I want to be very clear about the tone of this article, before I even begin. Being a waiter is one of the most exhausting jobs anyone can have, on many levels. And, by the way, I prefer the term waiter instead of server. I had originally used the now more common term ‘server’ in the title, but I have changed it to waiter.
Anyway, this is not meant to be a rant! I sincerely appreciate those who work their butts off to make my dining-out experience enjoyable. I never fail to leave a tip, no matter what happens. We’ve got to stick together, as the song goes, and no matter what happens, I am going to leave something behind for you.
So, this list of things which might annoy or even anger your customers is offered as a friendly reminder, not as a stab. I want you to get the biggest tip possible. I appreciate you, and what you do. I offer this in the spirit of helping, not of hating. I grew up in the restaurant business and grueling doesn’t even begin to describe it. Anyway, let’s get to it.
You Fail to Smile
You have a headache, a fellow waiter is not doing their share of side-work, your manager is an ass, and the customers have been extra demanding all night. Who can smile during all that? Well, let me tell you, if you give me a big smile, I’m going to smile right back at you. And maybe, then, we’ll both be happy. But even when they don’t smile back, you’ve got to paste that smile on your face. And try to mean it, because a fake smile that never reaches your eyes could be even worse. Insincerity is a big tip killer. Remember that the patrons are at your restaurant not just to have a meal, but to have a pleasant experience. A restaurant is often said to be like a show. Well, a restaurant is certainly not just about food. You’ve got to deliver a good time. People can cook at home. They go to restaurants for that experience, and your smile is one of the biggest parts of it. Obviously, these general comments go for all the rest to follow.
You Move to Slow
I get it. It is exhausting. You’re on your feet all night. Back and forth. The bottom line is people expect prompt service. You’ve got to multi-task. The more they see you running and doing two or three things at once (and they WILL notice), the bigger your tip will be. When someone wants a refill on their beverage, they don’t care that you’ve got to bring the bill to your other table and take the order of yet another group. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “Wow, he/she is working their butt off tonight.” And my BIG tip will reflect that sentiment.
By the way, while you’re running back and forth between tables and from FOH to BOH, your customers at one table may be wanting to get your attention. One of the most frequently asked questions about restaurant dining etiquette is how to get your server’s attention! Of course, there are always those who don’t care and will just shout across the room at you. But I dare say they are rare? Even when you are running around and not attending to a particular table, you need to be always keeping your eye on them and assessing the situation. Do they need refills? Do they look happy? Do they look like they want your attention? A moment of eye-contact when you walk by can make a big difference. Any time you make it easier on your customers by helping them to navigate the social situation that is restaurant dining, without actually having them realize you are doing it, your tip can grow. And of course, all this is just good service, anyway. And, in case you are wondering, yes, there are some more or less accepted ways to signal for a new drink in a restaurant.
You Don’t Know the Menu
If someone asks “What’s good here,” and you shrug and say “It’s all good,” they translate that as you not knowing what is good, and being completely indifferent. They think you are being unhelpful and furthermore, they will take your “it’s all good” to mean that “it all sucks.” You’ve got to know the menu, what goes into the food, and beyond that, you’ve got to have opinions! Eat the food and when someone asks you what is good, tell them what your favorite is! That is why they’re asking…for YOUR opinion.
You’re Going Through the Motions
This is related to the comment about insincerity in the first part, above. If you say “Hi, I’m Tracey, welcome to Tony’s Steakhouse, I’ll be your server tonight, can I get you something to drink?” all in a monotone rush without looking at the guests, or smiling, or without generally giving any indication that you are not a pre-programmed android who is incapable of human emotion, your tip will be tiny. There is a fine balance in good table waiting and the waiters who get the biggest tips walk that line perfectly. You’ve got to be just friendly and chatty enough to make the customers feel welcomed. A certain amount of personal warmth is absolutely required. But, at the same time, you’ve got to maintain a certain amount of professional detachment. The idea is “I’m warm, I’m friendly, but I’m not part of the party.” Be personal, but never TOO personal. Sounds hard, I know, but if you pay attention, the customers will give you cues as to what they expect, and what they like. And the more warmth and friendliness you put out, the more you’ll get back, usually. It makes the shift go a lot faster.
This one is easy. NEVER complain. Ever. About anything. Your customers do not want to hear it and, unless you want to be complaining about your lack of tips, you’d better not do it. Even if a customer asks how things are going, never complain! Just don’t do it. Your feet are sore. You’re back aches. The other waiter is a bitch. Keep it to yourself. Even if your guests seem to be interested, never talk about yourself.
Also remember that “complaining” doesn’t have to be verbal. Leaning on a chair, sighing, or otherwise indicating how tired you are will only make your guest uncomfortable. Even if they do not consciously know that it was your actions that made them feel this way, the discomfort can be reflected in a reduced tip.
You Get Orders Wrong
There is no explanation needed, here. Listen carefully and repeat the order back to the customers after you are done taking it. Be sure you’ve got it all exactly right, and for God’s sake, write it all down. Having waiters not write down orders is one of my featured items in dumb things restaurants do! Make sure to check for yourself before you bring out the food.
You Bring Food before Drinks
I’ve seen some people who wonder why drinks are ordered first at a restaurant, and why they are brought in advance of food. Well, here is the thing. If you do not get drinks until you get your food, it may well mean you’ve been sitting there with nothing for ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes. The first question you should always ask is “Can I bring you a beverage from the bar” or some version of that appropriate to you and your restaurant. People want something to sip on while they are waiting for the food, and of course, something like bread or another item to munch on is often included. And for people who order alcoholic beverages, yes, they want that drink to start helping them relax. They may have had a tough day themselves. Never forget that your guests work too. Bring beverage or cocktails promptly. If cocktails were ordered and the bar is behind, let your customers know, apologize, and bring some water in the meantime. They will blame the bar, not you, and will see that you are trying your best to attend to their needs. By the way, make sure they know you are all over it, and making sure those drinks get out as quickly as possible.
By the way, once appetizers have been served and then cleared, not more seven to ten minutes should pass before the entrees come out, so try to take note of the time and inform the kitchen if there is a delay. If the entrees come out before the guest have had time to eat their appetizers, that is another problem. This is a big pet-peeve of mine, as a diner.
You Bring the Bill without Being Asked and Without Offering Dessert, Coffee, etc.
I’ve been in many restaurants where a bill was brought about five minutes after the food was received. Even if the waiter says, here is your bill, but take your time, and let me know if you want anything else, the message is received: You want us out, and as quickly as possible. I get it. You need to clear tables. But you also need tips. Doesn’t matter how fast you get the tables turned if your tips are nonexistent. Never bring a bill without first asking if they would like to order dessert, coffee, etc. More drinks? Anything. And of course, you would have been checking on them often while they dined. It is your job to move things along as quickly as possible without the customers knowing things are being moved along as quickly as possible.
Also, and this is its own item, never say “Would you like change?” or “Can I get you Change for that?” We know what that question means. It means, “Are you going to let me keep the change?” Never fish for a tip. Don’t ask. Just BRING THE CHANGE. Let the customer leave the tip from the change, or hand it to you. The best thing to say, in my opinion is “I’ll be right back with the change.” Depending on the amount of money I’ve given, that prompts me to say, “Keep the change!” Remember that if a customer is paying with large bills, say 50’s or 100’s, the “change” may be too much for a tip. They need you to bring them the change so they can take out the tip amount. Don’t create an awkward situation for your customer! Now, with that said, there is a special circumstance you could do well to remember, which is related to the next item on my list.
Be Attentive and Pro-Active With Families Who Bring Kids
Now, I know what you’re going to say. Family groups are the worst. They don’t tip! Well, unfortunately, that is sometimes true. However, there are some things you can do to put “tip” in the forefront of their mind. So, above, I said never to bring the bill without offering dessert, etc. Well, when families have kids with them, especially on school days (assuming it’s evening), they do NOT want to wait for twenty minutes for you to finally show up with the bill. So, although whether you should bring the bill without being asked is still a bit of a tricky question, when you do see the meal winding down, make sure that you help the parents move things along fast. They will appreciate it if you let them know they you recognize they can’t just hang around with no cares in the world.
As a bonus, if you are especially attentive and welcoming to someone’s kids, you might just earn yourself your biggest tips yet. If a kid, say, spills a drink, don’t even ask, just bring a new drink in record time. The parents will take notice, I guarantee it! And, on that subject, when mishaps happen with kids, do everything you can to make it a “non-event.” And, if you possibly can, discretely and unobtrusively clean up the mess (at least well enough) without calling out the National Guard. It is embarrassing to families to have a busboy, with the manager in tow, converge on their table with a mop bucket. Obviously, the size of the mess will dictate some of what happens. But you can still do your best to make the most out of a sticky situation. Oh, and EXTRA NAPKINS. Us parents love extra napkins! Our favorite Red Robin restaurant, where we often go for burgers and good service, are champs at this. They make family night go smoothly! And, as a result, they enjoy repeat business again and again.
When You’re In the Weeds, Get Help, But Come Back Quick!
I almost left this one out. It was tickling at the back of my mind but I couldn’t quite remember it. But right when I was ready to put this post to bed (writer talk for finish) I remembered. Sometimes you will get in the weeds. You need to ask for help. This is another situation where your tip could go either way. Let’s say you are too behind to bring out an order, so you get someone else to bring it while you’re delivering to another table. If you’ve cultivated a good relationship with your customers, they are going to be slightly irritated, especially since, depending on how organized you are, that person may not know who gets what food and will likely have to auction if off.
And, because they want YOU. THEIR waiter, not some stranger. That’s right, if you are good, they will think of you as special, and just any old person won’t do. If you’re really good, they may even be thinking of you by name. (I’m the least social person you’ll meet until you see my interact with a waiter. I always know your name!) But, we know that waiters get busy. Sometimes they have too many tables (sometimes they have too few, but that is a whole other problem). If someone else has to fill in for you, and you do not make up for that in some way, your tip may suffer. They might think you just didn’t care. So if you want to reduce your tip, don’t mention it. But if you want to maximize your tip, if someone else brings out an order for you, make it your first priority to get to that table, apologize, and make sure everything is perfect! That’s all you need to do. Let them know that you never forgot about them for a second.
That’s it for the list. I recognize that it is only partial. There are many, many situations that might occur, after all, such as someone sending back food (after eating half of it?), or someone asking for unreasonable substitutions, etc. and how you handle these may not be entirely up to you, as the management’s policy might dictate what you do, but being attentive to all the items above can help mitigate any potential hazards brought on by poor management decisions. Never blame the house on your failure to get tips. You have to make it your job to get the biggest tips possible. And before you ask, I am aware of the “Waiter Rant” blog. Sensationalism sales but I’m not a salesman.
Obviously, this article was not really about reducing tips, but about maximizing them. Well, here are some more ‘scientific’ ways to maximize your tips!
How Do We Figure Out How Much To Tip?
Many people simply tip random amounts based on how much money they feel they can spare, and how happy they are with the service. There may be no rhyme or reason and a person might tip five bucks for great service one week while tipping twenty bucks the next. However, us more experienced and savvy restaurant goers have a basic formula we use.
- Poor service – 10 percent of bill (I might go to 5 percent for poor and rude service)
- OK service, but not great – 15 percent of bill (this is the typical amount tipped!)
- Great service – 18 to 20 percent of bill (if we can afford it).
- Greatest friggin service we’ve ever had – Shoot, you never know, more than 20 percent and the skies the limit for big-spenders