A tipping guide for your next Canadian vacation
Canada and the U.S. are culturally similar enough to make vacationing there easy and comfortable for visiting Americans, though that makes the differences more jarring. If you tend to over-think tipping, relax: It's one of the areas where our cultures are very similar indeed. You'll run into a few differences along the way, but overall, the expectations are pretty similar to what you're used to at home.
Service staff rely on tips in Canada, too
In the United States, employees such as restaurant servers earn a lower salary if they're allowed to accept tips. In Canada, that's not the case, and minimum salaries appear relatively generous to American eyes. But the cost of living – especially housing, in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver – is higher as well. The short version? Canadian service workers are just as reliant on tips as their U.S. counterparts, and they appreciate them just as much.
How much is the tip?
If you're eating out, basic tip percentages are much the same as in the U.S. A 15 percent tip is typical and expected at most restaurants, and 20 percent or more can be appropriate at high-end establishments or as a reward for better service. If your mental math is shaky, the sales tax line on your slip is a useful reference. In provinces where both provincial and federal taxes are charged, the taxes represent approximately 15 percent of the bill. If you round up, you'll be fine. In provinces where only the 5 percent federal tax is charged, it's easy to multiply that line by three or four to arrive at a suitable amount. A 10 percent tip is usually adequate for a hairdresser or cab driver, or more, if the cabbie helps with an unreasonable pile of luggage. Hotel cleaning staff and parking valets are happy with a few dollars each time.
Some fine points of tipping etiquette
In some countries, exchanging from U.S. dollars to the local currency is a burden for the servers you tip. In Canada, the exchange rate favors the U.S. dollar, so tipping in either currency is fine. That's especially true in border areas, where servers often stockpile American cash for stateside shopping trips. Canadians don't ordinarily tip in retail stores, even if the salesperson or supermarket staffer helps you out to the car with your purchase. Tipping is also unusual at the dwindling number of full-service gas stations, but your tip will be cheerfully accepted if offered. One final tip: Wherever you are, and however much you're tipping, do it with a smile and sincere thanks. Your servers appreciate smiling, polite customers as much as their tips.
The tip jar
In many outlets, especially coffee shops or bakeries where table service isn't offered, you may see a tip jar at the cash register. This is a "let-your-conscience-be-your guide" scenario, where no hard and fast rules apply. If you get change from your purchase, by all means, drop at least some of it in there, especially if the counter person is holding down the fort alone during heavy traffic. Bear in mind that in Canada some of those coins are worth $1 and $2, so if you aren't careful, you can give away more money than you think during the course of a day.
If you're unhappy with the service
Refusing to tip is a common response to sub-par food or service, but it should never be your first response. For one thing, slow service and botched meals seldom lie within the server's control. By not tipping, you're basically shooting the messenger. In Canada, servers also usually "tip out" the kitchen staff and other non-tipped employees, so by withholding a tip, you're actually costing the server money. It's more constructive to tip normally and then ask to speak with the manager or supervisor. Honest feedback, good or bad, is the lifeblood of any well-run establishment. Most managers or restaurateurs appreciate both your input and the opportunity to make things right before you leave.