Tips should not replace salary

Debate arises following Ontario Liberals’ vote to maintain lower minimum wage for liquor servers

Clara Geddes

At first glance, the provincial Liberals’ new legislation seems like a win for the labour movement. With policies from equal pay for part-time employees, to the creation of a 17-week leave for victims of sexual assault, to a $15 minimum wage in 2019, it can be easy to overlook one glaring flaw in Ontario’s labour regulation: in May, a government-commissioned report recommended the elimination of the minimum wage exemption for liquor servers, who generally make most of their income in tips. When the NDP proposed the creation of this amendment in August, the Liberal majority voted against it.

Liquor servers in both Ontario and British Columbia are paid a lower minimum wage. In Quebec, there is a separate, and lower, minimum wage for all tipped employees. In light of this policy change, now is the time to discuss why gratuities should not replace salary.

The size of a gratuity is supposed to reflect a server’s ability and effort, but Professor Michael Lynn of Cornell University would argue otherwise. Having broken down the factors that determine the size of a tip, he found that only four percent of the average gratuity depends on the actual quality of service. He found many meaningless reasons people subconsciously tip higher amounts. This can include a server touching a customer on the shoulder, drawing a smiley-face on the bill, or even providing cheap after-dinner candies.

With an arbitrary sum of money, such as a tip, it is natural that people are influenced by internal biases. Lynn found that people tend to tip more to the opposite gender. However, while the attractiveness of a waitress determines the amount she is tipped, Lynn did not find that that the same applied to men. Women’s tips are higher if they are blonde, slim, around 30 years old, and have a high bust-to-body-size ratio.

In Canada, about 80 percent of servers in the food and beverage industry are women, a demographic much more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace. In B.C, Professor Kaitlyn Matulewicz published a paper in the Canadian Journal of Law based on case studies of female servers in drinking establishments. She argues that the lower minimum wage leaves these bartenders reliant on tips and less likely to report harassment. The American-based Restaurant Opportunities Sector writes that about 37 percent of all sexual harassment complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission come from the restaurant industry, but that this number is almost always less in regions where all employees are entitled to the same minimum wage.

The history of tipping in the food service industry is messy, at best. According to Saru Jayaraman, writer of Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, while the concept of tipping was brought to this continent by wealthy Americans who travelled to Europe in the 19th century, there is a specific reason why tipping is most common in restaurants. During the Industrial Revolution, more factory jobs had opened in cities, and the farmers who moved to fill those jobs needed to eat at restaurants. Fast food restaurants sprung up, hiring the only group poorer than these new urban employees: recently freed African-American slaves. Resentful of having to pay them anything at all, restaurant-owners, resisting the anti-tipping movement of the turn of the century, argued that gratuities could replace salaries. As a result, in 1938, the first minimum wage for tipped workers in America was $0.

Race continues to influence the practice of tipping. An analysis of the tips received by cab drivers in Connecticut revealed that there is a substantial difference in the tips received by black drivers. What’s more, both black and white customers tipped black drivers less. Michael Lynn replicated these experiments in restaurants. In these studies, he tested for other variables, and found that the quality of service in no way accounts for this difference in gratuities. Neither attractiveness, efficiency, personality, nor helpfulness could explain why both races tip African-American servers less than their white counterparts. All of this suggests that internalized racism accounts for this difference.

This money, doled out in arbitrary amounts, is crucial to people’s livelihoods. One Ontario waitress describes that the amount tipped from a $50 bill will determine whether she can take a cab home. Consider this: if an employer wanted to pay workers less based on their race or gender, we would be up-in-arms. Yet, the fact that we give ordinary people the chance to do it on a day-to-day basis isn’t even news.