waitressing tips - serving food to guests

While serving is sometimes viewed as not a “real” job (usually by people who have never worked in the restaurant industry), the opposite is true. The gig has a reputation for being temporary, but there are plenty of people who make a career out of it and do well for themselves

While working for tips can sometimes be frustrating, there are things entirely in your control that you can do to boost your earnings. 

Here are 8 strategies to make the most tips possible as a server.

server taking a guests order

1. Greet Your Tables ASAP

We’ve all been at a restaurant that’s clearly busy and struggling to keep up. What’s the difference between you deciding to stay and heading out the door for someplace a little less frazzled? A greeting. All it takes is a welcome and mention that you’ll be with someone in a minute to make them feel seen, heard, and important. It takes just a second to complete and already kicks off your customer service on the right foot. Without a greeting, it can quickly seem to a potential customer that dining there isn’t worth it, that they’re just going to have to fight for their server’s attention the entire time… and who wants to do that?

Tips increased by 56% for servers who introduced themselves when greeting their tables.

2. Establish Connections With Your Customers

According to a Forbes article by Laura Shin, crafting a connection with your customers is one way to get better tips. “If servers can establish a social connection with their customers, they’ll get better tips,” explained Michael Lynn, a professor at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration who specializes in studying tips. He continued to note that people are more likely to want to help someone they’re connected to.

3. Speak Up

Old tricks like introducing yourself and reading orders back to customers can go a long way. Studies in Holland found that repeating an order back was associated with higher tipping rates in general, but higher tipped amounts as well. Severs who repeated orders enjoyed tip amounts that were close to double that of servers who didn’t repeat the order. And, as Thrillist explains, one of the worst things you can do is guess at what you don’t know. “If you forgot to ask if someone wants their Negroni up or on the rocks, go back and ask. It doesn’t make you look forgetful, it makes you look like you actually care.”

4. Maintain a Good Attitude

Speaking of keeping up good spirits, the old trope is true: A smile goes a long way. Whether it’s among your co-workers or with your tables, do what you can to remain in a genuinely good mood and you’ll excel across the board. No one wants to dine at a restaurant and be met with a grumpy server who obviously hates their job when you’re out trying to have a good time.

The same holds true for your relationship with your co-workers. There’s always one disgruntled server that takes every opportunity they can to complain as soon as they step off the floor. Serving is never easy, but complaining 24/7 to everyone around you only makes it worse. Do what you can to be a beacon of good vibes and you’ll be the one to benefit in the form of better tips and teammates willing to help you out when you want a shift covered.

You can control the conversation and change the way guest communication is handled with proper staff training.

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5. Invest in Professional Development

Whether that means taking part in the ongoing training that your restaurant offers or learning everything you can on your own time, you have to up your knowledge in order to level up and start earning the tips to match. If you come across a seminar or training program, ask your manager if they would pay for your professional development—it never hurts to ask.

The best thing you can do is to move up from within at the restaurant you’re already at, but if you find yourself in a dead-end role with nothing to look forward to, then it’s time to look elsewhere in order to keep getting better and gaining more experience. The great thing about serving in restaurants is that there are literally opportunities around the globe for this kind of work, so you’re never limited in your options. The sky (or, rather, your ambitions) are the limit!

6. Give Away Freebies When You Can

While this most often applies to bartenders, the more you can do things like give out free drinks or coupons, the more your guests will want to reciprocate… with higher tips. As the Hoffeld Group explains in their about science-based strategies for servers, “reciprocity is the belief that one should repay others for what they have done. Sociologists have confirmed that reciprocation is a powerful motivator across human cultures”—and that includes the restaurant industry.

By giving your guests a little something, the socially “normal” reaction is to want to repay that kindness. How do people repay servers? With tips. As the same article continued to point out, “research published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology identified that when servers gave guests a piece of candy with the check, tips rose an average of 3.3%.” Even something as simple as a mint can make the difference!

7. Upsell

Tipping is based on the amount of the check, so the higher you drive up the ticket price, the higher your tip will naturally be. Offer your guests beverage options that they can choose from in addition to water and offer coffee after a meal. Don’t forget to mention dessert and let your customers know all of the options you have for sides, giving them the chance to opt for something at a higher price point.

However, there’s an important caveat. “When it’s busy,” explains a Penny Hoarder article by Steve Gillman, “you’ll make more time income with faster customer turnover.” Because entrées are the most expensive part of the dining process, the faster you can turn tables over to seat more customers who are ready to order entrées, the more money you’ll make at the end of the night.

8. Write On The Receipt

Whether it’s a thank you or a random drawing of a flower, receipts with a personal touch written on them correlate to higher tips. The Penny Hoarder explains that studies have shown that “a happy face or picture of the sun on the customer’s bill resulted in bigger tips.” Forbes noted an experiment at a restaurant in Philadelphia that found that receipts with a “thank you” written on them averaged tips in the 18% range while those that didn’t land closer to the 16% mark.

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Cinnamon is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and journalist who paid a large part of her way through college and graduate school by serving. Her work has been published with outlets like National Geographic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, and more. You can read more about her at www.cinnamon-janzer.com.