It’s Not the Clientele, It’s You

Posted on November 1, 2011

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“It all depends on the people you get,” the waiter said. I heard a manager say it once, too. However, that restaurant wasn’t the best restaurant I worked at. And that manager wasn’t the best manager I worked for. After I left there, I went on to work at another restaurant, a busier one, with a better reputation.

When I was hired, I had to attend a server training class. We were there at 8 am, well before the restaurant even opened. There were packets. The first topic discussed at the very beginning was hospitality. With confidence, this restaurant emphasized that the way you treat people not only affects your tips, but it also affects the success of the business. If you are hospitable, warm and friendly and treat people well you will do better.

A few months into working there, things were better. The restaurant was busier. I was making more money. As a result of the emphasis on hospitality, the work was more fun.

Some time has passed since I left that restaurant, along with a break of a few years of not doing any restaurant work at all. During that time I worked in sales. I spent some of the time inside, selling over the phone. I also went out selling to businesses door to door. I now have a greater understanding of business, particularly of sales and operations than I did before.

I am now back in the restaurant business waiting tables again. My focus is different as a result of my professional experience. My perception of the job has changed, for the better. I notice more details. I find myself working smarter. Nonetheless, what I learned about hospitality still rings true. Take care of people and they will take care of you.

Even though I am somewhere new, I still here wait staff grumble about bad tips. Some are frustrated with the clientele. And occasionally, I hear someone say, “It’s all about the people that you get,” like I heard this one waiter say.

And again he is wrong.

There are many things that wait staff has control over, from the way that they speak to people, the order in which things are done, and their attentiveness. The wait staff themselves have the greatest impact on the guest experience. They also have a direct influence on how people feel about them, and whether they decide, “I really liked our waiter or waitress and I really feel that I should give him or her a nice tip.”

Wait staff does not control who walks in the door. They can influence that for future visits, but they don’t control why, when and where people eat out very much. Wait staff does not control the buying power that these patrons have. Someone looking to spend 30 bucks is looking to spend 30 bucks, not 100. So to some degree, tips are left up to fate. Unfortunately, the grumbles I hear are not about either of these two details.

The whines I hear are from people who do not want to accept responsibility for their results. They want to push the blame off on someone else. They don’t want to look in the mirror and figure out what it is that they can do to make things better. They are acting like a 3rd grader who got a bad report card and now it is the teacher’s fault.

It’s not. Your tips over time are a reflection of you and your own abilities to deliver a great experience for your guests.

Tips are Your Report Card

Tips are based on the amount of the check, with the ideal tip for good or great service being 20% of the bill. If I were to average 20% for the night, that says I did well. If I were to average 10%, that means I did poorly. A busy night’s worth of tips, from 10 or 12 tables, is a solid sample set. A statistician might want a larger set of data, but it’s enough to get somewhat of an indicator.

Looking back on most of my shifts, the average percentage reflected the quality of my work. On the nights I average over 20%, I was good. I was sharp. During those nights, I always recall that I was more pleasant and more organized.

On the 10% and 15% nights, there was always something that was in the way. It could have been any number of things. The weather was bad. Something outside of work was affecting my ability to focus. Or I got flustered. Could be for a bad reason or a good reason, but my work suffered nonetheless. You name it. Regardless, there was something that I was doing, not just with one table, that affected my performance. Servers are human.

Looking at the numbers over time is much more telling. A waiter or waitress averaging 10% or 15% over a period of weeks or months versus one averaging 20% or better, with all things being equal, indicates who the better server is. While all things are never equal, the indicator still says something. Your average percentage reflects your performance. Over time, your tips are your report card.

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