Quebec restaurant owners want labour law reform to include tip-sharing mechanism

An association representing Quebec restaurant owners is calling on the province to include a tip-sharing mechanism in the labour code to address a wage gap between waiters and kitchen staff in many eateries.

Representatives were to appear later Tuesday before a legislature committee studying a bill that seeks to amend the province's labour standards act.

Martin Vezina, a spokesman for the Quebec Restaurant Association, said a tip-sharing measure giving restaurant owners the option to disperse tips comes as the industry is faced with staffing shortages due to the considerable wage gap.

The association conducted a survey last year that suggests wait staff make roughly $27 per hour versus about $16 for kitchen staff.

As it stands, only waiters receiving tips decide if and how they are divided and Vezina said owners have no say in the matter.

It means fewer people are willing to toil in the kitchen when they can make more money serving.

"We're losing kitchen staff,'' Vezina said. "What we're seeing in Quebec is there is a labour shortage coming up and it's a problem we need to face.''

Several renowned Quebec chefs are among 60 people from the industry who signed an open letter advocating for a more equitable distribution of tips, noting that gratuities are a recognition of the overall satisfaction of employees.

Jerome Ferrer, a chef at Montreal's Europea restaurant, believes many customers presume that's already the case.

Ferrer told The Canadian Press that keeping and recruiting cooks has been very difficult in recent years and profit margins don't allow for hefty raises without increasing menu prices.

For his part, Vezina said simply hiking the hourly rate of kitchen staff won't do much to address the wage gap. Raises equate to higher costs, more expensive prices on the menu and an increase in the overall bill to customers, which means higher tips.

Ferrer said sharing tips will cut some of the servers' wages but that there is some consensus in eateries that kitchen staff are entitled to a certain portion of tips.

"For those of us in the restaurant business, it seems obvious that it is, above all, teamwork and solidarity that ensure the complete satisfaction of a customer,'' he said.

Vezina said inspiration could be drawn from Ontario, which introduced a law governing employee tips in 2015. That legislation makes clear the tips belong to waiters, but allows an employer to collect gratuities solely for redistribution.

In Quebec, the association will request to have a sign clearly posted at a restaurant that shows a breakdown of how tips are split.

"What we're asking is for flexibility,'' Vezina said. "There will be some cases where (owners) don't need tip sharing because they don't face a wage gap, so it won't be implemented.''