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

Updated on September 17, 2016
Kim Bryan profile image

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

Google "how to be a better server" and you'll get page after page of results on helpful tips - for larger, often upscale venue. But what about those of us who work in the small, Mom 'n Pop establishments? Those fancy rules don't always apply Small diner customers want more personable service when they walk into a Mom 'n 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 the average into fantastic.

The following list is compiled of things I've learned over the years, working as a waitress in small diners in rural Tennessee. that have earned me. as well as many I trained, more-than-average compliments and regularly keeps us making bank in 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

7. 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 - especially in this age where names are not always pronounced as they are spelled.

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 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 with at the table with it. Doing this makes the customer feel special and knowing you remember drinks, they know you remember who are the good tippers as well. (wink)

5. Don't Ignore Because They're Not Yours

That large party at M2 is taking a lot of their waitress's time and 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).

6. 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!

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, you'll 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 Them A Note

Before dropping the check on the table, I always write a handwritten "Thank you!" followed by my name. If there has been more-than-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 Good Bye

If you see your guest departing, take a moment to stop what you're doing and say good-bye 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 denomination tips off the table so they prefer to deliver it personally. I just give them the opportunity. (wink)


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, rules that apply regardless of the size of your establishment; including 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 a clean clothing/uniform and pressed, if needed. Women should always wear make-up and style their hair appropriately.
  • Don't stand idly. Stay busy.
  • Put away your cellphone.

One Last Tip...

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

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Kim Bryan


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