So, why are we still expected to tip? - Denny Scott editorial
Human beings have a funny way of hanging on to some practices, cultural touchstones and technologies tightly while being absolutely fine with others passing by the wayside. Many people have ditched their landlines for cellular phones but The Citizen still offers fax services because some organizations haven’t caught up to e-mail. Some people have decided against the age-old tradition of marriage, while some cultures still feel a dowry is appropriate. It’s enough to make one wonder if common sense really has a common basis on which to rest.
One practice that needs to go by the wayside, however, is recommended or even forced gratuity.
Originally, I had planned to write about how we need to just stop paying different minimum wages between servers and the rest of the province, however, I soon quickly discovered that the practice of having two minimum wages was discontinued by the provincial government earlier this year. It was a good move because, for years, we allowed the people who handle our food to be in the precarious position of having their financial stability dictated by the generosity of others. We allowed servers to be paid less than minimum wage because of a social contract in which the rest of society agrees to tip to make up the difference. Earlier this year, however, the government decided that everyone (except students) would make $15 (up to $15.50 this October), so why are we still expected to tip?
Actually, I guess the better question is: why are we expected to tip one person who makes at least $15 an hour while bringing food to tables, but when we go through the drive-thru at Tim Hortons, there isn’t the same expectation? Or, when we’re rung in at a grocery store, why aren’t we expected to tip there?
For some reason, despite the change to minimum wage, most times we go to a restaurant we’re asked to tip if you pay with plastic (and don’t even get me started on “tipflation”, which has seen the suggested tip amounts increase from 10, 15, 20 and 25 per cent to 18, 20, 25 and 30 per cent). And before anyone says, “Well it’s your choice”, I would argue that any customer who uses a debit machine and has been forced to choose between a pre-programmed tip amount or going in and manually saying zero per cent feels a bit of pressure to tip, provided they aren’t some kind of weirdo.
I’m not against tipping. I’ll gladly drop my change in a tip jar, or pull out my wallet to recognize great service, but more and more it seems to be expected (even though there’s now no difference between people earning minimum wage). I’m not against tipping, but I’m against the expectation of a tip, since the government finally did something about the unfairness of minimum wage.
A universal minimum wage was past due. People who served our food deserve better than relying on tips for their livelihood. They deserve to be able to plan out paying their bills without having an off night cut into their earnings to the point that they might not be able to make ends meet.
With that steady income, tips could become what they were intended to be: recognition of great service. Unfortunately, tips started going off the rails shortly after debit machines appeared in restaurants. Back then, even if their employees didn’t fall under the minimum wage gap, every restaurant started asking for it with their debit machines, even if they didn’t have servers.
As someone who worked at a pizza restaurant for a number of years and a few fast food chains while I worked my way through school, I can tell you that tipping was a rare and special occasion during my time behind the counter. We didn’t expect tips because, unlike servers, we general-purpose employees who managed the counter and made the food were paid at least minimum wage. If we got a tip, we knew we had done something special.
The whole idea of the tip was to recognize great service, going back to when the practice was first created during the Tudor era.
Now, however, in this era of ordering and paying through your phone, some companies even ask for a tip before your food even gets made. The whole connection between the tip and the service it’s supposed to reward has been lost.
So, stop with the expected tips - take the guesswork out and raise the prices if you have to so that people make enough to live. It works in countries all over the world and it could easily work here.
Also, while we’re mirroring other countries, maybe start putting the prices including tax on the menu (and everywhere else for that matter) - it makes it so much easier to shop.