6 simple ways to get more tips as a server

Being a waiter or waitress is hard work!  You’re on your feet all day, watching other people eat, laugh and have fun, and often the pay isn’t all that great; particularly in the US.  But, you have one ace in the hole – tips.  It is pretty much the norm these days to tip, even in places where service is included.  I always tip in a restaurant.  Usually I don’t fuss or worry about how much, I just stick some money onto the tray.

This reminds me of the huge debate in Reservoir Dogs, where one of the characters, Mr Pink, tells the group he doesn’t tip.  His point is that you don’t tip people at MacDonalds, even though it might be an equally hard job.  You can watch a great version of this scene, performed by none other than the muppets, here (Note: Lots of swearing in this scene, definitely NOT safe for work!)

Anyway, I digress.  It’s a fact that a server’s wage can bring much joy or sadness, depending on the tips (not to mention the effect your tips have when filing receipts on your income tax software at tax time).  So how would you get more?  Most websites will tell you to be efficient, polite, keep a check of what needs to be done so you don’t forget, and so on.  But scientific studies of persuasion have found other ways to increase your tips! These include:

  • Give mints or chocolate at the end of the meal
  • Kiss some ass (compliment customers on their menu choice)
  • Introduce yourself by name
  • Touch customers
  • Draw a smiley face on the back of the cheque (waitresses only)
  • Write “Thank You” on the back of the cheque

1) Give mints or chocolate at the end of the meal

It’s common practice to give diners a mint or some chocolate at the end of a meal.  Sometimes, there’s a basket of mints that you can take from on your way out, other times, the server will give them to you at your table.  Dave Strohmetz, of Monmouth University, lead a team of researchers to see whether actually giving customers the gift would result in more tips.

First, they went to a restaurant in New York.  Half of the time, when customers asked for the bill, the servers would simply bring the cheque over.  The other half of the time, they gave a foil-wrapped piece of chocolate to each person, before giving the cheque.  At the end of the experiment the tips were added up, and indeed, patrons receiving the chocolate did tip more; they tipped roughly 18% of the bill, on average, while patrons who didn’t get the chocolate tipped 15%.  Not a huge amount, you might be thinking, but don’t worry; Strohmetz and his team had a few more tricks up their sleeve.

They made a few changes to their study and travelled to New Jersey, for round 2.  They wanted to find out what was causing this small but measurable effect, and in doing so, they found ways to enhance it!

This time, they compared four different methods:

  • Control Condition – Not giving patrons a piece of candy
  • 1-Piece Condition – Giving them one piece of candy
  • 2-Piece Condition – Giving them two pieces of candy
  • 1+1 condition – Giving them one piece of candy, then as the server was leaving the table, she stopped, turned back, and offered the patrons another piece

Here are the results:

server tips

As you can see, 2 chocolates are better than one!  Not only that, but giving them separately, almost as if the second gift is a spontaneous gesture, is better than both together.

How does it work?

Why would giving the chocolates separately have a bigger effect on tips?  Could it be because the server makes a more positive impression?  Possibly, but it does not really explain the increased tips from giving 2 pieces rather than 1.  Could it be because the gift put the patrons in a good mood?  That’s possible too, but why would giving two the pieces of chocolate separately bring better moods than both at once?  It’s the same size gift, after all.  The explanation that makes the most sense is the norm of reciprocity, which we came across briefly in Randy Garner’s study using Post-it notes.

Very often when people are on the receiving end of generosity, they feel the need to reciprocate.  This seems to work even when the act was not requested or expected.  In this case, the server seemed to be doing the patrons an extra favour.  It’s as if she was only supposed to give one chocolate, but then thought, “Hey, these are nice people, I’ll give them another!”  This type of generosity can influence our motivation to return the favour, which the patrons did by tipping more. (1)

2) Kiss some ass

Ingratiation has proven to be another useful method of increasing the tips you can get as a server.  A study by John Seiter looked into this, again in a real-life restaurant.

waitress tips
“Ah! An excellent choice, sir!”

The servers in the study would treat all customers exactly the same, except for one thing; after taking their order, they would either compliment the customer on their menu choice, or they wouldn’t.  What specifically did they say?  After taking the first order, the server said “You made a good choice!” and after taking the second order, they said “You did good too!”

A concern that Seiter had was the size of the party.  If there are 14 guests, the server would have to either guess who the bill payer was, and compliment that person, or if they expected the party to ‘go dutch’, they’d have to compliment all 14 people in turn; which might be seen as just a little bit insincere!  So he restricted the experiment to parties of two – keep this in mind when you’re applying this information – it’s untested on larger groups!

As in Strohmetz’s study, tip size was worked out as a percentage of the overall bill.  Overall, customers who received a compliment about their menu choice tipped 19% of their bill, while customers who weren’t complimented tipped only 16% of the bill!  This is a simple method, taking about 2 seconds per table, and again it results in a measurable increase in the amount of tips!  (2)

The other studies in this field follow a similar pattern: they are done in a real-live restaurant, where the servers are told to do or not do the thing that is being studied.  So rather than describe the studies in detail from now on, I’ll just give the results.  Just know that they were all tested in real situations.

3) Introduce yourself by name

To test whether servers could increase tips by introducing themselves by name, researchers headed to a buffet brunch, taking their clipboards with them (presumably).  These researchers might be early paragons of multi-tasking!  I can imagine the thought process: “Hmmm.  I like research.  But I also like lunch.  How can I combine the two?”

waiter_tips

In this study, a buffet was a really good way to test the effect of the introduction, because customers pretty much fend for themselves after the first introduction, so there’s less chance that other factors could interfere with the results.  When the server introduced herself by name, there was a far higher tipping rate when the servers introduced themselves – 23%, compared to 15% when they didn’t! (3)

4) Touch customers

In a study entitled “The Midas Touch”, April Crusco and Christopher Wetzel discovered what happens when waitresses touch their customers; either on the shoulder, the palm, or not at all, when returning change.  They found that the customers who were touched left the highest tips on average, that the palm was the most profitable place, and also that the customers largely weren’t aware they’d been touched. (4)

touch_tips

A follow up study found that when a man and a woman are dining alone, it is more profitable to touch the female customer than the male.  The reason might be that the servers in this study were all female, and touching the man might have brought out some jealousy.  So if you’re a male server, it’s unclear whether this would work for you or not. (5)

5) Draw on the back of the cheque

I’ve never had this happen to me, but apparently some servers like to draw little pictures, like smiley faces, on the back of the cheques.  There are several reasons this might improve the tips; it might show that the server was pleased to have served the party, it might put the party in a better mood, or it might just be seen as a nice friendly gesture.  It does seem to work – but only for women.  Here are the results for the waitresses: (6)

waitresses_drawing

And here are the results for the waiters:

waiters_drawing

Waitresses seem to get more tips than waiters in general, and it also seems that drawing a smiley face had a slight negative effect on the waiters tips!  Perhaps it is seen as too feminine for men to do this.  if you’re a waiter, it might be best not to try this.  If you’re feeling brave, try drawing a monster truck, or a football, or even…

6) Write “Thank You” on the Cheque

When a server expresses their gratitude to the party, in the form of a little “Thank You” and signature on the back of the cheque, this has also proven to bring higher tips.  Although it wasn’t as effective as the smiley face, at least it should work for waitresses and waiters!

thank_you_tips1

As you can see, the signature isn’t strictly necessary – a friendly “thank you” message on the back of the cheque is enough to improve your tips. (7)

All at once or one at a time?

In all these studies, only one technique was tested at a time.  It might not be the case that doing all of them at once would have a better effect.  Then again, they might have an even stronger effect when they’re all combined.  You’ll have to do some experiments of your own to find that out.

As I mentioned earlier, these techniques have been proven in real-life restaurant situations.  They aren’t based on laboratory studies or armchair theorising – they actually work.  I’m sure you can see that these ideas are worth trying – you should be able to increase your income by a fair amount by practising the methods here, and they are all very simple to do.  I’d be grateful if you would test some of these out for a few weeks, and leave a comment to let me know how you got on.  Thanks for reading!

Recommended Reading:


References:

(1) Strohmetz D. B., Rind B., Fisher R. & Lynn M. (2002). Sweetening the till: The use of candy to increase restaurant tipping. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32(2), 300-309.

(2) Seiter, J. S. (2009). Ingratiation and Gratuity: The Effect of Complimenting Customers on Tipping Behavior in Restaurants. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Sheraton New York, New York City, NY Online PDF

(3) Garrity, K., & Degelman, D. (1990). Effect of server introduction on restaurant tipping. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20,168-172.

(4) Crusco, A. H., & Wetzel, C. G. (1984). The Midas touch: The effects of interpersonal touch on restaurant tipping. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 10,512-517.

(5) Stephen, R., & Zweigenhaft, R. L. (1986). The effect of tipping of a waitress touching male and female customers. Journal of Social Psychology, 126,141-142.

See also:

 

Hornik, J. (1992). Tactile stimulation and consumer response. Journal of Consumer Research, 19,449-458.

 

Hubbard, A. S. E., Tsuji, A., Williams, C., & Seatriz, V. (2003). Effects of touch on  gratuities received in same-gender and cross-gender dyads. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33(11), 2427-2438.

(6) Rind, B., Bordia, P. (1996), “Effect on restaurant tipping of male and female servers drawing a happy smiling face on the backs of customers checks”, Journal of Applied Social Psychology,  26(3), 218-25.

(7) Rind, R., & Bordia, P. (1995). Effect of server’s “thank you” and personalization on restaurant tipping. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25,745-751.

See also:

Rind, B., & Strohmetz, D. (1999). Effect on restaurant tipping of a helpful mesage written on the back of customers’ checks. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29,139-144.

Images: BarCampParis#7 by Franck Mahon.  Waiter by Alana Elliot

15 Comments

  • I have a few tips for servers to add that will increase their tip jar …

    1 – if your customer tells you of a food allergy, DON’T bring a plate of food covered with that food!
    (I had one who went over the entire menu with me regarding what I could and couldn’t eat, then didn’t think twice about the gravy they poured all over my food after I had asked not to have gluten!)

    2 – if the customer is friendly, be friendly back. Joke around. Laugh a little. Don’t be so serious.

    3 – refill their drinks regularly. The higher the bill, the higher your tip, so if you bring four martinis to the table instead of only one, your tip will be significantly higher.

  • Warren Davies says:

    Thanks for the comment, that’s a good point about the drinks; these ideas are measured against the size of the bill, so of course the higher the bill the higher the tip!

  • Depending upon the establishment, tip jars or buttons can be used to remind the customers to tip in a humorous way. This would not be appropriate for a fine dining establishment, but for smaller sandwich shops, delis, coffee shops, etc. it might encourage people to tip.

    People normally tip in a restaurant and hardly ever at a fast food place. For these “in-between” places, like a deli or coffee shop, it isn’t clear as to whether the customer should tip or not. A tip jar or a button with a clever saying might make the difference.

    I also have more advice for increasing tips on my website.

  • This is a very interesting study. I have noticed many of these ideas increasing my tip percentage over the years. One thing that I have found is that while you want to get the check average as high as possible, it is much more important to establish good rapport with your table. In some cases I have found that people are more inclined to tip you higher if their check is not too big. Telling a table that they made a great choice is a must. It is also important to be honest if you do not like a dish.

    One tactic I found very effective for increasing my tips was to wear a really strange tie. The stranger the better. When you introduce your self to a table the first thing they notice is that “wow that is a very unique tie you have on”. This opens the window to create strong rapport with your table. You tell them the story of how you got the tie etc and make a joke out of it. Now you and your table have bonded on something specific and they feel more connected to you. It may sound odd but it really works well. Thanks for the great post, I enjoyed reading it.

    • Warren Davies says:

      Thanks for the comment Blair! The tie idea is a brilliant one! Sometimes all you need is a good prop to get the conversation going and connect with, then once the ball’s rolling it’s easier from there. Good stuff!

  • Hayley says:

    These are all fantastic ideas. But I think one would have to be a bit careful in how friendly they are, regardless of whether they’re a waitor or a waitress. Sometimes being too casual can turn a customer off.

    However, being in good spirits, keeping an eye on the table and seeing if there’s anything to be done (though constantly checking back every 10 minutes isn’t necessarily needed)is always helpful and that’s usually what I base my tips on.

    It’s also awesome that debit machines in restaurants give you the option of tipping! So even if you’re short on cash you can still give!

  • Cindy says:

    I had no idea that such simple gestures would get that much more of a tip out of people. I’ll have to get my daughter to try that sometime!

  • Alex Scott says:

    I love the graphs. What a great break down of the study

  • What can I say… I’m a sucker when my waitress touches me and puts smileys and talks to me. I can attest to those studies lol.

  • Jackie says:

    I was reading this article while at work, & I figured hey why not give it a try, I was serving a table of 2, in their cheque I wrote gracias (they were Hispanic) with a smiley face and my signature, & they ended up leaving 25% tip, I was so surprised. This actually works. I’m glad I read this article, I will definitely be trying the other options you listed, and I will definitely be buying mints or chocolates for my customers since we don’t offer that at the restaurant (cafe) I work at. :(. Thanks so much for writing this article :))

    • Warren Davies says:

      Thanks Jackie for posting your feedback of actually trying these ideas — you’re the first one!

      Glad that it helped and let me know how the chocolates go!!

  • Bad Waiter says:

    Waiters will always complain that they don’t make the kind of tips that they want. But they fail to realize that only by making your guests feel special, feel as if THEIR enjoyment is YOUR primary concern, will you make the big tips. All else is not important.

  • new server says:

    I am a fairly new server. I am friendly and efficient and still seem to only manage around 10 percent. its very discouraging sometimes. im not sure if its me or them. what other advise do you have?

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