Tipping culture needs to end in Canada

Mandatory tipping lets employers get away with paying their staff less than a living wage

A living wage in Metro Vancouver is an estimated hourly rate of $20.52. (Kristen Frier)

Tipping servers at restaurants is a longstanding tradition in North America. Particularly in Canada, it is the cultural norm to tip waiters around the 15 to 20 per cent range of a bill’s subtotal based on the quality of service received. Some establishments go further and impose mandatory tips as high as 18 per cent for large dining parties.

While tipping may seem to be an expression of gratitude for the server’s customer service during a dine out experience, the extra payment to your bill is used to maintain the server’s salary. 

This is a troubling practice within the restaurant industry because it means employers are not paying servers a living wage.

A living wage is classified as “the hourly rate required for two working adults to meet the basic needs of a family of four,” according to the City of Vancouver. The rate is calculated annually by the Living Wage for Families Campaign (LWFC). 

In Metro Vancouver, the living wage is estimated at $20.52 an hour, but servers make less than this amount. The average hourly salary for a waiter in British Columbia is $16.10, and Canada-wide the average rate is only $14.92.

Tipping is incredibly unfair because the amount of a tip is often decided by the customer, and the amount can vary depending on their experience with the server and overall food quality. 

However, poor management, short staffing, and a busy dinner rush are just some of the many challenges that are out of a server’s control. Yet, tipping culture allows them to get slapped with inadequate gratuities. 

A solution to address both the unreliability and inequality that tipping culture produces in the restaurant industry is to do away with the system altogether in favour of paying servers a living wage. According to Business Insider, countries including Finland, Sweden, and Belgium automatically attach a service charge to your bill, virtually making tipping unnecessary. 

Under the law in Denmark, service charges — which can include gratuities for waiters — are pre-imposed on the prices. Since Danish servers are already well-compensated, tipping is considered an unconventional practice.

Ever considering travelling Down Under? You will face no pressure to pay any fees because Australia does not require tipping. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing considering the country happens to have one of the highest minimum wage rates in the world.

As tipping in restaurants is still the expected custom in Canada, it is time for the industry to put their servers first and implement service charging systems or price adjustments in their businesses so that a workforce with a guaranteed living wage is possible.