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Canada’s tipping culture is flawed and there’s no clear fix in sight: experts

Kate Malcolm is shown in a screenshot of a TikTok video she made outlining her culture shock since arriving in Canada, from the UK, 5 years. In this shot it's highlighting Canada's tipping culture.

1:53:00FULL EPISODE: What’s your tipping story?

From oil changes to take-out food, the “tip nudge” has quickly become a “well-established societal norm” in Canada, according to food economist Mike von Massow.

Card payment machines have made it simple for businesses to prompt a gratuity option, even in industries where tipping previously wasn’t part of the cost or conversation. And data from Canadian trade associations show the average percentage tip for restaurant dining has gone up since the pandemic began. 

Von Massow, who’s also a professor at the University of Guelph, says the expectation for Canadians to increase the amount of their gratuities is getting out of control, and has become a hot-button issue across the country.

“I went to my local craft brewery the other day, just to the bottle shop, to pick up a couple of cans of my favourites,” von Massow said. “When I was paying there, literally someone grabbed beer out of the fridge and gave it to me and I was prompted to tip in that circumstance.”

He calls it a “double whammy” for consumers, with more businesses asking for tips while simultaneously raising their prices.

“You know, I’ve started to wonder if I give a particularly good lecture, should I put a jar at the front of the lecture hall at the end, and as they file out? Maybe they could drop a few bills in there for me, too. I mean, where does it stop?”

International alternative

Kate Malcolm moved to Port Perry, Ont., in 2017 from the U.K., where tipping isn’t common.

Five years later she says she still has a hard time coming to grips with Canada’s tip culture. 

“There is no way that in England you would give $10, $20, $30 to a hairdresser,” she said. “It’s so expensive to get your hair done as it is, and then you have to tip them as well? It’s such a foreign concept.”

Malcolm, who runs a podcast aimed at newcomers, included her reaction to Canada’s unwritten rules for gratuities in a TikTok video outlining her “culture shock.”

A screenshot of Kate Malcolm in a TikTok video that includes her reaction to Canada’s unwritten rules for gratuities. (Kate Malcolm/TikTok)

She says when her parents first came to visit they were also unclear what the expectations were for tipping in Canada, leading to an awkward exchange at a restaurant.

“They kind of just threw coins on the table, like maybe $2 and change, and were like, ‘that’s all we do, right?’ I was cringing for that. I’m like, that is probably more insulting than not doing it [tipping].”

Malcolm lived…

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