Collective Wisdom

Should Canada dispense with its tipping culture?


Tipping reinforces social inequalities

Amy Hanser

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Yes, we should get rid of tipping in Canada. Tipping tends to be a feature of interactive service work in which the service worker interacts directly with the customer, granting a degree of supervisory power to the customer. This is useful in workplaces where the service provided cannot just be standardized and dictated to the worker but rather lies in the worker’s ability to respond to the individualized needs and wants of the customer. But most of us tip habitually, not in response to service quality, and tipping amplifies the power dynamic between customer and service worker, potentially introducing pressure for the worker to cater to unreasonable or demeaning expectations and/or to reinforce social inequalities that already structure social interactions (like biases associated with race, gender, age, or body size, for example). If tipping doesn’t actually do what it is supposed to do, workers should just be paid fully for their work, and managers – not customers – should assume responsibility for service quality.


Improve how we compensate workers

David Silver

Chair in Business and Professional Ethics, Sauder School of Business; Director, W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics (SPPH)

While I live in Canada, I have had the opportunity to travel to and to experience societies that don’t have a culture of tipping. Each system has its plusses and minuses with regards to how it treats employees, customers, and everyone else in society. In my opinion, neither is clearly superior from the moral point of view. As a business ethicist, my first impulse would thus be to explore ways of morally improving our current ways of compensating workers, rather than completely dispensing with a longstanding and entrenched culture of tipping. One improvement would be to renew a conversation across our society about when tipping is appropriate, and what range of tips that people may rightfully expect to receive for providing a given service. Unfortunately, this “conversation” is now often occurring via the default tip settings on credit card machines. These settings present the programmer’s judgment about what is minimal, standard and generous tipping behavior. I welcome a broader conversation on these matters that includes voices from across society.


Canadians have tip fatigue

Dave Korzinski, BA’11 

Research Director at the Angus Reid Institute

If you ask the average Canadian? Yes, it’s time to move on from tipping.

According to our recent poll, there is a particular exhaustion evident within the public that we haven’t seen in previous data. Overburdened by inflation and post-pandemic financial fatigue, Canadians currently feel they’re seeing tipping requests that are more common, in less traditional spaces, and for higher values. More than 60 per cent say they’re being asked to tip more and more often than they’ve been used to in recent years. This is seemingly undercutting the spirit of tipping in many people’s eyes. Four in five say they don’t feel their tip is about showing appreciation for service anymore; rather, it’s an obligation or an uncomfortable social pressure.

So-called “tip-flation” has driven a 19-point increase since 2016 in the number of Canadians who would scrap tipping altogether and absorb gratuities into “a service-included” model in places like restaurants and coffee shops. Whether businesses would agree to pay higher wages is another question, but a firm majority – three in five – are now ready to make this change.


The tipping culture is unfair

Kimberley Brownlee 

Professor, Department of Philosophy; Canada Research Chair in Ethics and Political & Social Philosophy

A mischievous English tour guide told me that “tip” was originally T.I.P.S., standing for “to insure prompt service.” Pubgoers would drop coins into a box upon arrival to incentivize barkeepers to serve them first. Nowadays, people leave a gratuity afterward, ostensibly to reward quality.

Yet this gratuity no longer feels gratuitous. Many restaurants add a tip to the bill. Coffee shops’ contactless machines propose different tips, which customers review under the server’s gaze. And the amounts grow year-on-year, from 12-15 per cent 20years ago, to 18-25 per cent now.

This culture is unfair. First, why tip taxi drivers, stylists, porters, and waiters, but not cashiers, actors, substitute teachers, fruit-pickers, and others who perform precarious work? Second, in some tip-receiving sectors, backroom staff automatically get a share. But others must rely on the front-staff’s decency. Third, tipping is unfair to customers who cannot absorb an exorbitant tip. 

This reflects a social welfare system gone sour. If the state guaranteed a basic income or living wage, casual workers wouldn’t need to rely on this hit-and-miss custom. Canada’s “tip” should be renamed the “Select Worker Wage Contribution.”


Tipping shields businesses from operating costs

Supriya Routh

Associate Professor, Allard School of Law

Canada’s tips culture is economically and socially problematic.

The rationale for tips is reward not entitlement. Tips permit businesses to externalize their cost in a core area of their operation, thereby insulating their profits from the very “service” that they provide. Dissociating part of the “serving” costs (tips) from the restaurant “service” is logically incoherent and morally indefensible. What is “rewarded” with tips is a worker’s labour, and labour is an integral cost of business, not a voluntary supplement to it. Businesses should pay their labour forces without expecting customer largesse to shield them from operating costs.

Furthermore, because a customer has the capacity to “reward” a server, the system tolerates, even encourages, condescending behaviour – including harassing and discriminatory behaviour – by the payer. On the other hand, tipping behaviour of customers stands the risk of being stereotyped as an identity issue (e.g., boomers v. millennials; men v. women; non-racialized v. racialized). Such stereotyping exposes customers – particularly marginalized ones – to unconscious biases of servers and businesses. In this way, the tips culture is inimical to the foundational values of Canadian society.


Tipping is discrimination

Azim Shariff, MA’06, PhD’10

Professor, Department of Psychology; Canada Research Chair in Moral Psychology

Tipping gives people freedom in paying for service, allowing them to incentivize good service over bad. This sounds great economically, but what about psychologically?

The problem with offering people the chance to be discriminant in how much they pay is that people tend to discriminate on a lot more than service quality (which in restaurants, for example, ends up accounting for only two per cent of the variation in tipping). Many studies show that – even equated for the reported quality of service – people tip White people more than Black. They tip more to the thin, to the young, to the attractive. People are free to do so, but that’s a freedom we’ve sought to limit in other circumstances. Equal pay for equal work? Not really.

These challenges get compounded by cultural diversity. Tipping norms vary between cultures. In places where people from different cultures intersect – like, say, Vancouver – this creates ambiguity, confusion, and often sour feelings. If we were more homogenous, this might all work as it’s supposed to. But I’d rather eat a diversity of foods, served by any type of person, and know exactly how much I’m supposed to pay for it.