Frustrated Vermont waiters include tips on Quebecers' bills
FILE - Server Lisa Schwartz carries a tray of food at Sarducci's restaurant on Thursday, June 2, 2011 in Montpelier, Vt.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
Staff at a restaurant in Vermont say they understand that tipping isn't common practice in Quebec, and as a result they often add a gratuity onto the bill for French-speaking customers.
The practice, first reported by ABC, has triggered allegations of discrimination but servers and restaurant owners say it's just business.
Sandy Kong, owner of the Asiana Noodle Shop in Burlington, which is just across the border from Quebec, said she and her servers started adding an 18 per cent tip automatically after being shorted by French-speaking customers from Quebec on numerous occasions.
"Sometimes, you know, some customers are so needy, and they don't treat us right and we ask them about the service and they say it's fine, it's good, and at the end they leave five cents, which is nothing," Kong told CTVNews.ca.
She said she doesn't take it personally, and said the customers may just expect staff to add the gratuity onto the bill automatically -- so they do.
Niall McMahon, a 22-year-old server at Asiana, said the tendency not to tip is largely associated with French-speaking Quebecers, who comprise about 80 per cent of local tourists.
"It's not all Canadians, it's not necessarily English-speaking Canadians, it's just people from Quebec, Montreal or Quebec City. Oh my God, definitely Quebec City," McMahon told CTVNews.ca.
While the menu at the Asiana Noodle Shop states that an 18 per cent gratuity will be added to the bill for groups of five or more, Kong said staff have begun adding it for smaller groups as well, when they feel it is necessary. She said servers always let the customer know when they have done so, to avoid the possibility of double-tipping.
"Some of the customers are OK with it and some are not OK with it, and in that case, OK, it's not a big deal, we just take it off," Kong said.
Servers in Vermont are typically paid just US$4.10 per hour, with the expectation they will earn most of their wage in tips, said McMahon, who has worked at the restaurant for about a year, but has a long history working in the industry.
In Quebec, by comparison, servers are paid a minimum of $8.55 per hour, according to the provincial commission des normes du travail.
McMahon said gratuities are especially important to local servers because they are expected to "tip out" 10 per cent of their total sales.
"People don't realize, especially if it's a larger restaurant, the tip is not just for the server,” McMahon said. “Some will go to the kitchen, the bussers, the host, so it's really spread around...from what you get on a tip you might keep 70 per cent, the rest is going to go to different areas.”
And if a customer tips less than 10 per cent of their bill, servers must pay the remainder out of their own pocket, McMahon told CTVNews.ca.
The policy has caused some unpleasantness for at least one local woman who is originally from France and was recently mistaken for a stingy Quebecois.
Anne-Marie Humbert told ABC recently she was shocked to realize that the hefty bill she was handed on several occasions was due to the fact an 18 per cent gratuity had been added on. The tip was included in the bill unbeknownst to her, and despite the fact she was in a group of fewer than five people.
When she asked why the tip had been added, she was told it was because she had been speaking French.
"They explained to us that they get pretty bad tips from people from Quebec and Europe, and that they had a policy to add gratuity to get what they needed," she told ABC.
That happened when Humbert dined at both the Asiana Noodle Shop and local eatery Splash at the Boathouse.
Like Asiana, Splash doesn't have an official policy on what to do but often leaves it up to servers to use their own discretion.
Splash owner Barb Bardin told local media she lets her wait staff make the call.
"Because the servers really have such a hard time with it, I just leave it up to them," Bardin said, adding that she tells her staff: "Do what you feel is appropriate for you."
McMahon said he doesn't get offended when Quebecers fail to tip, and chalks it up to cultural differences. He said he is fond of Quebec, and travels to Montreal roughly once a month as a tourist.
His experience within La Belle Province has always been positive, he said, joking "I think people from Montreal are nicer when they're in Montreal."