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Diner Servers: 9 Rules to Maximize Tips in a Mom-and-Pop Restaurant

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I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.

If you Google "how to be a better server," you'll get page after page of helpful tips . . . for larger, more upscale venues. But what about those of us who work in smaller establishments? Those fancy rules don't always apply.

Small diner customers want more personable service when they walk into a mom-and-pop offering a "meat and three" special.

Unlike those larger restaurants, however, diner customers don't tip a percentage of their bill. No, diner customers usually toss a dollar or two on the table for average service and say good-bye. The secret to surviving as a diner server is knowing how to turn average into fantastic.

The following list is comprised of things I've learned over my years working as a waitress in small diners in rural Tennessee. They have earned me, as well as many I trained, above-average compliments, and they regularly keep us making bank in tips.

small-restaurant-server-tips

1. Greet Everyone

When you're working in a small diner, you're not only the server but the hostess as well. When customers walk through the door, whether they're going to be your table or not, smile and say hello. It's a little bit of effort with great rewards.

2. Let Them Sit Down

Customers typically seat themselves in a small diner, and servers often rush to tables before customers have even sat down. Just as you shouldn't interrupt a conversation, don't intrude on the "settling in" process. Wait until it's obvious they're ready.

3. Introduce Yourself

Rule number seven of the Server's Bible's 101 Tips How To Be A Good Restaurant Waiter instructs, "Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness."

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. At least in a small diner setting.

Diner customers are often repeat customers, and they like to know the staff. Many will ask for your name if you don't offer an introduction. Even with name tags, customers still like to hear it spoken to make sure they say it right.

In regards to jokes, cuteness, and flirting, these things are better saved for customers you've come to know. However, it isn't uncommon to get a "vibe" from a table that they're up for some jokes and quick wit. If you feel it, go with it. These are always my best-tipping tables.

4. Know Your Regulars

Small diner customers are often regulars who are creatures of habit. If you're familiar with a customer's drink order, greet them at the table with it. Doing this makes the customer feel special increases your odds of getting a good tip.

5. Repeat Their Order

Once the table has completed their order, take another minute to repeat the orders and confirm. If you're daring enough and sense your guests are game, try using diner lingo—customers love it!

6. Don't Ignore a Table Because It Isn't Yours

That large party at M2 is taking a lot of their waitress's time, a few of her other tables are running low on drinks, and she has orders ready to be delivered. Well, quit standing there and get it done!

As you're tending to your own customers, lend a hand to your fellow servers when they need it—without expecting to receive a portion of the tip (unless arrangements were made beforehand).

7. Tip Your Fellow Server

Although a diner crew should work as a team and help one another without expectation of being rewarded, always give a percentage of the tip to any server who lent a much-needed hand to a table. Habitually doing this will ensure your customers always get top-notch service with a smile. (And did I mention I get along quite well with the other waitresses at my diner?)

8. Write Your Table a Note

Before dropping the check on the table, I always write a handwritten "Thank you!" followed by my name. If there has been above-average interaction with the guests or it is someone I know, I take the time to write a more personal note with my expression of gratitude.

9. Personally Say Goodbye

If you see your guest departing, take a moment to stop what you're doing and say goodbye and wish them a good day/evening. This is a very popular time for customers to hand me the tip.

Guests often fear bussers or other guests will take larger tips off the table, so they prefer to deliver it personally. I like to give them that opportunity!

There is a difference between restaurant servers and diner servers. It simply can't be denied. Diner servers have to be much more personable and quick-witted than those who work in larger restaurants. It's imperative if one wishes to earn a decent income.

There are, however, some rules that apply regardless of the size of your establishment. These include, but not limited to:

  • Never touch the rim of a glass.
  • Touch silverware only by the handle.
  • Do not excessively refill glasses or allow them to sit empty.
  • Never eat or drink in sight of customers.
  • Always wear clean clothing/uniform (pressed, if needed). Women should always wear make-up and style their hair appropriately.
  • Don't stand idle. Stay busy.
  • Put away your cellphone.

One Last Tip...

Take a comedy break from fretting over the job so much and binge watch episodes 2 Broke Girls. You'll relate to the characters' diner jobs just a little too much, maybe.

© 2016 Kim Bryan