The ‘Big Tipper’ Stopped In Boston And Gave a Waiter In the South End $500

Seth Collins's act of kindness is part of a nationwide tour to honor his brother's legacy.

Photo By Steve Annear

Photo By Steve Annear

South End waiter Mike McCaw was somewhat speechless when one of his customers handed over a $500 cash tip, for a $63 bill, at the end of his meal at Picco on Tremont Street on Friday.

“I have never gotten a tip like that before,” he said, standing next to the man that gave him a stack of $20 bills. “I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with it yet.”

The gesture was part of a countrywide project headed by Kentucky native Seth Collins, who has been traveling from state to state since July 2012, stopping in restaurants and leaving unsuspecting wait staff a little something extra.

The project, called “Aaron’s Last Wish,” is being carried out on behalf of Collins’ brother, who passed away last year at the age of 30. In his will, Aaron asked his family to go out to eat in his honor and leave a waiter in Kentucky a big lump sum.

A video of the first $500 tip went viral and prompted people to donate more money to the Collins family to keep paying it forward. The video was only meant to be a memento for Collins’ mother, so she could remember how the family carried through with Aaron’s request after he passed away unexpectedly.

But from there it just grew.

“I wanted to get out of Kentucky, and I wanted to give back to as many people as I could,” said Collins, sitting in the lobby of the hostel 40 Berkeley, which is right around the corner from where he decided to have lunch on Friday. “My brother just always had a soft spot for the food service workers, and I wanted to honor him in some way.”

Picco was restaurant No. 84 on his list of stops around the country so far. The day prior to his trip to Boston he stopped in Nashua, New Hamp., and on Saturday, he will begin his trip to Connecticut before making a pit stop in Rhode Island. (So far he has driven to each destination by himself, but took a plane to Alaska and Hawaii.)

The money he uses to travel comes from sponsorships that have developed since the project has received national press attention—and viral fame. Since Collins first launched the website and project, he’s raised more than $50,000 for the organization.

The 34-year-old said he never gets sick of the reaction on peoples’ faces when he hands over the money, and note explaining why he is doing it. “Knowing they appreciate it, that right there is worth the cause,” he said. “I think that’s something that my brother wanted. It’s rewarding to know that I helped someone out in some way, and at the same time I am creating a legacy for my brother.”

The reactions vary, he said, from ecstatic to shocked, and sometimes speechless and sentimental. At Picco, McCaw’s reaction, as he took the $500 in his hand, was the latter.

As Collins explained that his brother passed away in 2012, and that the money was part of a bigger project to give back to people and honor his will, McCraw sat silent before thanking Collins and deciding that he would split the cash with the other servers on staff Friday.

“I’m sharing the tips because I think it’s the fair thing to do. If I needed money to pay rent, it would be a completely different story,” McCaw, a Somerville resident, said. “I’ll keep my share and put it in a savings account, and think about using it for [an art] project I might not normally invest in, and put it toward that. I want to be able to do my artwork and spread this joy, so I’m thinking about how I can use the money so it extends that good will to others. ”

Collins has made connections through his project all over the country. On Friday, he met with Rabbi Neal Gold, of Natick, who once highlighted Collins’ efforts as an example of good-natured deeds in one of his sermons. “I find it inspiring, bringing sweetness and joy into other peoples’ lives,” said Gold, who sent a copy of the sermon to Collins’ mother in Kentucky.

The sermon is now part of a book she wrote about Colins’ travels, and her late son Aaron’s impact on the world.

As he prepared for his trip to Connecticut, where friends are letting him stay the weekend, Collins started to think about what he will do once all 50 states are complete. Collins said he will likely head home to his mother, and continue the project in other ways. “I’ll have to figure out a new way to do it I guess. I’ll have to change it up,” he said. “But I’ll make sure waiters get their tips.”

To learn more about the project, and see where Collins has gone so far, visit