Tip or Tax?

By Angelo Persichilli

I know that “tipping” at restaurants is a very established tradition. I have nothing against it as long as it is considered a monetary evaluation of the service received left completely at the customer’s discretion.

Unfortunately, in the last a few years, the tip is becoming the substitution, not the Tipsupplement, to the servers’ salary. I don’t agree.

First, it is misleading about the cost of the meals advertised in the menu; second, it is unfair to the waiters; third, it generates more cash money not subject to taxation; and, fourth, removes the discretion of the customer to exercise a judgment on the quality of the service received.

Let me elaborate on each of the four points.

First, it creates a misleading advertising. In addition to the advertised price, there is also an increase of 13% because of HST, and the tip, an amount of money closer to 20%. This means that they advertise a meal for 100 dollars when, in reality, we pay $133. It made sense not to include it in the price when the tip was not mandatory and at the discretion of the customer. Now they know exactly how much the meal costs and they should include it in the price.

Second, it is unfair for the servers. The increase of the tips coincides with the lowering of their base salary. “The tip – a waiter told me some time ago – is not a reward for my service any more, it is my salary.” This procedure leaves the workers financially vulnerable and their salary a private matter between them and the customers, with either of them having a role in it.

Third, since most of the time the ‘tip’ is paid with cash, we have an increasing amount of money used to pay for services that should be taxable. The restaurateurs benefit twice: they can reduce the salaries for the workers compensated by higher tips, and also because they don’t have to pay the tax on it.

Forth, customers have no means to express their judgment on the quality of the service received. And this should be the real purpose of the tip. The only discretion left to the customer is to choose between 10, 15, 18 or 20 per cent.

Once I had to wait for almost 20 minutes for the waiter to pick up the order and another 45 minutes for the meal to be served. The waiter, busy like hell, didn’t even have the time to bring us water, despite repeatedly being asked, and we had to wait 15 minutes to get the bill.

I decided not to leave a tip. The waiter looked at the receipt and gently said “Sir, you forgot to leave the tip.” Very politely I told him that I didn’t forget, I just didn’t want to leave a tip because I didn’t like the service. The owner approached me, apologized for the service, but he said that the tip “is a must” and not related to the service.

Other restaurateurs are even more aggressive and don’t even ask you to choose the percentage: “Don’t worry sir, – I was told after a dinner with a group of friends in a Ottawa hotel restaurant – the 20% tip is included in the total.”

In most of European Countries the ‘tip’ is between 5 and 10% and, most importantly, is not mandatory. It is really a tool to express gratitude for the service received.

This story is not about the amount of the tip, but the arrogance of some restaurateurs who decide unilaterally to put their hands in our pocket to get the money they want, without telling us before the meal.

I do not dispute neither the quality of the food nor the cost of the services. I know that there are many professional restaurateurs operating a clean, honest and good business, and they deserve respect but, at the same time, like in any other industry, there are unscrupulous, incompetent and dishonest people that risk damaging the entire categories.

If they need more money to run the business they should increase the prices and inform the people, in the menu. Misinforming the customers with a hidden tax is not acceptable.

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