To tip or not to tip, and if you do, then how much? Although Vancouver has a tipping culture, diners and restaurants tend to stay tight-lipped about what’s appropriate. So the Georgia Straight called up Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, to get the goods on gratuity.
“First of all, I think there are no rules. There are some conventions but no rules,” Tostenson said in a phone interview. “I think that in Vancouver, when people get the kind of service they expect, you’re going to see them tipping between 15 and 20 percent, consistently.”
According to Tostenson, most diners calculate a gratuity based on the total bill, rather than the amount before taxes. He said that what most diners forget is that tips should reflect prompt service rather than food or other aspects of the restaurant.
“If you go to a restaurant and the food comes out cool or cooked wrong, most good servers will correct that and it actually adds to your enjoyment,” Tostenson noted. “You’ll think, ‘They handled that well,’ or a manager will come by the table and say ‘Sorry.’ Most restaurants are good at this and will use that disaster as a way to prove their worth, and that will secure the tip.”
If service is terrible, Tostenson said, leaving no tip sends a strong message to a restaurant. However, diners should realize that sometimes servers are required to pay for their mistakes out of pocket.
“It still affects servers because they have to pay out on their sales. They still have to pay the back-of-house people and part of the tip pool because tips are shared,” he explained. “Generally, it’s not really the server’s fault, so maybe you tip them 10 percent.”
In some circumstances, Tostenson believes that tips are unwarranted, such as when ordering from a fast-food counter or picking up takeout from a restaurant.
“If you go to pick up the food, you’re providing that service element that’s tippable,” he said. “At quick-service restaurants, it’s like getting your food from the kitchen, in a way. They’re not providing that extra flair of service.”
Bartenders, on the other hand, should be given a tip—around the standard 15 to 20 percent of the total at the bar. According to Tostenson, most bartenders provide good conversation and a bit of entertainment, all the while providing quick service. When it comes to automatic gratuity on a bill, Tostenson said it reflects the increase in labour required to accommodate large parties.
“The restaurant does add extra servers to be able to do that,” he clarified. “What’s important is that they clear it up at the beginning of the dinner because sometimes there’s confusion. People are paying individually and don’t realize. I think it’s all about being up-front about it.”
Although restaurants that have banned tipping—and increased staff wages—have appeared in other North American cities, Tostenson does not expect the trend to catch on in Greater Vancouver anytime soon.
“The notion of it is good, but no server has really ever said: ‘I have a problem with wages.’ A good server is working for their tips and not for their wages,” he said. “I think servers like it the way it is, and I think we get better service as a result.”
Tostenson also noted that for consumers, tipping is part of our society.
“I want to express myself through a tip or a gratuity, so if I have good service, how do I do it? And if I have bad service, how do I do it? It works against what is part of our DNA right now. We like to tip people.”