Tips for Tips
Small Steps Lead to Higher Tips and Increased Check Averages
Put a flower in your hair, tell a joke and draw a smiley face on customer checks. Why make these efforts? Because you could see consistently higher tips if you do — but these aren’t the only ways to pull in more cash.
When it comes down to brass tacks, there’s only one reason bartenders do the work they do: to earn money. But earning tips is not just dependent on how hard they work. In fact, there’s much more to the fine art of getting a good tip.
Daniel E. Martin, associate professor in the department of management at California State University in East Bay, Calif., recommends pointing out similarities between you and your guests; this helps you connect with them and establish a rapport. Tell them you like the same drink as them, or that your uncle lived in their hometown — anything to forge a connection.
“Show people you are similar to them, you’re someone they can trust and you have something in common, which makes them like you more,” he says.
Once you build a relationship, make them feel special — give them an extra refill on the peanuts or finish off an almost empty bottle into their glass. “People will tip more because you’ve gone out of your way for them, so they’ll do it for you [in the tip],” Martin explains.
Another way to make customers feel important is to pay attention to them, he says. Nod as the person orders so they know you understand each part of the order. And make eye contact, but not so much that it’s inappropriate.
This will help you, too, when you are in a rush — a brief glance at waiting customers as you’re on your way to another patron lets them know you’re looking out for them, you’re on your way and they’re not being ignored.
Another approach is offering people drinks at a variety of price points. Tell them there are the three different rums — aged, silver and flavored at various prices, for example — from which they can choose. “Help people save money, and they will reflect that in the tip — it will be more than the extra amount for the higher-priced rum,” says Martin.
However, Tim Kirkland, author of The Renegade Server, speaker and consultant focusing on sales building, service energizing and team-building, says pointing out the least expensive items is not always a good tactic.
A mistake bartenders make is that when asked what beers they offer, they start the list at the bottom, by price, with the domestics, he explains.
“By the time they get to the $7 beer, they’ve hit me with eight $4 beers and typically the guest will weary of that list before the server gets to the expensive ones. Do it the other way around, so if you can get someone a $7 beer instead of a $4 beer, you increase your tip by nearly 50 percent.” The same holds true, he points out, for wines by the glass.
While Kirkland agrees that small touches like a flower in the hair can increase a server’s tip, he says it’s all icing and doesn’t add to the reason that customers tip.
Every patron, Kirkland explains, has an idea of the amount they are going to tip before the check is presented to them, be it 15 percent, 20 percent or another amount. That customer might add a small amount onto their usual percentage if the server is particularly good. But the easiest and most dramatic way to increase your tip, he says, is to increase the check amount. The best way to do this is by upselling to special drinks or premium brands — or selling incremental items like bar noshes.
Kirkland also advocates connecting with your customers. Something as small as asking them their name and using it can make a huge difference because it makes the guest feel like a regular and creates a bond between you and him or her. “It’s harder to tip a server badly if the customer sees him or her as a person.”
You can also strengthen your relationship with your customers by brief physical contact such as shaking hands, touching the shoulder or the palm when you put the check in it. It has to be less than two seconds, says Kirkland. “This makes you more of a real person and not a cog in the restaurant machine.”
And if a bartender is that real person, a customer is likely to return to the bar or nightclub, effectively doubling the original tip by 100 percent. NCB
While some behaviors will increase your tip, there are those that will deflate it. Here are some of the biggest mistakes bartenders and servers make:
Ignoring a newly seated guest or party. If you’re busy, make eye contact and indicate you’ll be right over; then do your best to get there quickly.
Using the same approach with every customer, which makes you seem scripted. Tailor your performance for each patron.
TMI: Don’t give customers too much information about you — just enough to identify with you as a real human being.
Don’t fight for the biggest section if you’re serving tables. A smaller section allows you to make genuine connections with the guests, which means you make fewer mistakes because there are fewer orders.
Remember: Happy hours are designed to get patrons through the door. Once they’re in, work to sell them a full-price drink.