When people go out to drink or to eat, they have a fixed number in their minds about how much they’re going to tip. They might be a 20-percent person, a 15 percent or a 10 percent.
And while there are things servers can do to increase that percentage, it usually stays close to what patrons had envisioned before they’d even left home, says Tim Kirkland, CEO of Renegade Hospitality Group and author of The Renegade Server and more recently, Coach.
So, he says, the best way for servers to increase their tips is to increase the size of the check. This means instead of serving a $2 soda, for example, they should sell a $15 specialty drink. But how do they do that?
First, Kirkland advises, be specific. Instead of a server asking a group if he or she can get them something to drink, a better approach is, “Gee, it’s hot outside—who’d like an ice-cold margarita?” This plants an idea in the customers’ minds, he explains.
And it’s important who answers first. There’s a “decider” at every table, Kirkland says, and that person sets off the trend of what everyone is drinking. If the decider orders a Martini, they all will; if he or she orders a club soda, another trend will happen.
So, servers shouldn’t direct the question about drinks to the nearest person, Kirkland says. Instead, they should address the table and allow the decider to order first.
Tell a Story
Servers need to tailor what they offer, what they entice your guests with, says Kirkland. A group of college kids in their 20s would probably like beers; a group of women in their 50s might prefer white wine.
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“People, especially Millennials, like stories and everything has to have a story. Where has the food or drink come from; is it unique; is it proprietary?” he says. “If you want to sell something give it background and authority to make it sound like it’s something special and unique—did your pork chops come from a farm down the road, for example?”
Zagor’s also a fan of upselling and broadselling. Upselling is asking customers if they want Absolut when they order a vodka tonic—an easy way to boost a check.
Broadselling is when servers add things. A customer might not order wine but may change his or her mind when a server says there’s a special one on just for this month; or that the chef got some peaches at the market this morning and they’re only featured for today in the special salad. “It’s adding things people don’t think about,” Zagor says. “Bring it into the frame with a story attached to it.”
He points out that when customers order food on a tablet the average check is 25 percent to 30 percent higher, and it’s because customers are tempted by all the extras the screens offer, “[s]o servers have to mimic that.”
Tailor the Experience
Once servers have increased the check, they can work on other aspects of service—and these are mostly expected by customers, Kirkland says.
First, they shouldn’t just tailor what they offer to guests, but they should tailor their personality to the table, he says.
“Servers have to be fluid with their personality. If you treat every guest the same, guests feel like they’re being processed. And if you treat everyone the same, you’re missing the opportunity to delight all of them. If you want your tips to go up, you have to build on that.” A group of old ladies would prefer a different server personality to a group of frat guys, for example.
“If you offer the same service, it’s interchangeable with any other restaurant and any other server in town,” Kirkland explains. “The more you customize the guest experience, the more differentiated it is, and the more people will pay for it and go out of their way to get it. “
Make Guests Feel Special
The customers who tend to tip the most are those who are regulars, or feel like regulars, says Kirkland.
And it’s even possible to make first-time guests feel like regulars so they’ll start tipping generously too (and maybe become regulars).
The key, Kirkland explains, is that they want to feel special and important and different. Even more, they want to be better than other guests and be treated differently, preferably in front of other customers!
To trigger the feeling of being a regular in guests, servers can call them by their first name. They can find this out at the very beginning, by saying “Hi, my name’s Dawn. What’s yours?”
Servers can also make them feel like regulars and make them feel special by adding a little something extra. That might mean spending a few cents to finish the end of a bottle of wine into someone’s glass. Or, if a patron orders a dirty Martini, giving them a shot glass filled with olive juice and an olive.
“If it costs a bit to make someone feel they got something no one else got, it’s worth it,” Kirkland points out.
With sexual harassment on everyone’s agenda lately, it’s important to be clear: It’s OK to lightly touch someone on the shoulder or the hand, or to initiate a handshake. In fact, says Kirkland, research shows that touching someone on their hand when dropping the check can increase tips by 11 to 18 percent.
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“A casual touch can make tips go up by quantifiable amounts,” he says, though admits this is more effective for female servers than male.
Tim Kirkland is a believer in the five Rs when approaching any table of guests so servers can tailor their approach to them:
Servers should take a mental snapshot of the people in front of them and decide who they’re going to be for that table. A table of little old ladies has different expectations to a group of guys in their 20s, for example.
How often have these guests been in the bar or restaurant? The easiest way to find out is to ask; that will inform the server of what they need to know. First timers need to know all kinds of things that regulars don’t.
Why are they here today? Are they a family of five with three kids under the age of six, that needs to get in and out quickly? Are they a group of ladies in their 20s with time to burn? Once you have this, it informs:
This is the rate of service. Fully 90 percent of restaurant complaints are centered around time, Kirkland explains. So once you know Reason, you know the Rate at which you need to serve them. If the guests are rushing to see a movie, the server should make it snappy; if it’s a group of friends out for the night, there’s no rush.
Based on what the server now knows of the guests, what should he or she recommend to them to eat or drink? A bottle of wine is perfect for a first date, for example, but perhaps not garlicky chicken wings.