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Commentary > Everyday Money
Waiter tip tricks
There are ways to get you to tip more. Scientifically tested ones even. Who knew?
August 26, 2004: 11:41 AM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) Sometimes you know when you're being charmed. But it's not always so apparent.

Take the experience of eating out. I always thought I tipped the wait staff based on the quality of service they provided. But apparently, that's not all that's influencing my thinking.

A recent report by Michael Lynn, an associate professor at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, shows that certain techniques employed by a waiter or waitress have been shown in various studies to increase their tips.

Some of the techniques Lynn mentions seem to make intuitive sense, studies or no, if only because they genuinely can improve customers' overall experience.

Some, however, are baffling since they seem either to be annoying or just plain silly.

Most of the studies Lynn cites were all conducted in low- to mid-priced casual dining restaurants such as Applebee's, Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse.

He acknowledges that if some of these techniques were employed at more formal, refi-your-house-to-pay-for-dinner restaurants, they might actually decrease tips.

But in the restaurants they were tested in, each of the moves below had the effect of raising the average tip by anywhere from 10 percent to over 100 percent.

Here's a sampling:

Smile at the customer. Fair enough. High-end or low-end restaurant, who wouldn't prefer dealing with someone who's pleasant rather than dour?

Hello, my name is ... If I had my way, I'd ban this technique. I'm bad with names. So a waiter who tells me his name just obligates me either to remember it or feel bad if I don't.

But Lynn says it makes the wait staff seem more friendly and polite (assuming the introduction is genuine and not done in automaton fashion).

Plus, it makes the customer feel more empathy for them. So I guess my guilt means more gold for them.

Squat next to the table. Waiters and waitresses who crouch down mimic our posture, establish better eye contact and bring their faces closer to ours -- all behaviors that we associate with greater rapport, Lynn notes.

Tipping not optional?
General tipping guide
Summer tipping guide

That rapport connotes friendliness and consumers have said they're inclined to tip more to friendly wait staff.

Repeat customers' orders. This is a plus in my book, as it's always nice to know what I ordered is what the waiter or waitress actually heard.

Upsell. The bigger the bill, the bigger the tip. So you may find a waiter or waitress suggesting some of the more expensive items on the menu if you ask for recommendations or appear undecided about what to order.

That's not always a bad thing, if you trust that the waiter knows what he's talking about and isn't just hyping the priciest entree or wine for the sake of it.

Give customers candy. I guess I'm a sucker for this. The thinking is: A little gift for the customer, a bigger payoff for the waiter. Of course, if they brought me a puppy to pet while waiting for the check... well, then we're talking big, BIG tip.

Call customers by name. In an age of addressing everyone by their first name whether they're 9 or 90, a little formality can be refreshing.

If your waiter or waitress returns your credit card and charge slip with a "Thank you, Mr. Smith," you're likely to feel recognized or flattered even, Lynn says.

Casually touch customers. When you get the check, a friendly hand on your shoulder for a second or two might boost your tipping spirit, one study showed. If a waitress is serving a man and a woman who are a couple, she might get the best tip if she touches the woman and not the man.

The technique works better with younger customers than with older, presumably more formal ones.

Reports (Weather)
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Draw smiley faces on checks. Waitresses (not waiters) who drew smiley faces on the bill got bigger tips in one study. I can only imagine they were serving a convention of kindergarten teachers.

I much prefer the other technique that proved successful for both genders: writing "thank you" on the check.

Forecast good weather. Given my taste for accuracy, I'm not a big fan of weather reports from meteorologists.

So I suspect I wouldn't know what to make of waiters who crib from those reports and write them on the back of a check, as was done in one tip-boosting experiment

Still, studies have shown we're likely to tip more on a feel-good sunny day. So why not on the promise of one, too, however flaky the forecast?

Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for CNN/Money. She also appears regularly on CNNfn's "Your Money," which airs weeknights at 5 p.m. ET. You can e-mail her about this or any other column at  Top of page

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