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“Queeb tax”: Why French-speaking Canadians pay more in Vermont

We've heard about restaurants automatically adding gratuity fees to foreigners' bills before. But sometimes, it turns out, the stingy foreigners are … us.

According to ABC News, some restaurants in Burlington, Vt., are tacking on at least 18 per cent to the food bills of diners who speak a foreign language – and by foreign language, they mean French. As the broadcaster points out, the Vermont town is less than 160 kilometres from Montreal and attracts plenty of Canadian visitors each summer. And it appears we Canadians are considered lousy tippers.

Restaurant owner Sandy Kong told ABC News she usually only adds an automatic 18-per-cent gratuity charge to groups of five or more or people who are not good tippers.

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"But some Canadians come in, they spend like $100 or $150 and they leave the wait staff maybe a $1 tip," she said. "It happens pretty often. I realize the Canadians think it's discrimination, but on all the receipts it's printed out on bottom – 'we suggest an 18 or 20 per cent tip.'"

Ms. Kong, who is from Hong Kong, explained that Canadians aren't the only ones cheaping out on tips. "Asians do it also. But it seems that Canadians tip the worst."

One waitress told the broadcaster that a group of Québécois diners left a measly five-cent tip on a $40 bill. Ouch.

It seems customers from other nationalities – even foreign-language-speaking Americans – are getting caught in the mix. A France-born U.S. resident says she was automatically charged for gratuity at different restaurants because she had been speaking French.

Restaurant staff "explained to us that they get pretty bad tips from people from Quebec and Europe, and that they had a policy to add gratuity to get what they needed," Anne-Marie Humbert said.

As ABC News notes, servers in Vermont earn a paltry $4.10 (U.S.) an hour and rely on tips for a living. In Quebec, servers make a minimum of $8.35 (Canadian) an hour.

According to the Vermont publication Seven Days, servers in the state even have a name for the automatic gratuity charge: the "Queeb tax."

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Is it fair to impose an automatic tip? If it meant avoiding discrimination, would you be prepared to accept a universal surcharge for service?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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