Canada’s Tipping Culture Faces Significant Scrutiny as Service Requests Skyrocket

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The tradition of tipping is entrenched in the Canadian dining and service culture, often viewed as an overt expression of satisfaction and a way to reward service providers. However, increasingly Canadians find themselves fielding more requests for tips linked to a wider range of services, triggering questions about the boundary between voluntary generosity and social obligation.

Delving into the heart of Canada’s tipping culture, it’s essential to note that tipping transcends mere social manners. In several cities and establishments, it’s perceived as a social convention supplementing service workers’ wages. For example, in provinces like Quebec, tipped workers pocket a lower minimum wage compared to their counterparts not earning tips. While tip-receiving employees secure a minimum of $12.20 per hour, non-tipped counterparts earn a minimum wage of $15.25 per hour.

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In dining establishments, the norm is to tip between 15% and 20% of the pre-tax bill, subject to the quality of service provided. Notably, some customers consider anything less than 15% as offensive, and various tipping guides suggest starting at 18%, escalating to as much as 30%. Tipping has permeated numerous service industries, including hairstyling, transportation, hospitality, and tattoo services.

Scrutinizing the recent spike in tipping requests reveals that after the harsh impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of Canadians were tipping larger percentages of their bills when dining at restaurants, likely driven by empathy and the thrill of resuming public dining, as per a survey by Restaurants Canada in April 2022. With the inflation rate persistently above the 2% target set by the Bank of Canada, experts suggest that the resulting high living costs have fuelled an increase in tipping requests, or “tip-flation.” The emergence of automated tipping prompts in merchant payment processors has added momentum to the tipping trend.

The tipping predicament extends beyond restaurants to the counter of small cafes and quick-service dining outlets. The rise in point-of-sale system adoption often includes a prompt to tip, compelling customers to leave an additional sum while transacting. Departing from the tradition of tipping post-service, the digital world nudges customers to determine the tip amount in the cashier’s presence, possibly leading to tipping under duress. A survey by Angus Reid Institute highlights that about 80% of Canadians feel that too many places are requesting tips with little improvement in customer service.

As tipping proliferates across various industries, it has sparked a crucial national debate about its merits, demerits, and alternative compensation models. Some worthy considerations include the German practice of rounding up the bill to the nearest euro based on service satisfaction. Unlike the percentage-based tipping in Canada, German customers have significant discretion in determining the tipping amount. Moreover, in Germany, tipping is viewed as a genuine bonus or a gratitude gesture.

In France, a “service included” model governs the restaurant industry, incorporating service charges within the menu prices, thereby relieving customers of obligatory tipping. A 15% service charge is automatically added to the bill, reflected in each item’s price. Interestingly, a considerable number of Canadians seem to favor this model, with 59% supporting it opposed to 40% in 2016.

Contrastingly, in East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, tipping could be construed as impolite or disrespectful. In these countries, the lack of tipping underscores the emphasis on excellent service as an integral part of the job, rather than an extra reward. However, tipping finds some acceptance in international hotels and resorts frequented by North American tourists.

Reflecting on these international practices, it’s evident that Canada can extract meaningful lessons. France’s “service included” model and East Asia’s “living wage” model stand in sharp contrast to Canada’s discretionary tipping culture, potentially alleviating the social pressure on customers. An upward trend of restaurants becoming tip-free and growing support for a “service included” model among Canadians suggest a shifting cultural landscape towards a new norm.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.