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Wednesday, March 3 Front Page >> Random Rants

5:35pm, 08/09/10

So... I got into a minor argument the other day with a server (also I think the day manager) at a great little restaurant on Hastings when I ran into a friend of mine at another restaurant. This server was sitting with my friend, who is also in the service industry. My friend asked me about the Olympics fallout, we started discussing auto gratuity and the server sitting beside us said "wait, you have a problem with auto gratuities?"

I said yes I do, doesn't everyone? Her response was no, and how rude (not said, implied) of me to think its wrong.

We got into a few words, then she said "we better stop this discussion, it'll get bad"... I couldn't resist saying "yes you're right, because its an argument you will lose."

Needless to say we didn't talk the rest of my time there visiting my friend.

Afterwards, it got me thinking enough to post a few rants on my Twitter account. But I'd like to expand here.

I will not dine at any restaurant that tells me how much to tip. I'm even considering refusing the automatic tip on large party tabs.

You should not accept this practice either. It is leading to some very bad precedents in Vancouver that can only get worse for consumers. These precedents include a) increasingly shifting salary responsibilities from the owner directly to you, the consumer; b) does not encourage professionalism in the waiter profession; c) drives up the cost of dining out for you, the consumer; and d) does nothing to improve the quality of the restaurant dining experience.

I should also point out that there is no legal reason for you to pay any tip, including enforced auto gratuities or "for tables of 8 or more". You are legally within your right to refuse this amount or to ask for it to be reduced or removed from the bill. Any restaurant manager who tells you different is ignorant of consumer laws in this province.

Back to my little argument with the waiter from the Hastings Street restaurant and bar. I was actually offended with her prima donna attitude, and its something I've noticed in an increasing amount ofVancouver's waiter staff. To sit there with this woman who actually felt that every single customer should pay a minimum (and dictated) 15-20% tip no matter what just blew my mind.

It also got me thinking about Vancouver's restaurant scene, especially with certain local chains (Donelly, Glowbal, Cactus Club to name three) and many of Vancouver's resto-bars, where a specific practice, one that happens to be illegal in many US states and some provinces, is so prevalent here:

Management and house taking a portion of the tip pool.

This is one of those dirty little secrets of Vancouver's food scene that most restaurateurs (at least most who participate in this) don't want you - the consumer - to know about, and definitely don't want the government (read: CRA) to know about.

Not only does management and house at these restaurants take a portion of the tip pool, but in some cases and places, its a guaranteed minimum $ amount, which in some bad shifts, can force a waiter to take almost no tips.

This is one of the reasons why certain quarters of the waiter world have been more critical of anyone calling into question the policy of auto gratuities or demanding certain percentages of tips - without auto gratuities, some waiters could conceivably be out of pocket after the tip out if they had a few large tables who tipped less than 5%.

Owners, Management paying less and less salaries

In BC, we have not had a raise to the minimum wage since 2001. Even though Vancouver is the most expensive city in Canada to live in, we have the lowest minimum wage in the country ($8), and those with less than 600 hours work time can be paid even less - $6 per hour. A parking meter in Vancouver makes more per hour than most of our general labour workforce (after taxes).

A big reason why the minimum wage hasn't gone up is the BC Restaurant Association lobbying against it. You can see this for yourself too if you join an industry related web forum like Urban Diner - when the occasional minimum wage thread pops up, various restaurant owners step in and talk about how they couldn't possibly afford a raise in wages, would have to lay off, etc.

If this were the extent of things it'd be bad enough, but things get worse. Over the past 10-15 years in the Vancouver restaurant scene another big shift has happened - restaurateurs went from paying kitchen staff and other staff (besides waiters) a decent salary to paying them less and less and changing house policy to boost kitchen and support staff portions of the house tip pool. Chefs, assistant chefs etc have gone from a situation of being paid a good living to a situation of being told "the pay is this much, but don't worry, your portion of the tip pool makes up for it".

Basically, some restaurants in Vancouver have gone beyond just taking advantage of the lowest minimum wage rate in Canada; they've managed to foist more and more of their salary responsibilities directly onto you, the consumer.

(not every restaurant does this, but it is becoming increasingly common).

It gets even worse.

There's another trend in Vancouver, and while not happening at most independent restaurants (and most national chains), it is happening more and more at localized chains and restaurants with a bar-heavy focus. This trend is the house taking a portion of the tip pool. And management taking a portion. In some cases, guaranteed minimum dollar amounts.

I have no problems with any hard working manager taking part in a tip pool - if the manager is expediting, busing, bouncing rude customers, mixing drinks, becoming a jack of all trades, they should get a portion of the tips at least equal to expediters and bussers.

But there are many restaurants where the managers take portions of the tip pool even if they aren't working (or are just directing, staying in their offices, or schmoozing with some pretty customer).

Worse still is senior management and owners taking a portion of the tips. And doormen who aren't paid anything at all in salary, but get a portion of the tip pool.

These practices are illegal in many US States and some Canadian provinces. It should be immediately made illegal in BC as well. I doubt lawmakers are even aware of this situation; perhaps a grassroots letter writing campaign to a few local MLAs might result in some investigation.

On taxes... it's been a long time now since the CRA has automatically taxed a sizable portion of a waiter's income over and above the paycheck to account for their tip take. It used to be waiters would just declare their paycheck and very little else, but now CRA knows that the majority of a waiter's income is not from the paycheck but from the gratuities we pay these servers, and taxes them accordingly.

I wonder how many managers, door staff and owners of the various restobars and local chains report their take of the tip pool? I wonder if the CRA goes after these folks?

Customers made to feel guilty

The result of these things lead to customers increasingly being made to pay salaries directly and a certain sense of "you should be ashamed!" if you tip less than 15%.

It used to be, no so long ago, that 15% was considered a good tip. If service was meh, you'd tip 10% or less.

Nowadays in Vancouver, many restobar staff expect 20%, and to get less is a slap in the face. I have been an extremely generous tipper in the past (I consider 20% to be generous, and I've tipped as much as 25%) but in the last seven months I've shifted down to 15% as my max, pre tax. This has led to situations where servers will actually question me after the tip, asking "what was wrong with the food or service?" It's led to other situations where, if I left 15% on one visit, the next visit the service from the same waiter is sub par because they think of me as a lousy tipper.

I know a lot of my friends share similar feelings because this is a frequent topic of discussion. One friend of mine, Carey, tips 20% purely out of guilt no matter what the service was like. "I don't want to offend..." she said in defence.

That's just not right at all.

Vancouver's restaurant scene has definitely shifted from "tipping well for exceptional service" to "tip because you have to". Let me ask you - how do you think that influences the level and quality of service you get?

Prima Donnas

Lastly, I have another huge problem with the 20% expectation. It is the prima donna, low skilled waiter corps that exists in this town.

Before I go on, this town does have some absolutely awesome waiters. Some seemingly read your mind as a customer and anticipate your every want or need without being a bother. Others know their wine list (esp. by the glass) so well they nail every food pairing you could dream about. Still others know, without any bullshit, what every meal on the menu tastes like and can answer any question you have without a moment's hesitation.

These are what I call professional waiters. It is a combination of a) people who take their job seriously and b) restaurateurs who take their training (and staff tasting) seriously.

These things, especially the b) part, cost money - the chef has to prepare all the menu meals for staff to sample, and the restaurant's wine expert has information sessions with waiter staff on pairings.

Unfortunately for Vancouver, this kind of expenditure in time, effort and money by restaurateurs is not very common. In cities like Portland and Seattle it is, especially when you move into the $25 and above entree price range.

Ditto for the level of professionalism in waiter staff. I believe that on the west coast, Portland, followed by Seattle, has a corp of exceptionally skilled waiters. I feel, when I dine in a typical Seattle fine dining (or casual-fine) restaurant, my chance of getting a true pro waiter is pretty good.

Not so in Vancouver. Even in some of our top restaurants, I've encountered waiting staff that didn't have a clue about the by-the-glass offerings. I've had staff that need to run to the kitchen about every little question on regarding the entree list. And I've seen far too many waiters who can't even manage three tables with 6 covers efficiently enough to even refill water.

And I've encountered far too many waiter staff who bullshit their way through the food list and the wine list. I've asked for educated pairings in the past or specific styles of wine only to have a complete miss-the-mark delivery. The few times I've actually called the waiters' attention to it the usual response is  haughty or "sorry, you're wrong" type responses. The thing is, I've spent a lot of time educating my palate, and I can tell when a wine has harsh tannins when I asked for none, or how when a thin, light bodied wine gets lost in a spicy, bold entree pairing. Apparently these servers could not.

In Seattle or Portland, in most of my dining experiences in those cities, I'd be happy to tip 20%; but the rub is, these professional servers don't expect that much for their exceptional service - they're perfectly happy (and remain uber professional) even if you tip 15%.

In Vancouver, some service staff who can barely tolerate being at work, can't wait to leave when the shift is over, and who can barely pronounce some of the chef's fancy words on the menu get insulted if you leave less than 20%.

I am generalizing, and I want to reiterate that this town does have a few exceptional servers. But I want to point something else out - we seem to know the names of a few exceptional bartenders in Vancouver, be it the Chris Fletts or the Jay Jones or the Lauren Motes.

But I know of damned few cases where professional waiters are as easily named in this town. Is that telling?

More thoughts on this later.

3 comments | reply | link

12:50am, 03/04/10

I've been putting off my final post on the auto gratuities and price gouging during the Olympics to have some final sober thoughts about it to put to paper (or digital ink as it were). Plus I want to see just how long I can drag out this "temper tantrum" I'm having, according to Neil from Hamilton Street Grill. Maybe I can make it last through the entire post Olympics depression, who knows lol :)

And the post isn't coming today - I am going to do it one week after the closing ceremonies. But perhaps this is just a short preview.

I really want to acknowledge the businesses in Vancouver, especially downtown in high traffic areas that did not raise prices, did not gouge foreigners and locals alike with ridiculous auto gratuities. There's not many in Yaletown but I will definitely highlight them along with others in the downtown corridor. These are folks who, based on some direct feedback "did just fine during the Olympics without an auto gratuity" showing the arguments used by restaurateurs who did enforce a privateer Olympic tax were hollow.

I also want to talk a bit about restaurants outside the downtown corridor who saw major declines during the Olympics. While the Glowbal Grills and Earls in Yaletown had lineups out the door to get the privilege of paying marked up prices and 20% privateer tax, solid restaurants on Cambie, on Commercial Drive, on West Broadway were seeing half the traffic they normally do.

Then I'm going to continue my temper tantrum about the gougers, the auto gratuity places and do a final listing, which will be carried over to the Olympic Price Watch website for posterity.

I'm also going to go on a bit about other businesses that really racked up prices, including hotels and other service oriented businesses.

The idea of transparency is also on my mind, and I may work something into the blog entry about that. Transparency is an important issue in the coffee world, and one of the elements of "third wave"; however, in the restaurateur world, transparency is pretty much absent - if you asked a manager at a Donnelly Group restobar how much they took from the house tip pool, they'll probably 'sic a bouncer on your ass.

Lastly, I'll be doing some suggested courses of actions for people. They'll include the gamut, from "call me an asshole, ignore the list, continue going to these restaurants" to "permanently boycott every restaurant, tell 10 people about their actions during the Olympics, blog about it, twitter that shit, etc etc."

And in the interest of transparency, I'll be telling you my own course of action (beyond that blog entry) - I still haven't completely decided what it will be. Where I'm "known", I am pretty sure I won't be welcome back, and I'm getting more and more okay with that. But where I'm not known, like an Earls or a Glowbal Group place? Still haven't decided on a permanent boycott or a time limited (eg 1 year, 2 years) boycott. I guess I'll figure it out next week.

1 comments | reply | link

7:20pm, 02/19/10

I think it's time to document a bit of clarity on the real reasons so many downtown restaurants are going to a full on auto gratuity policy during the Olympics. I also wish the mainstream media would do a bit more investigative work into this - because it's not entirely pretty, and in some cases, pretty shocking.

A Caveat: I fully acknowledge my assumed gross numbers may be way off in the following numbers. I present them as assumed numbers to round out the income scenarios - and to be honest, the assumed numbers don't matter much. It is the percentages, the percentages on house take, and the increases in house take that matter, and I'm pretty confident the percentages and Olympic seating increases are pretty accurate. end caveat.

First, let me set up a typical tip-pool scenerio for two types of restaurants - the busy chain restobar in Yaletown or Robson area, and the smaller, indie style casual-fine dining type place. I am also trying very hard to err in favour of the restaurant's numbers - ie I went with numbers that are maybe optimistic pre Olympics, and pessimistic during Olympics - this does not help my argument - it hinders it, but as you'll see....

Big Chain Casual Dining Restaurant with Heavy Bar Sales
- assume 150 seats spread across 50 tables, plus 30 bar seats
- assume average server has 5 tables, turned over twice during regular season, 3 times during Olympics
- assume bar turnover is 3x during regular times, 4x during Olympics
- average sales per seat per seating is $50 for food, $30 for bar regular season, $60 for food, $35 for bar Olympics.

Even if these numbers are optimistic, the balance between regular times vs Olympic times is quite low - word is many Yaletown restaurants are doing at least three covers solid per seat per shift during the Olympics, and pre Olympics was 1.5 covers per seat (accounting for empty tables)

So before the Olympics, assuming the 18% gratuity (that restaurants are trying to enforce now during the Olympics), here's how the numbers break down: 1 server x 15 seats x 1.5 covers x $50 per seat = $1,125 sales take per shift per server. 18% gratuity on that is $202.50 in tips generated.

During the Olympics, here's how two numbers factor out - one with enforced gratuity, and one with overall gratuities dropping from 18% to 10% (accounting for many Euro, Australian travelers tipping lower / not tipping at all compared to Canadians, Americans tipping as per usual).

Enforced automatic gratuity scenerio: 1 server x 15 seats x 3 covers x $60 per seat = $2,700 sales take per shift per server. 18% enforced gratuity means $486 in tips generated.

Voluntary gratuity scenario: 1 server x 15 seats x 3 covers x $60 per seat = $2,700 in sales. 10% average gratuity means $270 take in tips - higher than pre Olympics take by $67.50.

Let me break down bar sales quickly - and I should point out the average in Vancouver for bar tabs is actually around 10-12%, not the 15-20% that sit down food service tables enjoy, so I will factor that in.

Prior to Olympics: Assume 1 bartender per 10 seats (3x); 1 bartender x 10 x $30 per seat x 3 seatings = $900 sales take per shift per server. Go with the established 12% tip and the take per bartender per shift is $108.

During Olympics, with auto gratuity enforced: 1 bartender x 10 seats x $35 per seat x 4 seatings = $1,400. 18% enforced gratuity delivers $252 per server per shift, or higher by $144 compared to pre Olympics.

During Olympics, with voluntary gratuity - let's assume it dips from 12% to 8%: 1 bartender x 10 seats x $35 per seat x 4 seatings = $1,400 sales take per bartender; tips take would be $112, higher than pre Olympics by $4.

Now some final numbers for this type of restaurant.

Pre Olympics total tip take per night (10 servers 1.5 covers per seat, 3 bartenders, 3 covers per seat): $2,350 (rounded up).
Olympics with enforced 18% gratuity total tip take per night (10 servers 3 covers per seat, 3 bartenders, 4 covers per seat): $5,615 (rounded down).
Olympics with voluntary gratuity, total tip take per night (same servers, bartenders as previous): $3,035 (rounded down).

It's quite clear that even in worst case tipping scenarios, restuarants in high-traffic Olympic areas (like Yaletown) that are packed all day and eve are completely cleaning up on tips when auto-gratuities are enforced - more than double their take pre Olympics. Even with voluntary gratuities, they'd be making as much as $700 or more in tips per shift - but with auto gratuities enforced, they stand to make over $3,000 more, per shift in tips.

Do I even have to break down the smaller, 30-40 seat indie restaurant?

Where it gets BAD - Industry's dirty little secrets

Here's where things get particularly bad - and I'm betting most consumers and many foodie-bloggers don't have a clue about this.

Did you know that management, and in some cases, the owners, take a cut in the tip pool that is sorted every night? In the case of many of the downtown chains (especially those with a big alcohol/bar focus), this is especially true. I'm not saying every restaurant has this policy, but you'd be shocked to find out how many actually do - some of Vancouver's top restaurants, globally recognized, have this policy in place.

Also, management and back of house (chefs, cooks, expediters, etc) do not trust servers - or do not trust them to be truthful with their entire tips take for the evening. This is why the end of the shift tip pool is based on sales, and not the server's word on how much tips they've taken in.

It is standard in Vancouver for servers to contribute four percent of their b]sales take into the house tip pool. Bartenders are typically 2% of their sales. Some restaurants have higher percentages - I know of at least 2 famous restaurants with 5% policy, and one with 6%. But let's go with 4%/2% to keep the numbers conservative.

So let's go back to our downtown chain restaurant with a booze focus restaurant - the 150 seat venue with 10 servers, 3 bartenders. The total sales pre Olympics might be $11,250 for all the seated covers, and $2,700 for the bar ($13,950 per full shift). Sales during the Olympics could skyrocket (based on similar pre Olympic cover sales x extra bonus customers) to $27,000 for all seated covers, $4,200 for bar (or $31,200 per full shift).

Those are huge numbers, to start with. Now let's look at what the house expects to take in tips total, and per server / bartender

Pre Olympics: ($11,250 x 0.04 = $450) + ($2,700 x 0.02 = $54) = $504
Olympics: ($27,000 x 0.04 = $1,080) + ($4,200 x 0.02 = $84) = $1,164

That is more than a 120% increase in tips take per shift for the house!

Just based on these numbers, it's quite clear that restaurants could have scaled down their house tip out percentage for the two weeks of the Olympics, and everyone could have still come out ahead - going to 3% / 1.5% would have still brought everyone - house, back of house, servers, ahead with more money each day - even based on lower voluntary tips.

Still - this isn't the full dirty little secret.

The whole auto gratuity thing isn't to protect servers - servers are cleaning up - enforced tip policy or not. It's not even to protect back of house staff.

One of the primary reasons for auto gratuities is to protect, and even enrich management and the house's take in tips.

At most (not ALL, but most) fine dining restaurants in town, management gets to dip their hands into the tip pool. In some cases, I'd say it is highly deserved - I've seen managers and assistant managers at some restaurants to do everything - bus, expedite, serve, fix, clean bathrooms, you name it.

But I've also seen managers who like to boss people around, and not do much else. At one restaurant (one I no longer frequent), I've been told first hand by staff there that the GM's weekly tip pool take is over $1,000. And management sucks at that restaurant.

Even worse is ownership taking a share of the tip pool. This happens much less and as far as I know, is not the practice at any independent fine / casual dining place where management isn't also ownership. But word is, it does happen with few of the chain restos in town (and no, not Cactus Club or Earls, as far as I know). Where it does happen is pretty bad - people who do nothing day to day in the restaurant's success are taking money from the tip pool - and taking money away from the back of house staff. The tip pool is for people who actually contribute to that meal, that drink, that service you got. Not someone sitting at home (or in their box seat at an Olympics Hockey game) during your meal.

That's pretty bad.

It gets worse
At least worse from my perspective. The tipping pool has become so standardized in Vancouver that back of house staff - the amazing chefs who craft your food, the expediters who get it moving on time, the back of house management, etc - even front of house management - all are paid sub-par salaries and told upon hiring "tips will make up your salary".

In other words, restaurants, from management to lowest bussing staff are ALL UNDERPAID. On top of charging you, the customer premium markups on alcohol (wine, beer, cocktails) and competitive prices on food, they fully expect you to pay a sizable portion of their staff's pay, directly (ie, no middlemen).

Now this leads to something very interesting. Revenue Canada has been coming down on servers quite hard the last decade or so - if a server gets audited, RC will look at their restaurant's books to see what the sales take is for the server's average shift, and will calculate a 12% amount for declared gratuities based on that audit.

However - Revenue Canada does not regularly investigate managers, assistant managers, section managers, etc at restaurants in the same way. And you can be pretty safe in betting that the $1,000 tip-take a week manager I mentioned earlier isn't declaring $52,000 in extra cash income, over and above his salary, to Revenue Canada.

A lot of numbers

It'll take a much better writer and researcher than me to better present these numbers and the dirty little industry secrets to a wide audience.

I also fully admit my numbers may be way off in one regard - my assumed takes per seat per shift. But the totals don't matter here - it's the percentages that do - and I can safely guarantee the percentages expressed are accurate for many Vancouver restaurants.

It is a safe bet that every restaurant / bar, be them part of a chain or independent, that has an auto gratuity policy in place for the Olympics is a business that practices the above described scenarios - including the "dirty little secrets". And it is a safe bet that restaurants with auto gratuities during the Olympics are doubling their per shift tip income for everyone who dips their hand into the tip pool.

That, my friends, is gouging. And that is why restaurants with auto gratuities made the #2010profiteer listing. And that is why you should consider not supporting any restaurant with an auto gratuity policy - ever again.

10 comments | reply | link

12:15am, 02/18/10

This will be the new sorta-official list space for the Vancouver Olympics #2010niceprices and  #2010profiteers (or 2010profiteer) listings. What is this all about? Please read the full blog post detailing Vancouver consumers' watchdogging of local businesses doing bad things to our city's reputation, as well as those who are treating tourists (and locals) fairly during these Winter Olympics.

Please feel free to copy, post, reprint these listings on your website. If you do so, please keep the sources intact, and note, this list will be updating daily.

And now onto the listings.

Vancouver 2010 Nice Price Restaurants / Bars etc

Edited February 24, 12:30am

These are businesses that have either committed to having prices as usual policies during the Olympics (including gratuity policies), or have been noticed by locals to have stable pricing. If you find one, or want it on this list, please do so via twitter, using the hashtag #2010niceprices.

Six new additions, but only one in Yaletown - which is depressing.

NEW - Subeez Cafe, 891 Homer, Yaletown Great prices, no auto gratuity (one of the few Yaletown busineses to have #2010niceprices!). (source:  @Network_Guy)
NEW - Sammy J. Peppers, Granville Island - prices stable, NO auto gratuity charged. (source: @hfguiere)
NEW - Ouisi Bistro, 3014 Granville Street - no price raises, great specials during Olympics, no auto gratuity. (source: me visiting).

NEW - Alibi Room, 157 Alexander in Gastown, prices stable, specials in effect, no auto gratuity, no cover charge. (source: @CAMRA_YVR)
NEW - On the Edge Pub, 303 Columbia Street (Gastown), Great prices (eg - $5.35 for 18oz of Phillips Blue Buck), no auto gratuity. (source: @ilford)
NEW - Black Frog Eatery, 108 Cambie Street, Gastown - No price increases, no auto gratuity, great beer prices in effect (as usual). (source: @loxyisme)

Pacific Culinary Institute, Granville Island - a favourite "secret" haunt of Vancouver locals, all prices etc as per normal even though Gastown is Olympics Crazy! (source: @SurreyMarket)
Irish Heather, Gastown no price increases, no cover, no auto gratuity - business as usual at this hopping Gastown favourite (source: @StephenLambie)
Salt Tasting Room, Blood Alley, Gastown - no increased prices, specials as per usual, no autogratuity. (source - personal visit)

Main Street Eateries on S. Main - word from a Main Street Restaurateur is that most, if not all Main St. eateries having prices as usual, no auto gratuities - Go Main Street dining! (source: @LatitudeonMain)
Urban Thai Bistro - Yaletown - featuring "as usual" happy hour, dishes under $5, no auto gratuity. Yay! (Source: @urbandiner)
Phat Sandwiches - Yaletown - nominal price increases, but Vancouver loyalty cards for locals to give a price break during Olympics. (was formely on negative list based on incorrect information via twitter). (Source: Global News Hour)

Au Petit Chavignol - nice discounts on weekends on fondues, wines during Olympics. (source: @petitchauvignol)
Incendio Pizza in Gastown - prices "as per usual" during Olympics, no autograt. (source: @IncendioPizza, @SBonnerABV)
Milestone's in Yaletown - prices kept stable, $8 breakfast is available everyday. (source: @tellytelly

The Whip - 7th near Main has maintained their prices, service during Olympics. (source: @cbjerrisgaard)
The Diamond in Gastown has prices more or less stable. (source - me visiting)
Irashai Grill in Coal Harbour has promised to keep prices neutral during Olympics! (source: @Irashai)

Campagnolo on Main Street - reported to have no price increases, same service as always during Olympics. (source: @campagnolomain)
Refuel Restaurant and Bar keeping prices stable for some awesome food and drink. (source: same as previous)
Amarcord Ristorante of Yaletown - prices stable, no autogratuity for Yaletown! Yay! (direct from Restaurateur)

Provence Marinaside - removed - auto gratuity, realised it was bad policy - go Provence!
Corner Suite Bistro Deluxe, Thurlow at Alberni - no automatic gratuity, "launch" pricing in effect (they just opened), great service, killer deep bartending staff. (source: me, visiting).

Vancouver 2010 Profiteer Restaurants, Bars, Etc.

Edited February 24, 12:30am

These are places identified as having excessive price increases, auto gratuity policies during the Olympics, or both. If you have a business to add, please do so via Twitter using the hashtag #2010profiteers (or 2010profiteer).

As a consumer, what can you do about these policies? My advice is to drop in, ask to speak to the manager, and make it clear you don't support Olympic price raising and do not support auto gratuities. Then boycott these businesses - permanently - if they don't change the policies within the next few days. We need to let these restaurants know that, as consumers, we won't support businesses long term who are seeking short term profiteering gains that damage our city's reputation and rip off consumers.

I am also now adding links to these restaurant's Yelp Reviews - IF you visit these restaurants, and IF you are charged #profiteer items, I encourage you to write an objective review of the restaurant, including comments about auto gratuities and raised prices.

NEW - Academic Public House, 1619 West Broadway - 20% auto gratuity on all bills, prices raised on menu (source: @kafkascoffeetea, @MattsMedia)
NEW - The Hub, 1165 Mainland St - 18% auto gratuity, inflated ($21) pitcher of beer prices (source: @AndreaWoo)
NEW - Fairmont Hotel Restaurant, - $34 for breakfast buffet - not sure if this is a big price jump or not, but it's bloody expensive. (source: @willisturner)

NEW - El Furniture Warehouse, 989 Granville Street, 18% auto gratuity, "attitude" applied by staff if locals questioned it. (source: @TiaSparkles)
NEW - Cafe Crepe, Granville & Robson Locations - 15% auto gratuity added to all bills. (source: @AndreaWoo)
NEW - Lolita's Restaurant, 1326 Davie Street - 18% auto gratuity (or as many are now calling it, "Olympic Tax" (perhaps that should be "privateer Olympic Tax")) on all bills, and reports of jacked up prices. (source: @asml)

NEW - Society Dining Lounge, 1257 Hamilton Street (Yaletown) - 20% (!!!) Automatic Gratuity added to all bills. Additionally, lots of shenanigans with reservations - apparently you have to order the $59 set menu, and leave your CC (to be pre-charged, incl. auto gratuity we're guessing) for each person in your reserved party. (source: Yelp commenter Mac D.) (nb - Social is part of the Glowbal group - most, if not all Glowbal restaurants have enforced a 20% auto gratuity during the Olympics).
NEW - Section 3 Restaurant, 1039 Mainland Street, Yaletown - 20% auto gratuity (also a report on Yelp about staff not informing about auto gratuity, and locals double-tipping as a result); reports of price increases (source - various twitter, also Yelp Forum)
NEW - Bean Around the World, various downtown locations - 20% premium charged to "tourists"; local purportedly given a card to say they're local and get a discounted price. (source: CTV News) (ed.note: take it from a coffee expert - their coffee is mediocre, and you can do much, much better in this city).

NEW - Cafe Medina, 556 Beatty Street - 15% automatic gratuity put on all bills; staff not informing customers (leading to some double tipping scenarios). (source: Yelp commenters Emily S. and Dominique N.).

Simply Thai, Hamilton Street, Yaletown - 18% automatic gratuity applied to all bills. (source: Yelp Reviewer Luisa D.)
Moxie's Grill, Georgia Street, Bute Street (possibly Davie too?) - 15% automatic gratuity added to all bills. (source: @trevin)
Granville Room Bar, Granville Street - 17% automatic gratuity on all bills (source: Yelp Reviewer Hubert F.)

All Glowbal Group Restaurants / Bars in downtown Vancouver have 18-20% auto gratuity on all bills with unconfirmed reports of raised prices on alcoholic beverages, up  30% (source: Various local media, incl CKNW)
George Lounge, Yaletown - 18% automatic gratuity (confirmed), price raises of up to 30% on alcoholic beverages (reports of $2--$4 increases, not confirmed publicy). (source: @twowheelgeek)
Chambar Restaurant, Beaty Street - 18% auto gratuity added to all bills. (source: @philwalston

Lickerish Restaurant, 1177 Hornby - undertermined auto gratuity (someone please get the rate). (source: @leigh_patterson)
Morrissey Irish Bar and Restaurant, 1227 Granville Street - 18% gratuity on all bills (source: Yelp Commenter Evilyn 13 T)
The Keg, Yaletown - yet another chain business with an 18% auto gratuity during the Olympics. (source: @TamaraHarvey)

Cactus Club - Burrard - 18% auto gratuity on all bills, have to assume all other downtown Cactus Clubs have same policy (source: @TiaSparkles
Hapa Izakawa Yaletown location Another place with an 18% automatic gratuity added to all bills (source: @YVRMark)
Cambie Bar and Grill, $10 cover (something new - has not have covercharge before). (source: @OnlineStrategy)

Earls Restaurants, Yaletown, Robson, Hornby. Earls has gone on record as stating they were eliminating their 20% auto gratuity; however visitors to Earls Yaletown reported still seeing the charge on their bills the day after Earls stated they were removing it. So Earls - 20% auto gratuity, and  up to 20% price increases. Very bad. (source: various, incl Twitter, Global News Hour, Vancouver Sun)
Red Card Sports Bar, Seymour & Smithe - 18% auto gratuity added to all drink bills (source: @yvrmark)
Elephant and Castle, Burrard - 18% auto gratuity added to all bills "for your convenience". (source: @iford)

Glowbal Grill Restaurant - Yaletown - 20% automatic gratuity added to all food bills. (source: Global News Hour)
Steamworks Bar / Restaurant - Gastown. 18% automatic gratuity; local customers have noted "significant" price increases to menus; I called Steamworks asked about pricing / autogratuity, and was put on hold indefinitely. (source: @JonJennings)
Megabite Pizza - 100% increase in slice prices downtown. (source: Global News Hour confrimed, Twitter various)

Amended Feb 24: Dix Brewery BBQ - 17% auto gratuity "may" be added to bill. (source: @GingerLiz, comment by Dix BBQ rep in comments on this site)
Library Square Public House is charging $5 cover, $18.48 for a domestic pitcher and 20% autogratuity. (source: Vancouver Sun)
Hamilton Street Grill - Yaletown, 18% automatic gratuity on all bills. (source: Vancouver Sun)

Unfortunately, I expect the above list to grow. What can you, as someone local to Vancouver do about this? If you're a patron of one of the businesses above, don't just boycott them, let them know (politely, please!) your feelings about these price gouging policies. Failing that, take your business elsewhere - permanently. These things give Vancouver a black eye.

Unsavoury bonus gougers:

German Fan Fest (next to Steamworks, Seabus Station) $9 beers. (source - personal visit)
Doolins / Irish House also another major rip off, and not officially Irish "house" during Olympics. Large cover charge, expensive beer. (source - various twitter posts)
Downtown Hot Dog Carts - price increases of $1.50 to $2 on most hot dogs (from $3.50-$6 to $5-$8 now during Olympics).
Also be wary - many ATMs in Olympic-y areas are charging up to $5 for service fees.

9 comments | reply | link

6:45pm, 02/16/10

I heard from Rick Green today that Neil Wyles, the industry leader, great guy, wry sense of humour, solid citizen (I'm serious) is very upset with me today. He's emailed me, and I haven't gotten the emails (yet) from him, but Rick forwarded what Neil had to say.

Neil's the owner of Hamilton Street Grill, one of the better steak shops in Vancouver.

Neil is upset because I've listed him as a #2010profiteers (or 2010profiteer) for the 18% auto gratuity included on all bills at HSG during the Olympics. (The list of both profiteers and niceprices places  is here and is updated daily.)

The arguments presented are ones that I've been hearing for several days, and to be fair, from a restaurateur / owner standpoint, they are quite valid.

The problem is, I'm not viewing them from a restaurateur viewpoint. I'm especially not viewing them from a server standpoint. I'm viewing them from a consumer standpoint - as are the 27 people who voted in a (very unscientific) Twitter Poll I had yesterday - they, along with me, find auto gratuities are terrible policy and one that does qualify a business as a Vancouver Olympics profiteer business. By comparison, only 6 people said auto gratuities does not elevate (lower?) a business to that standard.

Here's the thing. In my nearly 20 years in Vancouver, I've noticed a steady climb in what servers expect as a tip - in the 1990s, 10% was considered by many as a baseline, and 15% if you were happy with the service. Since then, the baseline seems to have climbed to 15% regardless, and 20% for good service, with some folks boasting 25% for exceptional service.

It'd be one thing if that was only consumers doing the decisions. But I know a lot of food service folks, and I can tell you that more often than not, 20% is now expected by some, especially at finer-dining places. I have one very vivid memory about this - about eight months ago when I left 15% at one of my favourite haunts, the next time I saw the server who took care of us that night, she made a point of asking me if the last service was okay, and what could she do to make it better - it was quite clear in that isolated incident that my 15% sent a message of "not satisfied".

Gratuities and tips somehow have shifted from optional to completely compulsory - no matter the level of service.

And this mentality has created a shift in establishments in many ways, many ways consumers aren't aware of. For instance, many independent shops expect servers to tip back to the house a percentage of their sales, for redistribution to other staff. Percentage of tips would be better, but harder to track, hence sales. And of course, most servers are paid bare minimum wage, (which incidentally is the lowest in Canada!), and expected to live off their tips; not their paycheck.

This shift in going from optional / 100% up to the customer to expected and expected minimums has also lead to the expectations of tips no matter who your customer is. With the Olympics here, Vancouver has had more international guests in our city than any other time going back to Expo 86, and probably beyond. Servers expect their 15-20%; the House expects their 2,3, 5% or more in sales back from servers to cover tipping out other staff who are otherwise underpaid (because tips make up their salary, and that is planned). So when a restaurant goes from $200 per seat up to $500 or $600 a night (as an example), but tips per seat don't climb at the same rate because many international visitors don't support the concept of tipping, what do some restaurants do? To keep everything happy within the restaurant, the concept of auto gratuities comes in.

I get it. I think most consumers, when finding out the behind the scenes stories, get it too. The problem is, getting it and supporting it are two different things.

When we tell not only International visitors but locals (and Americans) how much you should tip regardless of service, and enforce that tip with it pre-added to the bill, you take away a consumer's right to "reward" service as they choose, which is what tipping was all about in the first place. Tipping is not compulsory and never should be. If I have a terrible meal and mediocre service at a restaurant, I have no qualms about leaving no tip and writing on the bill / cc receipt exactly the reasons why I didn't tip.

Vancouver's also already an expensive city. Yaletown, downtown, Gastown restaurants jacking up prices and adding 18-20% auto gratuities doesn't help anyone in this city save for that solitary time at that specific restaurant for that specific server and staff on duty. It sends a bad message. Its two weeks. Why more restaurants didn't go the way of amending their staff policies for the two weeks (ie, lower payout, restaurateurs at sold out places raising staff pay for the two weeks) is, well, a case of economics and cost and ability to afford, etc etc. but I still think if a restaurant is seeing a 50, 75, 100% increase in avg. take per seat for the two Olympic weeks, they can afford to cover at least SOME lost per-revenue dollar tipping income that service staff might lose out on because of different sensibilities in tipping from our International guests.

One of my favourite restaurateurs in town is quite upset with me. But what I'll say to him and everyone else who thinks auto gratuities are necessary - your local, long term customers are saying no to that. Hopefully the policy will be re-examined, and good changes and positive things will come out of it.

4 comments | reply | link

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