Afternoon Read: North Country, Vermont eateries target lousy Quebec tippers

Are restaurants in northern New York and Vermont forcing French-speaking Quebecers to pay more because they are lousy tippers?  The weekly magazine 7 Days and the Montreal Gazette say yes.

This from 7 Days:

At least two eateries admit they allow servers to add an automatic gratuity on the bills of diners who appear to be Québecois. Why? Because Canadians are presumed to be bad tippers. A few local servers even have a nickname for the surcharge: They call it the “Queeb tax.”

The Montreal Gazette picked up on this story and found restaurant owners in Burlington and Plattsburgh, some of them speaking on condition of anonymity, who acknowledged that sometimes Quebecois get singled out.

“A few times a week, we get tables that will eat for $100 and leave, like, three bucks or $5. And 100 per cent of the time for stuff like that, it’s French Canadians. Not all French Canadians do that, definitely not, but when it happens it’s always French Canadians. Basically, it’s large bills that get loose change as a tip.”

Ouch.  Maybe Quebec diners don’t realize that servers on our side of the border earn peanuts and don’t usually have health insurance or other benefits?

What do you think?  Is the anti-Quebec tourist grumbling that we hear so often justified?  Visitors from across the border drive a lot of our prosperity.

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27 Comments on “Afternoon Read: North Country, Vermont eateries target lousy Quebec tippers”

  1. Larry says:

    Could it be the thinly disguised dislike many in the North Country have for our northern neighbors?

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  2. @tourpro says:

    That story has been out there for awhile, but hey…. it’s on Drudge right now!

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  3. Peter Hahn says:

    I guess one question would be whether or not its really true. Another would be – is it common in Quebec restaurants to automatically add service charges – in which case they might not be thinking about a tip.

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  4. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    Interesting. The servers are allowed to profile Quebec diners and treat them differently than other diners.

    Has the the QCLU spoken out on this issue?

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  5. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Wouldn’t it be nicer if restaurants paid servers like they were professionals, trained them to do a good job and expected them to act professionally and we did away with tipping altogether as they do in France?

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  6. Larry says:

    No tipping in France? That must have started after the last time I was there…2007?

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  7. Peter Hahn says:

    Last time I was n France there was little or no tipping because there was a service fee of 15percent added in automatically.

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  8. The whole “custom” of business owners expecting customers to tip is idiotic. “Sub-minimum wage” should be illegal – it’s an oxymoron, just like “mandatory gratuity.”

    Raise the menu prices to reflect actual costs needed for the owner to pay for food, workers and make a profit. This is what happens in any other business. The cost is set as expenses plus desired profit.

    Then get rid of the idiotic tip custom – it’s not discretionary anyway if a MANDATORY anything is automatically added.

    The Quebecois come from a society where social justice exists so they probably aren’t aware that these servers are paid “sub-minimum wage”… since they probably wouldn’t think such a thing even exists.

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  9. Anita says:

    I remember eating dinner in a Cornwall restaurant with friends – who live in Montreal – who were aghast at how much we tipped. They said that restaurant workers in Canada are paid a lot more than wait staff in the US, and a smaller tip (maybe 10%?) was perfectly adequate. I keep to my high tipping ways, though, especially if I get good service, because I don’t know if that is really true.

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  10. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Last time I was in France in 2010 from the Jura, and Haute Savoie, to Perigord and the Dordogne, to Bordeaux and Arcachon, I don’t recall any service fees though we were there in the off season and people seemed thrilled to have us with one exception. Our travel partner, a French/Swiss woman was horrified every time we left a tip and we were lectured that this was simply not done as a matter of course. We tipped anyway and nobody spit on us for doing it.

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  11. Larry says:

    Brian, give us all a break with the “social justice” rhetoric. We’re talking about tipping in restaurants, not indentured servitude.

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  12. JDM says:

    I can imagine an area in another country where Americans frequently visit, and ignore local social patterns.

    The restaurants in the area get fed up with the nasty American treatment and do something similar.

    NCPR blog host in that area questions whether or not the locals should be mistreating the nasty Americans.

    Blog posters from that country respond, “this is our country, and they are not respecting it”.

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  13. JDM says:

    Oh, I’m sorry, I have that wrong.

    NCPR blog host in that country tells the locals, “hey, why are mistreating those nasty Americans? Don’t you realize they have attained a culture superior to ours? We had better pay attention to their mistreatment of us”

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  14. Peter Hahn says:

    JDM – there are lots of countries where they double the free-market prices when they see Americans coming.

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  15. Newt says:

    I was in Paris and all over Provence in April, and found that service was built into tab. Cripes! It better have been!

    I have a very close relative who works in a high-end North Country restaurant, and she shares the opinon that many, but not all, Quebecquois customers lousy tippers.

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  16. @tourpro says:

    Stop the madness – it’s standard practice in Canada to tip 15-20% in restaurants.

    Americans, when traveling around the world, are known to be generous tippers – even when customs don’t require it.

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  17. Peter Hahn says:

    If you travel, its hard to know what the tipping custom is in a country you dont know well. In Central America, you tip essentially everybody, but just a little. You dont leave it on the table, or tip discreetly, you hand it to them ostentatiously. Even here, you tip the bell hop and the taxi driver, but how much?

    Personally, I would rather all that is built into the bill you pay the proprietor, and they pay their workers a normal wage like everybody else.

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  18. Lucy Martin says:

    This is not exactly a new problem, nor one confined to French-speaking Quebecers.

    Decades ago, I financed my own way through Maui Community College by working nights at Kahului’s fanciest restaurant: the Charthouse.

    Maui gets a lot of Canadian snowbirds. Nearly all of my co-workers disliked waiting on Canadians because “everyone knew” they were lousy tippers.

    At that time, I’d only ever lived in the U.S. and could not even imagine I’d end up in Canada.

    But I liked waiting on the Canadians because they were always cheerful and friendly. (For their part, they were usually surprised and pleased to have a server who was actually from Maui, not a surfer from the mainland.) Sometimes “my” Canadians left decent tips, sometimes they didn’t.

    I didn’t take it personally. Hawaii is expensive to begin with. After taking the exchange rate into consideration they were getting a double whammy. And if tipping wasn’t part of their culture, at least being nice was.

    Left to a vote, I am sure the rest of the crew would have slapped a mandatory service charge on all Canadian tabs. But that wasn’t a choice and staffers could only grumble.

    BTW, we were paid only a fraction of minimum wage and had to live off tips too.

    I’m of the opinion that no one is obliged to tip. It’s a server’s professional obligation to ensure patrons feel well-served. (If that seems too hard, consider a different line of work.)

    The system isn’t fair, not by a long shot. Yet that was one of the better jobs around and it wasn’t an easy one to get.

    You had to pay your dues and start as dishwasher. If they liked you, you could move up to be the salad bar attendant (which was harder than it sounds (polish the two-sided copper bar, fill it with ceramic containers, pack them with ice, fill each container with salad makings, tidy and re-stock that all night, then clean everything up. Don’t break the crocks!) If you did well at that, you could be a bus girl. Then, when there was finally an opening, the end goal arrived: waitress and potential $$.

    I don’t see any easy answers to this. Prices would have to go up by quite a bit if servers were paid minimum wage. Customers would notice, business would decrease. Customers would feel less obliged to tip. And then servers would have to depend on minimum wags plus fewer/lower tips.

    I sometimes read Seth Kugel’s “Frugal Traveler” columns in the NYT. That author was recently in Norway, which he called ridiculously expensive. Largely because everyone is paid a living wage.

    Here is an excerpt that seems relevant to this topic:

    Most people assume Norway costs so much because of its high tax rates. Not so, said Nils Henrik von der Fehr, chairman of the economics department at the University of Oslo. Taxes play a supporting role — there is a 25 percent value-added tax on most products, for example — but the real reasons are labor costs and agricultural protectionism.

    “The most important factor is the way our labor market works: centralized bargaining,” Mr. von der Fehr said. “One has made an effort to have an egalitarian wage structure. While people like me are not well paid compared to our colleagues in other countries, people at the lower end earn much more. You don’t have cheap labor in Norway.

    “All the things you want as a tourist — hotels, restaurants — are labor-intensive,” he said. “That’s why it’s nice for us to be a tourist in the U.S.: everything you want is cheap because of the abundance of cheap labor.”

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  19. Pete Klein says:

    I would be in favor of paying doctors and lawyers less, then tipping them if we liked the job they did.

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  20. Larry: when you’re making something as oxymoronic as “sub-minimum wage,” then it’s not quite indentured servitude but pretty damn close. The minimum wage was created precisely to avoid this crap.

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  21. The Quebec (French) radio station Radio-Canada had a brief discussion on this very topic. It pointed out that servers in Quebec typically make twice as much as those in NY and VT… $8-something an hour vs $4-something an hour. Quebeckers no doubt aren’t used to having to tip so much because up there, servers are paid a reasonable wage.

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  22. Larry says:

    All dissatisfied wait-staff should move to Quebec. That way, they would make a living wage ($8 per hour, yeah right) and you could stop making a big deal about nothing. As a matter of fact, since things are so obviously bad here, you could go with them. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a place with “social justice” as demonstrated in their treatment of wait-staff?

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  23. Ah yes, the classic “if you don’t think America is perfect, get the heck out” mindlessness. Thank God the country’s Founders didn’t have such a small-minded mentality. They chose to improve their country instead.

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  24. Larry says:

    Good luck as you lead all the poor waitresses and waiters (can the busboys and dishwashers come along too?) to restaurant nirvana and a better America. And you called me mindless? Get a real issue.

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  25. mervel says:

    Well there might be something to it. Easily solvable by the establishment however, simply include a 15 % tip in the charge for meals above a certain amount, many places do this both in the US, Quebec and France. Maybe the customers believe that is the norm and assume a tip is already included.

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  26. JDM says:

    Looking at some numbers from testimonials from waitresses, wage plus tips generally equals more than minimum wage.

    I guessing that in many restaurants, if you asked the servers if they wanted minimum wage or sub-minimum plus tips, they would opt for the latter.

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  27. Peter Hahn says:

    JDM – I think what we (at least me) are suggesting is whatever wage they get now -including tips- is built into the the bill you get. Either by adding an automatic service charge or by increasing the cost of the food. The argument that you get better service if there is a free market tip system – I’m not sure about. Maybe a builtlin 12 percent and a tiny discretionary component.

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