Guide for Waiters and Waitresses to Maximize Tip Revenue
Table of Contents:
I have basically had to support myself since the age of 18. I had the opportunity to attend college with financial support from my parents, but I did not apply myself and lost my financial support. I started waiting tables to help make ends meet. My first few jobs waiting tables were unsatisfactory. I did not earn enough money and I had to bust my butt to make it through the day.
I eventually got a job waiting tables at popular restaurant in my area called the Crazy Cajun. It was here that I finally started figuring out how to be successful at waiting tables. I was regularly the pulling the highest tips night after night. Regulars knew me by name and asked to be seated in my sections when I was on shift. In all, Iíve probably spent just under 10 years in the food service industry (either waiting tables or managing restaurants).
I eventually managed to apply myself in college and earn a degree in Industrial Hygiene. I promptly left the food service industry for a Safety, Health, and Environmental Supervisor position in the chemical industry.
However, 10 years of experience have left their mark on me and my husband suggested that I write this book as a service to everyone just starting out waiting tables. He got tired of me critiquing our waitservers every time we go out to eat. He says that instead of complaining about bad service, I should do something constructive. So, now you get the benefit of my experience.
Waiting tables can be a tough and rewarding experience. Like most any endeavor in life, you get out of it what you put into it. However, as with the 80/20 rule (80% of the rewards are realized with just 20% of the effort), the attention to detail on the tips included in this book will maximize your tip income with very little extra effort.
The tips included in this book will make stand out from ordinary waitstaff. You will become a wonderful server in the eyes of your patrons.
When John and Martha consider going out for dinner, you want them to first consider you. ďLetís get that girl, Stacy to wait on usĒ, Martha will say after they get going.
John replies, ďIs she the girl that waited on us last time?Ē
ďYeah, I think she did a good job last time too.Ē
ďI think if we ask for her, they will seat us in her section.Ē Says, Martha.
Remember the Golden Rule, ďDo unto others as you would have them do unto you.Ē Think about how you would like to be treated when you dine out and treat the people you are going to wait on that way too.
What follows are more specific tips of doís and donítís that I have gleaned over the years.
Finding the Right Job
First of all, you need to consider the potential for any job that you are or will be working at. Restaurant selection, available work shifts, and other factors can make a huge difference in your tips regardless of your abilities. Here are some things to consider:
In general, the more upscale the restaurant, the better your opportunites will be for earning large tips. However, you can also make good tips working at more mainstream restaurants with high volume/turnover. If you donít already know where a restaurant stands in these terms, you can usually figure it out by checking these criteria:
Look for restaurants that pay attention to these details. If people donít like the food or their experience from beginning to end, they will not like giving you money either.
You should also talk to the current waitstaff at the restaurant and see how much money they make on an average shift. Of course, this will not necessarily apply to you (you should make more than most of them with the tips you learn in this book), but it should give you an idea of the general potential.
Try to avoid restaurants offering buffets. Customers do not tip well when they serve themselves.
Also try to avoid restaurants that have television sets in the dining areas. TVs distract diners and can cause people to sit at tables too long. Slow turnover cuts into your profit potential.
The day of the week can have a huge impact on your tip potential. Generally, new waitstaff are given the worst work shifts and waitstaff with seniority are given the better work shifts, however, wonderful servers can earn their way into the prime time work shifts faster. So which shifts are ďprime timeĒ?
Saturday night is the best shift to work if you get to pick your hours. This is when people feel the most generous, and when most people can get off and go out to eat together. Friday night is also very good. Comparatively speaking, Friday and Saturday nights are the two best work shifts of the week.
If you get your choice, the night shift will make more money for you for most restaurants. Dinner on most menus, is more expensive than lunch. The night shift is usually from 5 PM (or sometimes 4 PM) until whenever the place closes (typically 10 PM where I live). Monday night is the worst night shift, with money (tips) getting better as the week progresses.
The same goes for lunch. Except, remember to expect less money to begin with, during the lunch shift. Monday lunch shift really stinks, and Friday lunch shift is usually pretty good, comparatively speaking. Most people get off work for lunch between 11 AM and 12 PM, during the week, so thatís when restaurants expect customers. The lunch hour is usually from 11 AM to 2 PM - just three busy hours with tip potential compared to 5-6 hours on a typical night shift.
NowÖ what does one do with that little space of time between 2 Oíclock and 4 Oíclock? Most places save that time for catching up after the lunch shift. People find themselves rolling silverware, and doing things that they didnít have time to do before. This is because there are no customers (usually) to be waited on and always other things to do.
Tip #1 - Introduce Yourself the Right Way
Description: Always introduce yourself promptly when customers are seated in your section. When you are introducing yourself, always look at the people that are sitting at the table, in the eyes.
If you hand the menus out, hand the childís menu(s) out first. While you are handing out the menus, make sure your customers have enough silverware, and that it is the appropriate kind they will be using. Also make sure enough napkins are provided.
Reason: Always make the customer feel as if they are cared about. This way, they will come back and ask for you. There is almost nothing worse than making a customer wait too long for anything. Prompt service is always appreciated.
Maintaining eye contact with people when you are talking to them (or when they are talking to you) shows them that they have your undivided attention. It also shows that you are confident in what you are doing and this helps customers to view you in a favorable light.
Tip #2 - Know the Menu
Description: You should know the menu inside and out. Are substitutions allowed? Does this dish contain any dairy ingredients? Whatís fresh? What is your favorite? Memorize the menu items. Know their ingredients and how they are prepared. Be clear on what you personally like and what is most popular with customers.
Reason: Not every customer that sits at your table knows what they want or can eat anything on the menu. When customers ask for suggestions, they will appreciate a confident and quick reply detailing what you like and what is popular with customers. Customers who are allergic to certain foods will almost always reward you if you help them avoid problem ingredients - especially if you can substitute an ingredient on a desired dish instead of forcing them to choose something else.
Customer: Iíll have the Penne Puttanesca and a house salad please. Iíd like a Balsamic vinaigrette dressing and no cheese on the salad.
Wonderful Server: OK. The chef usually puts Parmesan cheese on the Penne Puttanesca even though it is not mentioned on the menu. Would you like for me to instruct him to hold the cheese on the pasta too?
Customer: Yes, please.
Wonderful Server: Our toasted garlic bread also has Parmesan cheese. Iíll get the chef to prepare some fresh toasted garlic bread for you without Parmesan cheese.
Customer: Excellent. Thank you.
Tip #3 - Handling Drink Orders
Description: Take drink orders in any order. Pay attention to parents when kids are ordering.
If adults order alcoholic beverages, ask them if they would like some water as well. If your restaurant has a bar with happy hours, be sure to inform your adult customers about happy hour specials.
Learn how to open a bottle of wine.
Reason: Sometimes kids will order drinks with milk, sugar or caffeine that their parents do not want them to have. Wait for the parent to confirm (or at least afford them the opportunity to object/overrule) a childís drink order. The parents are paying the bill, so make sure they are happy!
Many adults who drink alcoholic beverages also like to have some water on hand to help balance the effects of alcohol on their palate, hydration and/or sobriety. Asking if they would like some water in addition to their drink order is a proactive step that shows you care about their dining experience.
Customers who order a bottle of wine appreciate it when you open the bottle in front of them at the table. Practice this skill so that you can do it without dropping cork crumbs in the bottle, spilling wine or looking like an amateur.
Wonderful Server: May I take your drink order?
Child: I want a Coke!
Mother: No way. No caffeine for you tonight.
Wonderful Server: We are out of Coke tonight, but we do have some really good strawberry lemonade if you would rather have that.
Child: Awww.. OK. That would be fine.
Tip #4 - Understand the Tea Drinker
Description: Go the extra mile to accommodate the (iced) tea drinker. Ask if they want extra lemon (bring them a small plate of lemon wedges if they do). Keep an eye on level in the glass and try to refill it only when it is almost all gone (or bring them a new glass for every refill). Be sure to let them know you will try to refill it only when it is almost empty.
If your restaurant offers different types of tea (iced, hot, herbal), be sure to ask the customer which type of tea they want - donít assume!
Reason: Tea drinkers can be very finicky about getting it to taste just right - with the correct level of sweetener and lemon. If you refill a half-full glass, it dilutes their carefully prepared drink and can be hard for them to correct.
Important: The finicky customer can be a PITA (pain in the ass), but s/he can also be a great opportunity because the more finicky people are used to bad service and usually will recognize and reward good service.
Tip #5 - Remember Orders - Donít Write Them Down
Description: Try to remember orders without having to write them down. Always repeat the complete order when everyone at the table has finished.
Reason: It impresses the people at your table if you can remember every little detail of their order without writing it down. It sends the message that you are paying attention to them and are focused on their needs.
Repeating the order after it has been decided serves two purposes - first is to assure the customers that you understood the order and did not miss anything, second is to help you remember the order. Most restaurants have computerized ordering systems these days and so it is important to ďwrite inĒ the order in the computer as soon as itís been taken.
Customers with special orders (substitutions, etc.) are usually extra appreciative of wonderful servers who get their orders right.
Tip #6 - Check the Food Before Bringing it to the Table
Description: Make sure that the food matches the order before you bring it to the table, especially if the customer made a special order (substitutions, food allergies, etc.). If the order isnít right, send it back and tell the customer about the snafu.
Reason: When food arrives at the table, the customer expects to be able to eat. The disappointment in seeing a wrong order is much worse than a little extra wait. Customers also appreciate that you are looking out for them and attentive to their needs.
Wonderful Server: Iím sorry, the cooks forgot to leave the cheese off of your Penne Puttanesca so I sent it back. They should have a fresh dish ready in just a few minutes.
Customer: OK. Thank you.
Tip #7 - Remember Your Customers
Description: Always remember the people that you wait on. One idea is to write down their names (if they pay by credit card), what they look like, and what they had. This includes details like how they like their dish prepared - like how they prefer their steak cooked.
Reason: Itís really great when you can remember a customer and their preferences and they take notice. This is especially true when the customer happens to return with friends. The customers appreciate the VIP treatment and it really makes them look good. This always means, a bigger tip for you.
Wonderful Server: Hi Mr. Smith, would you like your usual today - Penne Puttanesca with no cheese, garlic bread with no cheese and a house salad with no cheese and Balsamic vinaigrette dressing?
Customer: Yes, thank you. Thatís my favorite.
Wonderful Server: Would you care for a glass of wine to go with that this evening? We have a terrific new Merlot in from ItalyÖ
Tip #8 - Mind Your Appearance
Description: Many restaurants will request that their wait staff wear a uniform. Whether you wear a uniform or not, make sure that your clothes are clean, ironed, neat and new looking. Also, make sure you have shoes that tie (double knots are most helpful so you donít have to keep tying them), and NOT tennis shoes. Your socks should not be visible (unless one is wearing a skirt), and a tie is always helpful. In some places, it is required that a person wear suspenders, or a hand cloth draping over their pants. Make sure your clothes fit well. Note that open toed sandals are not good, as things may get dropped on your feet.
Always have clean, dry hair, and make sure it is styled. Long hair should be tied back in a ponytail holder or scarf. Girls should pay attention to their nails too. Other girls look at your nails and want to make sure that your cuticles are shaped well, that your nails are painted, etc.
It is a great idea to wear something extra that makes you stand out in the restaurant and be remembered (a pin or a patch or something).
Reason: At a minimum, you donít want to offend customers with your appearance. At best, you want diners to take notice of you and regard you in a positive light. When you pay attention to detail in your appearance, it sends a message to people that you care about yourself and your job.
For example, I used to work with a lady that only wore ďBetty BoopĒ ties. When people came in to eat, they would ask for ďBetty BoopĒ.
Tip #9 - Mind Your Manners
Description: Manners are very important to any wait staff. Just ask Miss MannersÖor your grandmother. Pay attention to your posture - stand up straight, shoulders back. Grammar and diction are also very important in order to make a good impression.
Reason: A guest in a restaurant does NOT want to hear, ďWe ainít got none.Ē The correct way to say it is, ďWe do not have any of that.Ē The more a customer respects you, the easier it is for them to decide that you are worthy of a good tip.
Tip #10 - Be Honest
Description: Always be honest with the customer. Especially when it comes to admitting any mistakes on your part. Donít try to blame others when you are at fault.
Reason: Donít assume that customers are too stupid or ignorant to figure out the truth. Taking responsibility for your mistakes breeds respect and even if the infraction is severe enough to ruin your tip for that particular dining experience, at least the customer will be willing to give you another chance the next time you wait on them. Customers will never tip you well if they perceive you as being a weasel.
Tip #11 - Anticipate Condiment Needs
Description: If you work at a restaurant that serves sandwiches, fried foods, etc. that are likely to be eaten with condiments such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, etc., and those condiments are not already provided on the table, do not wait until the food is served to ask if the customer would like the condiments! Ask them when they place the order.
Reason: If you wait until the food is served, they will have to wait with their food sitting in front of them while you retrieve the condiments. Even if you are quick, the wait can be agonizing torture for someone who is hungry!
Tip #12 - Always Carry an Extra Pen and Paper
Description: Always have an extra pen or two and a pad of paper handy for customers to borrow.
Reason: It is not uncommon for customers to think of things they need to write down while dining out. When inspiration hits them, you want to be the hero that enables them to record their thoughts before the moment is lost.
Tip #1 - Donít Stare
Description: Avoid staring at customerís disabilities, cleavage or tattoos. Maintain eye contact when you engage a customer.
Reason: Many people take offense when people stare at them for whatever reason. The last thing you want to do is offend the customer.
Tip #2 - Donít Refill Drinks Over the Table
Description: When you are going to refill a glass of water or tea, remove the customerís glass from the table and pour the drink while both the pitcher and glass are over the floor, away from the table.
Reason: You absolutely do not want to drip water or tea onto the table, or worse, into the customerís food. Customers also do not enjoy competing with your elbows for access to their food.
Tip #3 - Donít Reach Across One Customer to Serve Another
Description: If you need to reach part of the table that is more than a foot away, move around the table until you are in front of the desired location. Do not reach across (or over) a customer to get/set items on the table.
Reason: It is rude to reach across the customers.
Tip #4 - Donít Set Dangerous Objects Near Small Children
Description: When a parent and small child (with or without additional diners) is seated at a table, take care not to set dangerous objects (metal knives, forks, glassware, hot plates, etc.) down within reach of the small children.
Reason: Parents are especially sensitive to their childrenís safety. You can score lots of brownie points by being proactive in helping them keep baby safe.
Tip #5 - Donít Neglect a Table
Description: Never neglect a table. Even if the kitchen is swamped and their order wonít be ready for a while, always check in or be available in case the customers need more drinks or a status update.
Reason: Customers should never be ignored. Itís your job to serve them and if you are not available (within reason), customers will get mad. This can ruin your tip faster than any other mistake.
Handling Special Circumstances
Tip #1 - Splitting a Bill / Customer Fights Over the Bill
Description: When two or more people at a table request the bill and cannot agree on who is going to pay, try to set the bill in the middle of the table.
Reason: Try not to get involved in picking a winner in the tab paying lottery. You have more to lose when guessing wrong than to gain by guessing right. Stay neutral.
Tip #2 - Vegetarians / Customers with Food Allergies
Description: Always be attentive to special food orders. If you know a little bit about vegetarianism or food allergies, talk to the customers about the subject and chances are that they will feel a lot more comfortable with you looking out for their order.
Reason: Vegetarians and people with food allergies are serious about their diets. They almost always appreciate a server who is sympathetic or knowledgeable about their dietary needs/choices.
Tip #3 - Customers with Babies
Description: When you get a table that includes babies, you should try to expedite the dining experience for that table (and always bring extra napkins). Ask if you can take the meal order with the drink order. Bring the check when they are done eating (before all the plates are cleared).
Reason: In general, babies have short attention spans and can get fussy in a hurry. Parents are usually very appreciative of prompt service that allows them to enjoy a meal without listening to their child crying the whole time.
Tip #4 - Receiving Bad Tips
Description: Look at every bad tip as an opportunity to improve.
Reason: Most of the time, bad tips are given because people do not like the service they have received. If you get a bad tip, you should ask yourself the following:
There are other times when people really do not have the money to spend on dinner out, and leave very small tips. If this is the case (and itís hard to tell), then the best course of action would be to stick the money in your pocket and wish the customers a good evening.