Amy Pataki’s article in the Star “Standard tip in Toronto restaurants now 20 per cent” about the tip prompts at the Ace and the Westerly raised an issue that I think needs some more careful examination.
First the Star/toronto.com’s headline is wrong. There may be a push to make this so and some of us might consider 20% our standard but general practice in Toronto is still to tip 15% on the before tax total.
In his excellent two-part story on tipping at Inside Toronto last November (part 1, part 2) Eric Vellend set fifteen as the starting bar. In their guides to travel in Canada both Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet agree that 15% is standard.
Having established that while things may be headed that way, 20% is not the standard, I wonder what else is there to consider in the article? I think it’s this idea that owners are suggesting that customers tip 50% more than they used to. (Quick math: these particular machines are programmed to suggest 20% after 13% HST, which is 22.6% of the before-tax total or the standard 15% tip, plus half more. Also, this will be even more of an increase in situations where the higher taxes on alcohol are applied.)
Pataki writes: ” ‘We feel we are providing great service. Waiters don’t get paid too much,’ said Tom Earl, co-owner of The Westerly.” Wait a second “waiters don’t get paid too much”? By whom? Well, obviously that would be by owners like Tom Earl. How this glaring contradiction went unexamined baffles me.
Servers do a difficult job and ones who work in licensed establishments are allowed to be paid a minimum wage that is lower than other sectors (that doesn’t apply for unlicensed sandwich counters and the like). For that reason we’ve developed a social custom of adding a tip when service meets expected standards and a more generous one when those expectations are exceeded. If owners think their employees are under-paid they should raise prices and pay them more. Period.
That’s because no matter how much we think that by banging our fists on our cardboard pulpits and exhorting fellow diners to tip better and (by implication) come up with the extra cash by spending less on shoes or putting off the next iPhone purchase for a couple weeks they probably won’t. If they usually spend $100 eating at restaurants per month the increased social pressure to tip more will just mean that a greater part of that same budget goes to tipping.
Good news for servers can be bad news for a whole bunch of other costs that go into a restaurant. Less for high-quality, ethically-concerned ingredients and less for the kitchen staff that is often just as poorly paid as the front of house staff. This jump from 15% to 22.6% percent means four fewer dollars (or a five percent drop) from that theoretical hundred-dollar budget.
I’m not surprised that this story has caused some virtual red faces. Certain restaurant owners are taking a sneaky, disingenuous route to raising prices and not enough is being done to hold them to account.