You’ll have to forgive the relative brevity of this post — I’m writing it on my desktop, and after years of using my laptop almost exclusively to do my blogging, this feels somehow unnatural. I’ve never liked doing it those few other times I’ve been forced to, but, well, you know, boo hoo. Such a first-world problem, huh? Anyway, this is the first post in a whenever-I-remember-something-cool series about our trip to Minnesota. I promise not to fill it with tales of how amazing our hosts were (because I could do a whole blog of paeans to the Zvans, though that might get old quickly for them), and I’ll try to keep it to the more interesting points.
With Minnesota being so close to Canada not only in temperament, but in general climate, I wasn’t expecting too many culture shock moments. One hit us on the first night out, though, when we went to eat at a pub that serves poutine — Ben and Stephanie’s way of easing us into the trip, and a tasty one at that. The poutine was good, the clubhouse sandwich on rye was amazing, and the coffee-beer hybrid they served from their microbrews was a surprising and epic cap to the meal. So, all around, the first pub-in-Minnesota experience was net positive.
When we were on our way out the door, though, the wait staff that had been waiting on us the whole time approached and asked if he’d did anything wrong — because we had left the tip field blank on the bill, which we’d paid by Visa. He had a kicked puppy dog face on, and while at first I thought maybe he was wheedling for a tip out of some sense that he’d somehow gone above and beyond, I picked up on the cues from Ben and Stephanie that this was out of the ordinary. I quickly made some apologies, called myself a douchebag, and handed him a bill from my wallet — pretty sure it was a twenty, as at that point I don’t think we’d broken any of the bills for our spending money yet. On our way out to the car, Ben explained that wait staff in the States apparently makes LESS than minimum wage. There’s a special hourly rate that businesses have to pay staff that otherwise gets tipped, and most businesses are happy to pay exactly that minimum, with the expectation that they will get 18% gratuity on every single transaction.
That’s right, here in Canada, it’s much different. Minimum wage is minimum wage, and wait staff in places like pubs will make the same as people working at McDonald’s. Tips are generally given in Canada as a way to reward the staff for a good meal and good service, rather than an expectation set by the government as a way of externalizing cost-sinks for businesses. And yet, there are pubs and restaurants throughout Canada. They don’t “go under” just because they have to pay their staff a fair wage. Granted, there are some cases where wait staff will just “phone it in” and won’t do anything to earn any tips, but still, at least they can pay the rent even if they’re just scraping by on the service side of things. I’m seriously surprised that a country as big on keeping money flowing, completely forgets that a higher minimum wage actually benefits everyone in the pyramid, because more wages in the lower-middle class means more money spent on Playstations and fancy clothing and regular trips to have beer at pubs. That’s, thankfully, something Canada seems to have gotten. There’s no discrepancy between tipped places and non-tipped for the minimum wage, and the economy works itself out just fine. No businesses are dying as a result, and nobody’s hurting for cash on the lower tiers of the income scale. Nova Scotia’s minimum wage is $9.20 right now, which is $8.92 USD (yeah, we’re almost on par). In Minnesota, it’s $5.25USD, which is far and away higher than the $2.13/hr USD federally mandated minimum for tipped workers. And the Republicans are slavering to cut it further. Capitalism at its finest.
I can’t emphasize how weird this is to me. I mean, some really fancy sit-down restaurants around here generally expect tips, which go to the chefs or are split amongst all the wait staff, rather than the specific person who got tipped. But I’ve never had anyone chase me on my way out the door because my inattention to the minor culture-difference details may have meant the difference between eating fresh fruit and veggies this week, and eating Kraft Dinner. Which I suppose in that case would be Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Truly a jarring moment. Maybe not the best way to start the trip, but our benefactors went out of their way to help fix that over the week we spent with them.
More on that, as they say, some other time!