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Without the guarantee of a liveable income, many minimum wage workers have become reliant on earnings through tips to make ends meet. Photo: Cecilia Cardenas/Fulcrum
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Here’s a tip

Ontario rang in the New Year with an increase to its minimum wage. While this may seem like a win for the working class, many have argued that $15 per hour is simply not a liveable wage for most Ontarians. Living in a large metropolitan city such as Toronto, for example, would require workers to earn at least $22 per hour.

Without the guarantee of a liveable income, many minimum wage workers have become reliant on earnings through tips to make ends meet. And yet, the $0.75 wage increase has incited many conversations on whether tipping culture is truly necessary, conversations often rooted in a place of economic privilege.

Now, let’s play devil’s advocate for a second. Maybe ‘privilege’ is a strong word. Don’t people deserve to go out and enjoy eating in restaurants after a long week of work? Is it fair to expect fellow minimum wage workers to fork up more money than their cheques require simply because employers are not willing to pay their employees a liveable wage? When we think about it this way, it becomes clear that we are tackling a systemic issue. 

While it is reasonable for service workers to demand tips, it is equally valid for individuals to feel frustrated due to the expectation put upon them to practically finance one another’s bare necessities. 

I hope this article doesn’t lead anyone to believe that I am against tipping. I believe that we have a social responsibility to tip our service workers and I am always tipping whenever I go out to eat, grab a coffee, or get a haircut. In fact, my parents were adamant about tipping when I was growing up. They explained that it was always good to pay those who serve us more than is expected as a token of our appreciation. However, I quickly learned that, in North America, tipping is not considered a token of appreciation and instead, a requirement to survive.

I recall my friend Mao, who recently visited from Japan, telling me that she was shocked to learn about tipping culture in Canada, as it is not customary to tip in her home country. In fact, I recently learned that Sushi Yusada, a Japanese restaurant in New York, following in the footsteps of its motherland, prohibits tips of any sort. The restaurant claims that workers are compensated well enough through salaries and benefits that they do not need to rely on tips. 

It’s disappointing, yet not surprising to me that the rest of North America does not follow Sushi Yusada’s suit. Lavender, in an interview, described North American tipping culture as “the largest, most supported mutual aid network in our country.” 

I couldn’t agree more. In an ideal world, or at least in an ideal version of North America, this would not be the case and employees would be free to enjoy their tips as a bonus and not as something to cover the cost of rent. 

I think Lavender says it best: “Tipping culture is necessary until we have a guarantee of liveable income for all people that will be updated monthly to be adjusted to the cost of living. Or better yet, all things people need to live are decommodified and provided to all on the basis of human dignity instead of for monetary exchange.”