Sheila Kendig doesn't need any researchers to give her tips on working for tips. Now 61, she started waitressing at an Italian restaurant when she was about 14.
"We all have bad days," Kendig said after knocking off her 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. shift at Lorene's coffee shop in downtown Bakersfield. "But when I'm at work, I smile."
"At the end of the day, when you go home and count your pocket, there is a difference," she said.
Researchers agree. Smiling can actually help boost tips for servers. So can telling jokes, patting customers on the arm and forecasting good weather, according to a recent report published by Cornell University's Center for Hospitality Research.
Most customers and waiters know there are some basic behaviors that bring in good tips. Accurate order-taking. Quickly grabbing ketchup, extra napkins or salt. A coffee cup that's refilled as soon as it's drained it to the dregs.
But there are also a lot of small things waiters can do that may prompt people to shove a couple more bills under their water glass. A tipping expert says it's an over-arching principle important at all levels of business.
"If you're likeable and people perceive you as liking them, they're going to want to make you happy," said Mike Lynn, a professor at the Cornell School of Hospitality Management who has studied tipping extensively.
Of course, one way to ensure bigger tips is to work for an expensive restaurant. Bill size explains about 70 percent of the variability in tip size, said Lynn.
But that leaves certain intangibles responsible for about 30 percent of the variability of the tip.
That's part of why the school recently published a report rounding up research on the ways waiters and waitresses boost their tips. Some are basic: Introduce yourself by name, smile, repeat customers' orders back to them. Some are surprising: Entertain customers with jokes or puzzles.
Touch customers briefly on the arm. Some are a bit strange, such as forecasting good weather.
The prospect of a sunny day tomorrow may briefly elevate mood and make them more willing to tip, Lynn theorized.
Friendliness and smiling go a long way with Carla Lapadula, a 47-year-old former bartender in Bakersfield.
"Acting like they give a crap about what they're doing," she said, on a recent afternoon while leaving Marie Callender's on California Avenue.
The most important things are the basics, says Roxanne Weaver, a 42-year-old server at Zingo's on Buck Owens Boulevard.
"Be efficient, smile, be friendly," she said.
There are some subtle things she does to ensure people have a nice time.
She always checks back with them to see if there's something they need.
"But when you're efficient, you know they don't," she said.
Linda Grant, a Bakersfield pastor, appreciates servers checking in to see if everything is all right. She says she always tips now, but she used to leave a penny as a tip if she didn't like the service.
"I don't mind tipping, when you do a good job," she said.
At Lorene's, Kendig finds that people really like it when you remember what they usually order. But for the most part she says there are no real tricks to getting good tips.
She should know, except for a short stint selling shirts, and a 10-year break to have children, she's been serving since she was a freshman in high school.
Just treat people the way you want to be treated, she said.
HERE'S A TIP:
Researchers say you may tip a bit more if your server:
--introduces him or herself by name.
--squats next to the table when introducing him or herself.
--wears a big smile.
--wears unusual ornaments or clothing
--entertains with jokes or puzzles.
--repeats your order back to you.
--touches you briefly on the arm or shoulder.
--predicts good weather.
--writes thank you or draws on the check.
--uses tip trays embossed with credit card logos.
--calls you by name.
--gives you after-dinner candies.
Source: Cornell University School of Hotel Management's Center for Hospitality Research