Katie Little refills drinks and gets to know her tables in hopes that her service will influence her tip income. According to an article in the Journal of Socio-Economics, Little is right on.
Tips in the United States add up to $16 billion a year, according to a 2000 article by Michael Lynn.
Lynn, of Cornell University, wrote the article, “Gratitude and gratuity: a meta-analysis of research on the service-tipping relationship,” to explain his study on the connection between server evaluations and tip size.
The study compared service, customer mood, patron frequency and server favoritism to the tip size in seven published and six unpublished studies.
These 13 studies analyzed more than 2,500 dining parties at 20 different restaurants to reach their findings, according to Lynn’s study.
The findings support the idea that restaurant customers leave larger tips for better service.
Among other things, the study examined whether tipping was a desire to reward servers for good service.
Service was found to be a small but consistent evaluation between server and tipping, according to the study, but many other factors contributed to the size of the tip.
Michael Scott Wilson, a freshman premajor, said it’s the little things servers do that have the most influence on the tip he leaves.
“A big one for me is if, at the end of the meal, they refill your drink,” he said. “Then you have something to wash it all down, and that is customer service.”
Little, a junior marketing major, waits tables at Pappadeaux. She said she thinks service has a lot to do with the amount of tip a server receives, commenting on the little things she does to raise her tip income.
“I try to bring my personality out in the beginning,” Little said. “If you can connect with the table on a point of interest, they usually are more inclined to like you.”
Other ways she connects with her tables are by smiling, small talk and suggesting personal favorites from the menu, she said.
Alan Littenberg, a freshman athletic training major, tends to his customers at Pei Wei using different tactics, including, he said, “flirting with the old ladies.”
“Because the customer’s always right, you have to give them what they want,” he said. “If you go above and beyond, they usually leave bigger tips.”
Another determining factor in tip size analyzed by this study was the influence of customer mood.
Researchers found that consumer mood may have a small influence between server evaluation and tip size. However, it is not a likely explanation for the relationship, according to the study.
Littenberg said he thinks customer mood does have an influence on the tip size but service ultimately brings in the money.
The demographics of the customers are more important to the tip sizes than their moods, Little said.
“For instance, Sunday afternoons may be busy, but the type of people you serve then are more family-oriented and less likely to spend money,” she said.
Little said Friday and Saturday nights are when servers make the most tips.
“Friday and Saturday nights are when people who usually go out, go out,” she said. “There are more regulars, and people order more drinks.”
Although the study found that the server evaluation directly affected the size of the tip, the size of the tip was not necessarily a good determiner of server evaluation.
“Tips are a means by which consumers reward good service, but … they may not be the management tool that some restaurant managers believe them to be,” Lynn wrote.
The average tip size cannot completely determine the worth or ability of server performance, according to the study.
“Our managers do not base server performance on tip size,” Little said. “They base evaluations on comment cards and what they see going on in the restaurant.”
Managers should also not use tipping as an incentive for waiters to serve well, according to the study.
The server may not be able to see the effects of his or her service on the tip size because it is such a small relationship, so this is not a good incentive for managers to use, according to the study.
While $16 billion a year may seem like a large sum of money, tips account for a large portion of a waiter’s income, Little said.
“We think about pay differently than people with other jobs because most of our paycheck comes from tips only,” she said.