Written by Alex Cosh

The Maple recently reported that a new poll from Angus Reid showed an increasing number of Canadians are tipping service workers more, but aren't necessarily happy about it. Rather, more Canadians want to see costs for service included in their bills when they eat out at a restaurant, for example.

The poll showed:

"(There has been) a significant increase in the number of Canadians who say they prefer (59%) a “service included” model, which would see an end of tipping and higher base wages for employees."

We asked our readers, particularly those who work in the service industry, to share their thoughts on this issue. Should we keep tipping service workers more, or should we demand that employers pay their workers higher wages, even if that means slightly more expensive bills?

Here's what you told us. First, let's see what people who work in the service sector had to say.

Steve in British Columbia told us he tries to entertain his customers while he works, often earning him great reviews for his service. He finds it disheartening to hear people say they don't believe in tipping on principle, especially given the challenges of the job.

Steve explained:

"I have been insulted, demeaned, and threatened with violence. I had a customer cross a patio, wave his hand in front of my face and then yell at me, because he had been waiting for seven minutes for a glass of wine. Many years ago, I had to clean human excrement off the walls of a bathroom."

Despite his frustration at those who oppose tips, Steve would prefer to be paid a decent and stable wage, even if that would amount to a pay cut from what he sometimes makes with tips. Steve said:

"I am tired of feeling like a beggar, an opportunist, or con man. I am none of those things. But most of all, I am deeply tired of people who have never worked in the restaurant industry telling me their opinion of a business they know nothing about."

Catherine in Quebec told us that she's been working in the service industry for 20 years in venues like restaurants, bars and nightclubs. With tips, she typically makes $30-50 per hour.

Catherine explained: "Would I make that if tipping wasn't included? The answer is no freaking way!"

However, she noted that the industry is notorious for bad labour practices, including a poor health and safety culture, unsociable hours, little to no vacation pay, and harassment from customers, staff and management.

Catherine said:

"I personally think one would be naïve to think that having the tip included would ensure a better wage. It is not uncommon to find restaurants that work on a pool tipping system that kicks back four per cent to management ... I've even seen this in a hotel restaurant with a union. To think that including the tip would assure a better wage for service workers, you would have to assume that every employer out there is of good faith."

Some of you who wrote to us used to work in the service industry, and shared your experiences of what it was like to have a job in that sector in years gone by. It seems that some parts of the job have remained much the same.

Daisy told us she was a service worker from the mid-1980s to the 1990s. Like Catherine, she doubts that a service-included model would necessarily lead to higher take-home pay for workers:

"Tips made up most of the wage earned. I made far more than a few of my co-workers due to my friendly and organized approach in performing my job. Currently, I believe service workers make far more than they would if businesses moved to an all service included model."

Dahlia in Quebec told us she used to work in the service industry, but not always as a tipped employee. she said:

"Though in some of the restaurants I worked at a portion of tips were shared with the kitchen staff at the end of particularly busy services, this practice was entirely voluntary in Montreal (during Grand Prix weekend, servers stood to make thousands in tips, so would often share with the kitchen)."

Dahlia added:

"I think tips should be taken out of the equation. If customers want to tip, fine, but it should not affect a worker’s pay. Minimum wages need to go up across the board, and service workers should receive at least the same pay as others paid hourly. Service workers should not be taxed on phantom wages that customers can hold back out of spite, ignorance or just plain stinginess."

Patricia in Ontario agrees that it's time to give service workers decent wages so that they're not reliant on tips. She said:

"Frankly, I don't even understand why this is still a question in this day and age. A decent wage is simply the humane way to treat anyone in a steady employment environment ... I'm a former food service worker who raised her children on the tips I received. My pay from my employer was used to pay a couple bills each month. That was all it ever could pay.

We also heard from Sue in Nova Scotia, who owns a general store and bakery in a rural area. She said she has worked in the service industry at all levels - including management - for 25 years, and believes tipping has got to go.

Sue explained:

"There needs to be a major cultural shift so that consumers learn about what working in hospitality really means. That's the only way they will be willing to accept the price hikes that will come with raising wages. The onus is left on the consumer to top up poverty wages that have become the accepted norm. Big changes need to happen."

Jean in Ontario offered a potential way that consumers could come around to the idea of paying more to ensure workers make a decent wage. She explained: "Pay staff a living wage and advertise prices which are inclusive of all those costs which are currently add-ons: tax, tip."

Jean added:

"There should be no job in which the staff are underpaid and where tips are required income in order for staff to take home a decent wage. This does not preclude anyone at any time from leaving additional payment, but it removes the desperation on the part of staff who require the tip and the social pressure felt by customers."

Gary pointed out that tipping is generally regarded as not essential in places like Australia. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, tips of up to 10 per cent for service workers in that country are "not essential, but certainly appreciated." The price of a restaurant meal in Australia is not significantly different from what a diner could expect to pay in Canada, said Gary.

"Restaurant associations constantly wave that old bogeyman that the cost of meals will have to rise too high if they pay their serving staff a proper wage. It's time to call their bluff."

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