So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Tag Archives: tip

The book that you have been waiting for is finally out!

No, not my book.

Sorry to get you all excited.

No, it’s Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips by David Hayden of the Hospitality Formula Network.

Let me be blunt – if you are a waiter/server/bartender and you don’t buy this book, then you really don’t care about how much money you make. This book is a multiplier of skills and bank. It’s written in a clear, concise yet comprehensive style. It’s laid out logically and covers just about every topic that a waiter needs to know in terms of maximizing his or her earning potential.

The book is broken down into 10 sections and 41 chapters. With sections like Before Your Shift, Starting Your Shift, Interacting with Your Guests, and The Mechanics of Serving, the book puts lie to Hayden’s statement that “This book is NOT a training manual. Due to the fact that you picked up this book, it is assumed you know how to wait tables”. Those preliminary sections cover much of what the rank amateur waiter needs to know to make his or her descent into the maelstrom of waiting tables a smooth and unbumpy one. This book should be part of the training package of every restaurant who hires people who have never been waiters.

But it doesn’t stop there – with subsequent sections like Selling and Serving Wine, The Pitch, The Key Times, Selling as a Server, Special Guests, and The Intangibles, the main intent of the book becomes clear – waiter make money, guest get good experience, manager get smooth shift – everybody happy.

My blog covers many of the same points. In fact, you’ll get a sense of déjà vu when you read Mr. Hayden’s book if you’ve spent any time with my posts. The main difference is the clarity of vision and training. I tend to ramble, go off-the-cuff, go off on tangents, and generally get parenthetical (sometimes). You’ll find little of that in this book. What you’ll find is  a book full of practical hints, tips and directives that aren’t just theoretical abstracts; they can be applied on a daily basis.

Do I think it’s complete? Hell no! There are valid points that this very blog have made that are left out. Anyone who has waited tables for a long time has had situations that have given them insight that could be valuable to the waiter-at-large. But, all in all, the book is probably the most practical and valuable resource that a waiter could find on any bookshelf (either real or virtual) in North America. I say North America because other restaurant cultures have different standards and practices that might be at odds with the North American restaurant culture.

In a perfect world, this book would be the core of the book that I had intended when I first considered starting a blog on the subject of waiting tables. I wanted a book that was lavishly illustrated with photographs, filled with sidebars of interesting factoids and footnotes, brimming with information about everything from rapini to Calvados. I envisioned parts of the book that would be considered reference material for the ages – a book with the heft of a wine atlas, the look, feel and knowledge of a Thomas Keller book, the practical and accessible wisdom of a “…for Dummies” book. This book would be part of the curriculum at Cornell, would sit on every restaurant book shelf, would grace the coffee tables of the rich and poor alike, and my name would be whispered with a measured awe in the break rooms of restaurants for years to come.

Well, sorry. The bones are there; the framework sitting in the archives of this very blog. Until the storied day when a literary agent looks at my concept, knows just the perfect graphic designer to create the cheap equivalent of the Nathan Myhrvold “Modern Cuisine” $625 cookbook, my dream of the ultimate book on waiting tables is just that – a dream.

Until then, this book by David Hayden does what I hoped to do – make it possible for a newly-minted waiter to avoid the usual pitfalls of “learning on the job”. This is a dual goal; not only does it mean that waiters can share the knowledge necessary to maximize earnings, it means that fewer restaurant guests will have to suffer the fumbling of such “on-the-fly training”.

It’s lean, it’s mean – it’s the opposite of what I intended. And just what the world needs.


Buy my book or I'll make you look like a fool in front of your date.

Clever and easy way to track your tips

Yep, you saw that right –


They have a tracker for miles per gallon which would work great for tracking tips, as you can view a graph online. You do have to put in “Miles Driven” and “Gallons Bought” but I just put 1 in each one.  I don’t worry about it figuring out MPG as I’m just tracking dollar amount. I use it not so much for actual dollar tracking, but I’m trying to establish baseline weekly, monthly and seasonal trends.

They have an Android app that ties into the web site. You can’t view a graph on your phone yet, but you can access it online. There have been a few glitches here and there with the interface between the Android app and the online site, but they are mostly in the various car modules and updating between the two (they are continuing to refine the whole thing, but if you just use it for tracking tips online, they are pretty much non-issues).

It happens to be a pretty good way to run a car log as well.

Sure, you could set up an Excel spreadsheet to track your tips (and some of you might have already done that) but this is a pretty simple way to do it. It’s free as of this writing but I’d suggest donating a little bit to the developer in order to encourage him and to keep it from becoming a paid site. Several “car log” sites are free for some log functions but make you pay for important functions like MPG tracking. This one is totally free and it’s a pretty clean solution to auto log-keeping.

I have no connection with this site other than being a user. I have no idea if the developer does any data mining or anything like that, so please use this site at your own risk. I don’t see a lot of danger in it myself.

Oh yeah, it’s really easy for me since I declare all of my tips. I just pull the figure off of my pay stub (my figures are bi-weekly). If you are someone who doesn’t declare all of your tips, you’ll still have to keep track of them separately and add them to your declared tips to get an accurate tracking. And no, I’m not going to take this opportunity to scold you for not doing the right thing (oh wait, I guess I just did!)

Tipout pt. 3

So, how does this tipout thing work?

There are a couple of different ways it might work.

You might tipout a percentage of your total sales or you might tipout a percentage of your actual tips.

You might also tipout your bar a percentage of alcohol sales instead of a percentage of all sales. I even worked in a place where I tipped out the bar on all alcohol sales minus wine sales (we actually poured wine by the glass at the table and fetched our own wine out of the cellar).

You tip out by running a percentage of either your tips or your sales. Then, you take the amount of money that you get from the house, add in the amount of cash sales and subtract out any bank that you came to work with. Then you pay your coworkers with cash out of that. You then subtract it out of your claimed tips. If you have a TRAC sheet, there’ll be a spot for the various tipouts and you’ll subtract them, coming up with your actual take home tips, and this is what you declare. If you tip out on the computer, make sure you subtract them from your tips before declaring (you don’t want to over-declare. And there’s a weird case of some backwaiters also having to tip out the bar as well. If this is the case, and you tip out based on tips, it’s far to subtract the amount of their tipout to the bar before you calculate yourtipout to the bar. Otherwise, the bar will get double tipped on that amount of tips.

The most fair way to tip out backwaiters and the bar is based on your actual tips. This way everyone shares in the pain of bad tips and gets the benefit of really good tips. Plus, if a waiter gets stiffed by a table, they don’t have to “pay for waiting on that guest”. If you have to tip out based on sales, you should ask your manager if you can exclude the amount of sales covered by a stiff. This is really only fair for everyone. However, a server should never pretend that they got stiffed simply because they got cash on a credit card transaction. This is even more despicable than a guest stiffing a server. It’s a server stiffing his or her fellow co-workers. If you are currently tipping out on sales, you might broach the subject of changing it to tipping out on actual tips with the powers that be and explain how it’s fairer. BTW, generally speaking, 20% tipout on tips is about the same as around 3% – 4% of total sales depending on well you did percentage-wise.

If you want to grease your backwaiter, by all means, do do. Grease is extra money over and above the actual amount that you are supposed to pay. However, you can’t claim this as part of your tipout for tip reporting purposes. For instance, let’s say that you are supposed to tip your backwaiter 5% of your total sales and you had sales of $500. You tip them out $25 and then you give them an extra $3 because they rocked. You should still only claim $25 in tipout. That’s because that’s the amount that they’re going to claim. Technically, grease is a “gift”, an appreciation for a job well done, not payment for services rendered. In the case of an IRS audit, they’re going to wonder why you’re claiming $3 more than your backwaiter is. Sucks, doesn’t it? Yep. and most of the time, it won’t matter, but why take the chance? Basically, you should do the right thing anyway and we’ll be doing a post in the future on why you should claim every penny of your tips (hint- it’s the law!) I’m sure that will be popular with my fellow servers – ha!

The US Labor Department requires that all tipouts be “fair and customary”. This is fudging language. They don’t won’t to be in the business of dictating. what is“fair and customary”. Well, it’s probably not what you have to do, right? Nobody seems to think that tipout amounts are fair. Everyone wants it to be lower.

I’ve seen everything from about 10% of total tips all the way up to 45% of total tips. currently, I have to tip out 33% of my total tips, which some people would think is high. However, my last job required 7% of sales, which usually translated to between 40 and 45% of tips! I worked in a brewpub where we tipped the bartender 10% of total alcohol sales. In that particular restaurant, 10% of alcohol sales usually equated to about 1% of sales or 5% of tips, which is pretty standard these days for bar tipout. there are just certain percentages that correspond whether you are talking about tipping on sales or tipping on tips. They usually fall within a percentage point or two regardless of how the night went in terms of tip percentage (unless you either had a spectacularly good or spectacularly bad night).

Finally, why do I have to tip out the day bartender when he or she usually doesn’t have to make me any drinks (most people don’t drink alcohol at lunch tables). Well, dear friends, you are making it possible to even have a bartender available in case you do. Remember, most day bartenders aren’t going to make very many drinks even for their own guests. Don’t worry about the “fairness” of it, just do it. And do it gladly, you punk. Got it? Quit yer bitchin’.

If anyone has any specific questions about the topics that I covered, or if you’re new and still confused (and believe me, it can be a little bewildering and hard to explain to a newbie), feel free to ask your question in the comments section.

This concludes our overlong series on the subject of tipout.