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Tips for Waiters: The Psychological Kung-Fu of Tipping

I’ve always loved to use the word kung-fu.

No, not because of its self-defense slash martial arts connotation, but because of what it really means: kung-fu is made up of two characters: the first one, kung, means hard training, endeavor or skillful work; the second, fu, means time spent, effort or labor. Put that together and you have an inspiring concept right there – skill achieved through effort or hard labor.

Which brings us to what we want to discuss today, the psychological kung-fu of tipping, specifically for the modern restaurant waitstaff. Just like kung-fu, giving the right kind of service to customers and increasing tips is a balance between technique and application – a skill that can be developed through effort and time.

We’ve already discussed the basics and a number of techniques that waiters and waitresses in smart-looking bib aprons can use in our article Effective Ways To Increase Tips in the Restaurant Business (being knowledgeable, pleasant and smiling, the ability to build a personal connection with the guest, upselling, wearing something unique, finding ways to lighten the mood of the customer and entertaining the diners), and now we shall talk about the psychological aspect of tipping – how the idea connects to the human mind, man’s mental state and his behavior. Here are some thoughts worth considering:

The quality of service equals the quality of tip. Tipping isn’t mandatory, but most people do it because they want to do so. The established notion is that people give tips based on merit of service—meaning, the better your service, the better the tip becomes.

But then, it’s also a fact that people tip higher if they like you better. Yes, quality equals high tip; but there are those who do say that this does not always apply. Studies have shown that people are largely steered by sentiment rather than logic—they buy based on emotions, and it’s no different when it comes to tipping. By and large, people give tips based on how much they tend to like their server, not really on the quality of service. This further gives a hint for servers to take that extra mile in building rapport with their guests.

People love pleasant things. People reach a certain high when they see beautiful things—they relax and are more generous when they see a beautiful scenery, an exquisite setting or fine-looking beings. There’s even a study that proved how blonde waitresses receive more tips more than the non-blonde ones. Others call it crazy, but it proves our point nonetheless — it pays a lot for servers, in their elegant bib aprons, to give attention to their appearance, be smiling and pleasant at all times.

People see other people’s efforts to connect to them, and they appreciate it. Looking at customers in the eye, attempting to establish rapport with them and making them feel special matter to them, and recognizing the effort, they will be more openhanded with tips. Servers’ little gestures like squatting a bit next to the table (as opposed to standing stiff) while introducing themselves and bringing their eye level down to that of their customers establish a level of trust that customers welcome and remember.

These are ideas that would greatly help servers understand their diners, and in the process of understanding them, they can master the kung-fu of restaurant tipping – a skill that they will eventually master through time and dedicated effort.