Tipping

In restaurants

Gratuities are seldom included in Canadian restaurants.  It is customary to tip approximately 15% on the total bill before tax, 20% for exceptional service.  Approximately because tipping is personal and if 10% is your personal choice then tip 10%; but 15% is customary and (rightly or wrongly) expected.

Many restaurants may charge an automatic 15% or more gratuity for larger groups.  This is up to the individual establishment but is usually applicable to groups of 8 or more. Some restaurants also "auto-grat" groups from countries that don't normally tip.  A "tip" for calculating the appropriate tip at a restaurant is simply to multiply the 5% GST (Goods and Services Tax) amount shown on the bill by three--three times 5% is 15%.  The GST has been replaced by the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) in Ontario (13%) and the Atlantic provinces (13% to 15%) and, depending on the amount, it may be easy to round up to 15%. 

In hotels

It is also a good idea to tip in hotels. Tipping at hotels does not stop with the hotel staff that brings baggage to a guest room. For example, if the valet service is used to park a car, it is customary to leave a tip. If you are in and out with your vehicle several times a day, many valets will refuse a tip each time. When they refuse, it is a nice touch to leave a little extra on their next tip. It is also appreciated when a tip is left for your hotel room attendant. One idea is to write 'Thank You' on a notepad and leave the tip there. Also, if the hotel concierge does something extra, such as securing theatre tickets for you it is the usual practice to leave a tip for that service.

For other services

Tipping is also customary for other service providers such as hairdressers, manicurists, aestheticians and taxi drivers. In these cases the percentage of tip is really up to the individual, but 10% minimum is common.

In some tourist destinations, "tips jars" have started appearing in places that provide counter service -- coffee shops, ice cream shops, cafeterias etc. , and even in some retail stores. Foreign visitors who are unaccustomed to Canada may feel that this means that Canadians would normally provide a tip, but that is not so.  It is not necessary to tip for counter service, and it is definitely not customary to tip the clerk in retail stores.  Whether you put money in such a "tips jar" is entirely your choice, and you will not be rude if you choose not to. 

Tipping is your choice, however you need to consider...

Aside from situations in which a gratuity is charged by the establishment (noted above), remember that tipping is your choice.  It is common to tip in restaurants, but it is not required.  It is not as common for other service providers (hairdressers, manicurists, etc...); again it is a choice.  Overall, servers/wait staff are not paid very well in Canada and many of them rely on tips.  However, tipping is up to the customer.  Sometimes the service is worth a tip, but other times it is not. 

If you have a bad restaurant experience, however, many people — especially those in the food service industry — feel quite strongly that refusing to tip is not the best way to respond. If food is bad, why should the server be punished by no tip? If the service is slow because the kitchen is slow, it is unfair to not tip. If a server is rude to you, you should do more than just withhold a tip. If your experience was so poor that you are considering not leaving any tip, consider speaking to a manager instead. Most managers want to know about problems so they have an opportunity to make things better for their customers. That could extend to offering you a free meal, which is a much better solution. Of course, complaints about a dish which you ate (even though you didn't like it) lack credibility.  So if the food is bad, tell your server (or, if necessary, the manager) about it immediately.

It is also important to remember that in many restaurants, the server is required to "tip out" -- that is, to give a percentage of his/her total sales to cover tips for hostesses, bussers and similar service staff.  This happens regardless of what level of tip he/she received from you, because it's based on sales, not on tips.  If you choose not to tip, the server still has to tip those other support workers.  So by choosing not to tip, you may actually cost the server money from his/her own pocket.

Etiquette

Common courtesy, as practiced anywhere in the world, is also much appreciated in Canada. Polite requests for services or attention generally means you will be cared for in the same manner. Smiles, patience and a friendly approach are appreciated anywhere you travel.

Apart from $1 and $2 coins (loonies and toonies), quarters, nickels, and dimes are much the same size and weight as American coins, with one crucial difference: Canadian coins are magnetic, U.S. are not, so U.S coins will not work in Canadian machines.  Usually clerks will offer to help if someone is having difficulty. The bills are clearly marked and come in different colours so it is fairly easy to use the Canadian system. (Pennies are no longer in circulation.)

Canada is proud of its multiculturalism. This multiculturalism manifests itself in part in a great acceptance of differing languages. The City of Toronto, for example, publishes many materials in over 70 languages. Canadians are accustomed to speaking with people on a daily basis whose first language is not English, however, a visitor may need to be prepared to be patient and accommodating at times.  For the most people will find little difference in word usage between the States and Canada.

Francophone (French-speaking) Canadians can be very patient with visitors' poor French skills, but it is still best to make the effort to try to speak French.  This is more out of courtesy or respect than efficiency.  Even if you think it's likely you're speaking to someone who can speak English, you will notice a very warm response to your attempts at their language, with plenty of help if you wish it.  However, most bilingual people will switch to the language in which you seem to be most comfortable — especially if they feel respected.

Visitors often comment on Canadians' politeness.  In part it is a result of Canada's British heritage, but it may surprise visitors when Canadians will say "please" and "thank you" readily, and apologize for bumping into someone on the sidewalk. Canadians are by nature more reserved and quieter than American neighbours, but no less warm or helpful. Do not hesitate to ask for directions or help in situations as Canadians are more than willing to give assistance.

Climate, geography and language can vary tremendously from one area of Canada to another and recognizing each province or region as distinctive, will be much appreciated - particularly in Quebec, where French is the primary language.

Therefore when travelling in Canada, it can help to learn a little Canadian geography.  There are ten provinces which are roughly analogous to states; and three territories. The capital of Canada is Ottawa, not Toronto as many visitors may think.

The word 'Indian' — as in American Indian — is considered offensive in most places in Canada, though it is still heard in northern communities.  The same peoples here are known as First Nations, Native, or Aboriginal peoples, and the term Inuit is used rather than Eskimo. Groups of First Nations are also not referred to as 'tribes', but rather are members of 'bands' or 'nations'.

Canada is not cold all year round; you can golf year-round in Victoria and it may surprise visitors that southwestern Ontario is on the same latitude as northern California. The weather in Alberta and the Rocky Mountains can be cold (with snow) even in the summer, but it can also be 30°C....which is 86°F. Recognizing a few temperature conversions will make it easier to gauge weather. For instance, 10°C is 50°F and 20°C is about 70°F. Understanding the system allows travellers to anticipate the weather in different parts of the country, so they can dress appropriately for the conditions.

Travel etiquette often means understanding and appreciating the differences in countries and cultures, and being able to demonstrate an acceptance of those differences.  Canada is no exception.  From the east coast, to the west coast, to remote communities, and big cities, there is a world of difference in the various local customs and cultures.

-What other country could have two people from the same country, speaking the same language, not understand each other? (e.g. northern Ontarian speaking with an east coaster)

Public Behaviour

Business

  • In business situations, a handshake is used upon greetings or introductions. Men usually wait for women to offer their hand before shaking.
  • An open, cordial manner is usually necessary when dealing with Canadian businesspeople.
  • Conversation

  • Direct--but not too intense--eye contact can be acceptable, especially when you want to convey interest and sincerity. Some ethnic groups, however, look away to confer respect.
  • The standard distance between two people should be two feet.
  • Francophones usually are not as reserved as Anglophones. Moreover, they are often more likely to use expansive gestures, stand closer while talking, and touch during a conversation.
  • Greetings are English expressions similar to those in Great Britian and the United States, such as “good morning”, “good afternoon”, “good evening”, “hi”, and “hello.” Some young people have recently adopted "hey" as an informal greeting; it is used the same way as "hi", and is not meant to be disrespectful.
  • “How are you?” is a popular greeting in Canada. This question does not require a literal-minded, detailed answer; a simple “Fine, thank you” will suffice.
  • When parting, common expressions are "goodbye", "bye", "have a nice day", "good night", and " see you later". "Have a safe trip" is a sincere expression of good wishes and friendly concern.   
  • When someone says "thank you", expected responses are "you're welcome" , "no problem", or "happy to help".  The response "Uh huh" is frequently heard in the USA, but may be interpreted as rude in Canada.
  • Canada is a very open society, exercising maximum social tolerance. Boasting and ostentation, however, tends to be frowned upon or at least regarded with some misgivings.
  • In public, emotion is kept under restraint. Most Canadians try to be tactful when dealing with other people. For the most part, they will try to avoid arguing or causing scenes in public.
  • It is considered rude for people to speak in a foreign language in the presence of others who do not understand what is being said. If you are in a group where everyone speaks and understands that language, speaking it in public within that group is acceptable (e.g. while dining together at a restaurant, or touring attractions as a group).
  • Generally, Canadians like to consider themselves as tolerant of religious diversity, but many are uncomfortable with certain outward displays of religion.
  • Gestures & Body Language

  • If you see an acquaintance at a distance, a wave is an appropriate acknowledgement.
  • If you need to point, use the index finger. Pointing at other people, however, is often considered unacceptable. If you need to point at a person in public, wave your whole hand in their general direction or nod your head toward them.
  • To beckon someone, ensure that you wave with your fingers curled toward you and that your palm is facing up.
  • The “O.K.” sign, and the “thumbs up” sign are two popular gestures used for expressing approval.
  • To wave good-bye, move your entire hand facing outward.
  • If you want to give the “V” for victory sign, do so with the palm facing out. Attempting this gesture with the palm inward may cause offense.
  • Generally, friends of the same gender do not hold hands. But same gender partners may hold hands or demonstrate affection in public. However, tolerance for public affection between same-gender partners can vary greatly within Canada and within Canadian cities. Same-gender marriage became legal in Canada in 2005, making it the fourth country in the world to legally accept this practise.
  • Throwing money or credit cards on the counter for an employee in a shop, hotel or restaurant is considered insulting.
  • Shopping, Banking, & Dining

    The GST (Goods and Services Tax) rebate formerly available to visitors from USA and overseas is no longer available.
  • Common courtesies such as holding doors open for the person behind you are appreciated and often expected. If someone holds the door open for you it is polite to respond by saying "thank you".
  • People using bank machines (ABMs or ATMs) expect the next person in line to stand a few feet behind them. In a shop it is considered proper privacy etiquette for the store clerk to turn their head or direct their attention away from you while you enter your PIN number into the debit/credit machine, others in line behind you should do the same. Nevertheless, you should always shield your hand and the keypad from view when intering your PIN.
  • People routinely line up to pay for items in stores, buy tickets in movie theatres, and board public transportation. Even without a formal line, expect to be served on a “first come, first served” basis. Be patient when waiting to be served. Also, If you are in a place with two cash registers (tills) side by side, don't be suprised to see the line form in between the two. The person at the front of the line (queue) has the choice of whichever till becomes available first. This can give the mistaken impression that there is nobody in line behind the people who are currently being served, so be careful to check for a line forming a little ways back from the cash registers and service area; otherwise, you may unintentionally jump the queue.  Canadians deeply resent people who push ahead in line.
  • Most restaurants in Canada don't have a smoking section. It is a non-smoking environment almost everywhere. In an increasing number of Canadian communities, there are by-laws in effect prohibiting smoking in restaurants, bars, and even public parks. With the exception of the streets, and even those are becoming less tolerant of smokers, you will find that smoking is restricted in most public places. Since smoking in restaurants falls under municipal jurisdiction, you will find that the rules vary depending on the city or town that you are in.
  • On the Road

  • Similar to the United States, one should expect to encounter more aggressive driving behaviour in Canada's urban areas, as opposed to rural areas, especially in the Central Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. One should also expect higher vehicle speeds, in excess of the speed limit, on rural roads or county/range roads where law enforcement is less common and the distances between populated areas greater. 
  • Pedestrian behaviour differs depending on the region, with "jay walking" being more common in Central Canada than in the West or East.  That being said, only the pedestrians in Montreal rival those of New York City, in terms of seemingly ignoring traffic signals. Be aware that some cities have strict zero-tolerance laws for "jay walking" (for example: London, Ontario) and you could be fined for violating this law.
  • Treatment of pedestrians, by drivers, also differs across the country.  In Alberta, provincial laws accord right of way to pedestrians at virtually all intersections, and cross walks are very common.  Stringent enforcement over the years have made Alberta drivers very cautious, leading to most erring on the side of caution whenever a pedestrian comes into view on a roadway.  Jay walking is accordingly fairly rare in Alberta, and can lead to some embarassment for the jay walker when cars suddenly stop while he or she tries to slip quickly across a city street. In Ontario, however, you will find pedestrians crossing the street and vehicles turning as soon as the pedestrian has crossed the center line. 
  • By contrast, a jay walker in Montreal or Toronto arguably takes his life into her own hands, as Quebec and Ontario drivers are not compelled by law to give right of way to pedestrians outside of official cross walks (which often times go unnoticed by many drivers).
  • Comparable to the United States, if the oncoming traffic has the right of way to turn left in front of you, granted by the "advanced left" signal, then you should not proceed with a right turn into the path of the turning vehicles. It is unsafe and you can expect honking or rude gestures from motorists.  
  • Some communities have traffic signals that use a flashing green light to indicate "advanced left" turn instead of the more common green left arrow light. Fortunately, many of these traffic lights also include a sign stating "Advanced green when flashing" or "Advanced left when flashing" for those not familiar with this signal.
  • On expressways, the left lane is reserved for passing or faster vehicles. Even if they are driving faster than the posted speed limit, slower vehicles are expected to move to the right for vehicles attempting to overtake them. Drivers are also expected to make room (normally by shifting one lane over, or slowing down to match progressing speed) with vehicles merging onto the expressway. In some provinces, slower vehicles are required by law to keep right; in other provinces, this is just customary. If you are driving slower and fail to move over to the right, the vehicle behind you may tailgate you until you get out of their way. Speeds on the "inside" (left) lanes can increase by 10 to 20 km/h (6 to 12
  • mph) per lane from the "outside" (far right) lane which tends to travel within 10 km/h (6 mph) of the posted speed limit. This means on a four lane highway posted at 100 km/h (65 mph) you can expect the inside lane to be approximately 120 km/h (75mph).This is not legal but very common.
  • On the highway, if an oncoming driver flashes his headlights on and off before you, he is probably attempting to inform you that you have neglected to turn your lights on (especially if at dusk or at night).  Since 1990, all Canadian vehicles come equipped with automatic daytime running lights. In other words, the headlights are automatically turned
  • on when driving, but at a lower birghtness than the nighttime setting.  However, they may also be attempting to warn you of an approaching traffic hazard (accident, animals on the highway, etc) or police "speed trap" ("radar trap").
  • At night, if an oncoming driver switches to her high-beam setting and back before you, she is normally attempting to inform you that you have neglected to switch from high- to low-beam with your own car.
  • Radar and laser detectors may not be used in most of Canada's provinces, although they remain legal in some locations, such as the province of Alberta.  The use of automatic traffic speed cameras (photo radar) is widespread in some provinces (such as Alberta) but politically unpopular in other provinces, such as Ontario and BC. The speed camera automatically photographs your vehicle if it is speeding and a traffic violation ticket is mailed to you. If you are driving a rental car, the rental agency receives the ticket and then charges your credit card. Some cities, including Edmonton, Alberta, have a zero tolerance policy and will issue tickets if you are driving even 1 km/h over the limit, while other provinces and cities will allow up to a 10 km/h buffer. 
  • Talking on your phone (except when using a hands-free device) or using other hand-held electronic devices while driving is illegal. If an activity takes your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road, it is unsafe and, depending on the jurisdiction, you could be charged with distracted driving. Fines can range from $100 to $400 for a first offence, and you could also receive up to 4 demerits.
  • In many provinces, if an emergency vehicle (police, fire, ambulance) is at the side of the road with their lights on, you are to move into the passing lane whenever possible.  If you do not move into the passing lane and there was the opportunity to do so, you can face a costly traffic ticket. You may also be required to slow down to 60 km/h when passing stopped emergency vehicles when their flashing lights are on, depending on the province. The RCMP website has a summary of each province's laws for passing emergency vehicles
  • Another increasingly common law in Canada is the "smoke free vehicle" law, which prohibits smoking even in their own private vehicles, when a person under the age of 16 is present. 
  •  In Canadian Homes

  • You will be expected to remove your shoes as soon as you enter most Canadian homes. If you're unsure about this, or uncomfortable, simply ask your host if you should take your shoes off. This is a bit of a hangover from the long Canadian winters, but is practiced all year.
  • In most Canadian families, at meals you are expected to request items and not to just reach and grab it,  e.g.. "Please pass the butter".
  • While Canadians commonly have a cell phone with them,  you should turn it off or down during a meal out of respect for your host.
  • If you are invited to a Canadian home for dinner, it is normal to bring a small "hostess gift" or contribution to the evening.  Flowers, a bottle of wine, or a box of chocolates are typical gifts.