News / Canada

B.C. restaurant scraps no-tipping policy after customers complain

Tipping is back on the menu at a Vancouver Island restaurant, just three months after the establishment’s owner banned gratuities in favour of paying staff a living wage.

David Jones, owner of Smoke ‘n Water in Parksville, B.C., said the restaurant decided to remove its no-tipping policy on Thursday as a result of customer demand.

“While they like the concept, they feel as independent thinkers that their freedom to have a say in whether or not they tip based on the quality of food or service was taken away from them,” he told Metro. “We’re in the pleasing business, so it’s not like we can dictate to you how we need you to think.”

Although the no-tipping model is commonplace in restaurants in Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe, Jones said his customer base — made up of about 70 per cent locals — weren’t buying the concept.

Rising food prices also played a role in the restaurant reverting to the traditional gratuities-based restaurant model, he said.

When Jones opened Smoke ‘n Water in June, the restaurant made Canadian hospitality history when it became the first to adopt a no-tipping policy. Instead of relying on customers to cover gratuity, which Jones described as a “broken business model,” he built a menu with prices about 18 per cent higher than the norm so he could pay his staff a living wage.

That meant sharing 15 per cent of the gross revenue so staff earned at least $20 an hour.

With tipping back on the table, Jones said estimated front-of-house staff will earn about $20 an hour on average in tips on top of their minimum hourly wage. Cooks, however, will earn close to their existing wage and will share tips with servers, he said.

“So they’re going to make their living wage,” he said. “We’ve just taken one small little step back to do the next best thing, which is tip sharing.”

Jones said both he and his staff are disappointed to do away with the business model they had hoped would revolutionize the hospitality industry in Canada.

“It was fun being a pioneer for three months,” he said. “We could have kept it going, but you’ve got to listen to your customers.”

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