If you make money in tips, then conventional wisdom says your pay is tied to your performance.
But you probably know better.
What can really move the needle are actions and strategies that have nothing to do with service and everything to do with the mysterious workings of our psyches.
“If servers can establish a social connection with their customers, they’ll get better tips,” says Michael Lynn, a professor in food and beverage management at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, who has been studying tips for years. “The simple fact is, we’re more likely to want to help someone we’re connected to, and we’re more likely to care about someone’s opinion, what someone else thinks of us, if we have a social connection to them.”
Gratuity practices do vary a bit by region — people in the Northeast tip best, people in the South tip the worst, urban dwellers tip more than rural folk — and some techniques work on people of certain races but not others, on one gender but not the other, on the young, say, more than the old. But some strategies should increase your tips from most customers.
In college and grad school, Lynn worked as a busboy, waiter and bartender, so he’s studied the practice firsthand as well as from the ivory tower. He compiled the results of numerous studies into his ebook, “Megatips 2: Twenty Tested Techniques to Increase Your Tips,” aimed at the roughly 2% of all workers who earn money in tips.
While that figure seems small, the economy is changing the makeup of those workers. Compared to other generations, millennials are one of the most “underemployed,” meaning they are highly skilled but work low-paying or low-skill jobs. A study by the New York Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that in 2001, underemployment for recent college grads was 34%, but by 2012, that percentage had increased to 44% (though that was on par with the level of underemployment in the 1990-1991 recession).
Most of the tests described below were conducted in casual, mid-scale to downscale dining establishments, simply because it’s harder to get permission to run experiments in higher-end restaurants. If you work in a fine dining atmosphere, use your own common sense to see what is appropriate to try in your workplace. If you’re not a server, then some of these tips may not apply to you, but you could probably adapt many of them to your situation and test which ones result in higher tips. (More on running your own experiments below.)
1. Introduce yourself.
Simply saying, “My name is …” boosted waitresses’ average tips from $3.49 to $5.44 — a jump of 56% — at a Charlie Brown’s restaurant in southern California.
2. Ladies, wear makeup.
While the feminist in me hates to break this news, a study in France showed that 50% more men left tips if the waitress wore makeup, and the average amount was 26% higher. Another study, also in France, found that red lipstick, when compiiared to pink and brown shades or au naturale, brought in the bucks.
3. Wear something unusual.
Again, the test subjects were women; they put flowers in their hair. They earned $1.75 per customer in tips versus $1.50 when they went without the flower. Lynn suggests (for both genders) wearing anything that personalizes you such as a loud tie or funny button, but to avoid wearing something political, religious or otherwise controversial.