It’s that moment of restaurant reckoning.

Dessert is over. Your small group, be it friends, family or colleagues are ready to go home.

The server brings you the bill. You discreetly look it over, trying not to raise your eyebrows.

With cocktails, starters, bottled water, the asparagus upgrade and those two bottles of wine, it’s twice as much as you expected.

The remote credit card machine is insistent.

The tip, it says — percentage or amount?

Tipping has become awkward.

Not just in restaurants, but in taxis, hotels, coffee counters, home delivery and hot-food delicatessens.

Everybody wants a tip. Coffee shops have tip jars. Some restaurants now want payment upon ordering, before food is delivered to the table. But there’s still an expectation of a tip.

My wife and I recently travelled through rural Portugal and Spain.

Tipping is not part of those cultures. What a relief: No guilt, no raised eyebrows, no confusion. You paid the bill’s tally for food and drink. Nobody expected more. Tips were voluntary, and only for extraordinarily good service. Wasn’t that the original intent of tipping?

Tipping in Alberta has evolved from an unexpected reward for great service to something obligatory.

The unspoken expectation is a 15% tip (on top of the veggie “upgrade” charges, the $60 bottle of wine and GST) for run-of-the-mill service, 20% for good service and 25% for excellent service.

Ten percent today is an insult. No tip at all ... don’t go back, your meal might be mysteriously burnt.

The counter-reformation, however, has started.

A few bold, upscale restaurants — Alta and the Alder Room on Jasper Avenue, Cafe Linnea — have declared themselves no-tipping zones.

Bless UBER ride-sharing for its no-tipping policy.

The “why tip?” debate is increasingly vigorous.

With Alberta’s minimum wage moving to $15 an hour, all restaurant employees will be better paid. But prices will rise to cover higher wages. Remember too, that tips are generally shared. As a rule of thumb, one-third of servers’ tips are distributed to kitchen and support staff.

If VIVO Downtown introduced a no-tipping policy in its formal dining room, says managing director Gregg Kenney, the restaurant would have to pay its top servers $25 to $35 an hour. If not, “they’d leave to work at another upscale restaurant with tipping.”

You own the restaurant. How do you make ends meet paying $15 an hour for dishwashers, $25 to $35 an hour for servers? Raise your prices? But if prices get too high, customers will find alternatives – flowers on the table at home, a self-opened $15 bottle of wine, steaks from M&M.

Tipping is tip-toeing into other service industries. When the heck did that tip jar show up at the dry-cleaners?

The proliferation (and expectation) of tipping comes within a bigger picture.

The Alberta consumer is being nickeled and dimed to death by governments, companies and service industries.

Beer is now a minimum $2 a bottle at the liquor stores, all the increase being taxes, The actual price of natural gas, electricity and water is one-fifth of your monthly utility bill — the rest is outrageous transmission and distribution fees, “administrative” fees, city tax, GST and now the dreaded carbon tax. Still to come, wind and solar power subsidies.

Mobile phone bills ding you for this, that and everything in-between. Anything advertised as “starting at” is basically bogus, a mere marketing tool to get you in the showroom.

Consumer associations have faded to obscurity. Left-of-centre political parties, traditionally defenders of the working class, are busy saving the planet.

There’s no answer, other than letting the free market run its course.

But service industries should be on high alert. Albertans don’t have the disposable incomes of yesteryear, especially as baby-boomers retire and rein in their spending.

If restaurants get too pricey, if tip expectations keep growing, people will stop dining out or rediscover McDonald’s.

I’d love to see tips return to their original purpose, not expected, but given as a sincere thank-you for exceptional service.

But like the administration, delivery, city taxes, GST and carbon-tax fees on your utility bills, tipping is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.