Here’s a tip: pay hospitality workers livable wages. As someone who’s spent a good chunk of time bussing tables and taking orders, I’m no stranger to selling my soul for the sake of customer service. I’d bite my lip every time someone would yell at me for their food taking longer than expected, or when I had the privilege of telling them I couldn’t accommodate an off-menu request. When it was time for them to pay, I’d apologize, praying my tip wouldn’t be jeopardized by something that was out of my control. “Have a good night!” I’d say, walking away to glance down at the 5 per cent tip.
As the restaurant industry continues to take a hit from the pandemic, some restaurants are shifting to a “hospitality included” model, meaning gratuity is automatically added to the price. A few restaurants in Toronto such as Richmond Station , Burdock Brewery and Ten shifted their models during the summer to create a better, more stable work environment. Why shouldn’t all restaurants do the same? Tipping-culture has long perpetuated toxic work environments where staff are forced to compete for tables and customers are the ultimate decision-makers for someone’s wage. A culture shift is long overdue, and even though it sounds unachievable, one thing this pandemic has taught me is that we are quick to adapt. That’s exactly what needs to happen if we want to keep the restaurant industry alive.
On Oct. 9, when Doug Ford announced a modified stage 2 plan for Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa, restaurants were once again forced to close off indoor dining to the public. Though some businesses could make due in the summer with limited patio-seating, cold weather makes the option sound less enticing. Another route most restaurants have turned to—delivery apps—hasn’t been fruitful since most apps like UberEats and Skip the Dishes charge restaurants commission rates. UberEats, having the highest rate of 30 per cent, doesn’t even give customers the option to tip the restaurant, meaning the staff who prepared and packaged the food have to settle for their hourly wage: $12.45 (the below-minimum wage for servers that was $12.20 prior to Oct.1).
Times are changing but this problem is nothing new. The pandemic has, however, brought to light just how unreliable the tipping system is. Restaurant workers get the bulk of their earnings in cash tips, meaning when they apply for government benefits, their documented salary could mean not qualifying for as much as someone who has earned the same amount on paper. Applying for loans and mortgages poses a similar problem.
In June, Arianne Persaud, the founder of the Toronto Restaurant Workers’ Relief Fund created the #ChangeHospitality movement on social media, calling on businesses to abolish the tipping system and pay workers liveable wages. Persaud started #ChangeHospitality as a response to the #SaveHospitality movement—an alliance of independent restaurants formed in response to Covid-19—which she said centred mostly around male restaurant owners. “I can show you as my living example how the tipping economy fails marginalized people the most,” Persaud told Foodism in an interview. “And the people who are screaming that we should not do away with tipping are the ones who have benefited within that model.”
Persaud poses an excellent question: Who benefits from tips? A simple answer would be the servers, bartenders and kitchen staff. Scratch past the surface and you might find the overworked, the underpaid or the victims of predatory behaviour. It can become a reflex—holding your tongue when someone is being inappropriate—because they have the power to decide your wage. For me, my favourite was when someone would snap their fingers from afar to get my attention. “ Hi! Yes? What can I get you? Some wine? More bread? A string quartet? Absolutely, I’ll be right back.” Flip the script and you can see how tipping culture makes restaurant workers stereotype customers—analyzing if someone looks like they’d be a good tipper before the menu even hits the table.
Abolishing tipping culture isn’t the magic button that will resolve the many problems in the restaurant industry, but it’s a step in the right direction. Restaurant workers have an unstable job as is—earning below minimum wage with no benefits and no steady income; add in a global pandemic and you have yourself a recipe for a mental health crisis. We shouldn’t leave the fate of restaurant workers to the customers, because honestly, the customer isn’t always right.