I was at an event last night hosted by Women's Post and a woman entrepreneur in the audience who was in the events planning business in Ontario asked why harmonized sales tax (HST) was charged being charged on gratuities (she had noticed this since the implementation of HST). She noticed that venues and caterers were quoting (1) the charge for the room and/or (2) the food/beverages and (3) a mandatory gratuity and that HST was being charged on all charges, including the gratuity.
The answer is that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) considers the mandatory gratuity to be extra consideration for the supply (say, of the venue.food/beverages/etc) rather than a contribution towards the salary (non-taxable) of the employees that will be working the event. The CRA had taken this position with the goods and services tax (GST). GST/HST is payable on the consideration for the supply and since the gratuity is considered by the CRA to be additional consideration, it goes into the calculation/formula. As a result, the CRA takes the position that GST/HST is payable on the added consideration that is the gratuity portion.
I have seen the same analysis used by CRA when they look at gratuities paid on restaurant meals, resort vacation packages, hair salon services, spa services, etc - whenever there is a mandatory gratuity OR when the gratuity is included in credit card payment (that is the recipient pays adds a gratuity to a credit card payment). For example, when I go to the hair salon, I pay by VISA. Before I indicate my PIN number when I use my chip card, I am asked whether I wish to add a tip or gratuity and I usually add 15%-20% of the tax-excluded price for the services rendered. The CRA when auditing such service providers/venues, adds the gratuity amounts to the consideration for the services and calculates the GST/HST owing.
Based on the cases I have seen, often the service provider does not charge the GST/HST on the gratuity portion and has to dip into their pockets to pay a substantial assessment.
The morale of the story is that when possible, recipients should give waitresses/waiters and service providers cash tips when they are adding an amount to the bill for the exceptions services performed by the individual to the recipient. If the gratuities are in the invoices or in the credit card payments 13/113 of the amount in Ontario (12/112 in BC, 15/115 in NS, 113/113 in Nfld/Lab. and NB) will not go to the waitress/service provider and will be remitted to the Receiver General of Canada. This is unfortunate because the individuals affected are making low hourly wages and rely on the gratuities as employment income (to make ends meet).
I have been involved in structuring the payments so that more money goes to the real people who work very hard for the additional employment income - it is possible if a business plans in advance of the CRA visit.