Mario Canseco: Service and other factors that trigger tipping’s tipping point across Canada - The Orca
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Mario Canseco: Service and other factors that trigger tipping’s tipping point across Canada

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For the past couple of years, social media users have shared pictures of the “suggested tip amounts” they have encountered when the bill is brought to them at a restaurant or when they try to pay for a meal using a credit card. On some of these photographs, the suggested tip amounts have reached 30 per cent.

Most tipping etiquette guides call on Canadians – and visitors to the country – to tip somewhere between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the pre-tax bill at a restaurant. Because of this, starting the recommended ranges at 20 per cent may seem like an intrusion.

With this in mind, Research Co. and Glacier Media analyzed the specific circumstances in which Canadians tip, to learn if the way we are treated at a restaurant influences the size of our gratuities. The results point to some extreme generational differences, with Canadians aged 55 and over appearing particularly cranky.

We presented different scenarios to respondents and asked them about a tip range they would consider acceptable in each case. The best possible outcome to a night out – exceptional service when the restaurant is busy – enticed only eight per cent of Canadians to leave a tip of 26 per cent or more. While 26 per cent of Canadians place their gratuity in the 20 per cent-25 per cent range, about a third (32 per cent) would stay within the 15 per cent-19 per cent range.

If Canadians encounter average service in any environment at a restaurant, two in five (41 per cent) would tip in the 10 per cent to 14 per cent range. Only four per cent would go at 20 per cent or higher – as some of the credit card machines would advise.

Some Canadians are ready to send a message by withdrawing a gratuity altogether. If they experience below average service at a restaurant when the server is clearly not busy, more than three in 10 Canadians (31 per cent) would tip nothing. Residents of Manitoba and Saskatchewan (45 per cent) and Canadians aged 55 and over (40 per cent) are more likely to walk away from the restaurant and not leave any tip in this situation.

In venues where we do not interact with a food server, Canadians appear disinterested in tipping. More than half (53 per cent) never leave a gratuity at snack restaurants where they take their food to go, and more than two in five follow the same course of action at cafeteria-style restaurants (49 per cent), restaurants where they order to go and pick the food themselves (48 per cent) and coffee shops (43 per cent).

There are two other circumstances where tipping has become an expectation, even if the meal will not be enjoyed inside a specific venue with the assistance of a server. Canadians understand the existence of tips for those who bring food to our homes or offices, with 40 per cent usually providing a gratuity in the 10 per cent to 14 per cent range, and 16 per cent going a bit higher (to the 15 per cent to 19 per cent range).

We do not see the same activity when Canadians pick up food to go. More than half (54 per cent) completely forgo the tipping option on the credit card panel, while one in five (20 per cent) add something in the one per cent to nine per cent range. Again, there are generational differences, with 66 per cent of Canadians aged 55 and over tipping nothing, compared with 51 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 and 44 per cent of those aged 18 to 34.

Aside from the circumstances that might lead to a tip, most Canadians are keenly aware of the complexities of the industry. More than two-thirds know that food servers cannot get by on their salaries alone and it is important to tip them (70 per cent) and that, if the salaries of food servers were better, there would be no need to tip them (69 per cent).

However, 67 per cent of Canadians think food servers nowadays simply expect a tip, but do not work hard to earn it. In addition, only a third of Canadians (33 per cent) agree that food servers deserve a tip in all circumstances, even if service was bad.

While two in five of Canada’s youngest adults (41 per cent) would leave a gratuity even if they are disappointed with the service, fewer of their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (34 per cent) and aged 55 and over (25 per cent) concur. Canadians of South Asian descent are more likely to believe that tips should always be given to food servers (40 per cent) than Canadians of East Asian (33 per cent), Indigenous (30 per cent) or European (28 per cent) heritage.

Our survey shows that there is no “sweet spot” on the issue of tipping in Canada. About a third of Canadians leave nothing if they perceive that their server did not work hard. Most place their gratuity, regardless of circumstance, in the 10 per cent-19 per cent range. Food deliverers are more likely to fall on the lower end of this spectrum.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted on December 10 to December 12, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.