Increase Tips with Persuasion Cues

Tip under CupI’ve read through the research literature on factors that affect tipping for service workers, particularly in the food and beverage industry.  It confirms one simple and obvious conclusion:  Persuasion skill affects tips.  What we know generally about persuasion can be applied specifically to tipping.  Thus, there is no New New Thing, no Special Sauce, no Magic Words that only apply to tipping.  Or stated as my Rule:  There are no Laws (of Tipping) and if there were, why would I tell you?

If you want to pursue the literature, start with Professor Michael Lynn at Cornell.  If you have access to PsycNet, you can easily search on his name and a key word like, “tipping.”  What you’ll find are several well done studies, many in actual work settings at bars and restaurants where service personnel agree to participate in the study, receive specific training on something thought to be useful, then the waitress or bartender follows a specific script for using the action, and everyone reports their tips to the researchers.  The research definitely qualifies as science.

The good news here is that the information you read in this blog or my Persuasion Guide or other good science based work (like Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence”) can be directly applied to your work situation.  The bad news is that you’ll have to figure out exactly how to make that information work in your specific case.  (Remember the Rule:  All Persuasion Is Local – it depends upon the immediate situation you face right then and there.)

To help you on your way, I’d like to develop CLARCCS Cues in specific ways that could apply in a variety of food and beverage service situations.  I’ll detail out some dialog and moves to illustrate how to make the Cue work.  You’ll need to add details for your situation.  Let’s begin with a quick overview of persuasion Cues and how they work.

Realize that Cues operate as a persuasion play with Low WATT processors moving on the Peripheral Route.  Most often customers are Low WATT because they are distracted on so many other things going on besides your service.  Many are there at your place because they do not want to think hard about things and just want to have a good experience.  Most of the time in your interaction with customers(not if they are alone – that’s another case) you see clear signs of the Low WATT distraction.  People repeat themselves, ask about something that you’ve already said, they contradict themselves and each other.  That’s what happens when you overload the cognitive capacity of folks who are also trying to have a good time.

When people are Low WATT, they are much sensitive to Cues, persuasion plays that do not require deep thought, but rather lead to quick choices.  Cues are persuasion plays that operate through our social training, culture, experience, and expectation.  Whenever you are with people, these Cues can work.

Most of the research on Cues falls into one of six types which I call CLARCCS.  They come from the aforementioned Cialdini work and are:

Comparison – If other people are doing it, you should, too.

Liking – If you like the source, do what they suggest.

Authority – If the source is an expert, do what they advise.

Reciprocity – If the source does something for you, you must do something nicer in return.

Commitment/Consistency – If you take a stand, you must stay consistent with it.

Scarcity – If it is rare, it is good.

Let’s take each in order with examples and fine points.

1.  Comparison – If others are doing it, you should, too.

Observe your customers then match them with other similar customers nearby.  If it is an attached couple (married or dating), look around for other attached couples in view.  If it is a family with small children, look around for others.  When you see something good happening with that other table, you get the attention of your customer, indicate that other table with a wave or a nod and say something like “Must be a good night for couples!” or “Families having fun at dinner!”

The goal is to get your customer to observe other, similar people who are having a good experience, then make a positive comparison.  You don’t have to make this a case of formal logic as in,

Premise:     This other customer is having a good dining experience.
Premise:     You are like that other customer.
Conclusion:  Therefore, you must be having a good dining experience.

Just point out the other similar person, note the positive quality, and move on.

Another way:  You can hear the conversation at your customer’s table and when they start talking about other establishments, tune in.  If you hear them remark on a positive feature from a prior experience, see if you can make a positive comparison to what’s going on right now.  Did they like the napkins or the music or lighting or something the server did?  If you can match it, make the comparison in a friendly way.  On the other hand, if you hear a negative experience, try and contrast against it.  “We tried that a long time and as you noticed, it doesn’t work.  That’s why I don’t do it.”

2 and 3.  Liking and Authority Cues dominate the tipping literature and probably your own personal experience.  For example, Liking plays include:  Introduce yourself, appropriately touch the customer, smile, if you’re female put a smiley face on the bill, and squat or sit beside the customer to take the order.  Authority plays include:  making private recommendations about specials or dishes or values or providing “inside” information.  Most servers either know these things or learn them quickly.  I’ve got nothing new to suggest here other than reinforcement.  If you aren’t using Liking and Authority as a server, you are a completely out of school, not even close.  Of course, you need to adjust your friendliness, competence, and trustworthiness to the place where you work (probably don’t need a smiley face if you’re working an upscale Bon Appetite! venue), but if you think it’s all slinging plates, think about a career change.

4.  Reciprocity – When the source gives you something, you must give more in return.

The important element of this Cue is not simply knowing this norm of conduct applies.  From childhood we experience the rule of returning after receiving.  The trick here is noting that for many people, when they get something, they often feel compelled to give more in return, not to simply match one for one.

The standard play of providing a candy with the bill is a good illustration of this.  The candy is “free” in the sense that it was not on the menu, the customer didn’t order it, and you are providing it.  Thus, in the face of this gift, many customers tip more to close the Reciprocity play.  It’s a good play and do it.  But what else?

Listen to your customers and look for opportunities.  Here’s a personal illustration.

My wife and I were once quietly celebrating our anniversary at a nice upscale restaurant in Mexico while on vacation.  We hadn’t mentioned the event when we made the reservation.  Our waiter, an older man of great experience and charm, served us our predinner drinks and as he walked away and was out of earshot, my wife and I clinked our wine glasses and quietly toasted our anniversary.  We were very low key, but not low key enough.  Our smart server had somehow observed our toast.  Later at a very appropriate time, he brought out the strolling house band (guitars and voices) and wrapped Melanie in a traditional wedding serape, placed a huge ornate sombrero on my head, then affixed a multitiered candelabra on the table as the band sang, “Oh how we danced on the night we were wed.”  Melanie and I were weeping with emotion at this surprise.  Normally I despise these kind of public surprises and hate being the center of attention, but this slayed me.  And, you can imagine the tip.  Our server gave us this “free” treat, but I still had to reciprocate and I gladly did.

5.  Commitment/Consistency – When you take a stand, you must stay consist with it.

As you greet your customers ask them why they are there – fun? food? get out of the house?  Make them commit to a position about what they want.  You can even push this commitment with your own direct statements.  “You look like you are hungry and want some good food.”  They nod their heads and smile in agreement.  “Well, then I’m going to get it for you!”  Then throughout the meal, make reinforcing statements like, “You seem to like that dish, is it tasty?”  Or, “You said you were hungry (or “wanted fun” or “get out of the house”) and it looks like you’re getting what you want!” Then when you get to the end of the meal, you need to close the loop, but returning to their original commitment (good food, fun, relaxation, etc.) and say, “It looks like you got what you wanted and I hope I helped you along the way.”

6.  Scarcity – When it is rare, it is good.

At first thought, scarcity sounds like a bottle of water in the desert, but others events create scarcity.  People under a time deadline.  People who are stressed.  People who are overly excited.  All of these moments create the opportunity for scarcity of time, relaxation, or satisfaction.  You have to think of scarcity in a Big Way.

“I think we’re out of that menu item, but let me check” then dart away, come back huffing and say, “I got the last one for you!”

A couple is anticipating a concert after the meal and they’re on a tight schedule.  Every time you serve them make a comment about how you’re saving them time.  “I got the chef to put this at the front of the list.”

Let’s get to the Outro.

Persuasion principles are general and apply with all faces, places, times, and rhymes.  The trick is figuring out how to apply those principles to your unique situation, like tipping.  I’ve given you six well established Cues that operate with Low WATT processors on the Peripheral Route.  And, I provided action examples to get you going.  You now need to think exactly about how you can use them.  You might want to write them down in a script and actually practice them with a coworker so you get the feel for it.

Hey, persuasion isn’t easy and if it was, you’d already be doing it.  Spend a little time and effort on this and you can actually make more money.

Here’s another post on the strategy of Cues for servers.