tipping in toronto

People in Toronto are still debating how much to tip for takeout and quick services

Before our lives were tossed upside down two years ago, it was a common guideline to tip a favourable 15 per cent or higher at a Toronto restaurant.

But with today's inflation, sky-rocketing food costs, unaffordable housing options and expensive gas prices, what is the standard rate?

According to a survey from the The Globe and Mail in November, Canada's average tipping percent is 17.2 per cent.

Tipping at cafes and general stores

The topic of tipping has always seen debate across Toronto, especially recently. But, let's say you go to a local bakery and pick up a morning coffee and croissant.

Your friendly neighbourhood cashier pushes an iPad towards you displaying three tipping options; 18, 20 and 22 per cent.

What are you to do? You didn't actually sit down and order any food. But somebody did make your latte and engage in some chitchat.

Do you select the 18 per cent option because it's the lowest? Do you go for 20 per cent, straight down the middle, because food prices are higher?

You yourself probably haven't gotten a raise anytime soon and are also feeling the crunch of inflation.

For some shop owners, like Attila Szanyi of PopBox Market, a premium supermarket selling frozen meals, coffees and baked goods on Dovercourt, maintaining a pressure-free environment for tippers is key.

"As a customer you don't want to be pressured to tip but you want to have the room whenever you are inspired," he said.

PopBox customers are usually regulars and already have a relationship with their cashier or barista, meaning they are more likely to tip - and tip often. Employees often pride themselves on getting to know customers and taking interest in their day-to-day lives.

"It's my team upfront who interact with regular customers. They know names, they know that they're going through a divorce. Tipping is that bridge in that transaction," said Szanyi.

Recent data from H&R Block found that Canadians were tipping almost 60 per cent more than they did before 2019.

Around 60 or 70 per cent of PopBox customers tip on each transaction, though Szanyi said he has yet to notice a drop-off with today's astronomical (and climbing) prices.

Pressure on the customer

A recent post on Reddit shared an experience at a Toronto bar that used tipping scales as a way to grade the staff's performance.

The original poster said the 18 per cent range description displayed on the machine read "Needs improvement," 20 per cent with "Kay," 25 per cent with "Good enough" and 30 per cent "Great job."

The post quickly spread throughout the community and a rigorous debate ensued stating tipping at 18 per cent - higher than the standard of 15 per cent - would be an insult to the bartender as "needs improvement."

The descriptions also puts pressure on customers to A) Tip at a much higher percentage than normal; and B) Provide feedback to the establishment.

To avoid pressure like this, which may inadvertently lead to lower tips or none at all, establishments might want to consider how tipping options are displayed on their payment machines.

PopBox uses a Clover POS, which is installed on an iPad. Cashiers set up the cost of the transaction into the machine and physically turn over the iPad, meaning they cannot see the screen when or if a customer tips.

"I think behaviour is enabled by good technology, I've chatted with every staff member when customers feel awkward with tipping. This [machine] is more private, [customers] have all the freedom to say no. I think that makes all the difference, it's coming from a sincere place," he said.

Perhaps another way to encourage tipping is letting customers decided a dollar amount instead of a percentage. More people may tip $1 or $2 on a $9 coffee order than opting for a percentage total.

Should Toronto ban tipping? 

Some restaurants have forgone the tipping option all together, like Marben, Richmond Station or Barque Smokehouse, opting to pay their employees a standard living wage.

So, do you tip on a takeout order or not?

For Szanyi's customers, the answer is only when you want. He nor his workers expect a tip - though it is appreciated.

Because of this environment, he's never heard from an angry customer about tipping on just a coffee purchase.

"People are happy to tip people they are close with. We kind of all know that we are all scrapping by. The tipping is helping, if we pulled that away it would be a major hit. You can’t just turn that tap off," he said.

Lead photo by

PopBox Market

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