What you may not know about restaurant tips and gratuities: give nothing and the server is in the red

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      A recent evening at the Playroom in New York City left rapper Sean Carter with a dent to his wallet. The bill for the man better known as Jay Z came to US$80,035.

      According to a copy of the receipt shared online, the server, Dayhana, received a standard tip on top of that: 15 percent, which came out to US$11,100.

      It sounds like a lot for one night’s labour. But Gavin McGarrigle, the B.C. area director of general trade union Unifor, told the Straight that there’s a lot wrong with tipping, tipping culture, and related labour-market issues that tipping allows to be overlooked.

      “People like to hear stories of servers making out with hundreds of dollars a day in tips,” he said in a telephone interview. “But they’re forgetting that they probably don’t have benefits, they probably don’t work full eight-hour shifts five days a week, they have to tip out [share with other staff] on top of that, and they certainly don’t have a pension plan.”

      In addition, McGarrigle pointed to a structural problem that’s wholly justified by the unwritten social contract that says Canadians are tippers.

      In B.C., servers who work with alcohol can be paid $1.25 below the minimum wage, the rationale being that they’ll more than make up the difference with tips received on the wider profit margins that characterize alcohol sales. And because a majority of servers are women—81 percent, according to Statistics Canada—the lower wage amounts to sexism, McGarrigle argued.

      “It’s very much a gender thing. It affects women far more than men. It enhances a gender pay gap,” he said. “I think it needs to be eliminated. It’s an absolute disgrace.” But McGarrigle added that the lower liquor-serving wage is likely to remain as long as tipping does.

      Ian Tostenson is president and CEO of industry group the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association. He acknowledged there are problems with tipping but argued that, on balance, it’s for the best, for both customers and restaurant employees.

      He suggested that certain problems that do exist with tipping can largely be addressed with the public better understanding details of how tipping works in B.C.

      For example, many people are now aware that a percentage of what they tip their server actually goes to kitchen staff, hostesses, and so on. But Tostenson added that it’s his experience that many people don’t know that this percentage—usually five percent in B.C.—is paid regardless of what the customer tips.

      “If you tip less than five percent, it’s coming out of their pocket,” he said. “If you tip nothing, it’s still coming out of their pocket.”

      Tostenson offered an alternative that patrons can exercise in instances when a meal fails to meet their expectations.

      “Should you tip if you have bad service?” he asked. “I think you should really talk to the manager before you make that decision. Talk to the server or talk to the manager. Don’t just walk out and don’t tip. Say you’ve had a bad experience or that the food wasn’t good, and they’ll fix that. They’ll do something to make that happen.”

      Oh, and should Jay Z have tipped Dayhana 20 percent instead of the 15 he left her?

      Whether the standard tip in North America has officially risen to 20 percent has become a common question, Tostenson said.

      “I’ll tip at least 20 percent,” he replied. “If you get good service, good food, have a great time, and get a $100 bill, what’s 20 bucks?”