Tipping reminds us how workers are underpaid

Financial security should not be reliant on tips

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illustration of a restaurant bill with cash on top
ILLUSTRATION: Stella Laurino / The Peak

By: Nercya Kalino, Staff Writer

Each country has their own understanding of tipping within their society. While some countries don’t practice tipping by cultural standards, others, such as Canada, encourage it through rules or legislation around tipping. To an extent, there is nothing wrong with tipping. However, certain beliefs and practices surrounding tipping are problematic.

Tipping is a customary approach in North America to receiving services like taxis, coat checking, table service, hair styling, and more. It’s an expectation that positively impacts minimum wage workers in the hospitality industry, since many have highlighted that the minimum wage isn’t enough to survive on anymore. The minimum wage varies between provinces, ranging from $13.75 in New Brunswick to $15.65 in British Columbia as of 2022. 

Low wages amid a  high cost of living is one reason why tipping culture is ingrained into the Canadian lifestyle. Tipping usually starts from 15%, and anything less is considered condescending but not illegal. In restaurant settings, controlled tips help non-serving staff who work behind the scenes, while direct tips benefit individual workers. There are arguments to be made for both sides, but it’s important workers are first paid and treated properly. Besides financial barriers, service industry workers face mistreatment by customers due to harmful beliefs. Sexual gaze can have an impact, and is a demeaning factor that should never influence customers’ tips. Many workers put up with a lot of mistreatment while working a fast-paced job, and their wages don’t reflect this.

Since COVID-19, attitudes around tipping have shifted in a way that made people realize two things. For the most part, growing empathy for small businesses and workers resulted in tips increasing from an average of 16.6% to 17.9%. On the other hand, we now see “tipping fatigue,” where customers are faced with increasing tip expectations due to increasing inflation. Consumers are supplementing wages for items that have already increased in price at the point-of-sale terminal. 

This is where businesses must step in to support their workers by providing living wages. The need to rely on tips should be a secondary factor. Any business that offers the public a service ought to not undermine their workers because they are the ones bringing in sales. A business can facilitate other actions like paid sick leave and extended benefits to help support employees, but providing a living wage is a great start. 

Currently, tipping culture doesn’t create a huge dent in the livelihood of the average person. Those same workers are customers elsewhere — specifically minimum wage workers who know how tipping impacts them. At the same time, tipping shouldn’t be a primary source of financial security. The living wage should be a priority through government legislation and equitable business practices. The gap between wages and living standard is a huge issue that the government needs to address, not consumers.

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