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Restaurant setup:

  • In Canada, meals under $10 a person. Usually smallish Asian, Pizza or Fish and Chips type of restaurants.
  • Sit down, grab your own menu from the table.
  • Waiter shows up to take the order (sometimes the waiter is also the same person as the cook and the cashier, sometimes they are different people)
  • Waiter rarely shows up again - usually because the meals are over relatively quickly
  • Waiter brings food and drinks (sometimes water is self-serve from a big jug that you can grab or already at the table)
  • When done eating, leave dishes and walk to the cashier which is sometimes close to the exit and sometimes close to the kitchen.

If the bill for the group is be $36 to $39, I usually just let the cashier round it up to $40 (I pay cash). Most of the time they seem thankful but I'm not good at reading facial expressions, so I'm not sure if they really are happy with the tip or not. I seem to get a big range anywhere from very happy to very disappointed. I tried to figure out if there is correlation between the look and the amount I leave and I can't see any clear relationship. Strangely enough at one restaurant where I go frequently, once I got a happy look and the next time I got a disappointed look for what I figured was the same tip. It's really confusing.

In regular restaurants things are easy I usually use credit card and punch in 15 to 20%. In fast food restaurants where there is no waiter I don't tip at all (into the little jar). The one I'm having trouble with is this hybrid style of restaurant.

Since it's kind of a mix between fast food and slow food. I figure the tip should be the same way (somewhere between 0% and 15%). Is it really like that? Am I over-tipping or under-tipping? Also when there are multiple people involved I feel very awkward giving a tip to the cashier and giving 0 to the waiter. Will the waiter get their share? How will the waiter know the tip came from me personally? I thought of leaving the money on the table, but again I'm not sure who will get the tip. On top of that the tables are not that well "watched" by the staff so the tip may lay there for 10 minutes and someone else can just grab it as they are passing by.

I feel like it shouldn't be that hard, am I missing some basic understanding of how all this works? So far I've been going with "that's tipping culture for you - just roll with it and when it doubt just tip extra". I'd like something clearer than that. I hate undertip, and I really hate to overtip. A formula would be great :-)

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I feel very awkward giving a tip to the cashier and giving 0 to the waiter. Will the waiter get their share? How will the waiter know the tip came from me personally? I thought of leaving the money on the table, but again I'm not sure who will get the tip. On top of that the tables are not that well "watched" by the staff so the tip may lay there for 10 minutes and someone else can just grab it as they are passing by.

In Canada and the United States, usually you would leave a cash tip on your table.

You would pay at the cashier and they would give you all of your change.

It's not the cashier's job to either shortchange you or try to wring a second tip out of you.

It's not as though you can tell the cashier that you didn't think something was good enough, thus you will pay less - that's a complaint to take up with the manager, whom you can ask to speak to.

You don't tip the cashier for letting you pay or giving your change politely, it's best that they give you the correct amount or you can ask to speak to the manager, it is theft.

As for the amount to tip:

TripAdvisor says:

Canada - "Gratuities are seldom included in Canadian restaurants. It is customary to tip approximately 15-20% on the total bill before tax, less for poor service, more for truly exceptional service.

Many restaurants may charge an automatic 15-18% gratuity for larger groups. This is up to the individual establishment but is usually applicable to groups of 8 or more. Some restaurants also "auto-grat" groups from countries that don't normally tip.".

United States - "Some states allow a "tip credit" to count as part of the Federal Minimum Wage of $7.25/hour so tipped employees may be paid as low as $2.00 an hour plus tips. Generally, the average tip is 15% to 20% of the total meal cost.

Tipping practices can vary depending upon the location in the U.S., and even published guidance can vary greatly depending upon the source. For example, some Americans don't tip at a buffet restaurant, but it's generally good form to tip $1-2/person for wait staff just clearing several rounds of plates, to as much as 10 percent if the wait staff is refilling drinks and providing other services. The general rule is to tip in proportion to the service, and the quality of service being delivered.".

Leaving money on the table is common practice. The person clearing the tables (sometimes the person whom served you, sometimes someone else) it the one whom gets the money; it is distributed to the staff in accordance with restaurant policy. Sometimes the chef gets some and sometimes they are paid enough (leaving all the money for the frontline staff).

Theft from the tables is not your fault or problem to worry about.

If you have no cash and pay by credit card there is usually a 'tip line' on the bill where you can write the amount. Alternatively you can explain to the cashier that you wish to tip a particular amount and have that added to the bill.

There shouldn't be a problem: getting your meal, leaving a tip, or getting your change.

If the bill for the group is be $36 to $39, I usually just let the cashier round it up to $40 (I pay cash). Most of the time they seem thankful but I'm not good at reading facial expressions ...

If the bill is for $39, you give them $40, and you leave them with the impression that $1 is the tip then they think you are tipping 2.5% - a very small amount.

They should be polite and smile, there is no facial expression to be read - it they give you a bad experience ask to speak to the manager if you have time, I simply wouldn't bother coming back.

Much as the waiter doesn't eat part of your meal on the way to the table so they get a tip the cashier doesn't nibble on part of your change when you are paying for your meal.

If people aren't being paid enough where you go to eat and taking it out on you instead of talking to the manager either you need to speak to the manager or not return there.

Understand that people in Canadian restaurants are notoriously paid far too little and the restaurant's owner are notoriously unable to understand why they are unable to hire anyone - often going out of business rather than paying their staff more. That's not your fault, don't accept poor service. You paid 100% of what the menu said it would cost and were good enough to volunteer (hopefully, for them) a reasonable tip - that's the extent of your responsibility - otherwise they would throw you out or call the police.

If no one says anything and over time no one comes back then no one will be able to work at that restaurant or eat there, that helps no one if the food and service are good.

Don't let one disgruntled employee spoil everything, if there's something wrong with them they probably won't be there next week.

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In an environment where it seems like everyone is helping out at every table, the restaurant almost certainly pools the tips and shares them with the entire staff, according to a predefined percentage.

At a "family-style restaurant" where you pay the cashier up front:

  1. If paying in cash leave the tip on the table.
  2. If paying with a credit card add the tip as usual. It will get back to your waiter.

How much you tip is up to you, but if they are providing "standard" service, then leave a "standard" tip.

In the case where the waiter is just a food delivery system, who takes your order and delivers your food and does little else otherwise, I see no reason to tip the full amount. A few dollars is sufficient.

Don't worry about who gets the money or how it's divided. Waiters make money from tips and they will follow up to make sure they get the right amount. Sure, management might play games, or the other waiters might steal tips -- which is illegal, but there's not much you can do about it. In any case the majority of restaurants make sure everyone gets fairly paid.

(Edit) In response to the added comment: I've never had the experience where I didn't know the total until I went to the cashier. Usually the waiter brings the bill with the total amount on it, and I bring that up to the cashier to pay.

However, in that case I would pay the bill with the cashier, ask for sufficient change, then go back to the table and leave the tip. Although I rarely pay for anything with cash these days, so I would just add the tip to the total charge on my card.

I should add that these days I always round the tip up the higher dollar amount so it's easier to calculate, or I leave all the coins on the table with the rest of the tip. I just don't see the point of carrying around coins anymore, except for the occasional parking meter (and, even then, many of those take cards nowadays).

  • For your edit ... maybe I'm doing things wrong then? What I usually do is I just stand up at the end of the meal and walk to the cashier to pay (the cashier already knows which table I was at and tells me the total. They will give me a receipt if I ask). I don't ask for a bill to the waiter. Should I just remain seated until I get my bill? I always assumed I was doing it correctly because the cashier was never surprised to see me show up without a bill. But based on what you're saying I should have a bill at hand before going to the cashier. – user3280964 Aug 22 '18 at 17:03
  • @user3280964 Honestly, I don't know. Things might be different in Canada. Next time ask the waiter to bring you the cheque and see what they say? Either way, it sounds like the cashier and the waiters all work together so whoever you pay will certainly split up the tip appropriately. – Andrew Aug 22 '18 at 17:34
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    Your best bet may be to observe how others behave to know the standard in that specific restaurant, but it doesn't seem like a problem to go directly to the cashier in particular if you are a hurry. – Bryan Krause Aug 22 '18 at 17:43

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