Material and advice in this article was written for and with the help of friends in the restaurant service industry in the United States where the practice of tipping is not only the custom but also expected as the major income source from the service provided.
Lesson 1: The Basics
People are there to unwind or escape from parts of their life. You are providing an important service to them. They need you. The least you can do is smile and mean it. And if that isn't enough, you just may meet and have conversations with great and interesting people from around the world and you only have one chance to make a first impression. Regular patrons are your potential friends, and you should treat them as friends before they actually are. And if that still isn't enough, fake it: it will earn you more money.
Wear something that will make you stand out as an individual. This is especially important if you work in a uniform environment. Adding"flair” gets people to identify with you as another human. This will increase your tips. A little bit of "flair" can go a long way but don't go all "Office Space" level flair. In the past, I have seen butterfly/fairy wings used around Halloween to very good effect but it does not need to be that dramatic. There is a study that showed that when a waitress wore a flower in her hair made 12% better tips overall verses the days she didn't wear it. Keep in mind this has to make you stand out from the crowd:everyone wearing a flower in their hair is not “flair”. It also allows your patron’s to be able to identify you easily visually from other staff and to be able to describe your verbally to other staff in case they want to signal you out.
Tips are often not based on the level of service received but instead simply a given percentage of the sale. This is especially true of business people dinning that have a set limit that they are allowed to tip. The way to increase your tips here are to increase the total sale. If you have identified that your patrons can afford to splurge, then by all means give them the excuse they may need and encourage them to enjoy and indulge. Get them to drink more without going overboard. Get them to order a more expensive item on the menu that you think they may be more satisfied with. Or get them to buy dessert on a special occasion when they normally wouldn't. Increasing the size of the bill generally increases the sizeof the tip.
Make sure you introduce yourself by name always. Its friendly and polite and further builds personal empathy, which will statistically increase your tips. Now that first part is basic but if you can smoothly get the customers to comfortable give you their names then you are even more ahead of making them feel welcome.
Using a patron’s words, word-for-word, will make them identify with you. It is very powerful psychologically. The easiest way to do this is to clearly repeat their orders back to them exactly they way they said it. And more importantly doing this has added benefits. First it verifies the order and provides an opportunity to make corrections. Secondly, repeating the order makes it more likelyto stick in your head. And last itly demonstrates that you are actively paying attention.
If someone is in distress (without a drink and looking around the room)even if you can't get to them right away acknowledge his or her need. This is as simple as making eye contact, smiling briefly, and nodding. This act will at least imply that they are in queue for your attention. And if you are competing with other servers, this will mark them as yours.
Never ask, "Would you like something to drink?" or "Would you like some dessert?". First, this is potentially inefficient. It will waste your time because if they answer yes then you then still have to then ask them what they want to drink. And secondly it gives them more of an an opportunity to say no. You want the broadcasted assumption to be that if a customer's glass is empty, or there is no food at the table, then they need and will order something. Remember, the place you work out is there to make money from every seat. If they are at your tables, then the assumption is that they are consuming something. Always reinforce this. Instead ask questions that assume and reinforce this, such as, "What can I get you next?"
When asking any question where you expect them to order: smile, look them in the eyes, and subtly nod yes. Don't make it obvious. You might have to practice this a bit to get it right. This simple act has been shown to increase sales. It called the Bob's Big Boy Nod after the chain of US diners, some of which actively promoted this.
If you are bringing a written check then write “Thank you!”, put a smiley face, and then sign your first name legibly. This further builds personal empathy and also puts a psychological pressure for your patron to earn those thanks. Say “Thanks” when you deliver the check as well.
When there is a group of friends sitting together imagine a circle surrounding them and connecting them. When asking them what they want to to eat or drink always ask them at just the edge of that circle. Tangentially touching but not breaking the circle. Do not enter the circle unless you earn rapport with the group.
Get your eyes down to their level when talking with them. Do this subtly and make it seem natural. If you are short, thank the service gods.
When you get them to laugh, laugh with them. This important act will get them to trust you and psychologically get them to consider you partially as part of the group. And, remember your mission and part of the service you are providing is to help them have a great time out.
Find the dominant one(s) in the group (if you don't know how to do that, I will write about that separately). The others are taking the lead from the group leaders. If you capture them and lead them down that path of culinary debauchery, or simply ordering a dessert, then the others will most likely follow. Take that leader down and you will usually get the majority of the group to follow.
The above has been attested to by actual servers as helping maximize the serving and served experience.