Waiters and Waitresses: Don’t Blame Me for Your Bad Tips

by JT McGee

Waiters and waitresses should find it easy to get bigger tipsI have two pet peeves: being asked to repeat myself, and having to listen to people who complain about their pay.

The first pet peeve might just be a personality flaw; the second one, I feel, is a legitimate complaint.

I don’t want to make blanket statements about a collective based on a few people, BUT you people who work in food service are the whiniest people on the planet. There are a two reasons why I don’t like hearing about how little you earn:

  1. You are not enslaved to your job. You made the decision to take it knowing what you might earn for your time.
  2. I tip well; I mean, really well. You have to screw up so bad that my co-pilot, my girlfriend, has to say, “Hey, you better not tip him or her well.” She’s pretty forgiving herself. By default, you’re probably going to get 20%. If I drink, you’ll probably get 25%.

Don’t blame me…fool me!

Humans are interesting things. We respond heavily to really weak stimuli, and often to no tangible stimuli at all.

In doing research for this article, I stumbled upon (but did not StumbleUpon) this website: Make Better Tips.

In my amateur opinion, most of this looks to be pretty solid advice. There are a few things I’d never think of, such as being mindful to wait for a tea drinker to drink a whole glass before refilling. You don’t want to mess up their sweetener-to-tea ratio. Freaking genius!

But I’m not totally down with the next suggestion: “Don’t write down orders.” The site says it impresses people. Maybe it does, I don’t know, but it definitely doesn’t impress me. I see a waitress or waiter who refuses to write down an order as an excessive risk-taker.

Either the waiter or waitress who refuses to write down my order:

  1. Remembers the order and delivers my food like a champ, but I still think he or she is a moron for not writing it down.
  2. Screws it up, in which case I attribute the error to his or her inability to calculate a basic risk-to-reward ratio. He or she gambled for the opportunity to gain nothing and lost something.

Plus, I don’t like to sit around the dinner table pondering the probability of how likely you were to goof my order up. My mind goes crazy:

“Did I order something special?”

“Was my special order common?”

“What’s the chance that my special order wasn’t special, but instead an already built-in corporate process?”

“How should I weight that in my risk management…by 50%?”

“No, surely 50% of restaurants don’t do that…do they?”

“Hmm, if the cost of a messed up order is $1,000 over the life of the customer and the cost of a ketchup cup is .10, assuming equal future value variables, then…hmm, it would have to save only 1/10,000 orders to be a net positive.”

“Duh, of course it’s already built in.”

“But this is an independent restaurant, they probably don’t have good data-records, or analysts…50% it is!”

“Good lord, I’m hungry—and anxious…”

Yeah, see, you make me work too hard. I don’t like that. My anxiety really doesn’t like it, and I’m tired by the time dinner rolls around.

Mathematically Proven Methods for Increasing Your Tips

Want bigger tips?  Think outside the restaurant box.I like math. Actually, no I don’t; I respect math. Numbers prove truths, and I like truth, so here’s a tested method to boosting your end of the night collection of tips: give customers two pieces of chocolate.

A 2002 study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology notes that a server who offers two pieces of chocolate to their customers gets a fatter tip.

To maximize the tip differential, you can’t just offer them two at one time; no, you have to offer them 1 piece of chocolate, then, while acting like you had a sudden stroke of generosity, you should offer up another piece of chocolate. Offering up 2 pieces will get you a slightly smaller tip than offering up 1 and then 1 more later.

To summarize:

  • Providing all customers with 2 pieces of chocolate will net you an 18% increase in tips.
  • Providing all customers with 2 pieces of chocolate at two different times—the survey calls this 1+1—will net you a 21% increase in tips.

The study was conducted with assorted Hershey’s Miniatures. I found 56 ounces of these delightful little things online for $24 shipped.

Okay, so that’s roughly $.133 each. To give each person two would cost $.266, per person. Thus, you need to earn, on average, $1.47+ per person in tips to make this trick worth your cost, assuming you’re too bad of an actor to do the 1+1 trick.

Otherwise, for those willing to put in more effort, the 1+1 trick requires that you earn more than $1.27 per customer in tips to make it worth your while.

There you go, food service workers! I put it all there, in plain language (numbers.) If you complain about your tips but make more than $1.47 in tips per person, then clearly you’re not working as hard as you should be.

P.S. If you earn less than that, I don’t care to hear it.

P.P.S. I’m grumpy, I know. But really, complaining about tips won’t alienate the people who bring down your hourly average wage. It will, however, alienate those who bring it up.

Full Disclosure: I’m probably biased. I’ve never worked in food service, and I’ve only managed to hold down a job for 3 full weeks of my long, twenty-one year existence on this planet. Still I worked for minimum wage once, so I’m an expert on how much it sucks to work for minimum wage.

Hooter girl image by BemDevassa.

Math image by attercop311.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

No Debt MBA May 25, 2011 at 09:59

I usually tip 20% on the full bill (including tax) and the wait staff really have to screw up for me to knock it down to anything less than 15%. I also don’t understand not writing down the orders.

There was also a study that showed increased tips for female servers who drew smiley faces on the back of the bill. That’s a free way to increase your tips if you’re a chick. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1996.tb01847.x/abstract


JT May 26, 2011 at 10:33

I’ll never understand why servers, waiters, waitresses (what’s the PC term?) don’t write down orders. Drives me nuts.

Thanks for that link. There seems to be a million ways to get a boost, few of which are actively employed by any waitstaff.


Paula @ AffordAnything.org May 26, 2011 at 01:32

I had a friend who used to serve tables while speaking in a fake British accent. She swore she got more tips because of it.


JT May 26, 2011 at 10:34

That’s hilarious! I have no doubt that it worked for her.


Squirrelers May 26, 2011 at 11:11

I’m with you on the reaction toward servers not writing down an order. It reminds me of a guy I knew in undergrad who wouldn’t take notes in a political science elective he took, because he was a pre-med major and poli-sci wasn’t worth his notetaking time in his stated view. Actually, I think it was to impress others and create some kind of aura about him….I’m sure it backfired in that class, though to his credit he did eventually get into medical school. These servers remind me of that guy 🙂 Thus, no excuse for messing up the order if time and effort wasn’t taken to write it down.


JT May 26, 2011 at 16:37

Ha, I can actually understand the no notes thing, especially if it’s something I’m interested in. That’s mostly because if I do take notes, I’ll probably lose them in the time between the next class. Net gain/loss = time, handcramps, frustration of searching for notes at the last second. I could lose a mountain, if given the opportunity. 😛

I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who doesn’t like it when the server decides they can remember an order better than pen and paper.


Ashley @ Money Talks May 26, 2011 at 20:00

I agree with the not writing down orders. I’ve been a server… I always wrote down the orders.


JT McGee May 28, 2011 at 13:56

On behalf of all restaurant patrons, “thank you!” 😛


Hunter May 27, 2011 at 03:35

I’m a tipper, I don’t think I have ever tipped nothing. I think a lot of service issues arise out of inexperienced staff. They’re mostly high school kids, and probably not going to make a career out of it. Apathy, it’s a widespread problem!


JT McGee May 28, 2011 at 13:58

I’ve never tipped nothing, either. We go out so rarely and to mostly inexpensive places that the difference between 10-25% may be just a couple bucks. Those few dollars are worth it to me, if it keeps my drink full.

Darn high school kids!


Lawrence@CreditDonkey May 27, 2011 at 05:09

A wonderful post there, I always look at the service first before I give any tip. Some waiter/waitress really suck at service specially with the ketchup’s additional small orders. A food for thought to ponder, thank you for sharing!


JT McGee June 4, 2011 at 12:08

You’d think they’d just put everything on the side, or develop some kind of process to streamline these kinds of things.


Ricky May 27, 2011 at 10:22

This made me laugh as I feel that I share the same views as I think you do! Keep up the thoughts 😉


Sandy @ yesiamcheap May 30, 2011 at 19:50

My favorite line was “You are not enslaved to your job.” You’re damned right. I hate, hate, hate the tipping culture. I don’t get a tip for doing my job. But I get it, and I tip well. Not writing stuff down doesn’t impress me and it’s stupid.


JT McGee June 4, 2011 at 12:10

High five, Sandy. Couldn’t have said it better! I’ve done things I really didn’t want to do for money, but you know, at the end of the day, I still had to have cash. Eventually, I did other things, and although some of the things weren’t the most fun, I did learn a pretty valuable lesson–I have choice in where I work as long as I am responsible with my money.


Jenny July 20, 2011 at 22:36

It isn’t about getting a tip for doing your job. I make 2.50 an hour so my tips are my wage. People need to think about how they would feel if they performed their job well and someone decided they didn’t need to pay you for it. Then try to keep up a positive attitude for the rest of your shift.


Amanda L Grossman May 31, 2011 at 13:32

I have to say, I am always very impressed when waiters/waitresses do not write down orders…but then I feel bad if I give them lots of details, so I guess it does backfire. And if I decide to change my order three people down, then I feel like a complete intrusion (I don’t change my orders often)


JT McGee June 4, 2011 at 12:27

NOOOOOOO! Haha, yeah, I mean it is kind of impressive, but it’s also one of those things that makes me think, “Why?” For example: Performers who do that sword swallowing stuff are pretty impressive, but why do it? LOL, I’ll never get it.


The Dividend Pig June 4, 2011 at 10:59

I was a server/bartender for many years (and in fact still do on weekends – yay for side hustling!), and am obviously a generous tipper, but I agree that food service workers are the whiniest people around. I couldn’t believe how much my co-workers would complain, considering they would make $250 cash for a 6 hour shift. Once I got a “real” job (career-ish), I realized how much I made for how little work and responsibility. Those were the days…


JT McGee June 4, 2011 at 12:28

Woah, $250 cash for 6 hours? And let me guess, according to the IRS they made $25 cash in 6 hours. 😉 That “benefit” can’t be ignored.

How do you like/did you like being a bartender? I’ve always wondered if it’s as fun as it seems to be. It never seems like bartenders are having a bad time.


david g August 12, 2011 at 12:02

I have two serving jobs, and I don’t think the chocolate idea is diner legal. Maybe at crappy spots like chillis, but you are sure to get canned for pulling that malarkee at nicer digs. further, the worst thing about serving , and mind the number of common complaints, is when you people sit there and inform me to the fact that you’re “not that hungry” .. I’m speechless , give me a minute ….. Okay I’m better. I can understand because when I DON’T want to swim the pool is the only place for me.
Ps. Serving is easy when you’re not high. Also, schools for fools because we didn’t come from monkeys so don’t let them dispose of your creator .


Jennie Aniston December 4, 2011 at 08:56

Once you learn the skill of waiting or serving, it would be easy for you to earn in any city and put cash in your pockets in less than a week. There are also a lot of books that will help you be successful as a waiter/waitress wherein you will learn every detail on how you can earn easily.


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