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Wait until Pauline Marois gets wind of this. Speaking French in Burlington, Vt., could cost you at restaurants.
The practice has apparently stopped since a local Burlington paper, Seven Days, published an account of it recently, but waiters and restaurant managers said in interviews Tuesday that some local restaurants routinely added up to 20 per cent in gratuity to Quebecers’ cheques to counteract their widespread reputation as bad tippers.
“No restaurant here has a policy to do that, mainly because it’s illegal,” said Niall McMahon, a waiter/manager at Burlington’s Asiana Noodle Shop.
“But sometimes servers will do it. It’s at the waiter’s discretion.”
“A few times a week, we get tables that will eat for $100 and leave, like, three bucks or $5. And 100 per cent of the time for stuff like that, it’s French Canadians. Not all French Canadians do that, definitely not, but when it happens it’s always French Canadians. Basically, it’s large bills that get loose change as a tip.”
McMahon said that until recently, a tip was added by waiters at Asiana Noodle Shop “maybe three times a week. But I don’t think they’re doing that anymore since the story came out.”
One resident of Williston, Vt., recounted to Seven Days how 18 per cent had been added to her bill at another restaurant for the third time after the waiter heard her speaking French - igniting the controversy. Anne-Marie Humbert is French-born but has lived in the U.S. for 30 years. When she objected to the gratuity being imposed, it was withdrawn and she left a 15-per-cent tip.
Since then, a few restaurants have owned up to the practice, almost entirely aimed at French-speaking Canadians.
McMahon and a waitress at a restaurant in Plattsburgh, N.Y., who did not want her name or that of her establishment used, voiced a common complaint about cheapskate tipping from Canadians.
“It’s really discouraging,” said the waitress. “They’re lovely people, so I don’t know where it comes from. But most of the time, they leave between 5 and 7 per cent.”
The manager of the restaurant that got the ball rolling with the Humbert incident said the issue had gotten “completely out of hand. It’s totally absurd.”
“I love my northern neighbours. I pretty much ruled it out when I found out it happened. It was the fault of the waiter. I did not give anyone permission to do this.”
She asked that her name be kept confidential.
Josh Carpentier, a 33-year-old waiter/manager at Three Tomatoes, a trattoria on Church St. in the heart of the lakeside town, said that “we don’t add a gratuity unless there’s six people or more. We don’t base it on where they’re from, the language they speak or anything like that.”
He conceded that some Canadians, like some Americans, are bad tippers, but that “it kind of averages out.”
Like others, he noted that Canadians’ business means survival for his trattoria.
“I’d say upward of 65 per cent of our business comes from across the border.”
Kim Blow, 47, a part-time manager and waitress at Leunig’s Bistro & Café, also on Church St., added that perhaps Quebecers were not aware that the minimum wage for wait staff in Vermont is $4.10 an hour, half the $8.25 for Quebec restaurant and bar staff.
PAGEBREAKBlow, who has been in the business for 30 years, said that “we don’t discriminate that way.”
She knows about Quebecers’ reputation, but “I make out very well when I’m on the floor. The Canadians take very good care of me.”
“And my French is getting a lot better all the time.”
Her bistro is also highly dependent on Canadian business. “Some nights, it’s more Canadian than American.”
The Plattsburgh waitress said that a sort of linguistic profiling is inevitable when the same incidents occur time and time again.
“I give terrific service for 5 per cent a lot of the time. And unfortunately, it’s not the exception with Canadians.”
Nick Di Martino, kitchen manager of the Naked Turtle restaurant at Plattsburgh’s marina, said that lousy tipping by Canadians is “not a major issue. I think it’s a bit of a myth. But we’re talking about a place where people moor their $300,000 or $400,000 boats.”
It’s not the first time Canadians’ behaviour has come under fire recently from U.S. retailers dependent on cross-border business.
After Ottawa dramatically upped duty-free allowances for Canadians in June, some Facebook members petitioned a Costco in Bellingham, Wash., to set aside specific hours just for Americans. They complained of the rude, piranha-like conduct of British Columbian shoppers who parked chaotically and emptied pallets of cheap milk in seconds flat.
One B.C. entrepreneur tried to milk the controversy by selling $20 T-shirts emblazoned with the words “milk piranha.”
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