Tipping is likely here to stay in Ontario — but should it?

·3 min read
A waitress wears a mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 while carrying drinks for guests inside the Blu Martini restaurant in Kingston, Ont., last summer. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A waitress wears a mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 while carrying drinks for guests inside the Blu Martini restaurant in Kingston, Ont., last summer. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A special lower minimum wage for alcohol servers will soon be eliminated in Ontario, which has reignited a debate over the tipping culture inside bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

The minimum wage for alcohol servers is currently $12.55 per hour, while the general minimum wage is $14.35 per hour. Ontario recently announced, starting Jan. 1, 2022, the wage for alcohol servers will also be $15 per hour, on par with the general minimum wage increase.

With that wage model change, tipping could soon become a thing of the past. That's already the case for restaurant owners like Devinder Chaudhary, who opened Aiana Restaurant Collective in August 2020.

"We strongly also felt that perhaps [the tipping model] was not the fair and equitable distribution of ... service charge," said Chaudhary, referencing how some employees in the "back of the house" are not as visible as servers, such as sous-chefs and line cooks.

His restaurant instead charges what it thinks guests should pay, which provides enough margin to pay staff a living wage — calculated at $18.60 in Ottawa, according to the Ontario Living Wage Network.

"Getting away from [the] tipping model, it really empowers the entire team," Chaudhary said, adding his staff members also receive benefits thanks to this model.

If tipping was to be abolished ... they wouldn't be able to support themselves in this industry anymore. - Rebecca Gordon, Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition

Bruce McAdams, an associate professor of hospitality, food, and tourism management at the University of Guelph, said Alberta and British Columbia have both already eliminated the special minimum wage for alcohol servers. The practice of tipping remains, though.

What may happen instead, he says, is a business could readjust the distribution of tips evenly among staff who are either serving or cooking.

"Unfortunately, I don't think tipping will go away," McAdams said of Ontario.

It's unfortunate, he explained, because after decades of working in and researching the industry, he realized tipping may be at the root of many issues.

"From pay, to discrimination, the sexualization of servers — it's just the more I look into it, the more I wish it would go away," said McAdams.

Tips help servers: advocate

Rebecca Gordon, who advocates for restaurant workers, argues many servers and bartenders work part-time to pay for school and to support themselves, and tipping is vital to their income.

"Tips really help [and] allow them to be able to not have to work quite so many hours, but also be able to make enough money to ... support themselves," said Gordon, who is the spokesperson for the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition.

"There is some concern that if tipping was to be abolished, that they wouldn't be able to support themselves in this industry anymore."

If workers don't get tips and are paid only $15 an hour, she says that would still put them below the living wage.

The pandemic has altered her perspective, though, as Gordon has heard about more harassment and worsening conditions for servers as they deal with difficult customers and riskier work settings.

"People are maybe becoming a little bit more open to talking about perhaps removing tipping or changing systems, where pools are equally divided, because we've seen a lot of harm going to servers in the last couple of years with tips," she said.

Her group advocates for a more fair system for servers and other staff to receive a transparent division of tips and fair wages.

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