories. But some people took the act of giving differently.
All Tips Are Appreciated
We already mentioned that some people altered this viral trend by tipping $20.20 if they were unable to afford $2,020. However, the tips varied in both directions. Some people left even more than $2,020. Some generous tippers who were able to afford it left their servers up to $5,000!
If you have the financial stability to part with so much money, it can make a positive impact for someone who may really need it. This is obviously generous, but it confused some people- the number 5,000 doesn’t have much to do with the year 2020. I’m sure thee recipients weren’t complaining, though. It’s the intention behind the money, not the amount.
As it turns out, Donnie Wahlberg doesn’t just have an appreciation for hard-working servers. He has an interest in the restaurant industry in general. His brothers, Paul and Mark, own a chain of restaurants named Wahlbergs. Mark is obviously a well-known actor, and Paul is the chef in the family.
They actually have over 30 locations of their burger chain across 17 states, the United Kingdom, and Canada. By pure coincidence, the brothers are actually planning to open a location in St. Charles, Illinois- the exact same city where Donnie Wahlberg gave his waitress a $2,020 tip on New Year’s Day.
After Donnie Wahlberg left the $2,020 tip for Bethany on New Year’s, the trend went viral. People everywhere were inspired and wanted to join in on the generosity. Of course, not everyone was able to give such a massive amount, but a little bit extra can make your server’s day. Remember when we mentioned how one lucky waitress got a $5,000 tip?
Jennifer Navaria was near the end of her Saturday night shift. The Seaglass Restaurant in Salisbury was almost empty when a few customers came in after attending a concert at the attached Blue Ocean Music Hall.
An Unexpected Amount
She sat down the diners, and they enjoyed their meal. When it was time to pay the bill, Navaria was in complete shock. The bill was just $157.56, and the patrons left her a $5,000 tip. The generous man who left the gracious tip was Ernie Boch Jr.- the CEO of Boch Enterprises.
After asking the businessman if she could share the receipt on Social Media, she took the photo to Facebook with the caption: “Thank you, Ernie Boch, for your amazing generosity! You certainly made a job I really enjoy that much better.” Nirvana admitted that she was expecting to maybe get a $50 tip.
Made Her Day
Nirvana explained to WCVB, “I was like ‘Oh, wait a minute,’ so then I looked down again, and I saw it was four digits, then a decimal point, I said, ‘You made my night,’ but really, he made my month.” Boch left Donnie Wahlberg a message too because he started this trend.
Bach Jr. told Boston.com, “I saw the post that someone did about Donnie and the challenge, and I thought it was really cool. I don’t go out that often, but when I do, it’s kind of an event, so I kept it in the back of my head.” The CEO referred to Navaria as “an amazing person,” who provided his table with good service.
Spread the Trend
When Navaria initially asked Boch if she could take the receipt to social media, he had to think about it for a minute. He ultimately gave her the okay because if he could inspire one other person, it could really change someone’s life. He wants to see the trend continue to spread.
The CEO made it clear that he was inspired by Donnie’s generosity and wanted to help someone because he was able to. Boch Jr. said: “Let’s keep going. I’m not just challenging Donnie. I’m challenging anyone with the means to take care of the people who take care of us.” He is absolutely right. Servers definitely need more credit for the hard work they do.
Another Single Mama
Bethany and Danielle weren’t the only two single mothers out there who were positively impacted by the 2020 tip challenge. A server named Shannon Vargas, working at the Original Pancake House in Oak Lawn, also got a $2,020 tip, and she was extremely grateful.
Shannon was working hard, trying to support her family until one day, she got a wonderful surprise. It was almost the end of her shift when she grabbed a credit card receipt that was left on one of her tables. When she unfolded it, the South Suburban waitress noticed she got a $2,020 tip on a $36 bill.
The difference is that the person who left the 2020 challenge tip to Shannon chose to stay anonymous. The anonymous stranger really helped Shannon, another struggling single mom. Like the others, she was in disbelief, and later explained, “I poke my head around the corner, asked her if that was a joke, and she was like ‘no.’ After that, I was in tears. It was a crazy day for me.”
The enormous tip came with a little thoughtful message for the waitress: “…because everyone needs help sometimes.” It’s simple but so very true. It’s crazy how one kind act can make such a significant impact on somebody’s life; Shannon’s life certainly changed.
Some People Are Just Good
Shannon Vargas has two teenage children. The once homeless waitress now lives in a hotel with her children. The incredible tip bought Shannon that much closer to her dream of getting her own home. Nobody knows what is on someone else’s mind or what the people around them might be going through.
Megan Mayer, the assistant manager at the Original Pancake House, said: “The woman who did it did not know Sharon’s story. That is what was so touching to us is that it just reminded us that there are good people out there.” With everything going on in the world nowadays, it’s important to recognize that there is still good out there.
Harvest Market Waitress got a Surprise
The next server who benefited from the 2020 Tip Challenge is a waitress from Swansea and worked at Harvest Market. The restaurant posted a picture of the receipt on Facebook saying that a generous customer left a $2,000 tip on a $12 bill! This customer also chose to keep his identity a secret.
The photo was captioned, “Shout out to the anonymous customer that left this amazing tip for one of our servers!!! You made her day! #grateful.” Megan Sweeney, the Harvest Market Manager, said that it was one of their kind regulars who left the massive tip, even though he only purchased a soda and a salad.
Making a Difference
Sweeney described the thoughtful customer as “a very nice guy. But just enough to make you laugh a little bit. Lena, the lucky waitress who received the tip, told Eyewitness News that she is super grateful and hopes to put the money towards her upcoming vacation.
Social media is a great way for a challenge like this to gain momentum. So many people are joining in and doing what they can to bring a smile to their server’s faces. As we mentioned, some people are leaving $20.20 instead, which is just as impactful. This amazing random acts of kindness are needed around the world and are making a clear difference in the community.