|THE CONTINUED FALLOUT ON AUTO GRATUITIES
Aug 09, 2010, 6:35pm
So... I got into a minor argument the other day with a server (also I think the day manager) at a great little restaurant on Hastings when I ran into a friend of mine at another restaurant. This server was sitting with my friend, who is also in the service industry. My friend asked me about the Olympics fallout, we started discussing auto gratuity and the server sitting beside us said "wait, you have a problem with auto gratuities?"
I said yes I do, doesn't everyone? Her response was no, and how rude (not said, implied) of me to think its wrong.
We got into a few words, then she said "we better stop this discussion, it'll get bad"... I couldn't resist saying "yes you're right, because its an argument you will lose."
Needless to say we didn't talk the rest of my time there visiting my friend.
Afterwards, it got me thinking enough to post a few rants on my Twitter account. But I'd like to expand here.
I will not dine at any restaurant that tells me how much to tip. I'm even considering refusing the automatic tip on large party tabs.
You should not accept this practice either. It is leading to some very bad precedents in Vancouver that can only get worse for consumers. These precedents include a) increasingly shifting salary responsibilities from the owner directly to you, the consumer; b) does not encourage professionalism in the waiter profession; c) drives up the cost of dining out for you, the consumer; and d) does nothing to improve the quality of the restaurant dining experience.
I should also point out that there is no legal reason for you to pay any tip, including enforced auto gratuities or "for tables of 8 or more". You are legally within your right to refuse this amount or to ask for it to be reduced or removed from the bill. Any restaurant manager who tells you different is ignorant of consumer laws in this province.
Back to my little argument with the waiter from the Hastings Street restaurant and bar. I was actually offended with her prima donna attitude, and its something I've noticed in an increasing amount ofVancouver's waiter staff. To sit there with this woman who actually felt that every single customer should pay a minimum (and dictated) 15-20% tip no matter what just blew my mind.
It also got me thinking about Vancouver's restaurant scene, especially with certain local chains (Donelly, Glowbal, Cactus Club to name three) and many of Vancouver's resto-bars, where a specific practice, one that happens to be illegal in many US states and some provinces, is so prevalent here:
Management and house taking a portion of the tip pool.
This is one of those dirty little secrets of Vancouver's food scene that most restaurateurs (at least most who participate in this) don't want you - the consumer - to know about, and definitely don't want the government (read: CRA) to know about.
Not only does management and house at these restaurants take a portion of the tip pool, but in some cases and places, its a guaranteed minimum $ amount, which in some bad shifts, can force a waiter to take almost no tips.
This is one of the reasons why certain quarters of the waiter world have been more critical of anyone calling into question the policy of auto gratuities or demanding certain percentages of tips - without auto gratuities, some waiters could conceivably be out of pocket after the tip out if they had a few large tables who tipped less than 5%.
Owners, Management paying less and less salaries
In BC, we have not had a raise to the minimum wage since 2001. Even though Vancouver is the most expensive city in Canada to live in, we have the lowest minimum wage in the country ($8), and those with less than 600 hours work time can be paid even less - $6 per hour. A parking meter in Vancouver makes more per hour than most of our general labour workforce (after taxes).
A big reason why the minimum wage hasn't gone up is the BC Restaurant Association lobbying against it. You can see this for yourself too if you join an industry related web forum like Urban Diner - when the occasional minimum wage thread pops up, various restaurant owners step in and talk about how they couldn't possibly afford a raise in wages, would have to lay off, etc.
If this were the extent of things it'd be bad enough, but things get worse. Over the past 10-15 years in the Vancouver restaurant scene another big shift has happened - restaurateurs went from paying kitchen staff and other staff (besides waiters) a decent salary to paying them less and less and changing house policy to boost kitchen and support staff portions of the house tip pool. Chefs, assistant chefs etc have gone from a situation of being paid a good living to a situation of being told "the pay is this much, but don't worry, your portion of the tip pool makes up for it".
Basically, some restaurants in Vancouver have gone beyond just taking advantage of the lowest minimum wage rate in Canada; they've managed to foist more and more of their salary responsibilities directly onto you, the consumer.
(not every restaurant does this, but it is becoming increasingly common).
It gets even worse.
There's another trend in Vancouver, and while not happening at most independent restaurants (and most national chains), it is happening more and more at localized chains and restaurants with a bar-heavy focus. This trend is the house taking a portion of the tip pool. And management taking a portion. In some cases, guaranteed minimum dollar amounts.
I have no problems with any hard working manager taking part in a tip pool - if the manager is expediting, busing, bouncing rude customers, mixing drinks, becoming a jack of all trades, they should get a portion of the tips at least equal to expediters and bussers.
But there are many restaurants where the managers take portions of the tip pool even if they aren't working (or are just directing, staying in their offices, or schmoozing with some pretty customer).
Worse still is senior management and owners taking a portion of the tips. And doormen who aren't paid anything at all in salary, but get a portion of the tip pool.
These practices are illegal in many US States and some Canadian provinces. It should be immediately made illegal in BC as well. I doubt lawmakers are even aware of this situation; perhaps a grassroots letter writing campaign to a few local MLAs might result in some investigation.
On taxes... it's been a long time now since the CRA has automatically taxed a sizable portion of a waiter's income over and above the paycheck to account for their tip take. It used to be waiters would just declare their paycheck and very little else, but now CRA knows that the majority of a waiter's income is not from the paycheck but from the gratuities we pay these servers, and taxes them accordingly.
I wonder how many managers, door staff and owners of the various restobars and local chains report their take of the tip pool? I wonder if the CRA goes after these folks?
Customers made to feel guilty
The result of these things lead to customers increasingly being made to pay salaries directly and a certain sense of "you should be ashamed!" if you tip less than 15%.
It used to be, no so long ago, that 15% was considered a good tip. If service was meh, you'd tip 10% or less.
Nowadays in Vancouver, many restobar staff expect 20%, and to get less is a slap in the face. I have been an extremely generous tipper in the past (I consider 20% to be generous, and I've tipped as much as 25%) but in the last seven months I've shifted down to 15% as my max, pre tax. This has led to situations where servers will actually question me after the tip, asking "what was wrong with the food or service?" It's led to other situations where, if I left 15% on one visit, the next visit the service from the same waiter is sub par because they think of me as a lousy tipper.
I know a lot of my friends share similar feelings because this is a frequent topic of discussion. One friend of mine, Carey, tips 20% purely out of guilt no matter what the service was like. "I don't want to offend..." she said in defence.
That's just not right at all.
Vancouver's restaurant scene has definitely shifted from "tipping well for exceptional service" to "tip because you have to". Let me ask you - how do you think that influences the level and quality of service you get?
Lastly, I have another huge problem with the 20% expectation. It is the prima donna, low skilled waiter corps that exists in this town.
Before I go on, this town does have some absolutely awesome waiters. Some seemingly read your mind as a customer and anticipate your every want or need without being a bother. Others know their wine list (esp. by the glass) so well they nail every food pairing you could dream about. Still others know, without any bullshit, what every meal on the menu tastes like and can answer any question you have without a moment's hesitation.
These are what I call professional waiters. It is a combination of a) people who take their job seriously and b) restaurateurs who take their training (and staff tasting) seriously.
These things, especially the b) part, cost money - the chef has to prepare all the menu meals for staff to sample, and the restaurant's wine expert has information sessions with waiter staff on pairings.
Unfortunately for Vancouver, this kind of expenditure in time, effort and money by restaurateurs is not very common. In cities like Portland and Seattle it is, especially when you move into the $25 and above entree price range.
Ditto for the level of professionalism in waiter staff. I believe that on the west coast, Portland, followed by Seattle, has a corp of exceptionally skilled waiters. I feel, when I dine in a typical Seattle fine dining (or casual-fine) restaurant, my chance of getting a true pro waiter is pretty good.
Not so in Vancouver. Even in some of our top restaurants, I've encountered waiting staff that didn't have a clue about the by-the-glass offerings. I've had staff that need to run to the kitchen about every little question on regarding the entree list. And I've seen far too many waiters who can't even manage three tables with 6 covers efficiently enough to even refill water.
And I've encountered far too many waiter staff who bullshit their way through the food list and the wine list. I've asked for educated pairings in the past or specific styles of wine only to have a complete miss-the-mark delivery. The few times I've actually called the waiters' attention to it the usual response is haughty or "sorry, you're wrong" type responses. The thing is, I've spent a lot of time educating my palate, and I can tell when a wine has harsh tannins when I asked for none, or how when a thin, light bodied wine gets lost in a spicy, bold entree pairing. Apparently these servers could not.
In Seattle or Portland, in most of my dining experiences in those cities, I'd be happy to tip 20%; but the rub is, these professional servers don't expect that much for their exceptional service - they're perfectly happy (and remain uber professional) even if you tip 15%.
In Vancouver, some service staff who can barely tolerate being at work, can't wait to leave when the shift is over, and who can barely pronounce some of the chef's fancy words on the menu get insulted if you leave less than 20%.
I am generalizing, and I want to reiterate that this town does have a few exceptional servers. But I want to point something else out - we seem to know the names of a few exceptional bartenders in Vancouver, be it the Chris Fletts or the Jay Jones or the Lauren Motes.
But I know of damned few cases where professional waiters are as easily named in this town. Is that telling?
More thoughts on this later.
|Previous Ten Daily Rants
|The continued fallout on auto gratuities
|| 6:35pm, 08/09
|Final thougths on price gouging, auto gratuities coming soon
|| 1:50am, 03/04
|The Real Reasons for Olympics Auto Gratuities
|| 8:20pm, 02/19
|Vancouver Olympics - Nice Prices, Profiteer (gouger) Restaurant Listings
|| 1:15am, 02/18
|More on Auto Gratuities
|| 7:45pm, 02/16
|Price Gouging in Vancouver During Olympics (and Price Heroes!)
|| 1:20am, 02/16
|Ideal Mac (or any pc) netbook....
|| 9:05pm, 12/22
|NetMacBook Hackintosh Update
|| 1:20am, 12/20
|NetMac... er Hackintosh... er NetMacBook. Yeah
|| 6:20pm, 12/17
|Balance Board Wii Game I'd like to see - Boxing!
|| 5:00pm, 07/26
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