UnderCover Waitress: Ontario Dine and Dash

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ontario Dine and Dash

Ask the Waitress!

Crystal left a comment on Legal Advice and Dine and Dash:

"so it is my understanding that by Law in ontario, the manager is not allowed to deduct the unpaid bill from our wages, but is however allowed to make you pay for it out of your tips?

Im asking because I live in Ottawa, and I went for lunch at my restaurant where I work 6 days a week, hadlunch with my son, left my money on the bar for my server/co-worker and a regular customer who comes in daily took my money while my server was in the back dropping off dishes ( we caught him on camera) and the boss made my co worker pay the 32$ bill even after seeing that our customer had stolen it.

I felt bad, so I gave my server another 26$ which was my bill amount,so he didnt have to pay for it, no tip this time lol. But man, that is an expensive lunch! LOL"

Can't argue with you about the fact that you enjoyed a rather expensive lunch! ;-)

Anyway, my caveat here is that I know little about Canadian laws. However, I will do my best to answer the question. If any readers have additional information or corrections, please do let us know!

The Ontario Ministry of Labour's website states that minimum wage for employees in Ontario is $10.25 per hour; student minimum wage is $9.60 per hour. Searching around on that website, I did not find discussion of tips. This may be because, in Canada but unlike in the states, waiters and waitresses are paid full minimum wage. Therefore, tips are a "thank you" and not necessarily obligatory. Tips may be expected by Canadian servers, but at least without tips the servers are making minimum wage.

Ontario has seemingly strict laws about what may be deducted from an employee's paycheck. Before deducting costs from an employee's paycheck, the employer must receive written authorization that the employee agrees. For example, if your employer requires you to pay for your uniform, he must get you to sign a form saying that you agree that the cost of the uniform may be deducted from your paycheck. Verbal authorization is not enough.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour:

"Even with a signed authorization, an employer cannot make a deduction from wages if:

the purpose is to cover a loss due to "faulty work." For example, "faulty work" could be a mistake in a credit card transaction, work that is spoiled or rejected, or a situation where tools are broken or company vehicles damaged; 
the employer has a cash shortage or has had property lost or stolen when an employee did not have sole access and total control over cash or property that is lost or stolen. A deduction can only be made when the employee was the only one to have access to the cash or property, and has provided a written authorization to the employer to make the deduction."

So, Crystal is absolutely correct that Ontario restaurant owners can not deduct the cost of dine and dash from server's paychecks.

Food servers working in Ontario (and other employees) should be aware of the Unauthorized Deductions Worksheet available online from the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

The situation Crystal described, however, indicates that any deductions came from the waiter's tips. This may still be perfectly legal in Ontario. Michael Prue has reintroduced a bill to make server tips the property of the server. The FaceBook Page contains information about action people can take, right now, to help get this bill passed.

Thanks again for Asking the Waitress!

ADDENDUM: Anonymous made some thought-provoking comments to this blog post. Regarding wages, I had gone by what I found at the Ontario Ministry of Labour. (Again, I am no expert on Canadian laws.) Anonymous claims that wait staff earn $8.60 per hour, a lower wage than I stated.

Anonymous also points out that tips are expected in Canada. So, if you are eating out up in Canada, tip well! :-)


  1. You often hear of this in gas stations, of all places, where attendants are left on the hook when cars fuel up and then scramble out of the station rather then pay up...

    1. At least in CA and NC, maybe it's just because I pay with credit... they make you pay for gas BEFORE the pump will allow you to get gas.

    2. Yup -- some places here you cannot fuel up without putting in a card or paying inside with cash before fueling.

  2. Just wanted to clarify that we Ontario servers do NOT make minimum wage. We make $8.90 per hour. Don't know why that critical bit of info isn't on their website. Also, every place I have ever worked (in nearly 20 years of waitressing, all in Ontario) has made their servers pay for Dine and Dashes, whether it's legal or not, and I doubt that's going to change any time soon.

    1. I searched for "tipped employees" and "restaurant," etc., on the Labour site. I was looking specifically for restaurant information. Maybe I should have dug deeper, but did not find it.

      Unfortunately, unscrupulous business owners exist on both sides of our imaginary border.

  3. Sorry - one more thing - tips are most certainly expected in Canada! Even our T4's (same as your W2's) have a special code on them to state that we are TIPPED employees, and we are expected to claim them (there is a minimum amount you must claim depending on the number of hours you worked) and pay taxes on them. So NO it is not optional any more than it is in the US!

    1. Thank you for the clarification. Here in the states, the Internal Revenue Service (tax collectors) assume we make so many tips on so many sales, so we end up paying taxes on the assumed percentage.

      I swear, before we instituted an auto-gratuity for large parties, whenever Canadian tourists came through we would brace ourselves for poverty. No offense, but that is why I thought tipping was more or less optional in Canada. (Still do for small parties.)

      I am glad that you clarified for any and all of us who do or may eat out in Canada!

    2. Thank you for acknowledging my comments in your Addendum. And no offense taken - trust me, I know that many Canadians are crappy tippers, I see it every day! I am often showered with praise for my service and left 10% or less. Earlier this very evening, I was told I was the best server ever, and left nothing! Grrrr... Generally, I average around 12-15% take-home, thanks to the minority that do actually reward good service. I am sure most American servers would make more than this, but it is what it is.

      Conversely, whenever someone in my section orders "sweet tea" (we don't call it that here) I know I have an American table and in my head I do the dance of joy, knowing that at the very least I will be tipped appropriately.

      I apologise for my cheap and stereotype-confirming fellow Canadians, we are not all such tightwads, I promise!

      Keep up the good work. :)

    3. Hi again! :-) Thanks for keeping me accurate.

      And, yeah, I hate the "verbal tip." Praise doesn't pay bills, but cash sure does.

  4. They have the guy on camera stealing the money? Stealing is stealing. He should be arrested!

    1. Agreed. It is petty theft. That is the part of Crystal's story that made me raise an eyebrow.

  5. I'm a restaurant manager and I know that in the United States it would be illeagal to force an employee to pay in a situation like that (You'd also have to be a bit of a jerk). Now I know that Canada is a foreign country, but even so, U.S. law is very closely related to British common law as is the law in Australia, Canada, ect.. So I would be willing to bet money that they have similar restrictions there on taking advantage of employees. Of course what's supposed to happen under the law and what actually happens in practice can be two different things.

    1. Hi, J.R. Laws vary from state to state, but as you probably know the practice of making waitresses pay for dine and dash is common. In restaurants with computerized systems, waitresses may be told to put the transaction through as "cash." The paperwork is clean, but the waitress pays.

  6. While managers cannot deduct the money from wages, theres also nothing forcing manager to "void" any outstanding items from a servers cashout at end of shift. the server owes that money to the restaurant if its not voided.

  7. I have a question. My employer (I'm in Canada) says we are only allowed to "punch-in" when we get a table and NOT when we are scheduled for our shift.

    For example: I'm scheduled for 3:30 but don't get a table until 4:30 because other sections are getting double-sat.

    I looked around the ESA but found nothing geared towards servers. I did find in S.6 of a regulation of the ESA that work is deemed to be completed, even if not completed.

    Any thoughts on what they are doing is legal? I've been searching for nearly 3 hours and spent numerous days on this.

    1. I think it makes sense to complaint to the Ontario Ministry of Labor. I did look at the ESA. There may be no specific language that an employee must be paid for time spent working, but it is unreasonable to require an employee to work and not pay her or him.

      The ESA requires employers to pay employees for travel time when the travel is away from the workplace but during the workday (not just getting yourself to work.) Given that, it seems that the ministry would require employers to pay employees for time they are required to be in the workplace.


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