On Aug. 27, 2022, a tweet was published that claimed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, once dined with a party of 20 people at a Rainforest Cafe restaurant in Grapevine and did not leave a tip. That tweet has since been retweeted and liked thousands of times. Readers emailed us to ask if the story really happened. We've so far uncovered no evidence to definitively confirm or deny the rumor.
'Came Home in Tears'
In the viral tweet, a user named @DeniseBinAR claimed that her niece, a former waitress at Rainforest Cafe, came home in tears after receiving no tip from a large party that included Abbott. "His wife told my niece, they should be honored to serve him," the user said. (Abbott's wife's name is Cecilia.)
To learn more, we called the Rainforest Cafe restaurant in Grapevine. A manager on staff directed us to contact their parent company, Landry's. We placed a phone call to Landry's, who then directed us to an email address for a public relations company. We sent questions to the PR company, the Twitter user, and Abbott's press inbox.
Lubbock-based radio station KFMX.com published that Abbott's office denied the rumor, saying he had never visited the Rainforest Cafe in Grapevine.
After this fact check was first published, we made contact with Lori Murphy, the woman who @DeniseBinAR said is her niece who waited on Abbott's table. She confirmed the main parts of her aunt's story and provided more information, which we have printed below. We will update this story if we receive responses from any of our other outreach.
First, we found several tweets from the same user that provided additional information. For example, this wasn't the first time that @DeniseBinAR had tweeted about the story. Another tweet from 2019 described the same purported incident:
The user also tweeted that her niece has since experienced a stroke and that the incident happened years ago while Abbott was serving as the state's attorney general. Abbott held the position between 2002 and 2015. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Grapevine location for Rainforest Cafe appeared to have opened in or around October 1997.
One person responded to @DeniseBinAR, tweeting that at least some Rainforest Cafe locations have a policy of automatically adding 18 percent gratuity for large parties. "When my niece was serving, there was no auto-gratuity," the user responded.
Interview with Murphy
After the original version of this story was published, we were able to make contact with Murphy. In a brief phone conversation, she said that she was one of the people who waited on Abbott's table and believed the incident occurred in either 2012 or 2013.
According to what she told us, Abbott's party of around 20 people were coming back from attending the Red River Showdown college football game between Texas and Oklahoma. The game is played annually at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, just down the road from Grapevine.
In 2012, the game was played on Oct. 13. In 2013, it took place on Oct. 12. According to what Murphy told us, this would place her story on one of those two dates.
During our conversation with Murphy, she told us that she recalled a moment when Abbott's wife was "walking in heels and storming across the floor mad" and said to the wait staff, "Do you not know who the fuck my husband is? We have to use a Unicard?" Murphy said she believed this was before the party ordered any beverages at the restaurant. (According to KFDA-TV, a special card was required in some counties in Texas to purchase alcoholic beverages.)
Murphy said that the subtotal for the table's check was for around $280 or almost $300. "They left only a $2.50 tip," she said, which was slightly different than what her aunt tweeted ("Not one dime for a tip"). She told us Abbott himself signed the check and made the decision to only add $2.50 for her tip, and that the way it worked at the time was that the small tip was divided up amongst the waitstaff.
Before our phone call ended, Murphy said that she wished she had kept a copy of the check as evidence. She also added that she wasn't aware of anyone else on the waitstaff who we could contact to ask further questions about the story.
Popular Reddit Post
One additional component of the way this story was shared that we'd like to mention is the fact that a screenshot of the viral tweet was posted on Reddit. It received just over 90,000 points. For readers unfamiliar with Reddit, this meant that it was an extremely popular post.
Despite a complete lack of evidence, most of the top-voted comments in the Reddit thread indicated that users believed the story was true. They also apparently believed that the purported incident at Rainforest Cafe happened recently, completely missing the other tweets that claimed it supposedly happened years ago and before Abbott was elected governor.
Far down in the Reddit comments, one user asked if there was a receipt that could be shown as proof. A different user responded sarcastically, "A random internet claim is much more effective." Another user replied to the request for a receipt, also saying with some sarcasm, "Are names of famous people usually printed on receipts?" Someone responded, "Do you typically accept tweets with no evidence as fact?"
This story will be updated if we find more information regarding this rumor.