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Only 40% of Canadians support ditching restaurant gratuities, poll finds

Angus Reid says only two in five Canadians support ditching the traditional gratuity system.

Angus Reid says nearly half of respondents prefer status quo for traditional tipping

Although several restaurants across Canada and the U.S. continue to adopt no-tipping policies, the majority of Canadians don't support dropping the traditional gratuity system, according to an Angus Reid poll. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

Despite an Alberta franchised restaurant being the latest to change its policy on tipping, only two in five Canadians support dropping gratuities altogether, according to an Angus Reid poll.

The poll was published Wednesday, just days after the Calgary location of Earls opened its doors with a new policy that sees a 16 per cent service charge applied across the table.

The poll asked respondents which method they preferred when tipping.

Only 40 per cent supported "service included" and "higher base wages for restaurant employees."

Another 46 per cent chose the current system, "with tipping a part of the restaurant experience." The remaining 13 per cent had no opinion.

Of those who supported dropping traditional tipping, most of them agreed they choose their tip amount based on societal pressures.

Server wages

So what is tipping really about? According to the poll, it's not about the experience.

A majority (61 per cent) agreed that "tipping is no longer about showing appreciation for a job well done."

Rather, the survey concludes that customers are cognizant of service workers wages, which are sometimes lower than the minimum wage.

Seventy-nine per cent agreed with the statement that "tips are the only thing that makes some jobs worthwhile."

And 71 per cent said they believed tipping is a way for restaurants and other businesses to underpay their employees.

The survey was conducted online from May 30 to June 6, 2016, among a sample of 1,505 participants who are members of the Angus Reid forum.

The results carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Not a decision to make lightly

Bruce McAdams, a professor in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Guelph, said that despite the poll's results, the industry has been moving toward the idea of abolishing tipping for a while and that it might become more common.

"Everyone has been sort of waiting on the sideline for one of the big guys to do it, and Earls has lead the way," McAdams said.

McAdams said there is anecdotal evidence that abolishing tipping can improve service by making servers into better "team players," since they're no longer focused on just their own customers.

But, he warned restaurateurs that a decision to abolish tipping should not be made lightly and has major ramifications on everything from hourly wages to servers' desire to work particularly busy or slow shifts.

"It's an absolute upheaval of the whole organization design, how everything works," he said.

And, no matter how businesses implement the change — through collectively pooled tips, flat services charges or otherwise — McAdams said servers always lose out financially, and not just due to the loss of all that undeclared income.

"Servers make a disproportionate amount of the wage pie in a restaurant, and by doing this, people are looking to redistribute it to other places," he said.

"Servers end up holding the short straw. There is no way of getting around it."

With files from Matt Meuse and CBC Radio One's On the Coast.

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