Tipping in Toronto

Tipping at takeout restaurants in Toronto is so confusing

To tip, or not to tip? That is the question I ask myself pretty much every time I pick up lunch from a restaurant to-go.

Conventional wisdom used to hold that tipping was unnecessary on takeout orders. I mean, you're welcome to throw some bucks in the jar if you want to, but it isn't expected, and certainly won't affect your level of service.

Lately, though, it feels like every other restaurant has a tip prompt on its card reader. Most of these machines don't even ask if you'd like to tip – only how much you'd like to tip; 15%, 18%, 20%, more?

When the only way out of that screen is to press "other" and type in a zero, the practice of tipping on takeout starts to feel... a little bit less optional.

So is it? A recent thread on this subject in the Food and Wine Navigator Industry Facebook group has many answers, but they're all different.

Some people say don't even bother, arguing that counter tips go directly into the pockets of business owners anyway – and we all know how Toronto feels about restaurant managers taking their employees' tips.

Others say yes, that cashiers have to tip out the kitchen or other staff from their total sales and need the extra money.

I asked several restaurant owners and workers this week for their observations and opinions on the matter. As you might imagine, their answered varied – but not by much.

Impact Kitchen co-founder Josh Broun said that most people don't tip on orders that are strictly takeout, though it does happen sometimes.

Like many restaurants, Impact has an automatic tip prompt on its debit/credit machines – but it's important to note that those machines are also used by customers who dine in and have servers bring food to their tables.

It's second nature for people to tip in the latter scenario, and would be weird not to have a tip prompt when paying for sit down service.

The same can be said for Fresh, which has four locations in Toronto and does a considerable amount of both dine-in and takeout business.

"We use the same debit/credit machines for both dine-in and takeaway," says brand manager Tory Aston. Because of this, tip prompts are par for the course.

She says that people tip on takeout sometimes, but "it really depends on the person - our regulars tend to tip."

On average, people tip around $1 for take-out at Fresh but, again, these tips are not expected. They are appreciated, however, on bigger orders.

Take-out customers at the Yonge and Dundas area sushi bar Japango are similarly free from the obligation of tipping, according to staff.

The restaurant's debit machines do prompt for tips, but a server I spoke with says that patrons usually don't tip, "unless it's a big order." In those cases, customers tack on about 10 per cent of their order as a gratuity.

The moral of the story? Cashiers aren't trying to pressure you into dishing out extra cash for them to hand you a bag – they simply don't have separate POS systems for dine in, takeout and delivery.

Tip if you think it's warranted, but don't stress over the decision - and if you're really struggling, err on the side of a small tip. The gesture is never not appreciated.

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns

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