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Debate: tipping

By in Opinions


Tipping shouldn’t be mandatory

Alexander Quon

Although nothing is more rewarding to a waiter or waitress than receiving a large tip, nothing frustrates me more than feeling obligated to leave an adequate tip so that I can leave the table without my waiter wanting to bury a steak knife in my back.

Don’t get me wrong, I tip at restaurants and bars like everyone else, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I like it.

The tipping culture in Canada — at least as far as I have observed — needs to be re-evaluated. It sounds harsh, but tipping isn’t, nor should it be, a mandatory service.

This undoubtedly endears me to the Sheaf’s intended audience of university students. In university, it’s nearly unheard of if you don’t know someone who works a serving job. Today’s young academics are yesterday’s serving industry and more than anything else, students need money.

In all honesty, I am not inherently opposed to tipping. Rewarding people when they do an amazing job is completely justifiable — even admirable. However, if the service is to be rewarded with a tip it should be truly exceptional, so awe inspiring, that you can’t do anything more than reward the server for what they’ve done.

I can hear the rebuttal now; tipping encourages the best service possible. Your server will work harder if they think that it will result in a larger tip.

More often than not, this isn’t the case. A study conducted at Cornell University in 2003 found that average tip percentages are only weakly related to their average service quality. Purely from the perspective of the consumer, tipping reduces an enjoyable meal to a cheap extortion with very little in the way of reward.

However, providing good customer service is part of a server’s job description. When I worked in retail, I helped people because that was what was expected of me. I may not have enjoyed every second of it, but helping people was an unavoidable and necessary part of my job. I very rarely got tips and if I did it was because I went above and beyond what was normally asked of me.

Tipping should be treated the same way. If a server is only doing an adequate job of being welcoming then it shouldn’t be on me to make it known through tipping.

I believe author Michael Lewis said it best when he compared tipping to government taxation: “I feel we are creeping slowly toward a kind of baksheesh economy in which everyone expects to be showered with coins simply for doing what they’ve already been paid to do.”

Unlike our always generous neighbours to the south, Canada has a set minimum wage. That means that anyone who has a job in Saskatchewan — with very few exceptions — will be paid a minimum of $10.20 for every hour that they work.

This alone should reduce incidents of tipping to a minimum.

I recognize that in our modern economy, the minimum wage isn’t something you can live off of alone. That does not mean that I should have to supplement a fairly substantial wage of $10.20 with tips.

When contrasted with Canada, tipping only makes sense in the United States. Servers can be paid as little as $4.91 in addition to the tips they receive on the job. This means that servers more often than not live and die off of what they make in tips.

Canadians do not have this problem. We are generally well paid and rewarded for the services we provide. That goes for almost any industry or job in Canada except the service industry. The argument that tips can be used as a path to a living wage just doesn’t make sense in our nation of the True North strong and free.

To paraphrase novelist Ayn Rand, “money is only a tool” to get what you want. Everyone wants to get paid so they can purchase better things and live a better life. That is just human nature. Everyone can appreciate wanting to get more, but that doesn’t mean that everyone deserves more.

Tipping should be the exception, not the rule.

Tipping is necessary, important

Courtney Bowman

There’s a reason why all the people I know who’ve worked in the service industry are good tippers — they can appreciate the amount of work required to serve well. Considering this and deductions such as “pay outs,” tips are an essential part of the server’s wage.

Whether you agree with it or not, the restaurant at which your server works has factored an expectation of tipping into the employee’s salary. Fortunately in Canada, restaurants are required by law to pay at least minimum wage. Those in the service industry in the United States aren’t as lucky, where some wait and bar staff are paid as little as five dollars an hour.

But even with the minimum wage requirements in Canada, it can still be exceedingly difficult to try to make ends meet. The tip is intended to close the gap between the provincially legislated wage — which is nearly impossible to live on after deductions — and a living wage, which means that the customer is taking the responsibility of paying for part of the waiter’s salary, instead of the employer.

Then there’s the issue of “pay outs” or “tip outs.” In the service industry, it’s accepted that wait staff are required to pay anywhere from three to 15 per cent of their gross food sales to the bar or kitchen staff during each shift. This is based on the assumption that the individual has been receiving tips.

For example, I used to work at a higher-end chain restaurant where I was required to pay out roughly four per cent to the bar and two per cent to the kitchen. Even though I always did my best to deliver great customer service, if I wasn’t tipped at a particular table, that meant I was paying the kitchen or the bar out of my own wage.

When you’re only making minimum wage this can be fairly disheartening and it can affect your ability to make ends meet. Anyone who has shopped apartments in Saskatoon knows that $800 a month for rent is on the low end of the spectrum. And that’s before obvious necessities like food, utilities, other bills, entertainment and hopefully, the occasional visit to the dentist.

Is there room to save for education, retirement, a home or to make a better life for yourself with a minimal income? Not likely — unless you are working in Fort McMurray or another oil town and making incredible tips.

The potential for tipping to increase or decrease one’s ability to pay the bills is another reason why we don’t tip in every profession. Traditionally, individuals in service jobs are paid a very modest salary and are required to do tasks that are quite physically demanding. Hairdressers, massage therapists and wait staff all come to mind as examples. Individuals in other professions such as medicine, dentistry or law, are much less likely to experience the struggle of financial survival and are also unlikely to experience physical problems as a result of their job. Thus, tipping is not required.

Which brings me to the topic of customer service. I agree that there is a time or place for leaving a minimal tip — notice I didn’t say “no tip” — such as if the wait staff or bar staff seem to be perpetually incompetent or rude. But there are factors of your restaurant experience for which your server may not be responsible for, such as if your fish and chips arrive at room temperature, then it seems inappropriate to punish them for your poor experience, unless you wanted them to check and sample it on the way to the table.

In the interest of goodwill towards mankind, it’s important to allow food service staff the space to be human and recognize that everyone has “off” days. We frequently are quick to judge without realizing what life is like in the other person’s shoes — especially for those working in what can often be demeaning, minimum wage jobs with poor management. In which case, tipping my server becomes an issue of treating other people the way that I would like to be treated.

Few jobs require individuals to be on their feet for eight hours a day, let alone in heels if you’re a woman working in some of the more pretentious establishments, while also carrying a heavy tray loaded down with food and drinks. Whether you think the service was exceptional or not, the tip you pay is part of the person’s livelihood. If you leave a bad tip or no tip, you’re docking their wages. In that case, paying a tip is less about being generous or showing gratitude, it’s about being fair.

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