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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. A "tip" for calculating the appropriate tip at a restaurant is simply to multiply the 5% GST (Goods and Services Tax) amount shown on the bill by three--three times 5% is 15%. The GST has been replaced by the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) in Ontario (13%) and the Atlantic provinces (13% to 15%) and, depending on the amount, it may be easy to round up to 15%.
It is also a good idea to tip in hotels. Tipping at hotels does not stop with the hotel staff who bring baggage to a guest room. For example, if the valet service is used to park a car, it is customary to leave a tip. If you are in and out with your vehicle several times a day, many valets will refuse a tip each time. When they refuse, it is a nice touch to leave a little extra on their next tip. It is also appreciated when a tip is left for your hotel room attendant. One idea is to write 'Thank You' on a notepad and leave the tip there. Also, if the hotel concierge does something extra, such as securing theatre tickets for you it is the usual practice to leave a tip for that service.
For other services
Tipping is also customary for other service providers such as hairdressers, manicurists, aestheticians and taxi drivers. In these cases the percentage of tip is really up to the individual, but 10% minimum is common.
In some tourist destinations, "tip jars" have started appearing in places that provide counter service -- coffee shops, ice cream shops, cafeterias etc. , and even in some retail stores. Foreign visitors who are unaccustomed to Canada may feel that this means that Canadians would normally provide a tip, but that is not so. It is not necessary to tip for counter service, and it is definitely not customary to tip the clerk in retail stores. Whether you put money in such a "tip jar" is entirely your choice, and you will not be rude if you choose not to.
Tipping is your choice, however you need to consider...
Aside from situations in which a gratuity is charged by the establishment (noted above), remember that tipping is your choice. It is common to tip in restaurants, but it is not required. It is not as common for other service providers (hairdressers, manicurists, etc...); again it is a choice. Overall, servers/wait staff are not paid very well in Canada and many of them rely on tips. However, tipping is up to the customer. Sometimes the service is worth a tip, but other times it is not.
If you have a bad restaurant experience, however, many people — especially those in the food service industry — feel quite strongly that refusing to tip is not the best way to respond. If food is bad, why should the server be punished by no tip? If the service is slow because the kitchen is slow, it is unfair to not tip. If a server is rude to you, you should do more than just withhold a tip. If your experience was so poor that you are considering not leaving any tip, consider speaking to a manager instead. Most managers want to know about problems so they have an opportunity to make things better for their customers. That could extend to offering you a free meal, which is a much better solution. Of course, complaints about a dish which you ate (even though you didn't like it) lack credibility. So if the food is bad, tell your server (or, if necessary, the manager) about it immediately.
It is also important to remember that in many restaurants, the server is required to "tip out" -- that is, to give a percentage of his/her total sales to cover tips for hostesses, bussers, and similar service staff. This happens regardless of what level of tip he/she received from you, because it's based on sales, not on tips. If you choose not to tip, the server still has to tip those other support workers. So by choosing not to tip, you will actually cost the server money from his/her own pocket.
Please remember that in Quebec servers are automatically taxed on 8% of their gross sales each payday. If you have a meal for two that costs $100 before taxes and you don't leave a tip the server will be taxed on $8 of that sale - so serving you has actually cost the server money.
Apart from $1 and $2 coins (loonies and toonies), quarters, nickels, and dimes are much the same size and weight as American coins, with one crucial difference: Canadian coins are magnetic, U.S. are not, so U.S coins will not work in Canadian machines. Usually clerks will offer to help if someone is having difficulty. The bills are clearly marked and come in different colours so it is fairly easy to use the Canadian system. (Pennies are no longer in circulation and will be rejected by most businesses as "worthless").
Canada is proud of its multiculturalism. This multiculturalism manifests itself in part in a great acceptance of differing languages. The City of Toronto, for example, publishes many materials in over 70 languages. Canadians are accustomed to speaking with people on a daily basis whose first language is not English, however, a visitor may need to be prepared to be patient and accommodating at times. For the most people will find little difference in word usage between the United States and Canada.
Francophone (French-speaking) Canadians can be very patient with visitors' (and Canadians) poor French skills, but it is still best to make the effort to try to speak French. This is more out of courtesy or respect than efficiency. Even if you think it's likely you're speaking to someone who can speak English, you will notice a very warm response to your attempts at their language, with plenty of help if you wish it. However, most bilingual people will switch to the language in which you seem to be most comfortable — especially if they feel respected.
You will find that Canadians have a decidedly British or French slant to their accents which is distinctly different from the United States. Canadians do not find it amusing when people repeatedly point out how their pronounce "out", "about" and "house" differently from their American 'neighbours'.
Visitors often comment on Canadians' politeness. In part it is a result of Canada's British heritage, but it may surprise visitors when Canadians will say "please" and "thank you" readily, and apologize for bumping into someone (or being bumped into by someone) on the sidewalk. (Do be aware, however, that when a Canadian says "sorry" to you, it may mean that they are apologizing, or it may mean that you have just done something to offend them). Canadians are by nature more reserved and quieter than American neighbours, but no less warm or helpful. Do not hesitate to ask for directions or help in situations as Canadians are more than willing to give assistance as long as you are polite.
Climate, geography and language can vary tremendously from one area of Canada to another and recognizing each province or region as distinctive, will be much appreciated - particularly in Quebec, where French is the primary language.
Therefore when travelling in Canada, it can help to learn a little Canadian geography. There are ten provinces which are roughly analogous to states; and three territories. The capital of Canada is Ottawa, not Toronto as many visitors may think.
The word 'Indian' — as in American Indian — is considered offensive in most places in Canada, though it is still heard in northern communities. The same peoples here are known as First Nations, Native, or Aboriginal peoples. In the territory of Nunavut, calling the local aboriginal peoples "Eskimos" (instead of "Inuit") is considered a great insult. The term "Eskimo", by their definition, is reserved for those living north-west of Nunavut (in part of the Northwest Territories, and in Yukon and Alaska). Groups of First Nations are also not referred to as 'tribes', but rather are members of 'bands' or 'nations'.
Canada is not cold all year round; you can golf year-round in Victoria, BC and it may surprise visitors that southwestern Ontario is on the same latitude as northern California. The weather in Alberta and the Rocky Mountains can be cold (with snow) even in the summer, but it can also be 30°C (86°F) the very next day.
Recognizing a few temperature conversions will make it easier to gauge weather. For instance, 0°C is 32°F and 10°C is 50°F and 20°C is about 68°F. Understanding the system allows travellers to anticipate the weather in different parts of the country, so they can dress appropriately for the conditions.
Travel etiquette often means understanding and appreciating the differences in countries and cultures and being able to demonstrate an acceptance of those differences. Canada is no exception. From the east coast, to the west coast, to remote communities, and big cities, there is a world of difference in the various local customs and cultures. For example, Alberta is a province rich with horse and cattle ranches and related history and you can see people wearing cowboy hats in both rural and urban settings, whereas in Ontario that form of attire is very rare.
What other country in the world could have two people from the same country, speaking the same language, not understand each other? (e.g. northern Ontarian speaking with an east coaster).
The GST (Goods and Services Tax) rebate formerly available to visitors from USA and overseas is no longer available. To learn more about Canadian taxes, see the TripAdvisor Traveller Articles Canada - Taxes and Canadian Prices - Not What They Appear