TORONTO - It's time the Ontario government prohibited bar and restaurant owners from taking a portion of the tips left by customers for waiters, waitresses and bartenders, the New Democrats said Monday.

It's common practice for servers to share tips with kitchen staff, but many customers don't realize bar and restaurant owners may also take a cut of the gratuities, said NDP finance critic Michael Prue.

"What we’re opposed to is tip outs, where the owner or manager of a restaurant takes a percentage of the tips to supplement their own wages," Prue said in an interview.

"We don’t think that people who are giving tips know that the waiter or waitress who just provided great service has to give some of that away."

Liquor servers in Ontario have a minimum wage of just $8.90 an hour, compared with $10.25 for most workers, and they depend on their tips to make up that difference, added Prue. Some restaurant owners take all of the tips meant for staff, he said.

"For a manager to come along and take that tip, even a percentage of it, is totally wrong, because the tip was not intended for management," said Prue.

"It’s illegal in places like New York state, and it should be illegal here too."

However, Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey said it's OK for management to take a share of tips as long as that practice is clear when the staff are hired.

"I think that they need to have that relationship clear at the very beginning of the employment history," Jeffrey told reporters.

"We want employers to treat their employees fairly, and if they are not treated fairly they should speak to the Ministry of Labour."

Good wait staff and bartenders can always find work elsewhere if they don't want to share tips with their employers, added Jeffrey.

"When you are a good server, it’s a very competitive environment. You can go where you can get the best deal," she said.

The Ontario Restaurant and Bar Association said it does not think the practice of management taking a portion of tips is widespread.

"I haven’t run across it in my career, and I’ve been in the business for 30 or 40 years," said John Couse, president of the association.

"It’s not all that common, so I’m not sure it’s a pressing issue that needs legislation."

Prue said some restaurant owners demand a percentage of the total bill, so if the customer doesn't leave a tip the waiter or waitress is expected to pony up the difference.

"If you have a $100 meal and you don’t leave a tip, the employee has to pay $5 for having served you," he said.

The "Protecting Employees' Tips Act" is Prue's second attempt to ban the practice of tip outs. His earlier private member's bill died on the order paper when last year's election was called.

"Now we have an opportunity, in this minority parliament, to see to it that restaurant and bar owners and managers be banned from taking their employees' tip money," said Prue.

"We have a chance to finally give these workers the protection they so deserve."

Jeffrey refused to say what she thinks of bar and restaurant managers taking a percentage of the tips left for their staff, or if she would be willing to change the law to ban tip outs.

THE 9 CRAZIEST RESTAURANT TIPS
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  • The "Pennies in Water" Tip

    "I'd say the strangest tipping story I can remember involved a long-term server at a restaurant in which I was the general manager. My server was having a bad night, and toward the end, a dinner party broke all tipping etiquette rules and left him nothing more than about 20 pennies...in the bottom of a glass of water.I'm still not sure why it happened, but the server scooped up the pennies, followed the party into the parking lot and threw them at the departing customers. A fight ensued and the cops ended up getting called. They ultimately hauled my server away in handcuffs and charged him with attempted assault. The charges were later dropped." <em>Story via David Bakke, Editor at <a href="http://www.moneycrashers.com/">Money Crashers Personal Finance</a></em> <strong>[Also see: <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/take-tipping-quiz-what-kind-of-tipper.html" target="_blank">Take the Tipping Quiz: What Kind of Tipper Are You?</a>]</strong> <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/puuikibeach/6746802715/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: puuikibeach</a></em>

  • The Gift Card Tip

    <strong>Story 1:</strong> "I got a customer who tipped me with a $15 Walmart gift card. He said he would not tip cash because bartenders and servers use it for drugs!" <strong>Story 2:</strong> "After drinking two Long Island iced teas and falling asleep at my bar, a customer went to pay her tab and had exactly enough money to purchase the drinks. She really wanted to give me something, and went through her bag and found a Wendy's gift card. 'There's just enough for a Frosty on there, enjoy!' she said (while I was thinking that a Frosty wasn't going to pay my rent). She was nice about it, so I kept my mouth shut even though I don't even like Wendy's. I carried it around for a while, and when I did finally try to use it on a road trip, the cashier swiped it, looked at me and said, 'sorry, sir, this gift card has a balance of zero."< <strong>[Also see: <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/crazy-tipping-story-rush-limbaugh.html" target="_blank">Crazy Tipping Story: Rush Limbaugh Edition</a>]</strong>

  • The Make-Out Bribe

    "I was working at a restaurant in Washington, DC, and there was this guy sitting at the bar. After chatting with him a little bit, he told me he'd give me a $100 tip if I would make out with him. Skeevy, but this would have equaled around 500% since he only spent about $20. I politely declined, saying 'I can't do that, I'm seeing someone right now.' I'll be honest, I would have done it, and I wish I did (especially after I learned that my boyfriend at the time was cheating on me). We chatted for a while, and I kept telling him 'I'm sorry I can't do that.' As he was leaving, he stopped, and with a completely serious look said, 'if you want to go to Paris, I'll take you to Paris.' I think he was serious." <strong>[Also see: <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/restaurant-policy-debates-should-credit.html" target="_blank">Restaurant Policy Debates: Should Credit Card Payments Be Limited?</a>]</strong> <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/taniasaiz/4546732837/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: TaniaSaiz</a></em>

  • The "End Of The World" Tip

    "One interesting story came on the eve of one of the many dates (yes, this has happened multiple times) in the recent past when the world was supposed to "come to an end." I think it was in May 2011. A server of mine came to me at the end of the night and said she just got a $100 tip on a $20 tab from a single guest. She mentioned it to the customer to make sure he didn't make a mistake. His response was, "No, it's all yours. The world is ending tomorrow, so I won't have time to spend it." He clearly wasn't trying to eat cheap on this night!" <em>Story via David Bakke, Editor at <a href="http://www.moneycrashers.com/" target="_blank">Money Crashers Personal Finance</a></em> <strong>[Also see: <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/must-try-cheap-eats-in-7-cities.html" target="_blank">Must-Try Cheap Eats in 7 Cities</a>]</strong> <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixagraphic/4244292846/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: pixagraphic</a></em>

  • Verbal "Tips"

    <strong>Story 1:</strong> "Here's a tip: find a different line of work!" <strong>Story 2:</strong> "While signing the tab for her credit card, a customer decided to give me a verbal tip as well. She looked at me and said I had the eyes of a serial killer, I should be careful when I walk around midtown because I might scare people." <strong>Story 3:</strong> "I had a guy write on the tab, 'Don't stand up in a canoe.' Um...." <strong>[Also see: <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/service-debates-when-are-requests.html" target="_blank">Service Debates: When Are Requests Unreasonable?</a>]</strong> <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tigerzeye/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: lifecreations</a></em>

  • The Trippy Tip

    "Back in the early '80s I was a hostess at a Pizza Hut. One very busy lunch rush, I was carrying a pitcher of soda and a tray of ice-filled tumblers out to a table I had just seated when another customer stuck out his foot and tripped me. I held on to the soda, but the tray went flying. I can't swear he did it on purpose but if he didn't, it was awfully clumsy of him. On the chance it was deliberate, for the rest of his visit, I was absolutely fawning. I filled his glass several times, pre-bussed his table, got his dessert when the server was busy and generally killed him with kindness. When I went to clear his table, two slips of paper lay there. A $5 bill was under one marked 'for the waitress.' Under the other was a $20 bill marked 'for the hostess, with my apologies.' My grandmother was right about catching more flies with honey!" <strong>[Also see: <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/which-dishes-bring-home-bacon-look-at.html" target="_blank">Which Dishes Bring Home the Bacon: A Look at Restaurant Mark-Ups</a>]</strong> <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/audin/2045716381/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: Audin</a></em>

  • A Tip For Kicking Someone Out

    "I was bartending at a super-busy bar and these two drunks were sitting on the stools, making out with each other and bothering the patrons. After a while it became clear that they had too much. I went around filling drink orders, and when I got to them I just told them that the only thing they could order for the rest of the night was water. Cut. Off. They were super pissed, railing about how 'stupid' the bar was as they gathered their things and left (nearly falling over). Yeah, they didn't end up tipping me after they paid, but another customer more than made up for it when he turned to me, said, 'thanks for getting rid of those a--holes' and put a $20 down on the bar just like that." <strong>[Also see: <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/would-you-pay-to-have-your-silverware.html" target="_blank">Would You Pay to Have Your Silverware Replaced?</a>]</strong> <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/macsurak/776733587/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: CHRISTOPHER MACSURAK</a></em>

  • The 200% Tip

    "It was 12:55 AM on a Saturday night and three friends and I needed a late-night pick-me-up after a night of hopping around to a few shows. We were in Kansas City, Missouri, visiting my in-laws and some friends. After much debate, we decided to stop at Winstead's since my husband had raved about their delicious milkshakes. We walked in, and the nice waitress told us they closed at 1 AM, but if we ordered in the next five minutes, we could stay. How nice is that? So we quickly decided and ordered a vanilla Skyscraper (a milkshake that serves at least eight-10 people and comes in a giant pitcher that looks like a flower vase), some fries, onion rings and The Winstead (a burger).Our food came within a few minutes and we began to chow down. It was getting close to 1:15 AM, and we began feeling bad because we were the only ones in the restaurant and all the employees were cleaning up. This is when we all decided we were going to leave a very big tip. We finished up and left almost a 200% tip. As we were walking out the door, the friendly waitress yelled "Thank You!" to us, and we were on our way. But as we were walking to the car, we turned around to see a dancing waitress waving money in the air. We were thrilled as well to give a little extra to make someone's night that much more special." <strong>[Also see: <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/8-totally-overrated-ingredients.html" target="_blank">8 Totally Overrated Ingredients</a>]</strong></strong> <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gemsling/542274369/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr user: gemsling</a></em>

  • The $100 Tip

    <strong></strong>"The best tip I ever got was from a regular guest of mine who couldn't secure a table in my station but could watch my busy night. On his way out of the restaurant, he shook my hand and said, 'You work too hard.' He tipped me a hundred dollars on the one night I didn't wait on him. Never did beat that." <strong>[Also see: <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/tipping-quiz-results.html" target="_blank">Tipping Quiz: The Results</a>]</strong>