When most people enter the restaurant service profession, they aren’t eyeing the base wage (often, but not  lways, a minimum wage) – they have their sights set on that other income stream: tips.

It’s impossible to predict how much you’ll make in tips each night; the figure is entirely contingent on how much your tables order, how generous they’re feeling, and your turnover rate. Still, there are actionable steps you can take toward ensuring that, night after night, you have a better chance of making more tips.

The concept is relatively straightforward: become a better server. While the financial incentive might be your motivator, becoming a better server requires you to look past the almighty dollar, focusing instead on the happiness and wellbeing of your customers.

This article details a few insider tips on how to be a better server.

Manage Customer Frustration with Empathy, Transparency

Accidents happen. Dishes take longer than expected, you punch in the wrong order, or the kitchen lets a plate sit on the cool side of the pass-through for too long before expediting. Inevitably, things will go wrong in a service, and those mistakes are largely beyond your control.

But you are in control of how you manage customer frustrations. While the prevailing impulse is to pass the buck or minimize the problem, customers often prefer a franker approach. Be transparent about the mistake, empathize with their frustration (however outsized you feel it is), and repeat their concerns back to them.

Take Responsible Beverage Service Training

You shouldn’t just have a customer’s immediate wants and desires in mind – you should also look out for their wellbeing. It shows that you care about cultivating a safe atmosphere for patrons.

This is uniquely important with liquor service. You may live in a state that requires safe service certification, like RBS certification in California. But even if you don’t, consider completing responsible beverage service training courses. These courses teach you how to avoid overservice and service to minors, as well as educate you on the laws and societal impacts around alcohol. Courses like Userve’s are quick, inexpensive and convenient, making you a better server for your customers.

Take a Sommelier or Cicerone Course

In addition to responsible beverage service training, consider taking a sommelier or cicerone course, for wine and beer service, respectively. These courses elevate your knowledge of beverages, enabling you to speak confidently with patrons about tasting notes, food pairings and style differentiation.

Remember, customers often look to you as an authority on food and drinks. The more you know about the drinks you serve, the better chance you have of recommending something the customer enjoys. And, as every server knows, a happy customer is often a high-tipping customer.

Learn the Fine Art of Optimizing Your Turnover Rate

Serving isn’t solely a customer-facing job; it also requires a technical eye for maximizing profits. Case in point: your table turnover rate.

Striking a balance between dissuading “camping” and keeping your customers happy isn’t easy. A table might be offended if you ask them to leave after two hours – an offense they will communicate with a scant tip. On the other hand, allowing them to camp after they’ve finished ordering robs you of a future table – and future tip revenue. There’s no easy solution.

One strategy involves making compromises. Comp them a dessert if they can move their conversation to the bar area. Another, perhaps better strategy, is to gently communicate to tables at the beginning of service that there is a time limit. Most people get it and are happy to oblige when they know the rules in advance.

Follow these four tips to elevate your service, please customers, cultivate a safe environment for patrons, and – hopefully – make a few more tips.

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