Food, coffee, and haircuts: your unofficial guide to tipping in 2017

By: Rebecca Lee on June 7, 2017
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Tipping is a contentious topic. Doing the mental math to figure out how much to compensate someone based on your subjective impression of their service is no simple task.

Worse yet, there are daily situations you can find yourself in where a tip is expected — but you didn’t know. It can make for some passive aggressive interactions.

So when, and for what, are you supposed to tip?

To get some answers, I consulted with friends who work in industries where tipping is expected. 

A tip is never mandatory in Canada

First, let’s look at what you think.

We polled Canadians on Twitter and found that 69% of you think a tip should only be “mandatory” for great service.

Of course, a tip is never actually mandatory. It’s just expected — more so in certain scenarios than in others.

When you should always tip

At restaurants: There’s no confusion here: you should always tip your server. In Canada, dining in is the one instance where everyone agrees a tip is required and expected. It’s the courteous thing to do. Unless your server was the opposite of courteous or your experience was legitimately terrible. Then — and there was a general consensus here — you don’t have to leave a tip.

So how much tip is standard? 15%. I surveyed friends and colleagues and they more or less agreed with this number, adding the caveat that they’d tip as much as 20% for stellar service or drop their tip to as little as 10% (or 0%) for a poor experience.

What about take-out orders? You don’t need to leave a tip if you’re getting take-away. Unless you’re placing an order near closing time and really inconveniencing the restaurant. In that case, leave a tip and don’t be a monster. Otherwise, don’t feel pressured when the Interac machine prompts you for one — skip it or enter zero and don’t look back.

When you shouldn’t feel obligated to tip

For coffee: You don’t need to tip when you’re getting your daily caffeine fix at your usual coffee spot. Like the tip jar says, “Tips welcome”, but definitely not required. I even confirmed with my friends who used to be Starbucks baristas. They said tips were like a bonus — never expected, but always appreciated. They also said there was no rhyme or reason to who tipped or how much. “Tipping at Starbucks was so random,” said one friend. “People usually just wanted to get rid of their extra change.”

So how much tip is standard? Leftover change is just fine. And it doesn’t require any math. Once divvied, your local barista will gladly take the extra pizza money.

When tipping gets awkward and confusing

For drinks: A crowded bar, a busy bartender, and you. Buying a $14 beer. Are you expected to tip? Yes. You should tip because bartenders often rely on tips more than on their hourly wages. But this is a hard pill to swallow for anyone sipping their overpriced drink in an overrated bar, myself included.

So how much tip is standard? I think the standard here is “whatever change you get back”. I don’t know anyone that consistently tips in or around 15% at bars. It’s usually a loonie here, a toonie there, or whatever loose change we’ve got.

For haircuts: You’re expected to tip your hair stylist or barber, along with estheticians, manicurists, and any other beauty care provider. Skippin out on a tip here is a bit of a social taboo. But the question of how much you should tip gets sticky. First of all, women already pay way more than men do for hair appointments, even for a simple, seemingly gender-neutral cut. Therefore, expecting men and women to tip the same amount is already unfair. In fact, this post is the result of me not knowing what the rule of thumb is for a pricey hair appointment. I consulted a few other women and one friend made the same point posed in Miss Etiquette’s column: “I have a connection with my hair stylist — so I always tip 20%”. That’s on a haircut that’s already at least $200.

So how much tip is standard? There isn’t a standard here (for the reasons listed above). I would say 15% is as good a starting point as any, but I recommend you weigh your tip percentage against your total bill, sans tip. Mine was $300. And in case you’re wondering, I only left 10%. I couldn’t stomach more than that.

For massages: I asked a registered massage therapist (RMT) working in Toronto if tips were expected in his field and he said no — tipping RMTs is not common practice. In a clinic setting, RMTs usually aren’t even allowed to accept tips, not that it doesn’t occasionally happen (on the side). However, it’s an entirely different story at spas where tips are common. But the practice is still debated. Massage therapy is a healthcare service and RMTs are licensed professionals making more than the minimum wage. As the comparison goes, would you tip your dentist? More on that conversation in this Quora thread.

So how much tip is standard? 15% to 20%. And full transparency: I’ve only had a massage once. At a spa. And I didn’t tip at all. But it never occurred to me that a tip was expected, so apologies to the lovely RMTs at Elmwood! I’m obviously new.