Vallee.Aug 15: Burlington made international headlines at the height of the summer tourism season when a few local restaurants ’fessed up to a highly questionable — and possibly illegal — tipping practice: adding automatic gratuities to the checks of diners who appeared to be Québécois.
Steve Hulsey and Anne-Marie Humbert realized they’d been hit with the so-called Queeb tax after a July meal at Splash at the Boathouse. Though the couple resides in Williston, Humbert is originally from France. On this occasion, her French-speaking nephew was visiting, so they were all speaking French at dinner.
When Humbert asked her server about the 18 percent tip on her bill, she said the waitress explained that she heard them speaking French, and the restaurant had “kind of a policy” to tack on the gratuity for parties that appeared to be from Québec or Europe.
Why? Because foreign diners have a reputation for being poor tippers.
Humbert also complained of similar treatment at Asiana Noodle House, where the owner, Sandy Kong, acknowledged that she let servers decide whether or not to “auto-grat” the tabs of foreign customers.
Update: After Seven Days broke the story, it went viral in the U.S. and Canadian media. Seven Days received a record number of letters to the editor on global tipping practices as well as the pros and cons of paying workers that way. At least one restaurateur is still smarting from the unwelcome attention. When we called for an update, Splash owner Barbara Bardin told us to “shut up about it” already.
Asiana Noodle House owner Sandy Kong says her Church Street restaurant was flooded by phone calls from Canadians after the story spread. “They would call us and harass us,” she says. “We got this one guy — I think he was Canadian — he came into the restaurant, walked straight through to the kitchen, and started yelling and screaming at us.”
Now her menu clearly states that tips will be automatically included for parties of five or more — regardless of nationality — but her waitstaff no longer has permission to add a tip whenever they feel like it.
The good news? The talk blew over, and Kong says the Canadians who do visit the restaurant seem to be tipping more generously.
How did the uproar affect Burlington restaurants — and other businesses? Burlington Business Association executive director Kelly Devine says talk of the Queeb tax subsided after the summer tourism rush. She believes that the few restaurants singled out for unfair tipping practices have changed their policy, and speculates, “It was a learning lesson for some folks who were doing that in the community.”
How do you say “Oops!” in French?