Want to make more tips? Of course you do! Being a waitress, waiter, bartender or some other role where you get tipped regularly is about the only way I can think of to make real money while working part-time or still attending school. If you’re employed as a server, you owe it to yourself to maximize the value of each shift by getting tipped the maximum amount possible. Following this simple advice will help you do that.
I spent half decade waiting tables at a local restaurant during college and as well as a busy national park during a summer break. During this time, I was regularly the top tip getter. Bus boys and other waitstaff would regularly comment about how much bigger my tips were on average than other waiters and waitresses. At the time, I casually laughed off these compliments and suggested it nothing more than good luck. Of course it wasn’t.
I was did some aspects of the job different than I had been trained. Below are specific tactics I used to become the top tip getter at my restaurant outlined by category below. After all these years, I’m ready to reveal my serving secrets.
- Give stuff away for free
- Apply at better restaurants
- Avoid slow shifts
- Pick up holiday shifts
- Smile more
- Keep the drinks full
- Understand how your employers handles tips
- Be nice to staff
- Upsell patrons
- Look clean and presentable
Give Stuff Away for Free.
Here’s possibly the most controversial tip to kick off the guide. Be careful with this tip. But it works if you’re able to use this approach the right place and time.
During a particularly busy shift, a co-workers spilled water all over a guest I was about to greet. The waitress walked over to me and immediately apologized for what happened expecting me to be mad. I said something to the effect of. No problem. This is actually be going great. My co-worker just stood there looking puzzled.
I walked over to the table, apologized, and offered my wet table an appetizer on the house for the accident. The couple were both extremely understanding and said it wouldn’t be necessary. I told them my favorite app on the menu was a beef queso with chips and salsa and they agreed to give it a try. This exchange quickly lightened the mood and satisfied the couple.
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As a waiter or waitress, situations like this are going to happen. Usually it’s a no brainer for a manager to go approach the unhappy table and offer them something for free. The problem is this solution doesn’t reward the server, but the manager instead. By offering something free to the customer and then asking permission from the manager later after the fact is the route I suggest if you want a bigger tip.
Of course, you won’t be able to use this approach on a regular basis. But if there’s anything your restaurant gives away for free like chips and salsa, popcorn, or water you’ll want to maximize this advantages to your benefit. Also be on the lookout for low-cost items like self-serve ice cream that could be given away for a birthday celebration in a pinch and aren’t strictly monitored. Understand the advantages of your restaurant from a server perspective and use them.
And yes that couple mentioned earlier left me a $10 tip, which isn’t too shabby in North Dakota standards back in the 2000s.
Apply at Better Restaurants
There’s a ceiling to what you can earn at any restaurant. Some restaurants have a much higher ceiling than others. Not to stereotype, but restaurants that appeal to the Sunday morning church crowd the sort of places you’ll want to wait tables. They are notorious for attracting tiny tippers.
I had a buddy in college who also waited tables at a popular restaurant / bar near the river in our college town. He would routinely make over $100 per night waiting tables even during weeknights. The place was always busy and did well with alcohol and food sales. My friend was no better waiter than I, but he was in a better environment. The potential to make tips was much higher!
If you’re a server, ask other servers around town where to get the best tips. Start networking with other servers, cooks, and apply to these restaurants to watch your tips explode right away.
Avoid Working Slow Shifts
This sounds like a no brainer, but it would always befuddle me why servers would work the lunch shift at my old restaurant. Where I worked, the restaurant owner would hire wait staff at $3.45 per hour to complete a lot of prep work for the evening service. In other words, it was much cheaper to have servers doing the prep work instead of a line cook that might start at $9.00 an hour. Waitresses would spend most of their workday chopping ingredients to prepare for the day since lunch usually wasn’t busy. What a waste of time!
Make up excuses to avoid working slow shifts if you must. You have school, a haircut, a different job, anything that prevents you from working low-value shifts. Put a higher value on your time than below minimum wage.
Pick Up Shifts During the Holidays
A lot of people don’t want to work around the holidays. I understand that. But if you want to make some moolah as a server, working major holidays is a smart strategy. Especially on holidays like Christmas, where folks feel more generous and you can expect bigger tips. You can do well on other holidays like St. Patricks Day, Fourth of July, and New Years Eve too depending on the restaurant.
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I remember covering for a pizza delivery guy the week of Christmas. I was making tips between $20 – $30 just to drop off pizza for corporate holiday parties. Most of the tips were charged to corporate cards at hospitals, warehouses, and other businesses giving their employees a free lunch. If you don’t mind working around the holiday, it can be lucrative and easy.
Smile and Develop a Routine
Smile as you approach every new table. Even if you’re stressed out about the number of guests coming in, remember that the guest is here to relax and wants to have a good time. Smile and have some casual banter ready. Ask patrons how their day is going. Ask about where the table just came from, what they are doing in town. This is simple, but it works.
Be Nice to Managers, Cooks, and Back of House People
All team members play a part in helping you get the biggest possible wad of tips at the end of the night. One such is the manager, who usually determines what section of the restaurant you’ll work. Most restaurants have sections that are busier than others. Some sections might be near a window, fireplace, flat-screen, or away from the bathroom making the spot more appealing to guests. If you’re on a managers bad side, you could get relegated to the worst section of the restaurant.
I recall getting on the bad side of a certain manager. I’m don’t remember the reason exactly, but our personalities didn’t mesh. After a few weeks being stuck in the worst section, I quit without notice when I wasn’t given a day off that I requested. I was still attending college at the time and about to embark on a semester abroad so there wasn’t much of a risk for me to leave.
For a period of three weeks, I was only making about $20 in tips after working 4 or 5 hours. If you aren’t getting solid tips isn’t much incentive to stick around a restaurant that gives you a $3.45 per hour minimum base wage.
To my surprise after completing my semester abroad, the owner of the restaurant reached out to me to see if I would be willing to return. I did and worked at the restaurant for two more years before graduating college. Upon my return, I was given a more lucrative section and the previous manager had left. There can be a lot of turnover at a restaurant in 6 months.
Keep the Drinks Full.
It blows my mind how some servers spend their time. Some will be back of house, doing little favors to help the management get ahead. I’m not against being a team player, but this isn’t where you’re getting paid. The customers are the ones that really pay you, not the restaurant manager.
When you have down time, make sure everyone’s drinks are full. As mentioned before, if you serve anything for free like popcorn, bread, or salsa make sure that’s full as well. In general, customers love it when their cup is near full. This is a simple tip, but probably one of the best pieces of advice in this list.
Understand How Your Employer Handles Tips
Some employers pool tips together and split them up evenly among employees at the end of the day. This is common at coffeeshops. If you’re a high-performer this arrangement sucks. Since it’s not going to be worth your time to try to change the culture of a small coffeeshop, I suggest looking for a different job where you can keep what’s yours.
Other restaurants require you to split a certain percentage of tips (often 10% – 15%) with a bus boy or other team member. I don’t mind this arrangement because it takes the burden of cleanup off of the server. I would usually payout busers above their minimum share.
If you incentivize the buser to clean and prep tables faster, you’ll make more money at the end of the shift. You can also use busers in a pinch to serve water and help you out when you get slammed. If you tip the best, you can bet the best busers will want to be assigned to your section. You’ll find other servers that try to short-change their team or blame them when things go wrong. Not smart based on my experience! Plus, I think it’s bad karma when you work for tips, but are tight gripped tipping the people you work with.
Another example from my personal experience was working in party rooms with 20 – 30 guests. At the restaurant I worked at, the tips from large parties would be split up amongst managers, cooks, the dishwasher, and at least two servers. My tip of $150 shrunk to just $27 for me after everyone else that got paid out. It was later discovered the manager who created this arrangement was cooking the books and stealing money directly from the restaurant. I suspect she was dipping her hand in my own tip jar over the years as well. Regardless, I avoided serving large parties as much as I could due to this arrangement.
Back in my day, I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity. Today, POS systems like Square and others offer suggested tip options of 15%, 20%, and 25%. Back when I was waiting tables in the 2000s, this tip suggestion wasn’t an option at the restaurants I worked at. People were using things like tip calculators or just giving what they felt like at the time.
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If I were a waiter right now, I would try harder to upsell guests to increase the size of their total bill knowing that my suggested tip by the POS system would also be bigger. Bring the on the drinks, appetizers, and desserts!
Look Clean and Presentable
I won’t spend much time here because the point is so obvious. But you’ll want to make sure you shower, groom yourself, and keep your uniform clean. No one wants to be served by a sweaty, unkept individual who hasn’t showered this week.
Implement these in your place of work and watch your tips begin to pick up immediately. There are some things that will remain out of control with your tips. Every waiter and waitress I know gets stiff from time to time. Some people are also extremely stingy with their money and won’t tip beyond 10% even with the greatest service in the world.
Outside of factors you can’t control if you stick to the game plan outlined above, you can become one of the consistently best tipped servers at your restaurant.
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