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'Tip creep' showing up in restaurant experiences

As the tip prompt numbers go higher, restaurants expect larger tips, says U of G professor
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University of Guelph professor Mike von Massow teaches in the the department of food, agriculture and resource economics.

An experience we share is ending a meal at a restaurant and after the check comes, being prompted for a tip with the payment machine and clicking 15, 18, or 20 per cent.

Tip fatigue may be setting in for some people, suggests one University of Guelph professor.

Ending the experience of restaurant dining with a tip, leaves people with an uncomfortable moment where they have to decide how much to tip, Mike von Massow of the department of food, agriculture and resource economics.

Anecdotally, von Massow was in New York with his two sons dining at a restaurant. The service was exceptional, he said, until he was asked if he would like to order a drink. He declined and the service wasn’t the same for the rest of the dining experience.

At the end of the meal he asked the server how tips were distributed among the front of house and back of house staff, as he is a professor who studies tipping culture. She apologized for her service, realizing he knew the service had changed once alcoholic drinks weren’t served, he said.

“Many people tipped more during the pandemic because they knew restaurants were struggling,” said von Massow.

Now restaurants are trying to extend the good will by expecting larger tips, he said.

“They’re putting some social pressure on you. They’re suggesting that this is the norm and you feel guilty if you go below that.”

Around Guelph tips have been up since the pandemic but he doesn’t know if tips as a percentage are up or if it is because the average check is up.

Lots of places are seeing tipping as an opportunity like pizza, coffee, and auto shops, suggested von Massow.

He jokingly said maybe he should put a tip jar out after he finishes a lecture.

“Tipped employee minimum wages in the U.S. are significantly lower than they are here,” said Massow.

Servers and bartenders in Ontario make a minimum hourly wage, unlike in previous years where some restaurants paid a servers wage which was less than minimum wage.

Another disparity in tipping is the amount of tips the servers versus the kitchen staff make. Often servers make more in tips and tip out a percentage to the kitchen staff, said von Massow.

“Customers don’t mind when we go to a no tipping model,” he said. 

Where the no tipping model goes wrong, is when it is difficult to keep serving staff because they aren’t making extra money with tips.

“I’d get rid of tipping entirely. I recognize that, that means I would have to pay more for a restaurant experience and I understand that. And I think that is reasonable. We should pay for the experience in a manner that treats the people who deliver that experience properly, and that includes the restaurant owner,” said von Massow.


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Santana Bellantoni

About the Author: Santana Bellantoni

Santana Bellantoni was born and raised in Canada’s capital, Ottawa. As a general assignment reporter for Guelph Today she is looking to discover the communities, citizens and quirks that make Guelph a vibrant city.
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