You don't have to live in Toronto to pay attention to the city's flap over restaurant tipping. These trends tend to migrate.
The Big Smoke is currently wrestling with a controversy over the practice by some restaurants of adding an automatic 20 per cent gratuity to the bill, whether you were happy with the service or not.
The National Post reports two new restaurants, the Westerly and the Ace, are adding the automatic tip percentage on handheld electronic terminals.
The Westerly's co-owner Tom Earl says it's not compulsory but up to diners whether or not to OK the amount as they complete the transaction.
"Nobody's demanding that anybody tip anything," he told the Post. "It's a personal decision. If [customers] want to, they can. If they don't want to, they don't have to."
The commonly accepted tip these days is 15 per cent, more if you find the service exceptional. The recent move is drawing kudos from restaurant servers, who point out 20 per cent tips are customary in large U.S. cities such as New York.
"But while Toronto servers earn a minimum hourly wage of $8.90, waiters in the Big Apple only earn $4.65 per hour 'because their total compensation includes expected tips,' according to the New York State Department of Labour," the Post says.
Of course, in a flush town like Calgary, big tips are more common.
"Eighteen to 20 per cent is easily the norm," said Janet Watson, an Alberta-based etiquette expert. "Some people tip 25 per cent ... I don't know anybody who tips 10 per cent anymore. Fifteen per cent is the bottom line here."
In Vancouver, Cafe Medina manager Robbie Kane says his eatery assigns an 18 per cent gratuity to groups of eight or more. During the 2010 Olympics, many Vancouver restaurants and bars apparently added 20 per cent tips to the bill.
Server Aidan Johnston has worked in Australia, where the hourly restaurant wage is $19.50 and tips are small "keep-the-change" gratuities, and in Toronto, where the minimum wage is $8.90 an hour but a good server can earn up to $200 a night in tips.
"I like the excitement of getting tips," Johnston told the Toronto Star. "It's like opening a Christmas present when you see that billfold."
The Star reports that the low-wage, high-tip model is unlikely to change because restaurants operate on thin profit margins. Raising pay to Australian levels would raise
menu prices and remove some of the incentive to provide excellent service.
"Is Joe Consumer willing to pay 20 per cent more for a meal and have not great service?" asks Todd Sherman, co-owner of the Gabby's restaurant chain.
Some places take the compulsory tip practice very seriously. An American couple was arrested a few years ago for refusing to pay the automatic gratuity tacked onto their bill after getting poor service. Leslie Pope and John Wagner were hauled away by police and charged with theft for not paying the mandatory 18 per cent gratuity totaling $16 after eating at the Lehigh Pub in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with six friends.
Police later dropped the charges.
How do you feel about restaurants that tack on an automatic tip to your bill?