Photo: The Canadian Press
A server brings food to a table while people dine at a restaurant in Vancouver.
The turning point for Caitlin Green came when she was buying infant formula.
“I was asked to tip for an online order for baby formula,” said Green, a new mom and radio host in Toronto.
“I wasn’t using Instacart or tipping someone for a delivery. It was just a normal online order and I was asked to tip at check-out ‘to show support for the team’.”
“I feel like I’m being tipped at every turn,” she added.
Tipping fatigue has hit consumers as tipping requests increase and spread to new businesses amid the emergence of automated payment machines and pre-set tip suggestions.
In the worst of the pandemic, many Canadians have raised their advice for essential workers such as restaurant staff and delivery drivers in appreciation of the health risks they face serving people.
However, with most pandemic restrictions lifted and inflation raising the cost of everything, some people feel uncomfortable with the pressure to pay more — including at companies where tipping hasn’t been traditionally expected.
It also appears that tip amounts have been affected by inflation.
Gratuities at some point-of-sale terminals increasingly indicate amounts from 18 to 30 percent, although another amount can be added manually.
This is often in addition to taxes and generally higher menu prices.
“Now it seems like 15 percent is impolite,” Green said.
“There has been a huge drop in service, at least in my experience in restaurants since the pandemic, and I totally understand why it happened. But the prices are also more expensive and then I’m being asked to tip at 25 percent as a pre-selected option.”
For some, this is a reasonable price to pay to ensure that hard-working hospitality professionals earn a living.
For others, disconnecting the tip from the service leaves them unsure of how much to tip, especially when it comes to a purchase that previously didn’t include tipping like an online retail order.
Greg Rosen, a Halifax resident, said service has plummeted as menu prices have risen and expectations have fluctuated.
“Everyone has those machines with automatic tip requests even if the service isn’t very good,” he said. “I’m still trying to give a good tip. But it still keeps creeping me out a bit.”
For Jodi Haven, tipping treatment for burnout is simple — paying workers a living wage.
“The advice is insulting,” said Haven, a researcher at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives and a retired professor at Saint Mary’s University. “They should be completely eliminated and the workers should be paid a fair wage.”
In Halifax, she said the living wage will be about $23.50, more than $10 over the current minimum wage of $13.35 an hour.
Part of the problem, Haven said, is that managers often collect and distribute advice as they like.
“In most provinces, there is no law that says tips are the property of the employee,” she said. “It’s not about tipping the kitchen staff. Often the employer takes half the tip and distributes the rest however they want.”
It is a practice that makes some clients wonder where exactly their money is going.
“There is no transparency,” Green said. “When I was asked to tip ‘to show your appreciation for the team’, I didn’t really know what that meant.”
Ditching the tips would also ease some of the emotional work involved in working in the service industry, Haven said.
“They probably won’t ask how your day was or inquire about your health, but it would be incredibly refreshing to go to a restaurant and find out that the person is well paid,” she said.
However, as long as workers depend on tips to earn a living, Haven said consumers should be prepared to tip.
Henk van Leeuwen said he has become more deliberate about tipping during the pandemic.
“I was always a decent flip-flop, but it used to be more in line with the experience I had while sitting in a restaurant, the quality of the service or the meal,” he said.
“But that has changed during the pandemic. The frontline workers at the restaurants were kind of a lifeline, taking risks so we could order fast food, and I decided I was going to start tipping the most every time.”
Although Van Leeuwen said he was not wealthy, he said he was privileged enough to eat in a restaurant every week or two, and he saw tipping as his duty.
“I’m getting as far as I can and it’s not about service anymore. It’s about supporting workers and supporting my community. It’s a little way I can help.”