Restaurants in Burlington, Vermont, are being accused of discrimination after news reports that servers are tacking on automatic gratuities to customers with French accents -- a practice that primarily targets the Quebecois tourists who frequent the town.
Vermont news site 7 Days reported earlier this month on evidence that a number of restaurants in the town have been tacking on tips of as much as 18 per cent to customers with foreign accents. Some servers have reportedly dubbed it the “Queeb tax.”
Anne-Marie Humbert, a native of France who has been living in Vermont for 30 years, says she believes the policy is discriminatory and illegal. In an interview with ABC News, she said she experienced the “Queeb tax” -- despite not being from Quebec -- in three separate restaurants.
“Three times in less than a year I thought, 'There's something going on here,'" she told the network. "It was not a mistake."
Among the restaurants Humbert says is doing this is Asiana Noodle House. Owner Sandy Kong told ABC News the restaurant’s policy is to tack on an 18-per-cent tip to groups of five or more, but they make an exception for Canadians.
“Some Canadians come in, they spend like $100 or $150 and they leave the wait staff maybe a one-dollar tip," she said. "It happens pretty often. I realize that the Canadians think it's discrimination, but on all the receipts it's printed out on bottom—'we suggest an 18 or 20 percent tip.' "
Kong said other non-Americans are also guilty of being poor tippers. "Asians do it also. But it seems that Canadians tip the worst."
The Burlington restaurateurs point out that Vermont wait staff make considerably less -- $4.10 an hour -- than Quebec servers, whose minimum wage is $8.55 an hour.
Barb Bardin, owner of Burlington's Splash at the Boathouse, told 7 Days she is looking for ways to "educate" Quebecers and other foreigners on the practice of tipping, but says her restaurant doesn't have a policy on foreign customers and leaves it up to her staff to determine whether to tack on an automatic gratuity.
“Because the servers really have such a hard time with it, I just leave it up to them,” Bardin said.
Alex Hudson, a Montrealer working at Burlington’s American Flatbread, suggested Quebecers may be tipping badly because they are used to having automatic gratuities added to their bills back home.
“It’s just the way it works there,” he told 7 Days. “That’s why I think, for the most part, they may not tip as much.”
Despite the hard tack they’ve taken with cheap tippers, the city’s business community is emphatic that Canadian tourists are important to them.
Gen Burnell, communications head for the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Quebecers’ patronage is “absolutely essential to the health and vibrancy of [Vermont] tourism.”
Discrimination against restaurant customers has in the past led to legal proceedings. Florida’s attorney-general filed a discrimination lawsuit in 1999 against a Miami Beach restaurant accused of adding automatic gratuities to black customers’ bills. The restaurant eventually paid $15,000 to settle the case.
And for those wondering whether they can get away with refusing to pay an automatic gratuity, consider the case of this group of friends in Houston who refused to pay a mandatory tip after getting what they felt was bad service, only to have the doors locked and the police called on them.
Related on HuffPost:
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>
<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>