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If you have a job where you get tips you might get lucky too. But really big tips are rare and they won’t pay the bills forever.
So while you’re waiting for that especially generous customer, why not use a few proven strategies to increase your regular tip income?
One way to boost your tips is to work at the right place. That strategy was covered in my post on the best jobs for earning tips, and it’s a good start.
But wherever you work you can boost your income if you get bigger tips and get them more often. Here are some proven ways to do that.
1. Increase the Size of the Bill
Tipping has been scientifically studied more than you might think. At Cornell University Michael Lynn published a research paper that reviewed 14 studies of tipping behavior, and his work is the basis far many of the following tactics.
Most of the research deals with waiters and waitresses, but many conclusions can be applied to other jobs where tipping is common.
So what most-affects the size of tips according to the evidence? The size of the bill.
That’s no surprise, and it’s something to think about when you look for a job. If you bartend in an expensive club you’re going to make bigger tips than if you serve drinks at a place with $1.50 happy hour specials.
But wherever you work, Lynn says “the best way for servers to increase their tips is to increase their sales.” In other words, sell, sell, sell! As a waiter you can suggest dessert.
As a cocktail waitress you can push higher-priced drinks. Get customers to spend more and you’ll get correspondingly bigger tips.
2. Increase Customer Turnover
There is an exception to the rule about selling extras to increase the bill size. Lynn suggests that because entrées typically cost so much more than appetizers and desserts, you don’t want to push those extras when it’s busy. If you do, customers will stay longer, and you’ll serve fewer of them as a result.
When there are people waiting to be seated you want more turnover, because increasing the frequency of sales of those more-expensive entrées will bring in more in total tip income.
So a good rule of thumb for maximizing the amount you get in tips is to sell extras when you’re not too busy, but aim for faster turnover during the busiest times.
3. Increase Frequency of Customer Visits
Naturally, the more times you serve a customer the more you’ll make in tips. Encouraging higher turnover during busy times is one way to accomplish that. But you can also encourage repeat business to boost sales. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Tell customers about upcoming specials.
- If possible, hand out coupons.
- Ask customers when you’ll see them again.
4. Smile More
We probably didn’t need research to show that smiling more increases tips, but that is another finding that Lynn reported. A BBC report on tipping research suggests that in a bar setting a smile can almost double the size of a tip.
5. Introduce Yourself
Telling customers your name creates more of a personal connection. That results in better tips, according to the research.
6. Dress Differently
Lynn says you should strive to be seen “as an individual person rather than a faceless member of the staff.” Introducing yourself by name is a good start, but dressing differently helps as well. The goal is to personalize your appearance.
If you’re required to wear the same uniform as the other employees, try accessorizing. Wear a pin, a colorful bracelet, or anything that will make you stand out. Lynn notes that in one study, when waitresses wore flowers in their hair, their tip income increased by 17%.
7. Write Thank You on the Bill
Writing “Thank You” on the bill seems like it would encourage customers to be generous, and sure enough, that’s what the research shows.
8. Draw Something on the Bill
More than one study reviewed by Lynn showed increases in tips when something was drawn on the bill. He suggested a sun or a happy face. A drawing of a super-happy waiter receiving a huge tip might be more creative, but that’s probably too pushy.
9. Use Customers’ Names
Once you take a customer’s credit card you know his or her name, and the research shows that using it can boost the amount of the tip.
It’s as simple as saying, “Thank you Mr. Johnson,” when you return the credit card and the bill. If you have a good memory you can also greet repeat customers by name when you serve them.
10. Predict the Weather
Yes, this idea was actually tested. Some customers at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey had the following written on their bill: “The weather is supposed to be really good tomorrow. I hope you enjoy the day!”
The other customers were the “control group.” Here’s the average tip as a percentage of the bill:
- Weather Forecast Group: 22.2%
- Control Group: 18.8%
It may not seem like much, but 3.4% more on a shift where you do $400 in sales would be an extra $13.60. Multiply that by five shifts per week and it adds up over the course of a year.
Of course, this may not work as well if the forecast for the next day is for storms (that wasn’t tested, as far as I know). Saying something positive about the weather (if possible) is probably the way to go.
11. Give Gifts to Customers
Lynn found a couple studies that showed a significant increase in tips when servers gave candy to customers. When a second piece of candy was offered spontaneously the tips were even bigger.
Candy was the gift tested, but if your employer doesn’t object, it could be worth testing this idea with various inexpensive items.
12. Squat Down When Talking
It isn’t entirely clear why squatting down to talk to customers increases tips, but it may have something to do with getting closer and more personal.
13. Entertain Customers
Providing some little bit of entertainment has been shown to increase tips in restaurants and bars. For example, in a French study, when customers were given a card that had a joke on it, tips went from 16% of the bill amount to 23%!
In an experiment in New Jersey a gift of a word-puzzle boosted tips from 19% to 22%. Interrupting a customer’s meal with a breakdance routine is probably a bad idea, but you might find some way to work in a small bit of entertainment.
14. Touch Customers
This is a tricky strategy, because touching may offend some customers. But touching a hand or shoulder briefly has been shown to result in bigger tips. Touching the hand might happen when returning with the bill. A shoulder touch could be done when asking a customer if there is anything else that he or she needs.
15. Offer Better Service
Providing better service is an obvious suggestion, but FBI behavioral analyst John R. Schafer reminds us that this doesn’t mean the same thing for each customer.
For example, some restaurant clients want to be checked on constantly while others prefer to be left alone once they have their meal. Some passengers want a driver to talk to them, while others prefer silence.
Tuning into what your customer wants, then, is how you provide better service.
Properly “reading” your customers is especially important when what you do may offend them or make them feel uncomfortable, like when you touch them or use their names too casually.
Even if the data shows that something works, you have to pay attention to customer responses and adjust your approach accordingly. That’s how you offer service that’s appreciated by a customer.
Beyond offering the same tip-boosting tactics as Michael Lynn, Schafer suggests a more general approach. He says, “The key to receiving higher tips is to create an environment that predisposes customers to be more generous.”
16. Choose Your Customers
The idea is simple enough; if you serve customers who leave small tips less often, and serve customers who tip big more often, you make more money.
For example, as a pizza delivery driver (many years ago) I remembered who tipped big, and I tried my best to deliver their orders. Conversely, I avoided taking deliveries to a regular customer who always tipped just 35 cents.
You may think you can’t choose who to serve, but look for any opportunities. For example, if you’re a bartender in a place with several bar areas, note where the big tippers hang out and try to get assigned there.
If you’re a taxi driver pay attention to where wealthier passengers are likely to be (assuming they tip more in your experience).
In most tipped professions you can at least encourage the big tippers to return more often. You don’t have to ignore poor tippers or give them bad service.
You can do a good job for everyone, but go the extra mile with those who treat you better, so they are more likely to come back. Build a better clientele in this way and you might double your tip income.
17. Get Better Shifts
You probably already know which shifts are busier and therefore better for getting tips. So try to work more of those shifts.
This simple strategy can dramatically increase the money you make. When I was a pizza delivery driver I could make three times as much in tips working six hours on a Friday night as I could working six hours during the middle of a Wednesday.
The same was true when I was a blackjack dealer (although tips were split then, so it didn’t matter). Do what you can to get those good shifts, and arrange your schedule accordingly.
If a coworker wants a Saturday night off offer to trade shifts. You might even offer $10 or $20 to trade. If you bring in $40 more in tips than you would have on the traded shift, it makes sense to pay.
18. Transfer to a Better Position
If there are several different tipped positions in a company, some of them are going to be better than others for tips. For example, in a restaurant, the waiters usually make more than the hosts. So if you’re a host, and you want more tip income, you should become a waiter.
A position where you get more in tips might pay a lower wage, and total income is what matters. So if there are other tipped positions for which you qualify, identify the one that’s best for total income (base wage and tips) and ask for a transfer.
19. Wear a Red Shirt
Wearing a red shirt increases the average size of tips, according to a study published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research. However, it worked only for female servers waiting on male customers.
20. Try Everything and Combine Tactics
You might try something from this list and be happy with the results, but why stop there? Many of these tactics can be combined. Of course, it might be too much to write “Thank You,” add a weather report, and draw a happy face all on the same bill.
On the other hand, you could arrange to work the best shifts, and introduce yourself by name, and upsell your customers, and provide the best service possible, all while smiling and wearing something memorable.
You might also do a little research of your own to see which tactics bring in bigger tips — just be sure to take notes and carefully record the data.
Can you add to these strategies for making more and bigger tips at work? Please share them below. Thanks for reading and happy frugaling!