As a server, tips allow me to live with minimal financial stress. As grateful as I am for this, I don’t necessarily agree with the custom-turned-obligation of the North American hospitality industry.

For those who don’t know the way tipping works: when you receive a service – from food to haircuts to tattoos to cab rides – the person serving you makes a slightly lower wage, which is compensated by tips. In a restaurant, a certain percentage of the sales of food or drink – not the tip you give – are then “tipped out,” or split among the support staff (like bussers and dishwashers) and chefs.

Where your tip goes

At one point, restaurant tip out was a percentage based on tips made. It is now legally required that servers tip out based on their sales. Tipping out based on tips seems fairer in theory, but I remember understanding the change most when talking to a busser and coworker. He had worked in the industry for decades and told me that he once ran into a server who he had worked with who admitted he had not once tipped the busser honestly.

The wage difference that tips compensate for is the biggest issue for the system. A server who sells $1,000 can leave with $150, in tips while the rest of the staff split $15. This does seem rather unfair given how slight the hourly wage difference can be between the two.

Personally, I see tips as an invaluable way to allow people without post-secondary education to maintain a living, and those studying at a post-secondary level to get by. But this is not the reality for the masses. A person who works at Tim Hortons or a retail store should not be making so little compared to a server.

The culture within tipping

In the three years I have lived in North America, I have heard people say that tipping is outdated. But I have never heard people discuss the impact this would have on the industries involved. Tipping has a huge impact on the way the service system works. I have seen the comparison, from working hospitality in a country with a flat wage, to Vancouver, where I earn tips.

In my experience, the culture inside restaurants when there is a flat wage is similar to a retail job. People who want to work in the hospitality industry choose to for the work itself – not because there is excess money in tips to be made. They work more as a team, because they are there to work for the business, not for individual gain. They work to keep customers happy because that is their job, not because they know they will make a certain amount of money from individuals.

“A person who works at Tim Hortons or a retail store should not be making so little compared to a server.”

They also do not have to pander to customers the same way as a server making tips. For example, if I am serving you and you have a large bill, if you ask me out on a date, I should not have to consider your tip as I respond. This is the aspect of the tipping industry which I find to be so uniquely and fundamentally flawed.

Changing the system

These may seem unimportant to an observer, however if interest in an industry is driven by its high income, would there still be the same supply and demand of workers if this were taken away? The minimum wage in Canada sits between $10.72 and $13.00 per hour. Server wages generally only sit a dollar less than this. It is hard to imagine that those people working in the industry for a floating wage of $20 and up, would continue to do so for even for a so-called “living wage.”

A graphic of server wages versus minimum wages in Canada – where only Ontatio and British Columbia invoke different wages. (Graphic by Alexa Battler, data from PayWorks)

I know that if I could make the same money as a server as I could at a bookstore, I would be working in the bookstore.

Canada’s server wages and minimum wages are close enough that it is feasible to change the way the system works. The concept of changing the system in America much more unimaginable, given that in some states the server wage is as low as $2.13.

The narcissistic culture behind tipping is something which I would like to see dampened, to a degree. As much as I see the benefits, I think changing the system would require the consideration of factors beyond what is already being discussed. If it did, I would whole-heartedly agree with tipping becoming a thing of the past.

By Annalisse Crosswell

Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.