In Europe, the service in restaurants or at the hairdresser's is almost always included in the bill. The same can't be said about North America.
As a newcomer, you should be aware of two things when getting ready to pay the bill at the restaurant:
1- Taxes are not included in the menu prices and they are added to the bill directly,
2- Service is not included either unless told otherwise by a waiter or on the menu.
We have been there and we know that it might be confusing sometimes, so here's a short guideline to help you get used to this new habit.
Why do we have to tip in Canada?
Like in most European countries, there's a minimum wage for all workers in Canada. Liquor servers fall under a special category with their own minimum wage, which is lower. This can be partially explained by the fact that these workers are expected to earn tips.
In some places, waiters have to tip out their colleagues working in the kitchen or at the reception; if there's no tip, they have to do it anyway and it represents around 6% of the total bill. Note that TIPS means To Insure Prompt Service ; it's a motivation for the person receiving it to provide a higher level of service and to make sure that all goes well.
For those reasons, it is customary in Canada to give gratuities each time you go to a restaurant or a bar. Tradition and peer pressure have extended the habit to other types of businesses, like tourism or wellness; they don't need tips to live but you'll be frowned upon if you don't leave anything.
Where and how much to tip?
Food and drinks
If you're eating in and you're being served by someone, you should tip between 10% and 20%. The usual percentage is 15-18%; people will often give 10% when the service is actually not good. In “bring your wine” restaurants, add $2 per bottle. If you're calculating your tip on your own, you should round up to the next figure.
If you are not enjoying your meal for some reason, you should tell your waiter right away so that they have a chance of accommodating you; it would be rude to wait until the end and punish the service by giving a small tip. On the opposite, if you really enjoyed your meal, don't forget to say it to the waiter, and you can always ask for the tip to be shared with the cook; it will be up to the waiter to decide to share it or not.
Some restaurants choose to integrate the tip to the bill directly (often 15-18%) for groups of 8 people or more, because they believe it's more work for the waiter. In that case, the amount is usually calculated based on the total cost including taxes. It is also not unheard of for some restaurants to apply an automatic tip for foreign customers who are not used to tip in their country and might not be aware of the Canadian rules.
If you're ordering take-out or if you're taking your food/drink from the counter directly yourself, don't feel obliged to pay for service. Food counter attendants are not liquor servers. Bartenders, on the other hand, fall into that category and you should tip them the same way you would tip your waiter.
A 10% tip is expected for food delivery. For groceries, it is customary to give $1 or $2.
At the hotel
Even if it’s not an obligation, the etiquette is to thank the staff who takes care of you. So feel free to give $2/day to the people who deliver services to you:
- the doorkeeper, especially if they call you a cab or lend you an umbrella
- the valet, for parking your car
- the cleaning staff; you can give more if your room is messy or if you ask them extra services, like add pillows etc..
- the receptionist/head porter, especially if they give you advice for activities: $5-10 for the whole stay, or more, depending on the services
- camping staff will also expect some gratuities
Don’t tip for the full stay at the end: the staff can experience high turnovers or shifts, and you would only reward the last person! Give your tips day by day: it‘ll be fairer.
During transfers or visits
- If you take the taxi or go with a private driver, it’s expected to leave 10% + $1-2 per bag
- You can tip your guide or tour driver (10-20%)
- For non-automatic gas stations, allow $1-2
Hairdressers, masseurs, aestheticians, tattoo-artists and so on are not supposed to earn tips, but it’s in the Canadian culture to give something if you enjoyed the service.
You should give a 10-15% tip to your hairdresser + $1-2 for coffee, tea, etc. If the service is expensive, don't tip more than $20.
Tips to tip
- If you choose to calculate the tip on your own, you should take the amount before taxes into account. If you're paying by card and choose the percentage on the payment terminal, most of the time it will calculate the tip on the amount including taxes.
- You can find dozens of apps on Android, iOS or Windows phones to calculate your tips automatically. You can also use your calculator.
- If you don’t have any calculator, you just have to divide by 10 (move one decimal) to get 10%. Double that amount if you want to give 20%. If you want to give 15%, take the 10% amount, and add half of it on top.
- You don’t have to pay any tip if the owner has served you.
- If you are budgeting a leisure trip or an outing in Canada, don't forget to take tips into account!
If you want to learn more about the cultural gap, join us at our next event.