The lingering effects of COVID and growing economic inflation haven’t done the restaurant industry any favors lately. It hasn’t stopped guests from tipping their servers, either.
Dine-in tips were about 20% in Q1 of 2022, according to data from the point-of-sale company Toast. While tips have steadily increased for dine-in visits, the view isn’t as sunny for off-site orders, including delivery, where tips have fallen to about 15%.
And although dine-in tips are up, it’s not all great news. Fewer people are going out to eat regularly, which hurts the overall tips servers and bartenders receive, despite the better percentage.
With all this in mind, how can servers, bartenders, and other restaurant employees maximize tips every time? A smile and a positive attitude can go a long way, though there are plenty of other opportunities to make a great impression, increase tips, delight customers, and encourage them to come back soon.
Greet Your Guests Immediately and Stay Engaged
Set the tone early by greeting guests with a big smile, seating them quickly, and making them feel welcome. Being kind is fantastic, but don’t fake it because it can make guests uncomfortable.
When your table is ready to order, read their orders back to them. It’s easy to do, builds trust between you and your patrons, and may lead to better tips at the end of their meal.
Pro tip: If you forget to ask a guest about something, go back and get some clarification. It shows you want them to have a good time and could prompt them to leave a better tip.
Once you’ve dropped off their food, stop by once in a while to see how they’re doing. It’s common knowledge that attentive servers earn better tips than those who drop off the food and bolt.
Give a Mint, Make a Mint
Not much ruins a date more than hot garlic breath slowly filling up the back of an Uber. Help your guests avoid that fate by tossing them a mint or two!
According to one study in the restaurant industry, handing mints out to guests at the end of their meal can boost tips anywhere from 3 to 21%. The percentage is largely based on how many mints you choose to give them and how they’re presented. Next time your table orders a white pizza and some truffle fries, toss them a couple mints and see what happens.
Other ways to make a great final impression on your tables include leaving handwritten notes on their checks and even drawing a little smiley face or other doodles. It might seem silly at first, but people love a good attitude - even if your stick people look like deranged lollipops.
Channel Your Inner Salesperson
It might seem like you’re laying it on a little thick, but learning to upsell and cross-sell menu items is a simple way to boost checks and introduce guests to combos they’ve never thought of.
Bigger checks typically mean better tips. Think about it for a sec - a 15% tip on $100 is $15, but the same 15% tip on a bill of $150 is $22.50. Combine a larger bill with excellent service, and you could make even more!
Interestingly enough, you don’t have to push the most expensive items on the menu to be successful. Everything from apps and drinks to popular entrees, specials, and desserts is fair game. And while you’re upselling, don’t forget to keep these ideas in mind:
- Be creative! Observe what people order together and suggest it to other tables as an app/entree combo.
- Be complimentary! People like being told they have good taste and it might help you build rapport with your tables.
- Memorize menu items, including specials. Have a basic understanding of how everything is made, and be ready to discuss them with curious customers.
And finally, don’t inject your favorites into the conversation unless guests ask for your opinion. You might think you have impeccable taste, but if you suggest something and it flops, they will remember it.
Remember, Remember… More than A Fifth of the Menu
If you work at a restaurant or bar with a rotating cast of specials, get familiar with every single one.
Specials are special for a reason - they sell well, they’re popular, and they tend to have a relatively strong price point compared to the rest of the menu. Promote them and give them the limelight they deserve.
Outside of the specials, understand and anticipate some of the pitfalls on your menu, including possible food allergens, gluten-free options, vegan meals, and vegetarian plates. Knowing what items might be problematic for guests helps avoid a service mishap and could even prevent someone from having a medical emergency.
This isn’t to say you need to know the menu front-to-back, but being aware of allergens and dietary restrictions can go a long way toward getting a great tip.
Pro tip: If you don’t know something, DON’T GUESS. Not only could you be wrong about what you’re saying, but you could also potentially put someone in danger of having an allergic reaction. If you have doubts, ask the kitchen staff!
Take the Math Out of Tipping
I don’t know about you, but math makes me nervous.
Take the fear and anxiety out of your guests’ experience by giving them a few suggested gratuities at the bottom of their checks.
Most people don’t get excited about doing complex math, so offering a few options like 15, 18, and 25% encourages them to pick one and move a little faster toward the exit.
Let Technology Take Care of the Check
There are plenty of apps streamlining the dining experience, letting guests explore, order, and even pay using their phones.
Apps like birdbill let guests pay on their own terms. This allows you to spend less time swiping cards and splitting checks and more time delivering mints, upselling items, and delivering great service. Guests like these apps because tips are set by default, and it dramatically cuts down on time spent waiting to settle their tabs or bills.
Be Nice, No Matter What
No one on Earth has ever liked 100% of the people they meet, but it’s easier to pretend to when there’s money on the line.
This isn’t to say you should walk around the restaurant or stand behind the bar with a big, cheesy grin plastered on your face like the Cheshire Cat. But a little smile and some kindness can make a huge difference.
People typically don’t want to heap tips when they don’t think anyone cares about their drinks, meals, or experience. Smile, be courteous, and find solutions to problems as they arise. If they have questions, don’t leave them hanging or figuring out things on their own because they’ll remember that when it comes time to settle their bill.
Be Positive, Even When You’re Wrong
Everyone makes mistakes: it’s a fact of life. It’s how you recover from those mistakes that make a difference.
Never say, “I don’t know,” in front of a guest. It’s bad form and can sound like you don’t care. Instead, tell them you’re unsure but would be happy to track down the answer for them. It’s a positive experience that shows you care enough to make an effort.
And if you do make a mistake? Don’t let it torpedo the entire service. Openly own up to them and find proactive ways to make things right. We’re all human, so seeing someone who goes out of their way to fix what’s wrong turns a possible negative into an incredibly powerful positive.
Look Great, Perform Great
Depending on where you work, looking good could mean anything from a pressed white shirt and black pants to making sure your hair isn’t a rat’s nest.
No matter what, make sure you’re wearing clean clothes and look like you belong there. If you come to work looking like someone who would probably be escorted out by police, you probably missed the mark.
The same goes for the restaurant itself. Who wants to eat at a restaurant or drink at a bar that’s dirty, dingy, and looks like someone should spray it down with a hose? Make sure every table is bussed after guests leave, and check around chairs for bits of food, wrappers, and other messes.
If you work somewhere fancy, like a table service restaurant or a classy wine bar, understand proper etiquette. Know how to pour each type of beer and take care when pouring wine to give it room to aerate. Even little mishaps give guests a reason to not find an extra dollar or two for a tip.
What Have We Learned?
If you’ve been paying attention to these tips, confidence is the thread tying everything together.
In the same vein of “fake it ‘til you make it,” being confident without being cocky can help make a difference with your patrons. When your guests believe you’re doing everything you can to ensure they have a good time, they’ll reward you well. Leave them guessing, and you risk not only getting a poor tip but scaring them from coming back for a while.
And don’t let all the restaurant mentions fool you; these tips work great in bars, on food trucks, and anywhere else high-quality service is necessary. Remember, it doesn’t cost anything to be a good human. If anything, our advice is less about earning better tips and more about providing good service. In the end, good service will always pay you back!
So, how many of these tips do you utilize during your shifts? Are there any you plan to include? Anything we forgot? Let us know!