6 Scientifically Proven Ways to Increase Your Tips as a Server

by Darwin on June 10, 2013


I have to admit, while I’ve had a lot of jobs, I’ve never been a server.  I don’t have the best personality for it (or tolerance).  However, I was fascinated by some actual heavily researched facts and statistics on tipping in America.  I’ve seen a study here and there but most recently, I listened to a Freakonomics Podcast (which I heavily endorse for your long commutes!) where they interviewed the preeminent expert on tipping behavior in America and he revealed the following interesting facts like like $40 Billion is spent in tips each year in America! That’s 2 NASA budgets each year!… also, would you have thought Christians are poor tippers? they are!  But aside from these tidbits, this expert from Cornell has researched server and consumer behavior enough that he’s able to break down key attributes and behaviors that increase your tips to the point where a server making a few tweaks could really boost their income!

  • Attractiveness Matters! – While it should come as no surprise that more attractive women garner larger tips (the effect is muted for male servers), the devil’s in the details.  Women get better tips than men in general.  However, male servers tend to get better tips from female patrons and vice versa.  Real world use?  Well, if you have the ability to pick your tables and you work with men and women, perhaps you can agree to trade off so you always serve the opposite sex?  Additionally, blondes do better than brunettes and large breasted women do better than small breasted. Finally, slender women do better than larger women.  (this is the exact language used in the Podcast, don’t blame me!).
  • Bending Down or Squatting Increases Tips – One subject demonstrated that he was garnering an extra dollar per table simply by squatting.  To prove this effect, since he had always been squatting, the professor had him stop squatting for certain experiments to see the impact and he ended up losing, on average, $1 per table.  So, if you’re working 3 tables at a time per hour and work 40 hours per week, that could be an easy $120 per week (~$6000 per year!!!) for just using your leg muscles!
  • Touching the Client Increases Tips – In this study, servers were asked to touch their patrons when delivering the check at the end of the meal and while it didn’t matter how long they kept their hand on a shoulder or arm (2 seconds vs 4 seconds), the mere act of touching appreciably increased tips.  I’m not sure how some people feel about this and it probably depends whether it’s a male or female touching you, but apparently it works!
  • Candy Correlates with Higher Tips – Have you ever eaten at a diner or chain restaurant and there’s candy at the register where you settle up upon leaving?  Apparently, having some candy there at the counter increases tips.  Who knew?!
  • Smiley Faces! – Drawing a smiley face on a check increases tips for female servers, but not male :>  Drawing a sun or something else happy and unique also increases tips.
  • Service Doesn’t Really Matter – This is utterly shocking, but there is a ton of evidence to back this up.  When looking at all the various facets of the patron experience that influence tipping, the quality of service only accounts for about 4% the variability of differences in tips can be explained by service rates.  Tips are clearly not as strongly related to service as one would think!  So, why aren’t all servers jerks?  Well, for one, there IS a small correlation and two, most servers don’t know this and think they will be tipped better if they’re pleasant and provide a favorable dining experience.  This fact alone may not help you make more money, but if you put some effort into some of the other topics above rather than chasing down that extra fork or getting water for someone every 3 minutes, you might be better focusing your efforts.

And if you’re curious, yes, certain racial demographics tip better than others, and the author couldn’t explain why. It’s just what the data shows.  So, on this topic of tipping, eating and restaurants, if you’re curious about how you can eat for free or with deep discounts at all your favorite joints, check out these 23 restaurants giving away free stuff with birthday clubs (some people fib a bit and use different birthdays throughout the year since you can’t possibly eat at 23 places on the same day!) and also, of course, buy discounted gift cards (see where to get them and tips/tricks/discount amounts) before you eat out!  I have a whole stack of Bonefish cards ready to go!

Any Server Stories Related to Earnings, Customers and Tricks You Employ?

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