Clare and I went out for lunch at the pub today. She had a spinach salad and I opted for the beef dip. When I asked for half fries and half salad the waitress said: That will be $ 3 extra.I declined. A glass of white wine for Clare, a pint of the in-house lager for myself. The bill came to $ 50, add 5% for the tax on food and 10% for the alcohol and then add the tip on top of it all. I peeled off three twenty-dollar bills. When I told Camp about our rather expensive pub lunch he just shook his head of grey curly locks and said: ‘That’s why you’ll never see me eating out. I just can’t afford it. For sixty bucks I can buy a whole weeks worth of groceries for myself.’
‘The only ones who do well in this equation are the servers,’ I said. ‘They give you an electronic choice of 18, 20 or 25%. That’s on top of the tax. I think tipping is a wildly irrational practice. Everybody wants tips, from Starbucks to taxi drivers, hair dressers, gas station jockeys, the door man and bell boy, all the way to the priest at the funeral. What’s next? Tip the doctor and the nurse, the clerk at the liquor store or the mechanic and plumber?’
‘What about the bookseller? Where is my tip?’ Camp said. ‘Tip of the hat maybe but you’re right, most people would be happy not to tip at all. Last week I had the IPA special at the Blackfish Pub. A good deal for $ 5. The bill (with taxes) was $ 5.75. I handed over a ten and got back two twoonies and a quarter. Now what? I either tipped 25 cents or 2 dollars which was a 45% tip. I felt stupid to ask for change and left the twoonie. I’m with you. Tipping is out of control.’
‘I understand it in places like Mexico and third world countries where nobody makes a living wage,’ I said. ‘But look at Switzerland. No tips, also no visible tax on goods and services. If it’s labeled at CHF 10 then you hand over a ten Frank bill and that’s it. Not another 12% tax on top and then an arbitrary tip as would be the case here in la-la-land.’
‘That sounds civilized. Even books are taxed at 5% GST. They used to be tax exempt,’ Camp grumbled.
‘Most countries have a tipping policy but it’s always so arbitrary. You look in most guide-books under tipping and it always says something like: Tipping is not mandatory but most people tip around 10%. It’s really up to you.’
‘Tipping also creates social inequality, making one party the servant and the other the master,’ Camp said.
‘The average Canadian server makes about $ 30 an hour; two thirds of that from tips, mostly in cash,’ I said.
‘Maybe I’m in the wrong job,’ Camp said. ‘On the other hand the kitchen staff, who usually have some schooling or a certificate make about half of that. In some establishments the servers have to give part of their tips to the kitchen staff which is only fair.’
‘According to a poll done in Calgary by Earls, forty percent of Canadians want tipping abolished in favor of a ‘service included’ system,’ I said.
‘I think we better ask our expert,’ Camp suggested and when Vicky brought our second round he asked her: ‘Vicky, what do you think about tipping? It’s all cash and the taxman doesn’t need to know. Wouldn’t you prefer a service included system, say 16 percent on all drinks and meals, regardless of the server.’
‘That means that the new and clueless server gets the same as the one with years of experience. A lot of servers like myself only do this part time due to kids at home or between study sessions. I only work four shifts a week. Let’s put it this way: As a server I like the present system but as a customer I would prefer the included option.’
‘There you go,’ I said to Camp. ‘And nothing stops the generous patron of tipping on top if they feel like it.’
‘Some winter days it’s pretty quiet in here,’ Vicky said. ‘I’m counting on you two to keep me in the clover.’