Restaurant tips reward server but not cook, Guelph research shows

In a new University of Guelph study, researchers found food servers in the province make nearly double as much as kitchen staff because servers get tips, even though both are needed to get a meal to a customer.

Servers make more than kitchen staff but offer same value to consumers, researcher says

A new study from the University of Guelph looks at how tips affect restaurant operations and the researchers found there's a large wage gap between servers who get the tips and the kitchen staff who do not. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

For many people, the natural end to dining out is leaving a tip for the server.

But Bruce McAdams, an assistant professor in the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management at the University of Guelph says it might be time to do away with the practice. 

McAdams and Michael von Massow, also from U of G, co-authored a study that looked at tipping and found it led to wage inequality.

"Our study showed that servers in Ontario, on average, make $18 an hour in tips. They also make $10 an hour – $9.80 – in their server minimum wage. So servers are making about $28 an hour. And they create good value for that – servers are an important part of a restaurant," he said.

"Cooks, food prep professionals in the back, though, are making $13, $14 dollars an hour on average, so servers are making about twice as much money as those in the kitchen and I would argue that cooks and food prep people create as much value in the dining experience as servers. So could that gap be closed if we move away from tipping? We think it could."

Tipping the norm

Massow and McAdams interviewed restaurant managers and servers to understand the issues surrounding tipping for the study, which appeared in Aug. 18 edition of the Journal of Foodservice Business Research.

McAdams said he worked in the restaurant industry for 25 years and "I just accepted that tipping was the norm."

All the ones we interviewed agreed that the system is broken, they just don't want to be the first to try to fix it.-University of Guelph researcher Bruce McAdams

When he entered the academic world and spoke with others, he started to realize tipping raises red flags and could be a source of conflict.

"Those working in the kitchens are definitely ready" for change, McAdams said.
In a recent Angus Reid survey, Canadians were pretty evenly split on whether the practise of tipping should continue.

Some restaurants have tried to get away from tipping or split tips evenly among all staff members.

Restaurant owners and managers are also ready to try something new.

"All the ones we interviewed agreed that the system is broken, they just don't want to be the first to try to fix it," McAdams said.

Canadians split on tipping

An Angus Reid survey released in July found Canadians are fairly evenly split when it comes to how or if tipping should take place.

The survey found 40 per cent of people liked the idea of doing away with tipping and for servers to have a higher base wage while 46 per cent said they like the current system and 13 per cent said they had no preference.

"Canadians don't appear poised to overwhelmingly embrace a move to this new system, in spite of the fact that the majority see tipping as a mechanism for employers to underpay wait staff as well as others in the hospitality industry," the report on the survey said.

Tipping a form of consumer control

McAdams said people like to tip because it makes they can make their opinions as a consumer known. If a server was great, they'll tip more. If the service wasn't great, they tip less.
Staff who work in the kitchen often to not make tips, which creates wage inequality in restaurants, researchers say. (Earls Restaurant and Bar)

"This is something we've always done and we feel, we have total control of tipping, so it's something people really feel personal about and we have some power, but we need to understand the ramifications ... and it's affecting a lot more people than just the server," he said.

"I'm hoping that, as consumers, we can look to educate ourselves and get more of an understanding of the effect tipping has."