2020 tip challenge story

How One Waitress's Life Was Changed By a Special Customer's Tip


| LAST UPDATE 01/25/2022

By Tiana Blanco

Bethany was a struggling single mom working at IHOP when her celebrity idol turned up out of the blue. And the receipt that he left would change everything. Here's the unique story of the viral trend that's changed many lives along the way.

A Typical New Year's Day

The holidays are filled with tons of different traditions. For some, it's just not New Year's Day without celebrating at IHOP and eating pancakes. And that's exactly where this story begins.

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YouTube via ABC 7 Chicago

But while customers were chowing down with friends and family, it was a different reality for one waitress in particular. Bethany Provencher was spending January 1st grinding away at work. She was a single mom who had just moved from Florida to St. Charles, Illinois. Little did she know the shock that was coming her way.

Starting from Scratch

Life certainly wasn't a walk in the park for Bethany and the pressure was on for her with the added responsibility of motherhood. She and her 11-year-old son had moved north from Florida in hopes of a fresh start, but it came with a price. While she was able to find an apartment, it came with quite the catch.

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YouTube via Inside Edition

While Provencher was able to scrape enough cash together for a deposit, it left her with no money to help get her and her son get comfortable in their new digs. In fact, she didn't even have cash left over for a sofa. "I have absolutely nothing to move in with," the single mom confessed to ABC News. "Like not a dish… nothing."

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Holding On to Hope

But, despite the odds stacked against Bethany and her son, she was determined to keep a positive attitude, convinced that eventually thing's would improve. "Good things can only come," Provencher beamed during her ABC News interview. "Blessings all around. I pray every day, so I know we're gonna be good."

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YouTube via Inside Edition

Bethany's positivity couldn't be shaken no matter how much she was struggling to get by. And as a single mother, she had thick skin and a can-do survival mode that kicked in to provide a stable life for her and her son. She believed that her prayers would soon be answered… and that day came sooner than she could have imagined.

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A Celebrity Appearance

Despite the New Year's Day buzz in the air, Bethany was working her regular IHOP shift just like any other day. But the energy in the St. Charles pancake joint shifted suddenly as the struggling waitress caught a glimpse of the new diner that had just walked through the doors. Could it really be?

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YouTube via ABC 7 Chicago

The mystery diner was actually a famous celebrity who had come in to chow down on some breakfast food with his family of four, plus his wife, who also happened to be well-known. They grabbed a seat at Table #19 as Bethany looked on in shock. "I freaked out and called my mother in the bathroom!" she recalled.

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Fangirl Moment

Not only was there a famous person in Bethany's IHOP location, but it was a celebrity that the single mom had adored for as long as she could remember. When sharing her story with ABC News, Provencher explained just how special this celebrity was to her. And it was clear that this encounter had really made her shift.

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Twitter via @nbcchicago

"My mother sat in line for three or four hours for tickets to go see him for me when I was a kid," Bethany recalled. "I went to two of his concerts, and he looked at me twice, " the single mom told the interviewer. This was clearly a one-in-a-million moment for Bethany, but how would she keep her cool while on the clock?

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Keeping It Casual

Meeting your favorite celebrity can be a pretty big shock to the system. And, as one could imagine, maintaining composure can be pretty tricky. But rather than rush over and potentially make a fool of herself, Bethany ducked away to share the exciting news with her manager, Gabriella Rivera.

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YouTube via ABC 7 Chicago

After the fact, Gabriella was able to share her account of the day with ABC News. "[Bethany] actually is the one who brought it up to my attention," Rivera recalled. "And I told her, I was like, 'Okay, that's awesome. Let's take a breath.'" After calming Bethany down, Gabriella gave her the opportunity of a lifetime.

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Getting Her Shot

Based on Bethany's enthusiastic reaction to just seeing her celebrity idol in the flesh, Gabriella knew just how much he meant to her new IHOP employee. And so she gave Provencher the ultimate shot to make her dreams come true. She had the chance to serve the table where her number one celebrity was sitting with his family.

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YouTube via Inside Edition

Bethany couldn't believe what she was hearing. Sure, this was the best outcome she could have imagined, but she was also filled with fears and questions. Should she play it cool or profess her long-time adoration? Should she tell him about the concert from many years ago? Provencher didn't know how to proceed.

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Going for It

Suddenly, it all became clear: if Bethany didn't act fast, this opportunity would pass her by and she'd never be able to forgive herself for wasting it on worries. So, with her apron fastened and her notepad in hand, the single mom walked over to Table #19 just like she did with every other table that day.

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YouTube via Inside Edition

As luck had it, Bethany managed to keep her fangirling under control and got the family of six their food without any hiccups. But as she left them to enjoy their fresh pancakes in peace, the single mom had absolutely no idea just how much she'd impressed her number one hero. However, she'd soon find out in a big way.

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Already a Dream Come True

As Bethany served her idol and his family, she felt as though things just couldn't get much better. After all, this surprise visit had turned her New Year's Day on its head and made her long-time dream a reality. She never could have imagined that a shift working as a waitress at her local IHOP could have turned into this!

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YouTube via Inside Edition

It was just all too good to be true. What were the odds that Bethany would have the chance to meet a celebrity at work, and on top of that, a celebrity that she had shared a special moment years ago? And on top of that, she even got the chance to serve him his meal. But this was just the start of her life-changing day.

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Leaving on an Odd Note

Sooner than Bethany would have liked it, her celebrity guest had finished his meal. But when Provencher went to run his card and close his tab, suddenly the A-lister's behavior changed. "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," Bethany recalled.

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YouTube via Inside Edition

Safe to say that Bethany was confused by the instructions but she was also overwhelmed that her idol had left the restaurant with such a personal touch. What was written on the receipt that made him want her to wait until he'd left to open it? By his demeanor, Provencher hoped it was something positive. Her mind was racing.

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The Tip to End All Tips

Although Bethany was buzzing with curiosity, she was able to follow through with her celeb idol's instructions. "[I] did just that," she remembered. And once he'd finally left, she retrieved the folded receipt from her pocket. "When I opened it, I freaked out," she said: Her hero had tipped her much more than expected!

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YouTube via Inside Edition

While the celeb's bill had only totaled less than $80, the A-lister went on to pay significantly more. And based on his little note on the receipt, this was no miscalculation. "Thanks Bethany. Happy New Year. 2020 Tip Challenge," it read. Bethany was the lucky participant in a mysterious challenge. But who was the generous diner?

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A Wahlberg Legend

No typo here: the mystery diner that turned Bethany's life upside down was none other than Donnie Wahlberg. The Boston native had found fame over 30 years ago during his time in the famous boy band New Kids On The Block. It was at one of his shows that Provencher first saw him years ago.

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Instagram via @jennymccarthy

His successful career in music opened the doors to opportunities in the film industry as well. From Saw and The Sixth Sense, the second youngest of the Walhberg family became a household name. And his association with his younger brother Mark certainly didn't hurt. But what about his wife? And what spurred the viral tip trend?

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The Mrs.

Donnie's wife. is named Jenny McCarthy. The pair got married over seven years ago, but being Mrs. Wahlberg wasn't Jenny's claim to fame. She first gained attention as a Playboy model in the 1990s and eventually skyrocketed in popularity and branched out to other gigs in media.

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Instagram via @donniewahlberg

From film to television, the Illinois native had dipped her toe into just about every option in Hollywood. She'd even had a chance to co-host The View! But these days, she was appearing as a judge in The Masked Singer. And she was totally on board with her husband's generosity, something that changed their server's life forever.

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Turning Her House into a Home

It was as if, without even realizing it, Donnie Walhberg had answered Bethany's prayers. The new St. Charles IHOP employee wrapped her New Year's Day shift at the restaurant with far more in her pocket than when she first clocked in for the shift - all thanks to her long-time idol.

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Instagram via @donniewahlberg

To a seasoned celebrity, an expensive meal probably didn't feel like much, but to Bethany, it was the difference between an empty apartment and a welcoming home for her and her son. "Now I can have a fully furnished place," the single mom shared in relief with the news reporters. But that wasn't the best part.

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The Message Behind It All

At first glance, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that the money now in Bethany's pocket was the best part of the day. But in reality, the really special moment had less to do about the generous tip and more about the goodwill that motivated it. Provencher was blown away by the kindness of all things.

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YouTube via Inside Edition

Now, that's not to say that the tip wasn't a welcomed bonus to the whole situation, but Bethany felt starstruck all over again. Not just because she'd met one of her favorite celebrities, but because he was such a genuinely generous and kind person. While Wahlberg had made her day, he owed the idea to someone else.

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The Trendsetter

Who? While Donnie might have been the first person to ever tip Bethany such a generous sum, he wasn't the first diner to jump on the Tip Challenge train. In fact, he was actually motivated after learning about Danielle Franzoni. She had lived in a shelter before experiencing the life-changing generosity of the viral movement.

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Instagram via @detroitnews

She was working at a joint in Alpena, Michigan called the Thunder Bay River restaurant when she got a shocking tip from one of her tables. And after learning about the impact it had on Danielle's life, Donnie felt inspired to spread the challenge across his various platforms and give it a try for himself.

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An "Emotional" Day

Danielle shared her impactful story on CNN, where she outlined the events leading up to the act of kindness. "I came to work, like, super emotional," the waitress recalled, having woken up at 4 am to help a struggling neighbor. It certainly wasn't an easy start to her day and she came to work exhausted.

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YouTube via NBC News

Danielle clocked in not knowing how she was going to get through her shift but managed to get into the groove as she served two frequent diners with her cheerful smile. But upon their departure, just like in Bethany's case, Danielle discovered the surprise that was waiting for her.

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Total Shock

Even beyond her rough start to the morning, Danielle Franzoni's life was full of struggle. She was pregnant with her fourth child and was barely scraping by as a single mother. But when she least expected it, the generous tip came and changed everything. She could still remember the receipt.

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Facebook via Danni Franzoni

"They wrote on the receipt, 'Happy New Year Danielle. 2020 Tip Challenge,'" the waitress recalled. "I cried. I started crying and went right to my manager and asked him if it was real." She couldn't believe that such a huge act of kindness had happened to her of all people.

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Her Difficult Story

"That doesn't happen to people like me," Franzoni confessed to the CNN reported. "Why do you say that Danielle?" the reporter asked empathetically. "I'm a [in recovery]," she admitted. "And I'm a Detroit native, born and raised. I moved up here to Alpena to start over and to get sober."

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Facebook via Danni Franzoni

From her short explanation, it was clear the Danielle wasn't dealt the best hand of cards in life. And because of her struggles, the single mom felt as though she didn't deserve the act of generosity that had come her way. The CNN interviewer was intrigued and wanted to understand more about her past.

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Starting From Nothing

It had already been two years since Danielle had committed to a life of sobriety, but fighting her demons had come with a heavy price. And so with nothing to lose and everything to gain, she moved her family to Alpena in search of a fresh start. But unfortunately, they left with practically nothing.

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Facebook via Danni Franzoni

With three kids to feed and little to no money to work with, finding an apartment was out of the question for Franzoni. She and her kids ended up in a shelter where they were able to stay for free. It wasn't ideal, but Danielle was determined that it was a temporary fix. No matter what, she wouldn't give up.

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"It's a Really Big Deal"

Committed as ever to build a new life, Danielle got herself a job at a restaurant, but the cash wasn't exactly flowing in. "[I] don't make great money," she said. But upon getting the life-changing tip, things suddenly looked different. "I'm gonna build a future because of this. My kids have a future and I have a home."

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Facebook via Danni Franzoni

"It's a big deal. It's a really big deal," she explained to CNN. "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," the grateful mom shared. It meant the world to her and she was proud to share her story.

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Trying to Do Right

While a massive tip would make any server's day, Danielle and Bethany shared a special connection because of just how big of an impact that year's Tip Challenge had made on their lives. "It's a blessing," Franzoni shared. "I'm trying to bring my kids home. I'm trying to, you know, do right. And I have a chance."

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Facebook via Danni Franzoni

For her kids, it meant a stable roof over their heads and a space of their own. The sudden cash flow also helped keep the mom of three on track with her recovery by significantly reducing her financial stresses. The viral challenge was changing lives left and right - but where did it all begin?

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The Tip Challenge

Besides wanting to give back to those in need, Donnie's (as well as Danielle's) 4-figure tip was inspired by a viral challenge circulating online. It went like this: for those who could afford it, they were challenged to show thanks to restaurant workers by finishing their meal with a tip of $2,020 - in honor of the new year.

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Instagram via @donniewahlberg

Of course, though, Bethany and Danielle weren't the only ones benefiting from this generous challenge. Unlike them, most servers were lucky to get a $20.20 tip whilst clearing a table. But the single mothers' life-changing amount of money was soon taken to the next level by a different challenge-goer.

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A Whole New Level

As we learned, the viral trend known as the 2020 Tip Challenge involved diners with some dough to spare tipping their hardworking servers with anywhere from $20.20 to $2,020. But someone had upped the ante by leaving tips of $5,000 on several occasions!

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Twitter via @dorichats

While - unlike 2,020 - the 5,000 number might not exactly have the year's format in spirit, people were totally on board with the random bursts of kindness being shown in restaurants all over America. And servers certainly benefited from the viral generosity - including those under Donnie's payroll...

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Family Biz

As it turned out, Donnie wasn't only interested in restaurants from a diner's perspective. The musician-turned-actor branched into new territory thanks to some help from his two brothers: Marky Mark and Paul, who worked as a chef. They opened a slew of burger joints called Wahlburgers back in 2011.

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Instagram via @donniewahlberg

As of the time of the article's publishing, the successful chain has reached close to 50 locations across North America. And as luck would have it, they opened a burger joint in the very town where Donnie met his long-time fan at the St. Charles, Illinois IHOP. Who would be inspired next?

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Inspiring Hollywood

After decades in the industry, Donnie Wahlberg had more than enough time to befriend some of Hollywood's rich and famous. And all these A-lister contacts meant that surely someone would have the spare cash to participate in the Tip Challenge for themselves.

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Twitter via @donniewahlberg

And to his surprise, Blue Bloods' Tom Selleck jumped on board and gave the viral trend a shot. The story was later shared on People as people applauded Sellec's gesture. "I am honoring my [friend's] 'Tip Challenge' with my sincere hope for a better 2020," the actor wrote on his receipt at the New York restaurant.

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Spread Love and Love Will Spread

"I didn't start it but I'm proud to be part of it," Donnie shared with pride upon seeing that Tom Selleck had jumped aboard the kindness train. "I found out that my TV Dad has generously accepted the 2020 Tip Challenge at Elios Upper East side!" the 51-year-old celebrity tweeted.

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Vera Anderson / Contributor via Getty Images

"To those who gave even the smallest extra amount this year - THANK YOU," Wahlberg continued. And finally, he ended with a message that echoed Bethany's highlight from his IHOP visit. "Spread love and love will spread," he wrote at the end of his message.

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Random Acts of Kindness

While most celebrities don't know what to do with their massive influence, Wahlberg and Selleck took their influential positions and kickstarted a movement that spread farther than Bethany or Danielle ever could have imagined. Stories about the Tip Challenge were everywhere.

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YouTube via CBS Chicago

Chicago waitress Selena Ryan was another lucky worker who got gifted a hefty tip. "There's still good people in the world," the Dakota Inn server shared with CBS Chicago. "It was such a blessing what they did for me and what they're still doing today," the grateful worker explained.

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The Meaning Behind It All

What many people didn't realize is what Bethany was saying all along. Sure, the money had the power to change these servers' lives for the better, but the true magic behind the Tip Challenge didn't have much to do about the cash at all. It was something much more special.

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YouTube via CBS Chicago

"Whether it's $2 or $200, they say each donation is about more than a hashtag or a challenge. They are reminders that even in a tough year, a tough time, people car," Megan Oeser explained to the news station. She and her friend had been inspired to fundraise for the cause.

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Lives Changed for the Better

Bethany and Danielle could agree in a heartbeat: the 2020 Tip challenge not only put their respective families in better positions financially, but it also taught them a valuable lesson about the good in this world and how people can always surprise you - for the better!

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Twitter via @jennymccarthy

And it's safe to say there was a beautiful message to learn in the viral challenge. And from Michigan to Illinois and New York, countless lucky restaurant workers were finding out just how caring and considerate people can be. Will a 2021 Tip Challenge be next?

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