The Tipping Dilemma

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At The Café

At The Café

So, 15% of $30… is…

No, I’m not calculating my Adsense revenues (that would be easy: $1 + 0.50¢ = $1.50… last time I checked!). I’m experiencing tipping-related stress. Don’t laugh: it’s common.

After a nice meal, a few drinks, I sweat when the bill arrives. Not because I’m afraid I’m might have maxed out my credit card. No. I’m the kind of people who pay Visa two weeks before the bill is due. I know, I’m a little psycho with bills… Anyway, the reason why I’m sweating is because I just don’t know how to tip. And trust me, I’ve been trying to figure out for ages: I don’t want to look cheap! People gave me many advices. Like adding the GST (Government Sale Tax) and the PST (Provincial Sale Tax), respectively 7% and 8% of your total bill, adding up to the recommended 15% tipping amount. Thing is, not only Harper has a very conservative man and a warmonger, he also lowered the GST to 7%. And then to 6%. Conclusion, the addition trick doesn’t really work anymore.

So every time I get the check, I sweat. I feel the eyes on the waiter or the waitress on me, a “don’t disappoint me” look, as I desperately try to calculate 15% out of whatever and not look cheap or ungrateful. I hand the check. And I run.

I usually have a bit more social skills than that but remember: I’m French. French are tipping-disabled. We don’t tip in France. Or if we do, we do it like a master who leaves a couple of yellow coins to the yokel. Out of pure kindness.

Hey, have you ever been to a Parisian café? First, manage to find a table and most important, attract the attention of the waiter. Small talk? Forget about it. Be grateful, very grateful, if you get more than ten seconds to order. If you ordered the most expensive items on the menu, the waiter may not tear it from your hands, but don’t expect a glass of water with your 30€ salad. Ordered cheapest things, like a couple of coffees and a slice of gâteau? The waiter will most likely ask disdainfully: “c’est tout?” Politeness is the exception, not the norm, and “French customer service” is an oxymoron. The French abhor to be thought of as being the servant of anybody. Therefore, expect the food to be thrown on the table, your glass of water to be half empty rather than half full and the waiter to try to kick you out of your table. Service is included, so no tipping on top of that for your fabulous dining experience. Phew.

But this is North America, where tipping is simply good etiquette. Service charge isn’t included, so I tip the waiters/waitresses at the restaurant, the hairdresser at the salon, the cab driver, the pizza guy… And I thought I were a good citizen.

But according to The Original Tipping Page, I’m apparently also supposed to tip massage therapists, tow truck operators, restroom attendants and.. airport shuttle driver…? Is there anyone I’m not supposed to tip?

Once again, I had never thought I was cheap, but I don’t feel like leaving my change in the little “tip” bowl at every fast-food joint or convenience store. I know they are underpaid. And so I am. When I buy a pack of cigarette, the guy usually grabs it and takes the money. How does that require a tip? Same goes for fast food. I go order at the counter, I bring my own food at a table that I may even clean it myself occasionally, I eat and clean up again.

Is a tip a reward for good service of just something mandatory? I know employers are legally allowed to pay less than minimum wage to employees who benefit from tipping. And I will keep on tipping, improving my mental calculation at the same time. Yet, where do I draw the line? I simply can not tip everyone in the city. So, help me here: who do you tip, who don’t you tip, and why? Do you still tip if you receive bad service?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I really think the tipping thing has gotten sooo out of hand! I ONLY tip waiters/waitresses and I do that because I know how little they make. My grandmother was a waitress for years. She had bad knees that hurt all the time and worked her butt off for little to nothing. I don’t tip anyone else though.

  2. When I was in Toronto I realized that people in Canada tip as if everyone they meet is destitute. Frankly, my stance is that if you make at least the standard minimum wage, tipping should absolutely not be necessary. Around the holidays people get encouraged in the USA to tip their garbagemen, postal carriers, and just about everyone else that does them even the slightest service. It’s kind of disgusting. I don’t mind tipping servers at a restaurant and taxi cab drivers because they make next to nothing and rely on tips (and I do tip generously unless the service is abhorrent).

  3. I have a similar problem in France – Remembering NOT to tip, or like you say absent-mindedly leaving a few coins. But doesn’t the difference in tipping come from the fact that waiters/waitresses in Europe get a reasonable wage, and here in el-cheapo corporate North America they are paid minimum wage and expected to make the rest in tips?

  4. Ask a “tip” to your parents, since we used to tip in France not so long ago. Service being included now is a blessing!
    Apparently you were very infortunate to go to the places with the very worst services and most aweful waiters! Bad karma me thinks

  5. Todd: so Canadians would tip more than Americans? It’s true I see people tipping a lot, even at Tim Hortons… which I find just weird.

    Lori: I know they don’t make much – minimum wage. But I worked at minimum wages and never got tips (like call centers etc.) Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tip, just thinking aloud… 😉

    Sir Jorge: that’s basically what I do.

    Froggiewoogie: really? I had always thought service had always been included. I’ll ask my parents, but I’m afraid they haven’t been to a restaurant in a while… I have brothers and sisters 😉

    Larry Gambone: not sure… I know in France most waiters/waitresses work at the SMIG (minimum wage). At least, for small restaurants and fast food, not for classy places.

  6. Man, tipping boggles my mind. I’ll probably screw it up if I ever set foot in uhm, tipping-enabled countries. We don’t tip here in Singapore.

  7. Hmmm… The ethnography of tipping. Interesting! I’d say multiply ur bill with 20, then drop the last two digits of ur sum, and that would be ur tip. Ok, ok, it’d be a 20% but at least u’d look generous and u’d be in the list for some serious service next time u visit.

  8. Hi Zhu,
    Yeh Holland is having lots of surprises when you ask me….
    About tipping , “In Italy or south of France” is even worse, with tippin, there the prices a raising ‘out of order’ they just give you the plain price evven in supermarkets, when you wnat to pay they reaise the price up with 20 or 25 % What a sock that was forme the fisrt time when I wanted to pay just for some yoghurt + 25 %in a supermarket!!!ooops not enough money… ( You know Ilivd for 6 years in Italy?) so you find out this stuffs, by fallingdown-standup again ha! But its nice to knwo the habits of a countie you are living in…

    Heee! Why is your profile still linkinbg to your old blog-adress ? And why is the google blogcomment-space, NOW not available and last time is was available? Did I do something wrong perhaps? Anyway…. have a good day!!!!

    JoAnn your blogfriend far away in time, but close in Thoughts! 😀

  9. How to calculate 15%-ish in a hurry:

    Lets say the bill is $18.47

    Move decimal left one place and round up to nearest half-dollar: 1.84 >> 2.00

    add (estimate) half of this number to it:
    2.00 + 1.00 = $3 tip

    *IF* they deserve it. If they don’t give less, or none if they really suck. If they want bettre money, they either need to becme better waiters / waitresses, or get a better job.

  10. I think you tip for service only. If you serve yourself, then no tip. Also, only if it is good service. Bad attitudes and long waits get zero tip from me.

  11. Tipping is a strange thing. I don’t think it should be a necessity in a perfect world, but this world certainly isn’t perfect – so we’ve got to tip in Canada/U.S.

    My wife was a waitress for a while, so she makes us leave 20% minimum everywhere we go. She did tell me horror stories of rich people always leaving little or no tip. I’ve also heard that blue collar workers are always better tippers.

    I always tip a higher percentage if it’s a cheap restaurant and more if it’s expensive. At fancy restaurants, the waiters get a bunch of money for doing the same thing because the food costs more. Dumb!

  12. Tipping is an issue for me, too!

    As you know, I’m an American living in the USA, but even I have a hard time. I keep a little card in my wallet that has the calculations already figured out. Anyway – I don’t usually use it. I tip $2 or $3 if they do a really good job.

    I know a lot of people will think that’s cheap but I hate paying someone to do their job. I think the employers should pay them more! (And I was a waitress for a couple years.)

  13. Zhu!

    LOL This post is awesome!!

    Girl, you have described Paris in such a gloomy way: my experience of Paris was so good. The waiters were so kind to me, and so polite…I guess I was lucky!
    Come to Portugal and you will see that the waiter will even mention how much weight you need to lose (when you order a cake) LOL *nodding*. But the Portuguese waiter converses with his clients, gives tips and asks if we have children or not (I kid you not)! It is not a rule to give a tip here; but people give tips (5%). Well, not my dad…my dad doesn’t give tips; so my mom gives them for him LOL LOL…

    “The Original Tipping Page”? LOL LOL LOL that is a good one….I love being European!!! *sigh*…

    A tip is a reward for a good service, no doubt. If you don’t get a good service (i.e. your ass kissed) you don’t tip. If the service is bad (your description of a Parisian service) the hell with the tip…the waiter should go and learn Waiter-etiquette.
    You cannot tip everybody in the city, otherwise you will end up with no money at the end of the month. So don’t tip: fast-food employees (you service yourself), store employees (again you service yourself), shop employees (idem). You tip: restaurant waiters (those who put the read carpet for you and kiss your butt)!

    This was fun, Zhu!!


  14. Sometimes I commit a tipping blunder as well. As far as I know, restaurants are tipping places, and those were the only ones I practice my tipping skills.

    I also tip the taxi driver by adding a dollar or two to my bill, which is only when I go to the airport (the only time I use a taxi).

    However, I didn’t realize that I should tip to the taxi stand person and the airport shuttle driver. I learned this simply by watching the other people with me. So I keep a few dollar bills for that purpose. I remember last month, flying back to Buffalo from Washington DC, the taxi stand person, who immediately got out of his booth and grabbed my small carry-on luggage (I have no check-in luggage) and hauled it to the first taxi in line which was literally 2 meters away from where I was. I could have done the task, it was not at all heavy, but if he didn’t do it, he wouldn’t get the dollar, so there, I tipped him.

  15. SilverNeurotic on

    I tip at food places, resturants usually about 20% (because it’s easy to figure out) and if I go to somewhere like starbucks for coffee I throw whatever change back I get. Bars are tricky, I rarely go so when I do I’m a bit at a loss…so I overtip but then again…my dad was a bar tender and we survived on tips.

  16. Lis: yeah, it’s hard when you come from a culture where we don’t tip.

    Itelli: so generous and easy calculation or cheap and difficult 15% maths… er… 😆

    JoAnn: in Canad prices are pretty straightforward, a good thing cause I know exactly what you mean. The blogger thing… blogger doesn’t allow me to link to my current blog, which is self-hosted. So I use an old profile, my old blog. Don’t worry, just come to this urlm it’s the good one! 😉

    Ghosty: oh, thanks for the calculation tip! And I’m not being ironic: I suck at maths and I love the way you explain it. Maths I can understand! That’s gonna be useful.

    Art: makes sense, I’d do the same.

    Tracy: that’s what I sometimes wonder! Do employers really have to be cheap just because they know customers are gonna tip???

    Johnada: makes sense. I think people who received tips at one point in their life understand the whole tipping thing more and are also more generous. I have never been tipped so…

    Jess: thanks for the reading!

    Max: you’re full of common-sense, I wish you were by my side sometimes! Yeah, I’m not a big fan of Parisian cafés… I find waiters so rude most of time, especially after Canada where people are so nice. A 5% tip sounds more reasonable… 20% is a lot in my humble and poor opinion, but hey, etiquette is everything! 😉

    Linguist-In-Waiting: I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes, you just don’t know till you notice other people doing otherwise. I knew that I was supposed to tip in restaurants, but hair salon… I had no idea till I saw a “tip” line on my credit card receipt.

    Jay Cam: we have no back window at all in Canada. Canadians are sadistic. Well-known 😉

    Silverneurotic: I do the same… and as for bar dilemma, I don’t go to bars much anyway.

  17. I have the same problem Zhu!! In Venezuela we used to tip only in restaurants and whatever you wanted to tip, so we just gave them what we could and that’s it.

    In Canada we are in pain, we have to tip everyone and it has to be at least 15%, I’m always suffering with this, my husband is the one that calculates it, but we are still tiping only in restaurants.

  18. Tipping in different countries is a kind of lottery.
    When we got the bill, first time a new place in a new country:
    – Service included or not?

    – Was it a good and nice service?

    – bad or good food? Served well or ?

    it ain’t allways easy.

    Paris: I do agree. The French should learn to understand they are not alone to attract tourists.
    If you like Paris, but are fed up with the lack of service, then go to Buenos Aires.

  19. good to know France doesn’t have tipping culture! It freaks me out really when tipping is a norm in mostly Western countries. We don’t tip here in Malaysia too (as in most Asian countries, I suppose) as all charges (Gov tax service tax) are included in the bill. I’d rather hv the latter since it saves me fuss from pondering on how much I shud tip everytime I hv a meal!

  20. Keshi: 10% is acceptable in OZ? That’s cool!

    Aiglee: I was so poor when I first came here anyway, I didn’t care much about tipping. But the more I saw people tipping, the worse I felt… so I started tipping too!

    TorAa: thanks for visiting! In Canada, service is much better (hint: maybe because of tipping??) so it’s okay. I have never been a big fan of Paris anyway. Oh, and I love Argentina… been there in 2002, part of a great 6 months trip in Latin America!

    Kyh: to be honest, I like it better when service is including. I liked life in Asia for that too!

    Alexander: glad to see I’m not the only one struggling with tipping!

    Shantanu: I might have exaggerate a bit, but waiters are pretty rude in Paris… food is okay though.

  21. Us Indians are known to be cheap, especially when it comes to tipping… Just YouTube “Russell Peters on Tipping” and you will know what I mean.

    And no, he is not exaggerating!

  22. Ok, I’m really late to the party here, but…

    In the US, the wages for employees classified as “tipped employees” is 1/2 minimum wage. So if minimum wage is $6, then your average waiter will make $3 plus tips. Employers that hire tipped employees know how to make sure that the tips get reported to the IRS as well. The change jar at Starbucks, I can guarantee, is not reported as income, which is why I don’t put money in it.

    As for having to tip everyone, Vegas is the WORST town for that. But I try to minimize it – the airport shuttle driver doesn’t get a tip unless he handles my luggage, I only use self-service car wash, and try not to go into a casino because there it seems like you need to tip everyone who looks at you.

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