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Money on the Table

Tips for the tipped

Is Waiting on Tables Worth the Tip?

For some servers, yes!

Being a restaurant waiter business can be a lucrative endeavor since not only are you being paid a wage, but also tips are on the top of this. The downside of this is that restaurant minimum wages are lower than for most jobs, particularly in the U.S. where restaurant minimums are under $3.00 an hour. Tips are thus almost a necessity in Canada and the U.S. where people are tipped on the basis of the quality of the service. How you deliver can make or break the cash you take home at the end of the day. But there's more factors affecting how much cash you clear from your tables.

Less hours More Money

Tips can be a measure of the type of service you give, but the size of your tips can also depend on the type of restaurant you're employed at. However how much you earn is going to depend largely on where, when and how well you work. The right combination of these factors may mean you have to work significantly less and still come out with a greater stash of cash at the end of the day - thus allowing you to dedicate more time to studying. Some factors to consider:

The Weakest Link:

When you think about it how much you make is largely dependent on the dining experience that you and your team put on; the host/hostess, chef, kitchen and bussing staff. For example even if your service is great but the food is overcooked, the hostess didn't seat your table promptly, and the bussing staff dumped that remaining tiramisu on the person picking up the tab, your tip is likely to suffer. You want to have a great team backing up your strong skills

Tips for Servers: Getting the job

Most restaurants will hire in the spring for the summer rush. After that your merit becomes an even more important factor in the hiring. However turnover can be high in the business, so hiring can take place even through the summer as people leave. Most high-end restaurants will look for experience but the chain restaurants will often train the right people. For first timers in the restaurant it is probably a good idea to learn the ins and outs serving in a chain restaurant where procedures are thoroughly documented and laid out.

To find a job in the industry, the easiest way is to answer the want ads but you will be in competition with many servers who have a lot of experience. And of course they may not be the restaurants that you want to work at. It is often preferable to find a few restaurants you would like to work at and then apply to them. Who knows, the manager or owner may see potential in you as a server even though you may not have much experience. If you know someone at a desired restaurant, all the better, as they can keep you posted as to when new staff is being hired.

Do a test run

A way to see you like the industry is to be a barista at a local coffeehouse like a Starbucks. This is a good way to test the waters and see if the hospitality business allows you to keep your dignity and still serve customers with a smile. Since being a server entails performing many duties at the same time; serving multiple tables, setting tables, getting condiments, and many other time consuming duties, it may not be for everybody.

Choosing your restaurant:

How to decide which resturant will load up your financial plate? Some factors to consider:

Research: Get the low down Talk to other servers and ask about their experience in a particular restaurant or find out about the ins and outs of the industry. They may tell you that for a summer job there's nothing else that they would rather be doing. Still others might say it is a frantic, hectic business where you are almost treated as servants.

Look Long Term Proving yourself to be a good server could mean being called back next summer saving you both the time of looking for another job next summer. An employer will often want to avoid the hassle and expense of looking for new wait staff next summer. Doing a great job can also mean getting assigned the better shifts and restaurant sections at some establishments.

Find out your costs and benefits This can have an impact on what you may believe is the "perfect" job. Having to drive a long way and then pay for parking cuts into what you'll actually end up with as can a long bus ride or the expense of a late night cab ride home. Of course as a server you might have to buy a white shirt or black pants or possibly a specific uniform for the restaurant all of which can add up.

Consider the benefits. Some restaurants will give you a free meal - perhaps even letting you graze at their buffet if they have one. Others will let you eat at a discount - perhaps 50% off. The discount may be a benefit, or in the case of a high priced restaurant, could still be costly - and thus an incentive to bring your own lunch.

Stay close to where you work Living close to where you work can not only cut your transportation costs, it could make you a prime choice to pick up extra shifts when the restaurant gets busy. Make sure you let those handing out the shifts that you are "only minutes away".

Buy Consignment If it's a standard uniform such as white shirts and black slacks, check into buying at a consignment store. It will greatly save you money, especially if you have to buy more than one set. While dress shoes can also be bought at a local consignment store, for health reasons, it may be advisable to buy them new.

Uncorking profits: It's little wonder that restaurants push the beverages in restaurants, as that's where the profits are. And what's good for the restaurant is good for you since the increased size of the bill tends to increase the size of the tip. And while you don't want to get your patrons too juiced so as to jeopardize their safety, a $30 bottle of wine could fill your pocket with an extra $5 or more in tips. If your age permits it working a licensed restaurant is likely to yield you higher tips.

Know their style: Generally in restaurants where you coral people up to a buffet, your patrons are apt to tip less - usually 5-10% versus the traditional 10-20% of most restaurants. Formal sit down restaurants on the other hand tend to have the patron's tip higher - in the 15-20% range.

Know your clientele's business: Different clientele will tip differently. People dining on business expense accounts are likely to be freer with the tips than if the meal was coming out of their own pocket. They may also be more likely to tip well if entertaining clients so as not to appear cheap.

Know your clientele: Restaurants that tend to have regular clientele also tend to be more lucrative as they don't want to short change a waiter and risk getting poor service next time. Holiday tippers are mixed story. On the positive side people tend to be a little freer at throwing their money around when they are on holidays - in a good mood and away from the daily grind and perhaps a tyrannical boss. However at a restaurant frequented by tourists, the size of your tip also may depend on what country your patrons are from. In Canada and the U.S. tipping on top of the bill is an expected practice, however in many countries tips are not common practice or are already included in the bill - meaning you may get a lesser tip or no tip at all.

Americans are generally regarded as among the highest tippers - owing in part to the fact that their minimum wage for wait staff is so low. But before you go wrestling with your co-workers to get that table of hungry Texans, keep in mind that in an increasingly global world, many tourists from abroad learn the North American tipping etiquette before they visit. Thus your highest tips can sometimes come from the least expected sources.

For wait staff in Canadian restaurants (particularly in border cities), you may also find yourself getting something even better than a tip - at tip in U.S. dollars…which with the exchange, may even pay your whole tuition!

Know your restaurants' pattern of business: Some restaurants are hopping on weekends but are about as busy as a campus library in mid summer, during the rest of the week. Others will do a great breakfast and lunch business while others do most of their business in the evening. Since people generally tend to load up less on food and drink during lunch (something about waddling back to the office and falling asleep that influences this decision!), their bill and thus your tips, are likely to be less.

Of course on a seasonal basis, some tourist dependant restaurants are steady for a couple of months and then business drops off sharply. Forgoing your days off and picking up as many extra shifts as possible during that time, may be your best way to pack in the summer cash.

Making the most from your wait job: Tip Psychology 101

The word "tips" is believed to come from the acronym: To Insure Proper Service. Generally intended as a way to reward good service, tipping is more common in countries where citizens value status and prestige more highly, according to a 1997 Cornell University study. But how much people tip is also determined by other factors:

  • Size matters The major reason for a good tip is the size of the bill. So as a waiter you are a salesperson as much as a server. The better you are as a salivary salespeople in order to bring the bill as high as possible, the more likely you are to be on the receiving end of a high tip.

  • Not to disappoint Another Cornell study revealed that along with the size of the bill, the amount of the tip left by diners is influenced surprisingly as much by the fear of disappointing the server, as by the quality of the service. Furthermore "there was relatively little difference between a tip someone would leave for adequate service versus excellent service. Although the major reason for a good tip is the size of the bill, be aware that poor service still yielded a significantly lower tip or no tip at all.

  • Getting to know you Revealing your student status. Often how well you relate to your customers will factor into your tip. If you are friendly and build rapport, your customers may be more forgiving of slips in service. If they know you are a student working hard to put yourself through college or university, they may also be more apt to open up their wallet then they would if you were saving to buy say a Harley. A patron able to identify with your situation can be to your financial advantage. Little wonder that some of the best tips come from those who have worked in the restaurant industry themselves.

  • The golden touch In this golden age of political correctness, we may be taught to keep our distance and avoid even minor physical contact. But in the tipping game a gentle touch i.e. on the shoulder, was found to be good for the wallet, as were other non-verbal communication signs of liking such as crouching next to the table. In fact a Cornell University study found that when wait staff used slight touching, their tips averaged around 14.9% versus 11.5% where no touching was involved. The difference was even more pronounced among younger paying customers.

Of course you can never fully predict what a customer will fork out as a tip. Their mood, personal situation, financial circumstances that day, may all have an effect. However combining your choice of restaurant employer, hours of work, and strategies for connecting with your customers, are bound to effect whether you're clearing dishes from your tables, or just a lot of cash!

co-written by Jaz Sihota


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