Proven methods for servers to increase their tips

Proven methods for servers to increase their tips

In 2004 Dr. Michael Lynn, associate professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, produced a paper entitled “Mega Tips: Scientifically Tested Techniques to Increase Your Tips” [PDF]. If you work in a restaurant, reading this pamphlet could help you increase your earnings. But if you don't work in food service, knowing these techniques may help you separate good service from subtle manipulation! Lynn writes:

The techniques described [here] were mostly tested in low to mid-priced, casual dining restaurants. Thus, these techniques should work in such informal operations as [Applebee's, Chili's, Denny's, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, and TGI Friday's]. On the other hand, these techniques may not work in more formal, upscale restaurants such as Chart House, Morton's of Chicago, or Ruth Chris Steak House. In fact, most of the techniques would be inappropriate in the more formal atmosphere of fine dining restaurants.

Among the scientifically-tested techniques to improve tips are these:

    • Wear something unusual — “Although you must usually wear a server's uniform at work, add a distinctive element of clothing, jewelry or other adornment to your uniforms so that you stand out. This will help customers perceive you as an individual person rather than a faceless member of the staff.”
    • Introduce yourself by name — Because introducing yourself can make you seem friendly and polite, the customer is more likely to feel empathy toward the server, thus increasing tips.
    • Squat next to the table — Oh, how I hate when a server does this, and yet research continues to indicate that it leads to increased tips. In fact, it makes a difference of about 20% (or $1/per table).
    • Repeat customers' orders — Repeating orders demonstrates that the server has the information correct.
    • Smile at customers — “Research has confirmed the cultural wisdom on smiling and has found that smiling people are perceived as more attractive, sincere, sociable and competent than are unsmiling people.”
  • Sell, sell, sell — In college I applied for a job at Red Robin. “What's the best way to increase your tips?” the manager asked me during the interview. I gave every answer but the one he was looking for: sell more stuff.
  • Touch customers — Research shows that casually touching customers increases the tips of both male and female servers, but it's more effective with young customers than with older customers.
  • Write “thank you” or draw pictures on the check — These little messages convey friendliness and encourage goodwill.
  • Give customers candy — “People generally feel obligated to reciprocate when they receive gifts from others. You can benefit from this by giving your customers after-dinner mints or candies. Upon receiving such gifts, most customers will reciprocate by increasing their tips.”

I don't blame servers for employing these techniques to improve their earnings — I waited tables for several years and drew many smiley faces on customer checks — but I hope they don't blame me if I decide to base my tips on the quality of service. If you really want to earn more from me, keep my water glass filled!

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LM
LM
12 years ago

that’s strange, as a customer I don’t care about most of those tricks the servers pull. the only test I have for them is if they bring me more water before I run out. if so, they get a tip. and heh, same thing for JD!

oh, the touching thing… keep your hands off of me!

Brainbuster
Brainbuster
6 years ago
Reply to  LM

So many idiots chiming in and alerting the media that “I don’t want to be touched.”

That’s why they do a scientific study. They didn’t conclude that EVERY customer wants to be touched. The results showed that on the whole, it makes a big difference…that MOST customers tip more when touched.

Since servers are not mind-readers, then it would be wise to touch 10 out of 10 customers, knowing that 9 will tip higher and 1 in 10 will tip neutrally or lower.

Kate
Kate
12 years ago

I don’t like to be touched by people I don’t know.

Also, the squatting thing seems to have been replaced around here, at least when the party is seated in a booth, by the server sliding in to sit down while taking the order.

Mikell
Mikell
12 years ago

I waited tables for years, and the best advice that I could give is to anticipate what people need. If they’re eating something spicy, bring more water; if they’re eating something messy, bring an extra napkin; if they’re sharing a dish, bring out an extra plate…before they have to ask.

Oh, and I definitely agree with LM on the touching.

Claude
Claude
12 years ago

I think this list leaves out the most basic ones! Be friendly, be accessible, be attentive, and be professional…

The ones listed would make you a bit sneaky in my opinion, and lots of them are absolutely inappropriate in most of the places i chose to eat out!

BTW, I can’t stand when waiters touch me! Sure way to get no tip at all, and a remark to not touch me again! Absolute no-no!

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
12 years ago

After our softball games in the summer, our team frequents a local bar. We go there because the beer is cheap, and the service is excellent. They know that we are regulars so we tend to get more attention and more service. Servers: Remember your regulars! There’s a small Mexican restaurant 3 blocks from our home. It’s a trendy place, but it is quite small (like 10 tables). Again, we are regular customers who eat there about 1 time a month. Since they only have 2 servers, they know us, and they know what we like to drink, and they… Read more »

Eric
Eric
12 years ago

Love the pic.. Welcome to Chaskies! is someone having a case on the Mondays??

mjmcinto
mjmcinto
12 years ago

I think the reason for the touching is to help form a bond w/the person. While it may only be a perceived bond, when someone touches another, you are forced to see them as a person, and not as a member of the staff. Thus you will be more likely to tip better. However, there are a few people who this would have the opposite effect on…but I would imagine a simple touch on the shoulder or something similar would not bother most people.

datamuse
datamuse
12 years ago

I dunno, I have a tendency to start avoiding restaurants where servers do things like this. I won’t tip less over them, but I will stop going there if devices like these seem to be restaurant policy.

Ron@TheWisdomJournal
12 years ago

I was a server at Ruby Tuesday back 20 years ago. My best tip was to buddy up with someone waiting on the section next to mine. I would run her orders out, she would run mine, I would make sure her customers had their tea/water/soda glasses filled when I re-filled mine.

We didn’t split our tip money, but both of us would see increases because of our team efforts.

anne onimous
anne onimous
12 years ago

I am “older” (between 50 and 60) and I definitely do not want to be touched by servers, ever. I start out assuming I’ll leave 20% and the amount goes up or down depending on several things that happen or don’t happen. It goes way down if they become inattentive because I’m a woman eating alone or with a female companion. The idea that women tend to tip poorly is not true, but servers can make that happen by assuming it will. It goes up if I get someone like Mikell in comment #2, who anticipates what I might want… Read more »

william
william
6 years ago
Reply to  anne onimous

As a server if you were by your self you may perceive that I am being inattentive because most of the time people that come out to eat by themselves are doing work or reading or usually want to be left alone to their own thoughts, it has nothing to do with you being a woman and thinking women don’t leave good tips I’ve never heard anyone say that before and a lot of my best tips have come from women. It’s simply courtesy I wouldn’t want some one bothering me if I was trying to do some work while… Read more »

Anne Keckler
Anne Keckler
12 years ago

While these things can increase tips, they must be done *in addition* to giving good service. And as Mikell said, extra service will increase tips much more than these little tricks.

AHT
AHT
12 years ago

The tips listed here might increase my standard tip if the service is otherwise good, but if they exist in a vacuum, forget it. And as far as touching goes: Don’t even think about it. I don’t care if it’s just the shoulder. That is presumptuous and will lose you any tip you might have had, and quite possibly earn you a complaint to your manager. In no other line of service would it be permissible to touch a customer without their permission; just because you’re in a restaurant does not suddenly make it OK. It’s not hard to get… Read more »

Vanessa
Vanessa
7 years ago
Reply to  AHT

For everyone who is complaining about not wanting to be touched, I understand your frustration but that is a growing trend being pushed onto employees by their managers and restaurant owners. When I was still finishing collage and waiting tables and bartending I had several jobs where I was told I would be fired for not having physical contact with each guest. I worked at some nice places and always argued because i don’t like people touching me and dont like touching people! They told me to at least shake hands with every guest, do you know how awkward that… Read more »

Niall Kane
Niall Kane
12 years ago

When i was at school, i waited tables in a bar. A co worker, Simon, always received twice the tips I got. Now i know how it did it. He did all the things suggested (wore a loud tie, sat or squatted next to the table etc)

He ALWAYS touched on the shoulder, (which i always felt too uncomfortable to do)

i wish i knew then what i know now!

db
db
12 years ago

The way to get a good tip out of me — smile and be polite, keep my beverage filled and come around a few times to make sure everything is ok.

Most of this list wouldn’t be noticed — but KEEP SELLING ME? That would keep me from coming back to the restaurant.

Jeffeb3
Jeffeb3
12 years ago

The number one way to lose a tip? Chat with your coworkers where I can see you.

Camilla
Camilla
12 years ago

Lol, i’m exactly the same as everyone else here, no touching!! Crikey. Not something i’m enthralled to see recommended to servers.

I tip if a server is pleasant, professional but happy to joke if i’m feeling talkative. Servers that try too hard just make me uncomfortable. To be honest though, i hardly ever tip, because i’m a stingy sod. 😛

jakki
jakki
7 years ago
Reply to  Camilla

A STINGY SOD?? maybe eat at home?

ok, i am a server and if you are stingy/broke maybe you shouldn’t be eating out. tipping should be included to you in the price of eating out at all. here in america we servers make 2.13 an hour! 2.13 AN HOUR!!! tips are our only income. by the time we get our 2.13 an hour over the course of a weeks worth of work with taxes taken out it’s like 11 dollars. jeez.

Ashley
Ashley
5 years ago
Reply to  Camilla

If you don’t tip, you don’t have the right to care what type of service you get!!

Why don’t you tip? Do you go to work do your job and not get paid? Would you be upset if your boss, (because as a customer in a restaurant you are our boss) didnt pay you for a job well done? I think you would. I hope you reconsider your choice to not tip, it is after all our lively hood.

Andrew
Andrew
12 years ago

I’ve been hoping you’d write about this for a while. I always have difficulty resolving frugality and tipping. My wife always says I tip too much. The best way to get money out of me might be to tell me I don’t have to pay/can pay whatever I feel is appropriate. Of course, the average percent tip where I live tends to run in the single digits. That must drive the servers crazy. Regarding the objections to servers touching people, it’s certainly a cultural thing. In some places it’s considered friendly, in others inappropriate. But, if done properly, especially in… Read more »

Peachy
Peachy
12 years ago

I would like the server to write down my order. I hate when the server is yelling out ‘Hamburger-no fries’ when I’m in the middle of a conversation with my friends. If they wrote it down, they could place it in front of me and not interrupt my conversation. Tips go up when food isn’t auctioned off. I don’t even remember what I ordered sometime, so everyone sits there staring at the waiter because no one remembers what they got. Ha! Last night I went out for restaurant week (Baltimore) and the server could see that my friend and I… Read more »

T
T
7 years ago
Reply to  Peachy

This usually has very little to do with the server writing down the orders or not. A lot of times the food is run out by a runner, expediter or another server, and so they don’t know where the food is supposed to be going. Some restaurants use a technique where they ring in the food in the order of where people are sitting, but this does not always work, especially in large parties where they are trying to keep the bills separate. Sadly enough, many customers don’t even notice if the food was brought by their server or another,… Read more »

Frugal Dad
Frugal Dad
12 years ago

I absolutely despise the whole squat and stare, and hate even worse when servers sit in the booth across from you. It’s just unprofessional to me. It takes a while to learn the exact timing of checking up on folks without being too clingy, and not being too inattentive. If you get it down just right you can make decent money as a server.

Justin
Justin
12 years ago

@anne I’m not sure where you’re from, but here, “you guys” has long ago become sex-neutral. While I understand that you might not see it that way, I would also ask that you be understanding in that other people don’t think about it the same way as you! I agree that I would not like to be touched, but I also would not necessarily modify their tip. If it seemed like something they do often, I would politely let them know that I would rather them not. If they continue after that point, then I would think about the tip.… Read more »

SJean
SJean
12 years ago

But if you are/were a server and you know these tricks, they seem fake and a little annoying. But I always tip well anyway, barring rude/bad service

Many people tip what they tip and the margin of adjustment isn’t that large.

BAE
BAE
1 year ago
Reply to  SJean

While reading all these comments I gathered that every single person is different in what they want when being served. So how is your server supposed to know what EXACTLY you want?? If you get the drinks & food you asked for & it’s hot & prepared the way you like it WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT???? Geez you all sound like a bunch of toddlers…I want this, I don’t want that, don’t touch me, don’t tell me your name, don’t sit in the booth in front of me, don’t look at me & if you do any of these… Read more »

Flexo
Flexo
12 years ago

I don’t mind being touched by someone I don’t know, as long as she’s cute. What I look for in a waiter/waitress: attentiveness, accuracy, and timing. That’s how I base my tips — at least consciously. *Subconsciously* I probably favor cute young women who slightly flirt with me (which never happens when I’m out with my girlfriend).

elisabeth
elisabeth
12 years ago

The “I’m X and I’ll be your server tonight” is actually too friendly for me. I don’t care what name they want to use that night. I’m always tempted to reply, “I’m elisabeth and this is dan and we’d like to be left alone to eat…” because that’s what get the big tips from us — unobtrusive service. And not being rushed. We do understand that if we’re at a table for a long time we “owe” more tip, but we don’t want to be rushed through a meal… Speaking of over friendly, I was with a friend once for… Read more »

william
william
6 years ago
Reply to  elisabeth

Some people do like hearing the server’s name and getting an introduction and it makes it easier for them if they need anythign from the server and they don’t see them they can ask some one else for the person by name and it’s a good ice breaker for the server to get started also many restaurants use “secret Shoppers” where people come in as customers but have a sheet of questions that the restaurant sets up with the service asking if the waiter introduced themselves and other questions about procedures that the manager is looking for the server to… Read more »

Mister E
Mister E
12 years ago

I worked in retaurants for many years as a server and cook and can tell you first hand that these techniques do work fairly well with a lot of people. I was never really a toucher though, I’m not convinced about that one but a little bit of low key flirting goes a long way. Not with everyone (heck, not with me) but with a lot of people. I just like a server that is polite and attentive. From my experience I’m usually very tuned into the service aspect of things and aware when a situation is out of my… Read more »

SimpleServer
SimpleServer
12 years ago

I follow this blog regularly, and like most readers here am trying to learn to be more responsible with my money. However, unlike most of the readers here – I am currently a server. That’s right – my way of being financially responsible is to take on a 2nd job in order to pay off my bills more quickly. I work at a upscale casual restaurant. I have several responses to the article and comments that followed. First, it is fine to base your tips on server performance. But please, 15% is the bare minimum – if you are not… Read more »

Tablespork
Tablespork
12 years ago

Write down my order! It does not impress me at all when you try to memorize it, it only leaves me worried that you’ll forget something. Getting the correct order 100% of the time will get you a better tip than saving paper and getting it correct 95% of the time.

Aaron Pinkston
Aaron Pinkston
12 years ago

I had a server yesterday who tried to recite one of the specials like it was Drama 101 though he claimed it was “his favorite.” Something he and the team did well was remember who ordered what. From the runners to the managers, they did not ask what we ordered, they announced what it was as they delivered it. He also asked how everything “looked” just as it was delivered instead of asking how it “tasted” before I could get two bites. Extra napkins and squatting are appropriate if I’m running low on good napkins or you want to be… Read more »

Yuppie Sherpa
Yuppie Sherpa
12 years ago

Unless I’m dining at Hooters, don’t touch me.

I suppose I tend to tip servers more if they actually make an effort to converse with me. Doesn’t have to be about religion and politics… talk to me about food! Then again, I had the shortest and most miserable table-waiting career in the history of my state, so what do I know?

anne onimous
anne onimous
12 years ago

Justin, I understand what you’re saying, and when I’m at a very casual restaurant, I don’t mind the “you guys.” I use the phrase myself when referring to my kids (one of whom is female).

When in a nicer restaurant, I prefer not to be addressed as “you guys.” I should have been more clear.

fauxpaw
fauxpaw
12 years ago

I glanced at the report and want to emphasize that this is a study within the United States. In many other places I’ve traveled servers are professionals and just do a great job for a flat fee. That’s just how it is and how I prefer it. These U.S. table waiting gimmicks are just embarrassing more than anything.

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

Most of these will make me happier with my server. Touching me…I’m very touchy about being touched. I love to hug/touch friends, but I don’t even like to accidentally touch coworkers when handing something to them.

Otherwise, I enjoy a friendly server and though I’ll tip almost anyway, the friendly person will probably get more.

JarrettHere
JarrettHere
12 years ago

I just completed a 3 year session at Denny’s as a Server to pay off a failed business debt. I couldn’t stand the idea of trying to skip out on credit cards because of my mistakes, and I wasnt going to take away from the family funds to pay for the business credit card. So, with two young boys at home, a full time Network Admin Day Job, and some customer service background, I applied at Denny’s for a late swing shift position. And in 18 months, I paid off the $10K of business debt… and then started working on… Read more »

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

Attentiveness is the biggest factor when I determine tips. At one place that offers a “bottomless” bowl of chips as an appetizer, we ran low on chips and it didn’t get noticed by our server. I finally flagged her down and said I had found something in our chips. she looked horrified and asked what? I pointed, and said “a bottom…” She looked reliefed, the point was made, and we never ran low again that evening. Over attentiveness is just as bad as being ignored. Once I’ve got my iced tea set up the way I want, I don’t need… Read more »

moneymonk
moneymonk
12 years ago

“Write “thank you” or draw pictures on the check ”

I have to say that happen to me once, and it made me increase the TIP.

Ro
Ro
12 years ago

Interesting. My DH and I went out on Saturday for the first time in a long long time and after careful debate I told I wanted to go to Chili’s rather than the more upscale resturant we’d originally planned, even though we’d carefully budgeted a once a year “date” night. When he asked me why I told him “You know what you’re going to get”. Pathetic, I know, but I do consider all these tips to be in that category…you know they’re going to do some or all of them. None of them particularly influence me one way or another…I… Read more »

Dan
Dan
12 years ago

Yep – my glass full is my biggest measurement for sure! Tip: Place your empty glass at the edge of the table in clear view–it provides ease of site for the wait person when they are ‘surveying’ for empty glasses. If it’s “in the pile” of everything else on the table, then I can’t blame them for not knowing you’re running on E.

-Dan

spencer
spencer
12 years ago

@simpleserver

The amount servers make varies from state to state. In Washington they make the minimum wage which is around $7.63 plus tips.

Justin
Justin
12 years ago

@Dave @ Accidental FIRE[33]
You bring up a good point that I didn’t think about. I usually order unsweet tea and sweeten it myself. So I MUCH prefer to have a new glass brought to me instead of refilling from a pitcher. Otherwise it throws off the balance and I have to readjust it again, which is a pain.

But I may just be picky about my tea! 🙂

guinness416
guinness416
12 years ago

The list, like your photo, smack of “chain restaurant”. I agree with fauxpaw that these things are kind of servile and embarassing, but I generally prefer professionalism and dislike chain restaurants anyway. As someone who bartended and waited tables for a decade on and off, and whose husband is still a bartender, my number one tip by a landslide for increasing your tips is to work at a more expensive place. I’m entirely convinced that the vast majority of people, unlike those like me who leave long comments on the subject on blogs, just tip their regular percentage. As an… Read more »

Asithi
Asithi
12 years ago

Nothing bothers me more than having to flag down the server to fill my glass.

And when we are in the middle of a conversation, please do not interrupt by asking ‘how is everything?’ If you are doing your job (extra napkins and filling our drinks), then we do not need anything. If something is wrong, then we will complain about it.

My sliding scale usually start at 15%. It can go as high as 25%.

Jg
Jg
12 years ago

Anybody catch that old episode of THIS AMERICAN LIFE where they conducted a waitress experiment? I seem to recall them drawing the conclusion that happy waitresses got smaller tips than brusque waitresses. One waitress summed her experience up like this (paraphrase): “If you look happy all the time, then the customer thinks that there’s nothing they can do for you.” Anyway, tips went up when waitresses were brusque but not rude, and remained small when waitresses recommended food or wine, when they were friendly, etc.

K
K
12 years ago

I think these all depend on where you are and what people you are serving. For example, I think if you started touching customers in the Seattle area, you’d either scare them away, or get socked. Likewise, squatting next to the table probably works better if the people you are serving are close to you in age. Otherwise it either seems disrespectful or condescending. Best way to increase my tip is for my food to come quick (but not inappropriately so, like when entrees come out at the same time as appetizers), to make sure I have what I need,… Read more »

Kay
Kay
7 years ago
Reply to  K

You will leave a smaller tip if the server takes the check before you leave?
Don’t you think that’s a little mean?

As a server I have just started taking the bill before customers leave because sometimes people do the math incorrectly (can’t be sure if this is on purpose or not) and don’t leave enough to cover the bill. If they short me, that’s money out of my pocket!

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

guinness416 wrote: As an aside, the “refill my water” comments always make me laugh; they’re generally followed by people (like me!) saying “I hate it when waiters interrupt my conversation by pouring more water”. Short of mind-reading, the poor waiters really can’t win. Ah, but they can! I always ask, “Please bring me a pitcher of water when you get a chance.” If the server brings me a pitcher of water, she wins! I know that I drink a lot of the stuff, so I’m willing to give my server a hint up front about how to keep me happy.… Read more »

guinness416
guinness416
12 years ago

Yeah, that’s definitely fair enough. My dad’s big on the jug of water on the table too. I’m all for being up front about what you want or what’s going wrong, rather than passively fuming and leaving pennies on the table. It’s kinda surprising how often the latter happens.

DocT
DocT
12 years ago

I just read 37 reader’s comments and not a one mentioned hygiene. Cleanliness goes a long way with me. Practice good dental hygiene and smile. Wash your hair and keep it pulled back. Wear the nicest shoes you can feel comfortable in; we are sitting; we notice your bottom half.

Regarding touching: if you are a guy and you touch another guy, you may soon garner the nickname “nub”.

Itch
Itch
12 years ago

I’m so glad to see others here talking about not liking the touching thing. A BBQ joint I’m a regular at, one waitress would always pat or rub your shoulder. Free unwanted massage friends. But because one of the other waitresses has always been friendly, observant, and professional we ask for her by name when we go in. As a general statement about service, I’d figure it’s alot like dancing. The customer is always going to lead you, one way or another. Pay attention to how customers interact w/ each other. That can give you signs of what manners to… Read more »

Minimum Wage
Minimum Wage
12 years ago

I’d like to see something that would work for people who deliver pizza or other food items.

Ana
Ana
12 years ago

Honestly, I just give the best tips to people who smile, are quick with service and make sure our orders are correct. I have no problem asking for more water or whatever, as long as the server is attentive to us and actually brings everything we ask for. I really don’t care if they are wearing extra “flair”, if they draw smiley faces, if they give us candy, if they squat or get into our personal space, etc. And I hate it when waiters touch me, so that’s a big no-go for me…

Adam Snider
Adam Snider
12 years ago

I wonder if any of those tricks work on me on a subconscious level.

I mean, some of them are obvious: tell me your name, smile, etc. But, don’t touch me! DON’T TOUCH ME!

Mostly, though, I just judge on good service. Is my water and/or other beverages filled up often? Is my food served promptly? Does the jackass waiter avoid hitting on my date (I actually had this happen once, and had to make a comment to him while my date was in the washroom)?

SavingDiva
SavingDiva
12 years ago

Hm…I guess I usually leave about 20%. I leave up to 50% depending on what extras I get….

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