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How to get tips as a waiter

how to get tips as a waiter

The science of tips and how waiters can get bigger ones (tips that is)


I was sitting round a poker table the other week and in one hand, after all the cards had been dealt, I had an okay middle pair. My opponent made a reasonable size bet at the end causing me to ask: does he want me to call (because he has the best hand and he will then win my chips) or does he want me to fold (because he is bluffing and if I call, he'll lose)?

Looking at him, I saw he was compressing his lips leading me to call the bet; when we turned the cards over he had nothing and I won a decent sized pot. Why I was able to call his bet? Because lip compression is a classic low confidence tell, he unwittingly signalled that he didn't have a strong hand and was hoping I would fold.

the arm touch creates positive impressions and influence.

So what's this got to do with tipping in restaurants? Well, as I continued to look at non verbal communication to seek out more on poker bluffs, I found out some other interesting things along the way. For example, a waiter who lightly touches a customer on the hand or arm while returning the customer's change from the bill can make substantially more tips than a waiter who does not touch the customer.

In restaurants, research has shown that elbow touching waitresses made 36% more tips from male customers than non touching waitresses, while male waiters increased their earnings by 22% regardless of the sex of the customer.

Body language expert Allan Pease says 'elbow and hand touching when done discretely increases your influence over others, makes you more memorable and creates positive impressions on everyone'. The picture on the right shows this theme in action - watch how politicians shake with the right and touch the upper arm with the left - influence, memorable, positive impression.

Worthy of note also, the higher up the arm you touch, the more friendly it is considered to be, so you might want to consider how friendly you do want to be or how it might come across. Another tip, any touch longer than three seconds has the opposite effect on people unless you actually do know them well and you have 'permission' to touch them.

But since tips are almost always related to the size of the bill, how do you increase the bill? Asked another way, how do you sell more to customers? I love this story from Robert B. Cialdini, PhD, author of the book Influence. He relates the story of one waiter who did the following for large parties in his restaurant: when it was time to take the order, the waiter would start with one of the ladies at the table, and when she ordered, no matter what she selected, he would furrow his brow, lean toward the table and say "I'm afraid that is not as good tonight as it normally is. Might I recommend instead the X or the Y". The genius here is that the both X and the Y would be dishes that cost LESS than the original order. The waiter would then follow up with 'They are both excellent tonight'. This works on so many levels:

    The table feels the waiter

    has done them a favour by offering valuable information to help them order People feel gratitude and people reciprocate their gratitude by leaving a higher percentage tip It establishes the waiter as an authority on the offerings of the restaurant, knowing what's good and what's bad and therefore to be listened to on recommendations Since he suggested a lower priced menu item, he is seen to put the customer first, establishing the waiter as 'a trustworthy informant'

tip please

The waiter is now considered by all to be honest and knowledgeable. Of course, when the food was ordered, the waiter would ask 'would you like me to recommend some wine to go with that?' The table now trusts that the waiter i) knows what he's talking about, and ii) will put the table's interest first. This allows the waiter an easy opportunity to sell the table excellent, but expensive wine. As Cialdini reports:

By combining the factors of reciprocity and credible authority into a single, elegant maneuver, the waiter is able to inflate substantially both the percentage of his tip and the base charge on which it is figured.

While doing further research on the subject of tipping, I then came across a document called Mega Tips: Scientifically Tested Techniques to Increase your Tips by Dr Michael Lynn, Associate Professor, School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University who suggests the following ideas to increase tipping with approximate value indicated:

  • wear something unusual so that you are perceived as an individual and not just a faceless member of staff (+17%)
  • introduce yourself by name when greeting customers (+50%)
  • squat next to the table (clearly not for fine dining), builds rapport due to increased congruence (+23%)
  • repeat customers' orders (briefly), apparently +100% but the study was done in Holland
  • smile at customers, preferably a real smile (+100%)
  • brief arm touch (as above)
  • entertain customers - apparently even lame jokes work (+50% though possibly higher for a funnier joke)
  • forecast good weather, we all like sunshine, it puts us in a good mood (+19%)
  • writing 'thank you' on the bill (+12%)
  • drawing smiley faces on the bill (+17%)
  • displaying credit card insignia (yes, I found this bizarre too)
  • giving sweets with the bill such as take away bon-bons (+20%)
  • call customers by name (+10%)
The document itself expands on why each of these actions work and the scientific evidence behind the conclusion and is worth a quick read. Clearly all suggestions are not appropriate for all establishments but there is almost no establishment where one or more of these ideas could not be applied. On the last point, call customers by name, we have noted in our food blog that at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, all staff greet the customers by name; it really did change how we felt about the experience and in turn, whether we would recommend Le Manoir to others (we do), and if we would return (we did).

So there you are, how to get more tips. if only service wasn't automatically charged at 12.5% on the bill. On a final point, next time that we are in your restaurant and you forecast good weather as you present the bill to us, remember, your Jedi mind tricks will not work on us, because we're the ones who told you.

Category: Taxes

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