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Another perspective on tipping – this time from a snotty Canadian columnist

He trots out every anti-tipping cliché. I won’t comment too specifically on the article because the economics of restaurants in Canada are different. Canadian waiters get paid more of a living wage than we do in the States, but it’s my understanding that they still derive a good portion of their income from tips. And I’m not sure what the “standard tip” is in Canada. I’ve heard conflicting things about it.

Needless to say, it’s hard for me to determine how much of the menu price already helps cover the waiter’s wage in Canada. However, here in the States, the menu price covers virtually nothing of the wage (even in those three states on the West coast that pay $8.00 an hour, the cost of living eats most of that up).

So I hope that if Mr. Thompsett visits the US, he throws out all of that claptrap about charity and sweatshops and the like. Here in the States, we simply pay our service charges separately and with the ability to modify it according to the level of service that we receive. It’s actually a pretty logical system if you think about it, but it only works if the vast majority of people “play fair”.

Check out a “point/counterpoint of this article at Tip20!:

PS, if I were a Canadian waiter, I’d probably pay a night’s tips to watch the author of this piece set himself on fire.

PPS, perhaps our friend Steve over at Waiter Extraordinaire (see my blog role for a link to his nice blog) could talk about the history and custom of tipping in Canadian restaurants. And perhaps give us some insights on the economics that underpin the concept of tipping over there. Here’s, it’s fairly cut and dried – it’s pretty easy to tell that tipping really isn’t “optional” because waiters get paid so little. It seems that the waters might be a little muddied when the waiter makes well over what would be considered a “minimum wage” but not as much as the market would bear. Also, it seems like it would be a little confusing based on whether or not the GST and provincial taxes were or weren’t bundled in the price.

Waiter Extraordinare on taking the order

Steve at Waiter Extraordinare discusses the art of simplifying the order.

I’d only add a couple of other things.

On a side note, one key principle in closing the sale is limiting the choices or offering choices rather than a yes or no answer. Try to avoid yes and no questions if possible. Instead of “Would you like an appetizer”, try “Would you like to enjoy the fried mozzarella sticks or the spinach dip”? Also, suggesting certain items puts a picture in their minds and starts to trigger the hunger gene that we all have. The word appetizer just isn’t a very strong image. “Can I start you out with the grilled calamari steak?” is usually more effective than “Can I start you off with an appetizer?”.

Let’s say that it’s the end of the shift and you don’t really want to spend another 30 minutes with a dessert savoring table for an extra $1 added to your tip, or you are incredibly busy and would like to turn a table. Sure, you’re supposed to upsell desserts and coffees because it will build your check, but it might also mean missing a whole turn of the table or a delay to your checkout and beeline to the nearest bar. One little trick that I employ is “Does anyone still have room for dessert”, or “Can we squeeze in a nice dessert”? The idea is to plant the idea that they are probably too full for dessert. Dessert is sometimes a hard sell to begin with, so you can take the path of least resistance if necessary. Don’t deny your guest the opportunity to order dessert, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do a little mind control over them.

You can also help them make decisions by clarifying their needs. “I’m torn between the sea bass and the cowboy ribeye – I just can’t make up my mind”. My reply? “How hungry are you”? The answer to this will help me guide them. It also helps when they are trying to choose between something that has a heavy sauce vs something that’s simpler, especially if the menu doesn’t make clear that an item has a rich, filling sauce or accompaniment.

Some questions might simply be a guest fishing for validation of a decision that they’ve already made. “How big is the dinner salad?” might very well mean, “I’m looking for an excuse not to get the salad” or it might mean, “I’d sure like an excuse to order this salad without looking like a pig”. You won’t always be able to tell, but try to use your best judgment to guide them to the conclusion that you think will offer them the best experience, whether it’s validating their leaning or moving them off of their decision. For example, if it’s pre-decision A, you either want to validate that by saying that it’s fairly filling if you think that they should skip the salad because it might keep them from ordering a dessert and an after-dinner drink or you might want to counter the objection by saying, “It’s basically a starter sized salad that most people think complements the meal”. Just make sure that you’re describing it accurately. If your dinner salads are huge, then say so.  When you use this technique, the needs of the guest should override the possible financial or personal gain to you, although you never completely lose sight of those considerations. There have been many times where I’ve waved a guest off of an item even though it would have meant a bigger tip because of a fatter check. That’s why restaurant and I get as much repeat business as we do. I did it two nights ago as a matter of fact. 

Thanks to Steve for his nice post.