Tipping more during the pandemic? Some Canadians say expectations have gone up

·4 min read
A recent study found 48 per cent of respondents agree social expectations have increased when it comes to leaving a tip. (Brilynn Ferguson - image credit)
A recent study found 48 per cent of respondents agree social expectations have increased when it comes to leaving a tip. (Brilynn Ferguson - image credit)

Restaurateurs and industry experts say hospitality workers need higher tips to offset their losses during the pandemic and are asking customers to help out.

With the dual challenges of a labour shortage and increasing food costs, Shiva Reddy says tipping should increase. The general manager of Vancouver's Collective Hospitality — which runs Say Mercy, The Mackenzie Room and upcoming restaurant called Collective Goods — says the minimum tip should be at least 18 per cent in B.C., even for takeout.

If customers have a good or outstanding experience she says 20 per cent and beyond is ideal.

"People who are working incredibly hard, who are still not making a livable wage. We're still putting so many, so much of their resources towards making this meal perfect for you," she said.

A study from June 2021 surveyed 1,000 Canadians and found 20 per cent anticipate tipping more than they did prior to COVID-19 while a majority — 71 per cent — do not expect to change their tipping habits.

The research suggests 48 per cent of Canadians feel there is more pressure to give a decent tip since the pandemic.

Jenni B.
Jenni B.

Generous tipping can create a 'warm glow,' says Poppy Riddle, a researcher at Dalhousie University's Agri-Food Analytics Lab in Truro, Nova Scotia, and co-author of the study.

"That warm glow framework is connectedness, relatedness, being able to relate to the people, you're tipping, or feeling that that whole experience is bringing you some sort of social connection." she said.

Shifting tipping habits

Changing attitudes may be the result of customers seeing the challenges faced by restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Hassel Aviles, executive director of Not 9 to 5, a Toronto-based organization advocating for mental health in the food service sector.

"This entire industry has gone through a collective grief, to a global trauma."

Aviles remains concerned about an exodus of workers from the restaurant industry.

"There's a labour shortage and staffing crisis like we've never seen in this industry, so you may be doing three roles for the price of one," she said.

The industry has lost an estimated 40,000 workers over the past 16 months in B.C., Ian Tostenson, B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association president, told CBC in June.

Stacey Newman
Stacey Newman

Expectations are higher

Hassel agrees tips can go a long way but she argues the ultimate goal should be to abolish tips and create a more equitable work environment prioritizing fair pay. But she acknowledges that won't be an easy or quick change.

"What we're talking about is providing a livable wage for folks," she said.

The pandemic has inspired some others to think of new tipping systems.

Gringo, a taco joint in Vancouver's Gastown, shifted to an equal pay system in 2020 in which employees get equal pay and also pool their tips for an equal tip at the end of the week.

"It was the mentality where you can't get the tips from food sales if you don't have anyone working in the kitchen. And kind of vice versa," said Shoel Davidson, co-owner of Gringo. "We also noticed is that then all the staff were really prepared to help each other out more equally."

Alexandra Tai
Alexandra Tai

The Automatic Tip

The pandemic has also legitimized the use of automatic tipping at payment terminals and ditching cash tips.

Davidson says with the pandemic and concern's over handling cash, he's seen payments switch almost exclusively to debit and credit cards.

Payment machines with automatic tip percentages are especially advantageous to credit card companies, said University of Guelph hospitality professor Bruce McAdams.

"Credit card companies and the payment processing companies charge a percentage fee on credit card uses so it is advantageous for these companies to have people increasing their spending with the addition of tips, or with higher tipping percentages," said McAdams.

Takeout orders need tips, too, say servers

While restaurants may try new tipping approaches in-house, Reddy and Aviles say customers should reflect on their takeout tipping habits or as more people dine from home.

Micaela Edwards is a server in Vancouver and says a lack of tipping on takeout orders particularly hit kitchen staff who are still doing the same amount of work to meet food orders.

"If somebody orders takeout, we still tip the kitchen out. So if we're not getting tips, that kind of comes from us, obviously, if it's a small order, it's not a lot of money."

Both Edwards and Vancouver server Julian Gould, 25, agree that takeout tipping is not routine for many customers yet takeout tips can go a long way for staff.

"If we do a night that is 60 per cent or 70 per cent takeout and we're not getting tipped on that. You know, that's the difference of a shift that could potentially help me pay my rent and car insurance, as opposed to not," says Gould.

"I think if people are just as nice and understanding and compassionate about the extra challenges, and tip what is kind of expected, that's all I could really ask for," he said.

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