Tipping can seem tricky. Knowing how much to tip, when is it considered too much, what policies do the staff have in place.
Over the course of the pandemic, many have watched as some of their favourite restaurants trembled under the weight of few workers and fewer customers, while others triumphed with the dedication of loyal customers and crew.
Employers who are familiar with tip-pooling may have adapted those methods as a form of security, to ensure workers are compensated regardless during these harder times. However, it is not unusual for workers to still be left unequally compensated or feel burnt on their pay. For serves who may have been putting in overtime, while seeing their co-workers take advantage of break times, or tips going to the kitchen staff who may already be earning more.
Other employers have readapted in different ways, to remain alive during these uncertain times through restricting working hours or changing menu items and prices.
However, some have gone the extra mile to make for certain workers are not left with unfair wages, by making up the extra themselves and paying stable wages that were many times more than the minimum wage! This has, unfortunately, brought to light some deep issues that are within our very system.
It has brought to light the systemic inequalities that have been consistent within the restaurant/food industry for years.
Number one, servers have been forced to rely on an imbalanced wage structure that is not financially or economically secure. One that Ontario continues to hide behind a faulty reliance, placed on societal pressures of economic gratitude, i.e where the worker is compensated through commission or tips.
The liquor server minimum wage is $12.55, nearly $2 short of the general minimum wage, which, while just recently raised by 10 cents this past October 1st, 2021, is still not enough for workers to rely on.
Not to mention a clear systemic disparity in servers who receive tips, by race and gender, mainly being straight white males. And those who actually tip, creating a pre-disadvantage prior to any server-customer interactions. Giving more gratitude and attention to customers who servers may, historically know are going to tip more, and tipping to the workers who customers “feel” like worked hard enough for it.
When in reality we do not as a society actually tip based on work ethic, rather based on who can make us laugh, feel special, and play a little flirt game.
Regardless, the fact that we as a society definitely need to do more to show appreciation towards our food industry workers, though appropriate and fair tipping. It is not the real problem, it is a smokescreen to trick all of us from focusing on the real issue at hand.
The real problem is that Ontario still lags behind effectively encouraging certified living wage employers.
As a result, restaurants don’t pay their employees a living wage, many servers make less than the bare minimum wage some nights.
This is not a new phenomenon and it is not a result of the COVID-pandemic, this has been occurring for years.
In 2013, a former restaurant owner who abolished tipping in his restaurant contributed an incredibly important observation, that runs true to this day.
“ Studies have shown that tipping is not an effective incentive for performance in servers. It also creates an environment in which people of color, young people, old people, women, and foreigners tend to get worse service than white males. In a tip-based system, nonwhite servers make less than their white peers for equal work. Consider also the power imbalance between tippers, who are typically male, and servers, 70 percent of whom are female, and consider that the restaurant industry generates five times the average number of sexual harassment claims per worker. And that in many instances employers have allegedly misused tip credits, which let owners pay servers less than minimum wage if tipping makes up the difference”
Do not believe “it is okay, tipping will make up the difference”, when for many servers all they are able to account for, are those tips. Do not be distracted by a $15 minimum wage as of December 21st, 2021. This is not enough, Ontario needs a living wage, Ontario’s workers, in the food industry, health care, retail, regardless, deserve a proper wage that is based on the premise that work should lift workers out of poverty, and not keep them there.
This is the calculated minimum amount of money needed to cover the cost of basic necessities and to participate in community life. The living wage is released on an annual basis and is to be announced in the coming weeks on November 1st, 2021.
For those employers who protected their workers and ensured they were being appropriately compensated with a fair living wage, that is only the start of fixing some of the deeper issues within the food industry. We as a society must continue to fight for a minimum wage that is at a living wage standard for ALL workers, and until then, happy tipping!