Servers: 7 Ways to Increase Your Tip Income

The federal minimum tipped wage is $2.13 per hour well below the regular minimum of $7.25 per hour. Some states such as California do not allow a tipped minimum wage meaning the state requires employers to pay tipped employees the full state minimum wage before tips. Others have an intermediary wage such as Illinois that requires employers to pay tipped employees a minimum cash wage above the minimum cash wage required ($4.95 in Illinois). But many states use the federal minimum tipped wage which makes having a tipped job significantly more difficult. 

Big tips are rare, no matter if you work at a Michelin rated restaurant or at a mom-and-pop shop near your house. Relying on the generous customers who hand them out is not a good strategy if you have bills to pay. Instead, you should focus on increasing the consistency of your tips. This will lead to consistent income and give you the financial flexibility to save those big tips for something other than rent or a car payment. Below are seven ways to increase the consistency of your tips.

1. Know the menu

I know this one sounds simple, but it has many long-term benefits for your income. Customers want to know that the person serving them both knows the food and can recommend new options to them if necessary. Knowing little details like what common food allergies are in each dish and being able to pick out low-calorie options other than salads will go a long way toward gaining the trust of your customers.  Once your customer’s feel trusted, it’s much easier for you to sell a bigger bill.

2. Don’t be afraid to make friends with your customer or regulars

Some servers just want to come to work, put food on tables, and walk out with money at the end of the shift. Those servers don’t make consistent tips for one single reason: they’re forgettable. Even if they give great service, are always friendly and upbeat, and know the menu inside and out, some customers want more. Don’t be shy. Learn your customer’s names and be willing to tell them yours. People are more likely to leave a larger tip for someone they consider a friend versus just another server.

3. Work the busy shifts

Understand that working Friday and Saturday nights typically means not seeing your friends or significant other until later in the evening. But, taking home $100, $200, or even $300 in tips after the shift is a pretty good trade off. Especially if it goes toward buying someone a nice gift.

4. Sell an experience

After a while of working at the same restaurant, it’s easy to upsell items on the menu. Upselling an experience is a whole other game. Instead of asking what kind of wine your guests want with their steak, tell them this cabernet would go fantastic with your dish.  Adding more items to your repertoire will go a long way in building relationships with your customers. Remember, happy customers are always consistent tippers.

5. Be a supportive team member

Yes, you are making your own tips (usually) when you serve tables. However, you are still part of a team. Any drama going on behind the scenes needs to stay out of the dining room.  Customers don’t care about what Becky said behind your back. Leave them out of it.

6. Give to receive

Giving your customers something like a mint or a fortune cookie at the end of a meal can go a long way to making your customers feel appreciated. One study showed that giving just one mint after dinner can increase your tips by at least 3 percent. Two was shown to increase tips up to 14 percent. If you have a couple spending $50 on a date night dinner, that could mean an extra $7 in your pocket.

7. Train, train, train!

If your manager doesn’t do this already (which they should be), there are ways for you to train outside of work. Some liquor stores will do wine and spirit tastings on the weekends. Even going out to eat and watching how other servers approach the same job is a way to training. Always try to improve your skillset. Your customers will notice your effort.

Read about our tips for Bartenders!


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