Gratuity culture is at a tipping point

Image by: Katharine Sung

We’re discovering generosity has limits. 

Tipping culture has been bemoaned for a long time, but lately complaints seem to have grown louder in response to inflation and higher suggested tipping percentages. 

With higher prices everywhere we go, Canadians are already paying more than usual for groceries, coffee, and of course, a sit-down meal. Combine that with tip suggestions starting at 20 per cent and people are understandably getting frustrated.

Unfortunately, those who work in the service industry are facing a higher cost of living like everyone else right now, and many businesses have opted to put the onus on consumers by upping tip suggestions instead of increasing wages. 

People have long taken issue with the expectation that the consumer supplement server wages so businesses can get away with not providing a living wage. However, in the current challenging economic climate, it’s frustrating establishments feel comfortable asking customers for 25 per cent or more at restaurants, or tips for drip coffee and a muffin to go. 

Choosing not to tip, or tipping below a certain amount is met with a lot of judgement these days.

Paying for good service is part of being a respectful customer, but we shouldn’t have to be shamed into it. When service is poor, we shouldn’t be expected to tip at all, let alone the usual 15-18 per cent minimum.  

If tips are obligatory, they’re just hidden fees and we might as well raise prices to include them, so we know upfront what we’re spending.

There seems to be somewhat arbitrary rules about where tips are required and where it’s appropriate to forgo them. We should go back to tipping for good service, whether we receive it in a restaurant or at Starbucks. 

Wages are unconditional; tips are not. But when we think of them as part of an employee’s wages rather than bonus earnings, it’s easy to feel entitled to gratuities.

When your server forgets about you, doesn’t acknowledge a long wait, and makes you feel rushed or unwelcome, it’s okay to tip—or not—accordingly. We as customers shouldn’t feel obliged to reward someone’s mediocre effort. 

By that same token, we also shouldn’t hesitate to be generous when it’s deserved. 

Tipping on every drink from a bar with no table service probably isn’t necessary, and no one should feel bad if they don’t. But decent or better service should always be acknowledged with a tip appropriate to the level of care taken or the effort required. 

Shady tip management by businesses means tips often don’t go directly to servers. Sometimes bars take a portion and it’s hard for the consumer to know where their tips are going—especially when electronic payments are used. 

People in the service industry deserve our respect, and if they depend on tips to live, it probably isn’t by choice. However, service workers shouldn’t have to worry about whether they’re tipped enough to put food on the table—employers need to do better. 

Remember: kindness costs nothing. 


Culture, customer service, Etiquette, Food and drink, Inflation, tipping

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