Welcome to What The Food?, a column that explains why things are the way they are in Toronto’s dining scene. Last time we looked at why you’ll rarely see a washroom at small takeout shops. In this edition, we find out why fast food places don’t accept tips.
This latest query comes from a friend after he was told at a donut chain that they weren’t allowed to accept tips. “Is this legal?” he asks. In a nutshell, yes.
Tipping is a hot-button issue (and one helluva click-bait subject!), as it comprises a big part of the dining experience and the staff’s income. You can tip the barista, the bartender, the server, and even treat the kitchen staff to a round of beers. (The last is an option at places like Parkdale’s Local Kitchen and Wine Bar.) So why are tip jars seldom seen at fast-food stalls?
“Tipping policies are as varied and diverse as the industry itself,” says James Rilett, vice president Ontario at food-service advocacy group Restaurants Canada. ”These policies are set by individual companies based on their business models, the overall dining experience, and the comfort of the customer. Policies not allowing tipping are not unique to QSRs [quick service restaurants] and are found in a wide range of restaurants, including fine-dining establishments. How and why tipping policies are created would be different for each establishment.”
There is no official rule on tipping from the Ministry of Labour, since gratuities aren’t mandatory, so it’s up to the individual businesses to set up their own tipping system. As a side note, Toronto Star food writer (and tip-question asker) Corey Mintz wrote a handy explainer on restaurant tip out systems a few years ago.
We asked big fast-food companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, Chipotle, Tim Hortons, and Yum Brands (KFC and Taco Bell) about their tipping policies. A rep from Burger King was the only one who responded, saying the policy is to not accept tips, though customers are encouraged to put tip money into the charity boxes at the registers (which you’ll see fairly often at the registers at fast-food places).
But back to the tipping question:
“It has to do with concerns about tip money being distributed fairly among team members, across various shifts, etc.,” writes Burger King’s Alex Mangiola in an email. “Also, Burger King has corporate programs in place if people want to make a donation and tips would interfere with those programs. There are also reasons related to payroll and tips being considered a source of income.”
So, basically, it’s not illegal for fast-food workers to not accept tips.—Karon Liu
What The Food? appears every other week. Wonder why something is the way it is in a Toronto restaurant? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.