UnderCover Waitress: Tips and the Real World

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tips and the Real World

There is a push in Canada to allow food servers to keep their tips instead of allowing owners and managers to mandate who gets to put their hand in the till on the backs of waitresses. I was dismayed to read Corey Mintz's opinion piece to Dalton McGuinty published in the The Star. Mintz believes that server tips are fair game for everybody in the restaurant industry, and accuses  McGuinty of being ignorant and naive of how the restaurant industry works. I could not disagree more.

Mintz's first argument is that wait staff claim a small percentage of their actual income, therefore, they are getting to keep more money than the government sees. In order for this to be relevant, the following needs to be true:

* every single solitary food server in Canada must be only claiming fifteen percent of their actual income, as Mintz claims; and

* every government official, tax employee, and every person involved with crafting new policies for the restaurant industry must be completely in the dark about the possibility that workers in a cash business might claim less than they make.

Mintz seems to be of the opinion that both of these requirements are true.

He also points out that in Canada, tips are not wages and, therefore, the government does not (currently) have a say in how the tips get divvied out. I believe that Canada is doing a good thing by stepping in and protecting low-paid waitresses and waiters from having their tips commandeered by owners and managers.

Tips are payment for service. Therefore, people who do not provide service should not be included in any tip pooling or tip outs. That means that only front of house, not kitchen and back of house staff should be getting tip income.

Mintz argues in favor of managers and owners taking a share of the tips. Managers often provide service by helping the waitresses. For example, a manager may spend time on the floor clearing a table for a busy waitress, or making and running drinks, or even delivering food. Mintz feels that a portion of server tips is due to the manager for his help.

I understand the logic of this, but Mintz is leaving out an important element of the equation. To the best of my knowledge, managers are usually paid better than waitresses to begin with. They make more money per hour not including tips, and generally have access to benefits that waitresses can only dream about. Because Canada is ahead of the United States in providing health care to her citizens, waitresses do not need to avoid seeing a doctor that way we often do here. However, good luck getting paid for sick days. Paid vacation? In your dreams.

The idea of owners sticking their hand in the tip till is nauseating to me. If you think managers are better paid than waitresses, check out what the owner drives. Owners demanding tip money or the waitress loses her job smacks of the mob boss demanding an "insurance" payment so your business doesn't get robbed and vandalized.

Mintz points out that if managers can't take tip money from waitresses anymore, the restaurant industry in Canada will lose "good" managers. Change is hard, and change for the better might mean growing pains such as hiring and training new managers. I wonder if, when prostitution and pimping first became illegal, did some pimps decide to quit pimping?

As an experienced waitress in the fifty states, I can guarantee Mintz that protecting the least powerful employees and allowing them to keep the tips they have earned (or share reasonable percentages with other, non-management front of house staff) will not bring the Canadian restaurant industry to it's knees.


  1. I read the Star daily, and I'm quite familiar with Mintz by now. I've found the man to be a self absorbed prat of the first order. I feel sorry for anyone who has to put up with him every day.

    1. lol -- thanks for chiming in! :-) Truthfully, I am more nervous commenting on issues in Canada because I know less about them (never worked in Canada.) I was hoping for Canadian comments -- thank you!

  2. As a waitress in Canada, I couldn't agree more with everything you said! It's bad enough I already have to (illegal, but very common) tip out - today alone was $27 - when only a fraction of it goes to the bussers and the rest towards the owners new car fund...now they want me to share with the $20+/hour kitchen staff and the $30+/hour managers??? I'd much rather delare more/pay more taxes then share my tips with those who receive paycheques that are three to five times the amount of mine!

    I will agree that most servers in Canada do under-declare their tips by quite a bit, but it's regulated by the government, so we are just following the rules. Until Revenue Canada ups the percentage we are required to claim (I believe right now it is only 15% of our yearly paycheque income, that might be where the 15% number came from) I will declare only what I am required to. Admittedly, my tips are closer to 150% of my paycheque income, but I do work in a very busy restaurant and have preferred shifts and sections. I do know a few who declare every dollar...very few.

    I am the same Anonymous who recently commented on your last Canada-related post, I just prefer to stay anonymous because you never know who is reading...hope that's okay.

    1. Hi! It is absolutely fine to remain anonymous, and I appreciate your comments and contributions. I didn't know that in Canada waitresses are required to claim such a small percentage. Had I known that, I would have ripped into Mintz's article a bit more because I felt that he made waitresses out to be thieves of some sort.

      Here, the rules are that we must claim 100%, but the IRS assumes we are making something along the lines of fifteen percent of our sales. Has nothing to do with pay check income down here.

      In my opinion, tips are given for service. Kitchen staff should be paid decently for their work, but by the employer. Tips should never go to kitchen or any back of house staff.

      The thought of owners and managers taking server tips makes me ill. Here, we are required (most places I have worked) to hand the busser, hostess, and/or bartender a fixed percentage. It can add up, but at least I am handing cash to the person who earned it by helping me. A busser making $8 per hour (twice what the waitresses make) who makes it easier for me to take more tables has earned the one percent of my sales that I owe her.

      I must tell you I especially appreciate comments/feedback from Canada! Keep me accurate and honest. :-) It seems that Canada may make some changes in the near future and I am rooting for the little guy, as usual.

  3. This may be a dumb question, but how does the IRS know what your sales are? Is it on your W2? Because it is NOT on our T4's.

    1. (Note: I'm in the US, not Canada) My restaurant requires that I claim at least 8% of my sales. As UCW said, you claim your tips at the end of the night. If you claim less, you get "flagged" by the company. If it happens again in another pay period, you can get fired, even if you truly didn't make 8%. Not all restaurants work this way, I just know this is how mine is. What makes it tough is when you split big parties with other servers. The sales have to go to 1 person, so they may end up claiming way more than they really made. I'm very good about claiming all of my tips, but I know I'm not the majority. My tip out of really high, 35%.

    2. Thirty five percent sucks! No offense, just sorry to hear that. Also, it seems that if waitresses share a big party, the employer should figure a way to recognize that the sales were not made by one waitress.

      Personally, I despise sharing parties. I'd rather just take the massive party, and maybe not take other tables, or let somebody else have it. Coordinating with another server is difficult for me; I fall off my game.

  4. No such thing as a dumb question! (Just an un-asked one.) ;-)

    Here in the states, we report out tips to our employer at the end of each shift. So, the W2 (or W4, I get them confused) has a section for regular pay and a section for tips.

    We are supposed to claim 100% of our tips. While not everybody claims it all, if you claim too small a portion of your sales, the IRS may notice and audit you. Computerized systems make it easy to record a waitresses credit card and cash sales, these are reported on individual waitress' cash outs.

    Does that make sense, or did I complicate matters?

  5. I am the waiteress that just recently exposed a very high profile Restaurant owner and his management for stealing my tips which aired on April 2nd, 2012. I got all my money back through my own hard work as well as filing a complaint with the Employment Standards Act of British Columbia. It's wrong for any owner or manager to take any tips from tipped employees. These are gifts given to the server from the guests are are the sole property of the servers to whom they were given. The servers should absolutley them tip their support staff out BUT NOT at the owners discretion. The support staff only should decide through majority vote on the appropriate tip pertentages owed to other support staff. Please watch and spread the word....

  6. im a waitress in canada and i dont think its fare for any one to take are tips. the whole point of are minimum wage being being lower is cause we get tips but if the boss is going to go ahead and take half of your tips then he show just pay you the normal minimum wage that everyone else gets .


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