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Is tipping 'ridiculous?' One chef thinks so, and here's why

One renowned chef is calling tipping culture “one of the most ridiculous things in North America.”

Cookbook writer and chef, Michael Smith, told CP24 Breakfast on Wednesday that the mark of a great restaurant boils down to how happy the staff are – revealing what kind of culture the business is fomenting.

But he said that “for far too long, we have held restaurants up on this big, giant pedestal and said that the end justifies the means” without considering “what’s going on in the kitchen.”

Tipping culture and the idea that customers need to do it in order to ensure staff receive a living wage is part of that, he suggested.

“Now as an industry, we’re moving past this. We’ve had a giant, colossal awakening, and chefs and restauranteurs have had to change their practices, but that’s the big one, and one tell for that is do they include tips or not?”

Smith argues “every single study” surrounding tipping shows that the practice correlates with misogyny, sexism and racism, and not with the quality of service.

He said that instead of relying on tipping restaurants should “price transparently” and charge enough to pay their staff a living wage.

“So I call BS on tips, and so do a lot of these higher end restaurants because we’re finally pricing transparently,” Smith said. “We’re saying to the market, ‘This is what it costs.’ When we do, we’re in a position to take good care of our staff, benefits, proper working conditions, do all those right things.”

There are a handful of Ontario restaurants who have already adopted a tip-free model at their businesses.

Sarang Kitchen owner Jennifer Low previously told she and her husband pay all of their employees an hourly wage of at least $23.15 (which is considered a living wage for Torontonians).

Low drew inspiration from her home country Singapore and time spent in New Zealand, where neither have a tipping culture.

“By discouraging tipping, it’s creating more equity and we’re able to be more inclusive,” Low said.

Barque BBQ, in Toronto’s west end, also adopted the no-tipping model, increasing menu prices to pay staff living wages.

“We always felt like the tip model was on the way out, no matter what,” owner David Neinstein previously told CTV News Toronto. “This is the right thing to do.”

Aiaina, located in Ottawa, Ont., also adopted a similar model, providing its staff salaries.

“I strongly believe that it acknowledges that a restaurant job is not just a gig, it’s a career choice,” owner Devinder Chaudhary previously told CTV News Ottawa.

Neinstein hopes more restaurants adopt the tip-free model.

“The goal is to make this the norm,” he said.

But are Canadian restaurants ready to scrap the tipping model all together?

Vice president of the Ontario branch of Restaurants Canada, Tracey MacGregor, previously told many restaurants are struggling to keep their doors open since the pandemic – with many taking hits to profits following dining closures, rising living costs and labour shortages.

“Operating a restaurant in Canada has never been more difficult, more volatile or more costly than it is today,” MacGregor said in an interview earlier in September.

Nearly 85 per cent of restaurants have reported lower profitability than before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Restaurants Canada. Despite this, MacGregor noted more restaurant owners are working harder to retain their staff.

“We want our employees happy, we want to keep them in careers and in hospitality, so you’re seeing things like health benefits coming in, dental benefits, [and] higher wages,” she said.

Since the no-tipping model is still a growing practice among restaurants, how much should diners leave behind when they eat out?

While Canadians remain divided on how much to leave behind, MacGregor says the customer ultimately decides on whether or not to tip, and how much to leave behind.

"These prompts are meant to be simpler of course but at the end of the day it really is up to the customer," she said,

"These employees are showing up every day, they're trying to deliver those great guest experiences so it's really what you feel that's worth and recognizing."

With files from Melissa Lopez-Martinez, Abby O’Brien and Ted Raymond Top Stories

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