Here's When & How Much You Should Be Tipping In Canada, According To An Expert

There's one case where it's "non-negotiable." 💰

A person paying for their coffee and pastry in a cafe.

A person paying for their coffee and pastry in a cafe.

If you've ever hesitated over typing in a gratuity while paying, you're not alone.

How much you should tip in Canada for certain services can be a tricky subject, and even knowing when it is or isn't appropriate to leave a gratuity can sometimes be murky.

Are you supposed to tip when you get a coffee? If a screen asks you to tip when you pick up takeout, is it rude not to? What about if your server spills spaghetti all over you?

To address some of these concerns, Narcity Canada recently chatted with etiquette expert Lisa Orr to find out the dos and don'ts around tipping to help you avoid discomfort the next time you get put on the spot.

Do you ever have to tip?

"The one case where I would say it's really non-negotiable — and if you can't afford it, you shouldn't go — is in a restaurant context," said Orr.

She explained that if you're not planning to leave somewhere between 15 and 20%, you shouldn't be eating out.

"That's the expectation, and it's part of how people in the restaurant industry form a living wage," she said. "So that's the one place where I think it's really societally non-negotiable."

How much should you tip for a meal when you're dining in a restaurant?

If you had a nice meal and want to leave a good tip, the standard is now 18%, Orr said, while it used to be 15%.

She continued, "15% is the low end, 18% is good, 20% is excellent. There might be a range, depending on where you live — I've seen as high as 22%."

Orr added that if you're unhappy with your service, it's still not a good idea to tip below 15% as it gets taken out on "all the other people who were behind the scenes delivering your meal."

Instead, she recommends that you simply don't go back to that restaurant or have a chat with the manager.

Do you have to tip if you're getting a takeout?

"It is arguably optional because it's not related to service," Orr explained.

"So, my personal take is I'm not going to leave a number like 15, 18 or 20% because that's related to a lot of other things — it's table service, there's a lot of different pieces that go into that."

"But if it's a great location and depending on how big an order it is, I might leave 5%, I might leave 10%," she said. "It might be a dollar figure."

While you don't have to leave anything, Orr says it is nice to give something in recognition if takeout is done well, like if the service is good, if the food is packaged well, and if your order is ready on time.

If you're at a cafe and wondering if you should tip, regardless of whether or not you're staying, it's again at your discretion.

"For me, if it's a coffee shop that I know and I know the barista, and I'd like to leave a little extra, I'll leave a little something extra, but it's optional," Orr said. "It's not required if there hasn't been service."

Is it rude to have a payment gateway that asks you to tip?

"I don't fault [businesses] for asking," Orr said. "I think it's more about the technology not necessarily lining up with the way we behave. And so I think that's creating a disconnect because we're saying, 'Well, I thought I knew how to behave, but this technology is telling me maybe I'm rude.'"

That being said, you can always say no, although as Canadians, "we're very good at feeling guilty," Orr notes.

"I think it's it just makes us a little bit stressed out because we feel like if I'm being asked, I must do something about it," she said.

"And that's sort of what they're banking on there as a business that maybe you'll feel socially uncomfortable, and then you'll give more money."

Nails, hair, eyelashes, what's the appropriate percentage to tip there?

While some personal care places have a prompt on their machine that gives you a number, Orr says she tends to tip around the 10% area but notes that it depends on the situation.

"If you have a very expensive service, it could be a really big number, so then it might become a dollar figure that feels appropriate," she said.

As well, if you're going to a new place, you can always do some research in advance on what the appropriate amount to tip is — like searching online or asking friends and family.

"You can always ask the technician," Orr suggests. "You can say, 'I want to leave a tip, I'm not sure kind what the standard is here, could you give me some guidance?'"

What should newcomers or visitors know about tipping in Canada?

"That it's complicated," she said with a laugh.

Unfortunately, we have a very indirect culture in Canada, and we do not make it explicitly clear how much you're expected to tip and where you're expected to do so.

"Restaurants are mandatory," Orr said. "Everywhere else, know that there may be a tip expected, and if you can, try and get some information from personal care services and for food services."

"Do your best to get a sense from people who referred you or from places that you've researched. And if you're not sure, you can ask!"

Are there any tipping faux pas that everyone should avoid?

Orr says that not tipping in places where it's mandatory is a big no-no.

"Even if you're not happy with the service, even if the server spills food all over you, I don't care what it is, [...] it's part of the cost of the meal," she explained.

If you're feeling worried about whether or not you should leave a tip, she says it's always better to leave one.

"If it's someone that you enjoyed working with, and you never leave them a tip, they may not enjoy working with you and may not feel recognized for the work that they're doing for you," she noted.

"So, if you want to make sure to get that appointment on a Friday afternoon or with your nail tech, or if you want to make sure your coffee's always ready when you order — a little bit of gratuity, a little bit of appreciation, can increase your odds of getting the service you want when you want it."

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Sarah Rohoman
Sarah Rohoman is an Editor for Narcity Media focused on Canadian celebrities and is based in Toronto, Ontario.