My Top 5 Ways to Increase Tips as a Server

Before you became a server, you may have thought waiter or waitressing tips were influenced only by the quality of service you provided. But if you've been a server for a while, you know from experience there are many "little" things that can influence the size of tips.

So, how much can a waitress make in tips? How much can a waiter make? Here are my top 5 ways to increase your tips as a server.

Introduce yourself. Michael Lynn, professor of consumer behavior and marketing at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and nationally recognized expert on tipping, explains why. “If servers establish a social connection with their customers, they’ll get better tips. We’re more likely to want to help someone we’re connected to, and we’re more likely to care about someone’s opinion if we have a social connection to them.” And it all starts by putting a first name with your smiling face.

Add a personal touch. Wear a stand-out tie, humorous button or flower in your hair; it says something about your personality and personalizes your connection with customers. However, avoid wearing anything political, religious or otherwise controversial. You can also add a personal touch to the bill such as a drawing a happy face or handwriting "thank you."

Waiter and Waitress Tips Anticipate your guest's needs. For example, if your table orders fries, bring ketchup. If your table orders a messy food like chicken wings, bring extra napkins. Keep an eye on the table whenever you walk by and notice other needs such as water refills or a dropped forks. Don’t make customers ask; they'll remember your attention to their needs when it's time to settle the bill and figure the tip. (Another waitressing tip: Check each plate before you take it to the table to make sure it's prepared as ordered. Does it include the extra cilantro requested? Did the chef hold the mushrooms?)

Know how your menu works and tastes. Learn which sides comes with which entrees, how two-for-one offers work, what's customizable and what's not. Try everything on the menu so you can talk about the food from personal experience. Ask the chef about recipes so you know which dishes fit basic dietary restrictions and which have common allergens. Be prepared to recommend a minimum of 3-5 dishes you've sampled and enjoy. Guests value this kind of information.

Encourage repeat customers. While what I'm about to tell you makes common sense, it's often overlooked. Thank customers for coming in, invite them to come back, and encourage them to ask for you by name when they visit. Carry a small notebook to jot down notes about customers after they leave. Remember names, jobs, favorite foods and drinks--it goes a long way in making returning guests feel special. And having a base of regular customers pays off, especially when business is slow.

One more thing. If you're a new server, you may be wondering what's a good tip for a waitress. In the U.S. 15% of the pre-tax bill is standard. But strive to do better. Depending on the size of the group and how much guests enjoy their dining experience, you can make a lot more. I've known servers who've earned a $25 or $50 tip on an order of just $10... and $100 on a tab for less. I once read about a waitress in England who received a retired race horse as a tip. You never know ....