The tipping point: Is it time to ditch the tips in favor of higher wages?

Haley Quinn earns $14 an hour — 30 cents above minimum wage — as a butler at Gaia’s Urban Eatery in Charlottetown. Her share of tip, split evenly between servers and kitchen staff, might be $80 on a “good day.”

She keeps tip money in a jar at home, and dips in it when she needs to.

“As a servant, I think we rely on him a lot.”

But with a labor shortage in the hospitality industry, some restaurant owners are calling for an overhaul of how employees are paid, and a move away from traditional tipping models.

It’s not a fair system,” said Chef Michael Smith, owner of the Inn at Bay Fortune.

“Everyone deserves to be paid fair, transparently, and not wonder and dance this funny thing we only do in North America with tipping. Go to the rest of the world, no advice. It’s a fair and transparent price. To be part of the solution.”

“If it’s really terrible, we still get tips,” says Sandy Kerr, who was dining out in Charlottetown on Thursday. “If it’s exceptional, we’ll tip more.” (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Many customers think tipping is only part of the bill.

“If it’s really terrible, we still get tips,” said Sandy Kerr, who was having dinner in Charlottetown on Thursday.

“If it’s exceptional, we’ll tip more.”

living wage

The living wage for someone who lives in Charlottetown is estimated at $19.30 an hour, according to a 2020 report from the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives.

With the cost of living still rising, customers like Guy Laliberte said it’s more important than ever to tip servers.

“I always go to 20 or 25 percent all the time now.”

Chef Michael Smith says it’s fair to eliminate tips and pay employees better wages and benefits. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

However, Smith thinks it’s best to spend the money within the cost of the meal.

“Tipping is not related to service. It is only related to sexism, misogyny, and racism, never to service.”

The tip is not related to the service. It is always associated only with sexism, misogyny, and racism, never with service.Chef Michael Smith

This is partly why he has a zero-tipping policy at his establishment. Instead, he charges more for food, and passes the extra money on to employees through increased wages and benefits.

The industry association, Restaurants Canada, said Smith’s approach is becoming more popular across the country.

It’s still rare, said Richard Alexander, the union’s vice president for Atlantic Canada.

“In your traditional table service restaurants, it’s hard to get people to change their behavior. Customers are used to having the option to decide the value of a tip. So some other diners may not be open to that.”

Malik Gaya, for example, doesn’t want to shy away from tipping.

The industry association, Restaurants Canada, said Smith’s approach is becoming more common across the country, but it’s still rare. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Charbel Greig said the staff value the reward for good service, and he worries that the high menu prices will turn customers away.

“You make the customer pay more because you want to compensate your employees more. As a customer, you didn’t give me a choice. We are not in Japan. I can’t expect that to happen to be honest.”

Quinn said she would support the no-tip policy — as long as she can keep putting the same amount of money in her jar.

“If I knew I was going to get paid just as much, and I felt comfortable knowing that, I think I’d be OK with it.”

on the beach10:40Culture questions: tip or not?

Should you tip and how much should you tip? It’s an evergreen question, and Canadians are still divided on it. We discuss the changing tipping culture with Jackie Avery, co-owner of The Burrow restaurant in Vancouver.

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