Dear Barb—The Tipping Point

Dear Barb:

My husband and I are having a dispute.  We went out for dinner last week and the restaurant was very busy.  Our waitress brought our drinks and didn’t return for quite a while to take our orders.  She walked by us several times to bring other people drinks and food.  I will admit it was frustrating, but I could see that she was doing her best to serve everyone. 

My husband was not so understanding.  He felt we should have been served sooner and that there should have been more staff working.  The problem arose when it came time to leave a tip.  I felt it was not the waitress’ fault, as I could see she was doing her best.  My husband decided to leave a small tip, he says a tip is based on the quality of the service.  I felt he should have left her the average 15% tip.  What do you think?  Thanks Sarah.

Hello Sarah:

Thank you for taking the time to write.  Many factors go into deciding how much to tip.  The average tip is usually 15%, so unless the service is extremely bad 15% should be fair.  When deciding to leave less, it is dependent on whether the server deliberately provided bad service, or did the bad service result from circumstances beyond the server’s control?

For example, you feel that the service was slow because the restaurant was busy, in this case I would suggest tipping the server the average amount and speaking to the manager of the restaurant, explaining that you were unhappy with the excessively long wait for service.  Since most restaurant managers want to keep their clients happy, they may reduce your bill, or provide you with a coupon for a free dessert etc.  This way you are not penalizing the server for something that is beyond their control.

On the other hand, if you noticed the server ignoring you and spending excessive amounts of time at other tables chatting, it would be reasonable for you to reduce the tip, and you may also mention it to the manager.  Tipping is not mandatory, but it is socially implied and not tipping is seen as cheap or rude.  The average tip amounts vary from province to province throughout Canada.  For example, according to a 2018 study by Global News the average percentage in Ontario is 14%, Alberta is 13.9% Northwest Territories is 15%, as is Prince Edward Island.  I hope this information will help on your next restaurant visit.

Email your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality; your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.