4 Proven Ways Your Servers Can Increase Their Tips

Bigger tips mean a happier waitstaff, and that's good for you and your restaurant.
(Photo: Uber Images/Shutterstock)

A happy waitstaff is good for your bottom line, and sizeable tips are good for theirs.

For servers, weekly income can be erratic and in some cases, not enough to make ends meet. Though waiters and waitresses in America earn an average hourly wage $10.91, pay varies widely by state. Twenty states stick with the federal minimum wage of $2.13 an hour for tipped employees — which hasn’t changed in two decades. Thirty states have their own (higher) minimum. (In California, where there’s no distinction between tipped and non-tipped employees, servers can make as much as $10 an hour plus tips).

A no-tipping movement has been gaining traction, but abolishing tipping usually means paying servers more or raising prices.

Servers can grow their tips using these research-based pointers.

Roll out the red carpet

Though it’s customer service 101, servers sometimes forget that they can earn better tips by making guests feel welcome.


“Why would any customer go back to a specific business if they were treated as a number, a burden or just any other customer?” – Steve DiGioia (Photo: Steve DiGioia)

“In today’s hectic society, we all need to feel appreciated and special,” said Steve DiGioia, a customer service coach and author of “Earn More Tips On Your Very Next Shift…Even If You’re a Bad Waiter.” “Why would any customer go back to a specific business if they were treated as a number, a burden or just any other customer?”

DiGioia recommended trying to anticipate customers needs: Fill their water glasses without having to be flagged down, wish guests a happy birthday or congratulations when they’re celebrating a special occasion, offer to talk to the chef about special substitutions when a guest requests something different in a dish.

“Remember the reason why we go out to eat,” he said. “It’s not just to fill our stomachs, but to be taken care of.”

Dress the part

According to Michael Lynn, PhD, professor of consumer behavior and marketing at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and a leading expert on tipping, male patrons give higher tips to women who wear makeup. Male and female patrons give extra to servers who wear something unusual.

In one study, the number of men tipping waitresses increased from 34 percent to 51 percent when waitresses wore makeup, and the tips grew larger.

And whether it’s an interesting piece of jewelry or a tie, donning something eye-catching can grow tips for all waitstaff. It makes customers view servers as individuals, according to Lynn.

Make it personal

Lynn advises trying to make the customer service experience more intimate and personal. Servers should introduce themselves by name — but avoid sounding like a robot.

“Greet your customers with a warm sincere smile, and they will know that you care about them,” said DiGioia.

As diners put in their orders, servers might consider complimenting guests’ food choices when appropriate. Consumers love to be complimented on their decisions. One study showed it can significantly increase tips.

Above all, smile. Research has confirmed again and again that when people smile, they are seen as more sincere and confident. Smiling servers receive bigger payments, according to Lynn’s research.

Smile with your eyes, not just your mouth. Customers can tell the difference between a fake smile and a real smile — and it’s the real ones that make you seem friendly and sincere.

Writing “thank you” on the check also strengthens a servers’ perceived friendliness and has been shown to lead to bigger tips.

Upsell for a bigger bill

Because it is customary to tip by percentages, the bigger the bill, the bigger the tip. Lynn recommended using “suggestive selling” to encourage a table to buy drinks, start with appetizers, consider certain higher price point entrees or finish with dessert.

Keep in mind, however, that upselling too aggressively can turn off diners.

If there’s a wine list, DiGioia suggested servers learn enough to make recommendations, including what is sweet versus dry and what pairs well with which dishes on the menu. “Think about how much your tips will increase if you sold just one bottle of $40 wine to each table,” he said.

Upselling is particularly helpful during slow shifts, when customers can linger for longer. Waitstaff should be careful about encouraging appetizers and desserts when tables need to be turned over more quickly.

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