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Tipping is off the table at this Toronto restaurant

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A Toronto restaurant introduced a surprising new rule that reduced the cost of a meal and raised the salaries of staff – tipping is no longer accepted.

“We realized we can just skip the tipping,” Hong Dai with WoodHouse BBQ simply put it.

Twelve years ago, her husband Jacky opened the restaurant to create a place in North York that replicated the atmosphere of a market in northern China, grilling lamb, pork belly and chicken skewers on a charcoal barbecue.

“Because both Jacky and I are first generation immigrants, we know how hard it is to feel at home, at ease,” Dai said, adding that all of their staff are new Chinese immigrants. “This restaurant is more than just a business for us, it’s more like our living room.”

In the wake of the pandemic, they pondered how to repay their gratitude to customers who kept them afloat, with some now struggling with the skyrocketing cost of living. They came up with an idea and set it into motion last month.

Hong Dai with Wood House BBQ poses in a photo at the restaurant in North York. The restaurant introduced a no-tipping model, plastering posters on their walls and sharing the news on social media. “Tipping is no longer accepted,” the signs said.  In its place, they introduced profit sharing, promising staff would earn at least the same amount as before, if not more.They also redirected their marketing budget towards staff bonuses.

“We do bookkeeping every month, and we do our profit sharing every three months, and part of the net profit goes to our staff according to work hours. That’s including front of house and back of house,” Dai said.

So far, staff have gotten a little more than they would have with tips, Dai said. “They are happy with it,” she added.

Meanwhile, prices have stayed the same, with four meat skewers ranging from $5.95 to 17.95, depending on the selection, and spicy clams with toasted naan sitting at $24.99.

Wood House BBQ's owner smiles from the kitchen, where he also works as a chef in the restaurant. For customers who want to show support to the restaurant, Dai asks them to leave five-star reviews and encourages them to donate a meal from the restaurant to a member of the community in need, through their partnership with Nourishing our Neighborhoods.

While the no-tipping model has worked out for the small family-run spot so far, she acknowledged that it might not work for every restaurant.

“We value connection over tips. Even before we announced the no-tipping policy, I always skipped the tipping option on the payment machine when I personally knew the customers and I always say, ‘You don’t need to tip your friends,’” Dai said.

Customers at Wood House BBQ gather in the North York Chinese restaurant. A block away from WoodHouse BBQ, Dai runs a coffee shop, Another Land Coffee, where they are also adopting a no-tipping policy and replacing it with profit sharing.

Ultimately, she said, “We all want to make it a better place to live, one meal at a time. “ 

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