Ask The Salty Waitress: Know any Jedi mind tricks for servers to get bigger tips?

Illustration for article titled Ask The Salty Waitress: Know any Jedi mind tricks for servers to get bigger tips?
Photo: Igor Vershinsky, Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio

Dear Salty: I just graduated from college and I’m waitressing this summer. I’m good at serving (at least that’s what my boss says), I enjoy the customers, and I consider my job fun. So please know I’m slightly embarrassed to ask this question: Do you have any special techniques for getting a bigger tip? For example, I’ve heard that if you write your name on the receipt, your customers may find the server more personable, and maybe that leads to a larger tip. Do you know of any other Jedi mind tricks?



Don’t be embarrassed by this question. I don’t know why some people turn red when it comes to money matters... of course we want to be paid more! A bigger tip means we did an exceptional job, and that’s a win-win for both customer and server.


I think what you’re trying to say, hon, is about how to better establish rapport. I can think of a few ways, but know that your mileage may vary.

One idea we’ve tackled before in this column is the friendly touch on the shoulder. Some say a 2 to 4-second touch on the shoulder (back of the hands) may increase familiarity, and maybe, that turns into a bigger tip. Look, Ol’ Salty’s comfortable enough with her customers, and I’ll even plant a kiss on the regulars, but I can see why even a light touch may be controversial. If it works for you, congratulations. You just gotta be able to read your customer.

Another idea is sending a piece of candy out with the bill. There’s this study from Cornell University that says when customers were handed their checks with a small piece of chocolate, they typically tipped more than customers who didn’t receive the unexpected sweet. It has to do with reciprocity—you know, you scratch my back, I scratch yours. From that study: “People often feel obligated to reciprocate acts of generosity even if those acts were not requested or anticipated.” Free chocolate = generous!

My final tip for you is gonna sound a bit out there, but stay with me. It comes from a former FBI negotiator who wrote this book called Never Split The Difference, and it’s about negotiating techniques. My nephew Keith photocopied this one passage for me that he thought was relevant to Aunt Salty’s interests. It was about a technique the FBI uses called “mirroring,” which boils down to repeating the last few words a person just said in order to establish rapport. Let’s say your customer says: “I’d like the house special patty melt,” instead of saying “sure,” you repeat back the order. What happens if you do? Oh hell, I hope the book publisher doesn’t mind if I just put up the passage:

Illustration for article titled Ask The Salty Waitress: Know any Jedi mind tricks for servers to get bigger tips?

Seventy percent! Even if you don’t believe that figure, mirroring costs nothing to use, so Salty sure as heck is gonna try this. And maybe you should too, Katie. Let me know how it goes.

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Waited tables all through high school summers and full-time through college — wouldn’t have made it through university in DC without the income from waiting tables & bartending.

And I averaged around 23%, which I’m still proud of to this day. Naysayers to tipping often talk about it not being fair to everyone, but the way I looked at it, I was good at what I did, so customers received better service, and paid for it, and I was rewarded for my effort.

I saw terrible new wait staff come on all the time, who average 15%, and they couldn’t afford to continue to work there, so they’d have to quit and go work at The GAP or something and it’d mean overall that the wait service stayed high-quality.

Anyway. Advice for good tips.

#1. DON’T touch customers. That’s just weird. I made good money and never touched anyone.

#2. Most good tips are lost, not earned. Stay consistent and don’t fuck up. When people sit down always do a quick check to see that they have silverware, menus, napkins, salt and pepper shakers are good, table is clean. If not apologise with a smile and fix it. Most of all, just don’t forget shit. WRITE IT DOWN. God I hate wait staff who try to be all Jeeves I Have a Photographic Perfect Memory Waiter and then forget my order. Just develop your own shorthand for each dish and modification and then fucking write it all down. Every time.

#3. Be sure to greet them SOON. Don’t let them wonder where the hell their waitress is. Go up quickly, introduce yourself, hand out menus if they don’t have them already, be friendly and full of energy with a smile, ask if you can get them some water to start with while they’re deciding on their orders. Everyone likes water.

#4. Get a sense of how much time it’s been since they last asked for something, and if it’s too much just give them a quick update. People love quick, non-obtrusive updates on orders so they don’t feel forgotten.

#5. Make sure your service bartender is your best friend. Kiss their ass. Flirt with them. Whatever it takes. Your service bartender getting your tables your drinks quickly will make you serious extra cash.

#6. Also make friends with the cooks by occasionally just hanging out with them and shooting the shit with them. When a dickhead customer really wants an insane order modification, cooks who love you and do the insane order will make you look good when otherwise that same cook will tell you to fuck off.

#7. ALWAYS be willing to clown around with the one old guy at the table who thinks he’s a riot. Everyone will love you for fucking with grandpa. If you go to pick up a totally empty plate that has nothing but one-fifth of a french fry left on it, and you say “Oh, are you done with that?” and the comedian that he is he says “No no, I wanted that to take home ha ha ha!” you GO FUCKING WRAP THAT CRUMB UP FOR HIM then deliver it back to him in a doggy bag with a wink to the table. Hilarity WILL ensue and you will get a crazy good tip.

#8. Yes, it sounds shitty, but push for more sales of starters and desserts by talking about how great they are because they will bulk up your check and you’re earning 23% on all that shit, right? ONLY recommend these though if they’re actually really good, usually I just found the 1-2 excellent starters and 1 amazing dessert and recommended those. Customer happy, your tips up, yay.

#9. When the food’s ready, because you wrote down each order perfectly by the chair number clockwise from the door, you know which food goes to which person. It’s super fucking amateur to stand there going “OKAY! Who ordered the chowder?” when you’re the one who took the order. Know who ordered everything.

#10. This is the big one: read the table. ALWAYS have a super large personality but read the table. If it’s a couple in there being all romantic, you’re their secret best friend who’s invisible 99% of the time but just appears briefly here and there to take their order and deliver. If it’s a big table full of 20-somethings boozing it up, you’re there to have fun with them and definitely there to mock a few of them with your wiseass comments. If it’s an elderly couple, you’re super sweet and very very patient yet also do not tell them what you personally recommend because for some reason older people hate it when younger generations recommend shit to them.

Good luck. 99% of it is just genuinely caring about customers. That comes off more than anything else — if you generally love people, they’ll love you.