Thoughts on tipping

03 Feb
Our receipt from Sushi Star

Our receipt from Sushi Star

In my previous post about absolutely terrible service at Schanks Athletic Club, I mentioned that before someone finally came over to give me my bill, I was considering leaving the minimum amount of money in cash to pay for my meal before leaving. Then when I finally got my bill, I did not leave any tip, and got a snarl from the server in response.

The experience made me chat with a few friends not long ago about tipping your server.

To ensure prompt service

Now, the idea of “Tips” being a acronym for ‘To Ensure (or mis-spelled, Insure) Prompt Service” is actually a myth (check out the Snopes article here: but really, “gratuity” is probably a better word, with a better history – being a ‘free gift’ or additional money ‘freely given‘ as a thank-you for good service.

Of course, tipping isn’t always ‘freely given’, or even related to good service. (I’m thinking of those places where they automatically add a tip onto your bill, or the places that add it on automatically when you’re with a group of people.) Likewise, tipping is a social custom that doesn’t exist everywhere – in fact in some areas it’s actually illegal to tip (as it might be considered a bribe I guess…) and in some areas servers and restaurant owners would actually be offended to receive a tip. The amount of gratuity is also varied in different places. While in some places a patron might consider 10-20% to be a good tip, in other places the average is closer to 5%, and in others a patron might just not ask for change – so on an 18$ bill for service, leaving a 20$ note would give the server a 2$ ‘tip’ but the same person might leave a 20$ note for a bill that came to 19.99$.

Some arguments for tipping

  • “If you can’t afford to tip, don’t go out to eat”
  • Servers make very little money for their wage, so need tips to survive
  • You received very good service, and the server deserves a tip

My counter-argument….

Our bill at at Sakura

Our bill at at Sakura

The idea that if you can’t afford to tip, you shouldn’t go out to eat seems a bit forced to me – after all, the amount of money I pay for a meal not only pays for the server’s time, but also for the chef, the busser, the hostess.. not to mention the cost of food, rent, advertising, telephone, website, etc.. If everyone who didn’t really want to tip (but could afford to go out to eat) simply stopped going out to eat, it’s not only the server who would be missing out on the business.

Unfortunately it’s true (in Canada) that servers generally don’t make high wages – they typically make minimum wage and are expected to provide good service to earn tips to compensate for those low wages.  I have a few problems with this as practice…

  • First, there are a lot of people who work for minimum wage who do not earn tips.  The cashier at the corner store for instance spends as much time on his or her feet, and still only takes home minimum wage for his or her efforts. I’ve had a share of retail and service-oriented jobs, and being on your feet for 8 hours is hard either way…
  • Second, that same cashier has to report 100% of his income for tax purposes. I do as well. Although those who are receive tips for their work are supposed to declare all of their income and pay taxes on it, it’s possible to under-declare tips given in cash.
  • Third, if restaurant owners and managers expect their staff to be paid in tips, this means that they can underpay their staff. The same server who works a morning shift would receive the same minimum wage for his or her time…. but likely wouldn’t receive tips for serving breakfast the way that the server working the evening shift does for serving beers. If the breakfast server can survive with no (or far less) tips, how come the evening server can’t?

Finally addressing the idea that good service deserves a tip – a reward. Again I’d point out that a lot of people work very hard in their jobs, and are not eligible for additional payment for their good service.  While some people can work overtime or get bonus incentives, this isn’t true across the board.  We just do our job and get paid the amount we negotiated when we took the job. We’re expected to do a good job or we loose our jobs.. we don’t get bonus money for doing the job that we were hired for.

So.. on tipping…

  • When service is good, I tip.
  • When service is “above and beyond” my expectations, I tip well.
  • When there is no additional service (for instance for counter-service at a fast-food restaurant or coffee shop) I don’t tip.
  • When service is bad, I don’t tip (or only tip up to the next rounded dollar figure).
  • When the server (or kitchen… why is it always the kitchen’s fault huh?) makes mistakes, but works to rectify them in a way that doesn’t interrupt my enjoyment of the meal, I tip.
Our bill from UBU Lounge

Our bill from UBU Lounge

A little disclaimer…

I’ve never worked in the food-service industry. I have worked in commission sales however, which also relates performance to income, but I have never been a server in a restaurant. I am aware that people who choose to work in the food-service industry probably have many reasons for being pro-tipping (from both the servers side and from the business-owner side.) Additionally, my perspective is from a Canadian point of view – not an American point of view. I’m aware that in the USA many servers receive an hourly wage that is less than the minimum wage as it’s expected that tips will make up the difference.

A little light reading

All you can eat from Sushi Ichiban

All you can eat from Sushi Ichiban

Check out Natasha’s blog – she shares that her hourly wage is $2.83/hour (ouch!) but after taxes she generally makes between $5-10/hour. She also has some funny stories to share about her job as a server.

This post from the Kellogg School of Management Operations Room evaluated an article talking about how eliminating tipping actually improved the food and the service in a restaurant. While the cost of service was still passed along to the customer, the article theorized that because so much of successful service relies on teamwork, having no competition for tips helped both the kitchen staff and front-end staff work together for a better customer experience.

Steve writes that “Tipping is stupid” in his blog, and then backs that up with a graph illustrating the correlation between tipping and corruption, plus some statements discussing that tipping is not an effective incentive for performance in servers and that it perpetuates racism, age discrimination, and sexual harassment.

Heather, a fellow Canadian has some more insight (having worked in the food-service industry) is annoyed by ‘automatic tipping’ and found a kindred spirit in “Mr. Pink” when he ranted about not tipping.  She also has a list of places around the world where tipping is not customary, and a number of good points about not tipping.

In “Why you don’t deserve a tip” a blogger (with nearly a decade of experience in the food-service industry, and a Canadian to boot) discusses when she does tip… and when she doesn’t think a server deserves a tip.  Not knowing your menu, taking too long to serve the customer, not being able to deal with criticism, and not actually really working are just a few of the examples she’s experienced.

So… what do you think?

What do you think about tipping (in Canada… or wherever you are from)? Do you think it’s just a general cost of going out and that even if the service is deplorable you’re still going to tip 20%? Do you think that some servers just deserve more money from customers because they’re chowing down on steak instead of hamburger? Do you tip better when your server is hot? Do you think that restaurants should do away with tipping entirely and pay their staff a living wage (and fire them when they aren’t good at their jobs)? Let us know in the comments below!


Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: ,

4 responses to “Thoughts on tipping

  1. incendiaryblonde

    February 3, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Thanks for linking to my post! It’s certainly a heated subject, which I feel confident defending my position on, given my experience in the industry.

    I worked for many years in a Wings restaurant, which was frequented mainly by families and teens, with the occasional group of young men. Considering that the former two of those are (traditionally) not very generous tippers, and considering that our wings went for $0.39 per pound, you can see that my average bill was pretty low. However, I usually ended a night with $100 in tips, AFTER I’d given a minimum $20 to the bartender, and tipped out the kitchen and hostess. Why? Because I juggled no less than 12 tables at a time, and I was good. I knew my menu, I was friendly, I remembered faces and conversations of frequent customers, and I was good at crisis management. Some tables won’t tip regardless, but because I took so many tables per night, the cheap customers usually got cancelled out by the generous ones. Don’t get me wrong, I came home EXHAUSTED and made frequent trips to the walk-in cooler just to stop sweating, but that’s what being a really good server is like. I WORKED. And I worked HARD. Since then, I’ve been to restaurants where a server has less than 4 tables, and still can’t remember to check on us. I will always generously tip a good server, but I certainly don’t feel obligated to tip someone who’s not really working.

    • Dawn

      February 4, 2014 at 11:35 am

      I’d say you have a very strong voice on the matter, having actually worked in the industry, and I appreciate you sharing it! I have seen servers who work really hard – but I can also remember the days of working retail, being run off my feet day after day, and spending entire evenings after a shift curled up on the couch having no extra energy (and super sore feet!) to do anything else… Lots of people work that hard just for their jobs, so I don’t really have a lot of pity for a server in the same situation.. it’s just what we all have to do sometimes. (I’m just really thankful that I don’t have to work retail anymore!)
      I agree though, there are the exceptional servers out there… I recall one server at a pub I went to maybe twice a month… I’d get in, drop my coat off, pop to the restroom, and by the time I returned my ‘regular drink order’ would be waiting for me. Even when I’d actually been in the mood for something different, I’d still try to tip well, because that was the kind of service I really appreciated – that really was ‘above and beyond’ – to remember me, and my order, even though I wasn’t a ‘regular’ so to speak.
      On the other hand there’s a pub close to where I work…. where I can sit there for 20 minutes and never even be approached. *sighs* I’d love to go there for lunch… but I just don’t have the time for their reallllly slow service.
      thanks for commenting!

  2. Linda Erme

    April 17, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Good day! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate
    your content. Please let me know. Many thanks

    • Dawn

      April 21, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      Feel free!


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