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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Should Foreigners Have the Tip Added Automatically?

A couple of restaurants in Burlington, Vermont are in hot water ("It's not hot enough," yelled an old lady who brought in her own tea bag.) after they were caught adding the gratuity to the check of a family they assumed to be French-Canadian. Two different restaurants added the tip to the bill for the family but it turns out that they are actually residents of Vermont who just spoke French. The family was none too pleased.

Burlington did some kind of big tourism push to the fine folks of Quebec (Qu├ębecois? Queebs? Queckers?) in an effort to win their tourism dollars. The Canadians saw the commercials and hopped, skipped and jumped over the border for a quick a getaway to The Green Mountain State, but it turns out that plenty of the restaurant servers are like, "No thanks, I'm good" when it comes to the tips they are leaving. The Vermont family complained and had the tip removed but what about the next French-speaking family who dines out in Vermont who really is from Canada? Are servers supposed to be alright with a shitty 5% tip? Are Canadians bad tippers?

The servers in Quebec are making $8.35 an hour while Vermont servers are making $4.10 an hour. Maybe the servers in Canada aren't as dependent on tips as Vermont servers are so maybe the tipping isn't as crucial up north. I find it hard to believe that so many Canadians who live that close to the U.S. border are completely unfamiliar with the tipping customs in our country. Is it possible that some foreigners are feigning ignorance just so they can skip out on the tip? I think it is not only possible, but very likely.

Working in New York City, I serve customers from all over the world. It's hard to not cringe when I hear a foreign accent asking me what the specials are. No, I don't want to generalize that every single customer from another country is a bad tipper, but very often it is the case. Don't these tourists read guide books before coming to the United States? Whenever I go on vacation, I do. I will be going to France in two weeks (home to the world's surliest servers and maybe a place I will end up staying forever just so I can feel "at home."), and I have been studying guide books for a month now to make sure I understand how to act in their country. I do not want to come across as the Ugly American and I will do my best to fit in and tip correctly. According to guide books, the service charge in Paris restaurants is added to the bill, so you only leave a nominal tip in appreciation of good service. Tell me, Parisians, is this true? I can only assume that the guide book is correct. Could it be that the guide books that United States tourists are reading are misinforming them? I wonder what the books say in regards to tipping. I hope it says something like "Servers in the U.S. expect a tip for a job well done. 15-20% of the bill is standard, more if they did an outstanding job or less if the service was less than exemplary." For all I know, it says. "Servers in the U.S. wait tables for the pure joy of it. Their hourly wage is more than adequate and they are pleased with a a dollar or even a verbal 'good job.' In some cases, feel free to leave Bible quotes or coupons. They love that."

Generalizing how a group of people tip is great big Pandora's Box that once opened can never be closed. It can easily go from a discussion about tipping to an argument about race and I do not want to go there. I have said it before and I will say it again: I try to treat every table the same so that if I get stiffed I know it was because of them and not me. You will hear plenty of servers complain about the crap tip they got from the four-top of black women but did that server automatically give them crap service because they assumed the tip would be bad? Possibly. But haven't we all gotten great tips from someone who we didn't expect to get one from? Conversely, we have all gotten horrible tips from someone that we thought was going to leave at least 20%. Waiting tables is like a slot machine. You never know what you're going to get, but it all evens out in the end.

But back to Burlington, Vermont: should the restaurants be adding the gratuity to French-speaking tables? I say no. If you're going to add the tip automatically to some tables, it has to be on all tables. Otherwise, it's just racial profiling and who has time to racially profile when there is coffee to make and bread baskets to fill?

I have gotten bad tips from French people.  I have also been stiffed by French people. It's the way of the waiter world. When I am in France, I will do my best to tip accordingly but if I fuck it up, I feel like it's okay. They probably hate me as soon as I sit down just like I would hate them if they sat in my station. I expect the only difference would be that I would pretend to like them while the French waiter will look down at me and openly mutter with disgust, "Stupid, Americain, pig." Seriously, I might love it there and apply for a job at le Pain Quotidien in downtown Paris and serve French Toast and French Fries all the live long day.



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31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Funny, my husband and I honeymooned in Montreal. We privately joked about leaving coins for a tip, as is typically done to us by french canadians. We were very surprised to find the first restaurant we dined in had a sign posted on the door that an 18% gratuity was expected on all checks. Here we thought they just didn't know...apparently they do.

Guy Malone said...

I agree that we can't grat based on profiling, just on size of the table, and it has to be consistent. And I too always try to give the same service to everybody. However, at age 44, just earlier this week I confessed that I sometimes slight foreigners because of this factor http://guysworkblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/why-american-servers-hate-waiting-on.html
Yours is a great even-handed article BW!

anne marie in philly said...

yep, gratuity added for all tables or none at all. quite frankly, I wish that were the standard here.

KiKi said...

I have been a server in Canada for several years and it is common for a minimal 10-15% tip. I would never say that Canadians, french or otherwise are in general bad tippers.. It is more likely that a few who are bad tippers, regardless of the language they speak will tip the same either way.

Mandy said...

Last time I went to Italy, my Italian friend kept having to chastise me for wanting to leave what for me was a normal tip. "It's weird to do that here," he told me. Plus some places include it in the bill (though whether that actually goes to the staff.. prolly not).
Enjoy being in a country where you can leave a 10 dollar tip and feel like a baller!

Anonymous said...

I work in a restaurant close to Niagara Falls on the U.S. side. The problem of Canadian tipping has gotten so out of hand. We leave work pissed off every night and despite how pleasant Canadians really are...we loathe them. The businesses, and the shopping malls and the restaurant owners don't seem to mind because they are all profiting. I would add gratuity 100 % of the time on a Canadian table if I could. We actually have Canadian holidays marked off on a calendar so we know when to expect them.

KDog said...

I live not far from Burlington in upstate NY, and yes, many of the French-Canadian tourists tip poorly. I've even heard from some Canadians that they know how they are supposed to tip but feel like they can get away with it while in another country.

That being said, I would never grat a check just based on were someone was from. Every person is an individual and can't be categorized because of where they are from, race, or any of that bullshit.

But I do get it, some of the rudest/poorest tipping people I've ever waited on have been French-Canadian...unruly children that run all over the restaurant and don't understand "watch out or you're gonna get a big-ass tray dropped on your tiny, unformed brain", no please or thank you, shitty tips, and just generally real fuckers. Do I assume that everyone in Canada has the same piss-poor attitude? No, of course not. But it does leave a sour taste in your mouth, so I understand why the idea of adding a grat to their check would cross someone's mind...but you never actually DO it!!! That's like actually kicking the baby that is crawling all over the dining room floor - someone's gonna get pissed.

Dewsterling said...

If servers were paid a livable wage in the U.S., it wouldn't be such a big deal. Servers in Canada make twice as much per hour AND have socialized health care. Ditto France, the U.K., and most other post-industrialized nations. Here we have Herman Cain using his millions to mobilize the restaurant lobby to oppose an increases to the federal minimum wage and keep servers making as little as possible while getting tax-raped.

Nenni said...

I'm a Bartender in Canada. While Servers and Bartenders are paid less than minimum wage in Ontario and Quebec (and a couple other provinces as well I believe), we receive a more livable wage than our American counterparts. Standard gratuity for good service is 10-15%

Though I can definitely empathize with the higher possibility of receiving a bad tip from a foreigner, I would be extremely offended if I were discriminated against in such a way. I also make a habit of tipping 25% in Canada or the US.

jennifer said...

This is such a tough one! I so desperately want to say "yes! include the tip"! But...when they don't tip properly it shows low class on their part. I hate to match their low class with my sweeping generalizations and assumption that every non american is low class enough to not tip correctly...ya know? Maybe low class is the wrong term. How about I say blissfully or intentionally "ignorant"
Jennifer

Little redhead said...

I'm from Belgium, which has a similar system to France. Servers get paid a fairly decent salary so tips aren't expected, nobody is going to be pissed off if you don't leave anything extra. Occasionally people will leave a few euros if the service was good.

Border Collie said...

I always go with about 20%. Sometimes that is under and sometimes over tipping, according to the wage factor. Frankly, I don't know what servers earn in each state, city, county, or whatever in this country. I know the IRS went after tips seriously some years ago, and I have a friend who has owned a restaurant and bar for years in another state and in this state and the wages are radically different. If I have to factor in everything, they should post on the menu how much the server makes and what they shell out to bus staff, etc.
I'm not likely to shell out 20% or more in other countries because for whatever reason the service in not great and really really slow. I've broken into hysterical laughter watching someone take 10 minutes to pour me an orange juice and the person was busy the whole time. I never knew you could make the job so complicated or take so many steps to pour a drink...

Latj said...

Parisian here! Yes, 15% service is included in the bill (you'll see it mentioned at the bottom of every menu), that's the law. In the US, the fact is that waiters are paid LESS than minimum wage and are expected to make up the difference with tips. That is something the French people cannot understand. It's ILLEGAL to pay less than minimum wage (in France), and they reckon that the US functions in the same way. So, even if they read that bit of information in their guide books, they would dismiss it as being false, old news, cannot be true. And waiters in Paris? When they hear the American accent? They FIGHT to serve you, because they know they'll not only get a tip, but a helluva good one too!
In French, "tip" is "pourboire" which translates to "for drinking". And that's what it is: if you get really good service, leave a bit of change for the after work pint. Not half of their rent.

Anonymous said...

Quebeckers are also in last place among Canadians when it comes to giving to charity. Figures.

Whitney Cosgrave said...

I think it might be a French Canadian thing - I am Canadian (living in the US) but have also worked as a server in BC, and I never was given less than 15% tip!

smalltreats said...

I bartended & served on the Las Vegas strip....I got stories for days. These people know whats up, they just act like they dont AND like they cant speak ANY effin English...they can speak English, just mess their order up, and all of a sudden the English language comes flowing out of their mouths, its quite amazing actually!!

Anonymous said...

Churchgoers, teenagers, senior citizens, and (this is going to piss some people off but I don't care, everybody knows it's true) black people should all have gratuity automatically added to their check. Argue if you want, call me a racist or whatever you think is the necessary word for me, but you know I'm right.

Rebecca said...

As a black waitress im calling you a racist!
It really pisses me off when I go out and am treated like crap because the server thinks I dont know how to tip.

Anonymous said...

wow, hard to believe racist people like this kid still exist in 2012! i wait tables in the whitest state in the union and it was a black man who anonymously bought the navy sailors at the bar their entire lunch this weekend out of the goodness of his own heart. btw he tipped 20% on their check and his own!

Rebecca said...

You won't believe the treatment I see coworkers dish out to black customers...and I have seen a black server not want to wait on other blacks. Its all about how you approach your guests.
Thanks anonymous for stickin up

Unknown said...

Down here in Detroit we get plenty of Canadians, French ones and otherwise and they are mostly all not-very-good tippers. 10-12%. But I've waited on all kinds of foreigners and the Norskies were the worst tippers. I think there are only like three states that don't have a tipped employee minimum wage that is lower than regular minimum. I wonder how the restaurants in those states do because the logic is if we were paid more the cost would force them out of business. BW, you will have a great time in Paris. The French are lovely, gracious people who, contrary to popular myth, are very hospitable. You must tip the bathroom attendants, though.

Anonymous said...

Why is it racist to say black people are usually poor tippers yet we just had a blog post and 20 + comments on foreigners being poor tippers?!?! Seriously, I want an answer to this.

Anonymous said...

Over the summer I waited on two "gentlemen" from Canada who were riding through on their motorcycles. A major rainstorm came through, so they stopped in to wait it out. Didn't order food, just soft drinks. Sat there for a couple hours as I made small talk, told them the weather report I heard on the radio that a.m., even brought them a local paper with the forecast in it. I was super pleasant even though they were taking up prime real estate during lunch rush.

Their bill? About $5 American.

The tip, for my trouble?

About $.22 That's CENTS!!

I don't care where you go, study up on customs and etiquette first, cuz bitches that's insulting, and you give your country a bad name.

P.S. When I visited Edmonton, from the US, we still tipped 20%, even as ignorant high school kids.

maxi said...

I've just come back from America and was determined to leave excellent tips to try and show that British people aren't all stingy! But we really have no idea here how poorly some American servers are paid, I didn't know til I started reading your blog. There needs to be some sort of communication about why leaving 20% is so important!

Anonymous said...

Had a $3 tip from a British couple today, on a $15 ticket. Thank you, very much. I am the same anonymous as the Canadian post 2 above.

Just goes to show you, you can't judge a book by its accent, hahaha!!

If you do, you dunno what your talking aboot! Bahahaha :-)

JamesGray said...

This all seems very strange to me. I'm Canadian, and I've always understood that tips should be between 15-20% for good service and more for anything better. I don't really notice other people tipping below 15% around here either, and have quite a few friends who serve and make good tips. It's very possible that the people who live in Detroit or other locations *just* across the border are simply getting the exceptionally cheap who are trying to get a deal compared to Canadian food prices. Seriously though, our tipping culture isn't *that* much different than how it is there, and Quebec wasn't any different in that way in my experience, there are just a lot of assholes there (seriously, even quebecois will often say so).

Anonymous said...

Don't take it too personally, those quebecers treat the rest of us Canadians the same way. ontario is getting just as bad, the are so broke and cheap! I'm in Alberta and always tip 15-20%

Anonymous said...

Sadly the Americans who come up to my Canadian ski town often tip like crap. Sticker shock I think or it's easier to be a cheap bastard away from home. That said I always tip 20% plus in every country I travel to. My beef is using US dollars to pay your Canadian tab. The bank charges me 5% plus exchange so even if you left a decent tip it goes to bank fees. If you're in a foreign country get the right currency.

Anonymous said...

I hope I'm not duplicating comments. I found this post by searching "Why are Americans such crappy tippers in Canada?" It's interesting to know the problem exists in reverse.

As an Australian, I had no knowledge of the tipping system before I came to North America. The tipping system is absurd, idiotic and insane; it exists so that employers can not pay real wages; I had no reason to expect that anywhere in the world had decided to do this. I now live in Montreal, and the system benefits me . . . but you need to not expect people from other countries to know everything about yours.

From someone who is also in the service industry: a bitchy waiter is a shitty waiter. I hope it's just a schtick for your blog.

Anonymous said...

Whats with the anti Quebec comment? I bet if I were to turn around and say sweeping generalizations about YOU (looking at you English Canada and Americans) I'd be called a racist Quebecois. I've experience poor service in Quebec, Ontario and BC and in the USA.... I've always tipped 15-20 (more if it was really good service) and most people I know do. I've also gotten lousy tips by people from Quebec, anglo Canadians and Americans ... so whats your point people?

Some Europeans dont tip because they are not aware of the customs here, but the majority I've met do.

Also if you go in with a preconceived attitude that someone will be a bad tipper (French/black/old/redheads etc) you are most likely to GIVE poor service (hence your lousy tip!)

So stop blaming everyone and generalizing and if its so bad then just add a gratuity tip for everyone regardless of what language they speak! Talk about discrimination!

p.s. all you french bashing- Canadian anglos, you'd be the first to complain and go on political rants if Quebec were to charge anglo speaking 18% gratuity .. but because they are targeting Quebecers who speak french, you join in and throw your anti-french/quebec insults; hypocrite much?

Bad tippers and bad service are universal!

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