I am the 20 per cent tipper and I bet you are, too

When did tips become front page news?


The 17th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, which dates to 2004, says that, “In New York, San Francisco, Boston, and other major cities, fifteen to twenty percent is standard.” So, eight years ago tipping 15 to 20 per cent was considered the norm in big cities.  Toronto is a big city, no? And it’s 2012. That’s eight years after 2004.

I’m telling you this to help explain why I’m so flabbergasted over how a Toronto Star story published last week on tipping 20 per cent being “the new normal” still has legs, and the gams won’t stop growing! If you haven’t been following it, here’s a brief summary: Amy Pataki reviewed both The Westerly and The Ace, two new restaurants on Roncesvalles Ave. in Toronto’s west end, for the Toronto Star. A few days later, Pataki wrote another piece in the Star reporting that both of these places have two options on their debit machines for customers to leave either a 20 per cent tip or to choose another amount. The headline read, “Standard tip in Toronto restaurants now 20 per cent.” That same day, the story was picked up by Toronto Life on their daily Dish blog and, the next day, the National Post reported the story on the paper’s front page. The Star did a follow-up piece the day after that, and since then countless blogs and websites , including Yahoo and BlogTO, have continued to report on it.

And people are furious! Hundreds of commenters on all of the sites feel that only two prompts, one to tip 20 per cent and one to choose another percentage, is presumptuous and that somehow they were being forced to tip more than they felt comfortable doing. And hundreds of other commenters broadened the scope of the discussion (even changing it entirely, as web commenters often do) by broaching how tipping works in places like Australia or Japan; how restaurateurs should pay their staff a higher wage so that servers don’t rely on gratuities so much; and how some people don’t tip at all.

The one point that hasn’t been made is that tipping 20 per cent is not a new phenomenon. I remember my first restaurant job moving to Toronto, where my serving colleagues, who were far more city savvy than I was, informed me that I was holding the tip expectation bar rather low: “Don’t you know? Twenty per cent is the new 15 per cent,” they assured me. And that was in 1998.

Perhaps that explains my disinterest when I first saw the 20 per cent option at both The Ace and The Westerly. (I ate at both places twice before the Star story broke. That sounds gluttonous, but they are around the corner from where I live.)  Rather than being rubbed the wrong way, or made to feel like I was being taken advantage of, in each instance I thought, “Oh, isn’t this convenient.” And that was it. I’d had four great meals with four great customer service experiences and felt relieved four times not to have to complicate things with elementary math. (And even if the service had been bad, I would have simply hit the other button to avoid the math bit.) Actually, one time I felt like I stiffed the server a bit because the bill came to $24.30 and the 20 per cent tip only amounted to $4.86. If I hadn’t had the easy option, I would have given a fiver. And I bet you would have, too.

Which brings me to my final point: you know how when you go out for brunch with your spouse or partner or friend, the bill is always 30 bucks and change? You tip five or six bucks, right? That’s 20 per cent. So you’re doing it already.

I’m not suggesting you tip 20 per cent when you’ve had mediocre service. (Tipping is, after all, a very intimate and private transaction between the tipper and the receiver.) Heck, I’m not even suggesting that you tip 20 per cent when you’ve had the most extraordinary service in your life. I’m just saying that tipping 20 per cent in 2012 in Toronto is nothing new and certainly nothing controversial.


I am the 20 per cent tipper and I bet you are, too

  1. 1. I used to subscribe to the “servers should be paid more and not tipped” argument. Until I went to Australia and found customer service in restaurants to be horrible. An direct economic incentive does wonders for customer service in a restaurant context.

    2. Business do all kinds of things to make the customer’s life easier and to increase profits. The 20% tip prompt is no different. Are people really complaining about this? Just hit the “other” button and type in the tip you want to give (you can still do it by percentage).

    3. I still think of 15% as the standard for standard service. 20% for good service. 10% for mediocre service. If you’re going to give less than 10% you should be explaining to the server what the service lacked (especially in a better restaurants). Tipping zero or change without voicing your displeasure/concerns is just cowardly and not helpful to the server.

    • I didn’t realize it was my job to be “helpful to the server.” I thought it was the server’s job to be helpful to me. If I’m getting mediocre service, I don’t think they deserve 0%, let alone 10%.

      • Maybe you should just admit that you pretend to be really hard to please to hide the fact that you’re a cheap bastard.

    • It isn’t my job as a customer to tell the server how to do the job.  The tip is for service-and there’s no obligtation to say anything.

  2. My son was a bartender at a large popular place for years, just left recently, and he says that 20 per cent is considered a good tip (we are in SK, not TO, so there are likely diffences there).  Farmers still tend to believe that 10 per cent is a good tip, but 15 – 20 would indicate appreciation for the service.

    What I object to: when I use the Visa/Debit, and it asks me if I want to tip percentage or choose a number — for gawdsake, choose a number based on the bill before tax — the percentages seem to get you to tip on the whole bill, and it is not usual to tip on taxes!

    Servers and even long-term barkeeps still make minimum wage out here, so they actually live off their tips, not their wages.  And if you have horrible service — service, not meal — don’t tip.  And every manager/owner should stand out front and ask how everything was, and yes, you should tell the manager if you have poor service or food — and I always tell them if I have extraordinary service. 

    As for Australia — I was surprised to learn they do not tip there (and minimum wage is somewhere around $19 – $21/hour) — BUT, I had nothing but very pleasant experiences there, in three weeks, no bad service anywhere.  And really friendly, terrific service most places. 

    • I live in Australia. The customer service here is crap because servers are so over-paid, food is expensive and opening hours are a lot shorter (also because servers are so overpaid, so owners can’t afford to keep the place open). 

      The North American model is way better. Oz should cut their wages to $8, and make them work for their tips. Service and operating hours will increase, and food prices will go down.

    • I serve and every time I am finished my shift I have to tip out. The kitchen, the bar tenders, the bussers, whether or not I was tipped I still have to pay them 4.5 percent ON TOP OF TAXES. Therefore, if you bill is $100.00 after tax I have to tip out $4.5 on the tip you gave or did not give. So if you did not tip me, I am paying to serve you. I am sure you are a wonderful person but I do not want to pay to be your server. 

      • I’m almost positive that it is illegal to make you pay out of your tips (and still pay if you didn’t get any). You can share your tips if you like, but if you have none to share then you don’t have to pay anything. I think you should look into this practice of being forced to pay this 4.5%, seems dodgy to me.

        • In every restaurant (I work in a chain one at the moment) that I have worked in from family restaurants to chains it has been the exact same. We also pay $1 every shift to cover if anyone ever walks out on their bill.

  3. Is the 20% before taxes on the meal or after?

    • It seems that most people normally tip on the after-tax amount. That’s certainly how the debit/CC machines that prompt you for 15% or 20% work. However, I personally have difficulty with the concept of tax-in tipping. Why should the Vancouver waiter get tipped more than the Calgary waiter solely because BC has a provincial sales tax on restaurant meals (provincial portion of the HST) and Alberta doesn’t? It defies logic. However, I believe I’m probably in a small minority in thinking this way.

      • Servers tip the bussers, hosts, etc. out on top of tax so the higher the taxes are, the more we tip out. 

    • The tip is calculated “before” tax is added.

  4. Hear, hear!

  5. We just dined at the best restaurant in North America. A three Star Michelin.
    Alinea in Chicago.
    It rates with great service and food.
    They add an automatic tip to the bikk. 18%.
    Had there not been an automatic tip, I woul;d most certainly have tipped 20%.

    There is nothing comparable for food or service in Toronto or Canada.
    In my opinion tip in excess of 15% is almost universally unwarranted.
    The service in Canada just does not warrant anything greater than 15%, if that.
    I most certainly would not tip more than 15% anywhere in Toronto. Eh!

    • I’ve tipped you less than 10% for this comment because you misspelled ‘bill’, placed a semicolon in the middle of another word for no reason at all, and because you come across like a pretentious, name-dropping wanker.

  6. I tip almost all of the time and 15% is my norm however like others I object to paying the tip on the taxes which is what you do when you pick a % on the credit card machine. I generally look at the bill and give a generous 15% based on the before tax amount. We should also remember that whenever the price of whatever we are tipping on, goes up, so does our tip. Therefore when the price of meals or drinks increases so does the amount the servers etc. make off of us therefore I do not see a need to increase the percentage. Having 20% as the default is a goldmine for the establishments/ staff as many people can’t be bothered to even look at what they are paying and just click OK. They win all around and the customer is being taken advantage of. 

    • “When the price of meals or drinks increases so does the amount the
      servers etc. make…therefore I do not see a need to increase
      the percentage.”

      That’s the way I see it, too. I think restaurant employees have gotten swelled heads, and they have a culture of “The customer is a moron and I’m God’s gift to humanity.” They love to write books full of horror stories of clueless, stingy customers; but where are the books on stupid, arrogant, nasty waiters and waitresses (excuse me, “waitstaff”)? A little restoration of balance is in order.

  7. I heard a rumor that a families tip best.  I was surprised…not that we don’t always tip 20% but it occured to me that families might not have that extra income.  I also tip my hair dresser 20%, etc.  I am a nurse…we provide the most “intimate care” and never ever get a tip….not that I would suggest we deserve it or could even accept it…but just think about who is cleaning up your puke after surgery; diarrhea, sputum, etc., etc…….just kidding guys.

  8. It’s standard for me to leave 20% as I was a bartender many years ago for a one year period  It was, in all places, in New Orleans and it was a blast!  I grew up remembering what my Father had told us: the smaller the bill, the larger the tip as that is that person’s living.

  9. My guidelines are –

    Superior service, 20%
    Average service:  10-15%
    Poor service:  0 – 5%

    NO tip on alcohol (markups are far too high already), and none on the tax.

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