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!