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?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneycone June 11, 2013 at 8:35 am

One rant I have is on nutjobs that leave a Jesus card instead of tips! Whoever came up with that idea!


David @my2centopinion June 11, 2013 at 9:53 am

I often wonder is some of these aren’t a self full filling prophesy. If you are doing these things then you care more about your job. If you care more about your job you will probably get a better tip.


krantcents June 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I would like to think I base my tip on performance rather than other criteria, but some of this may be true. Next time I go out, I will think about this and report back., Don’t wait for my report because I usually take out my order and leave no tip!


Springs1 June 11, 2013 at 8:48 pm

“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. -”

I don’t increase the tip, if anything, if I get bad service, I decrease it MORE because of this wasting my time thing. I never said I wanted that for my tip money, did I?

“Service Doesn’t Really Matter – This is utterly shocking, but there is a ton of evidence to back this up. ”

My husband and I base our tip on SERVICE ONLY!

Actually every one of these things doesn’t matter. I could care less if you give me candy. I could care less if you are attractive. I could care less if you bend down and squat.


Timothy Mobley June 14, 2013 at 4:10 pm

I am frankly surprised by the touching of patrons aspects. In general, we are not a society that values close physical contact from strangers so i would think most people who find it annoying or even weird if a waiter/waitress touched them…


Thomas June 16, 2013 at 11:36 am

I don’t like to be touched so that would bother me. It wouldn’t change the tip per se but I prefer not to be touched by the server. Honestly the service just has to be horrible if not I am leaving the same tip 20% or $5 which ever is greater. Better service will get a higher tip. I don’t take away but my wifey does. I understand the job they have and the people they have to deal with. Sometimes other tables try to hog the server.


zimmy@moneyandpotatoes.com July 20, 2013 at 10:39 pm

I have been eating at restaurants for a number of years and and I can assure you that attractiveness of the server does matter. It isn’t the only factor but it ranks very high on the list in my book. If the server is attractive, competent, attentive (I like my ice tea) and the order is correct, you have just scored the maximum tip from me. It the server is very attractive but none of the other things have been accomplished… you will get a modest tip from me.


Rat Race Quitter December 26, 2014 at 7:44 am

Youre dead right about attractiveness, though I disagree that service doesn’t matter. My father was a waiter his whole life so I know how much it means to have a few good tipping tables in a night (can make the difference between meeting or not meeting rent that month), so I always tip high….unless my service was bad.

I take into account a busy restaurant, and having worked as a chef, myself, I know the difference between a cook’s mistake and a waiter’s mistake, too. And if it seems like the waiter just doesn’t care about me then that will be reflected in the tip.

I don’t usually have to worry about that, though. 85% of the time I get “adequate” to “good” service, so I get to tip them well. Just thought I’d throw in my own two cents on this one.


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