Let’s start with this: for the most part, being a waiter or waitress is definitely not a lucrative job. And many times, it’s not enjoyable either — like when dealing with unruly customers, hostile bosses, and uncooperative (or just plain nasty) colleagues.
But with this being said, it’s also true that some wait staff — not all of them, but a significant number — do some pretty sneaky things to drive up the bill, which boosts their tips and helps them get preferential shifts. Here’s a rundown of five of their most effective tactics (and don’t be surprised or ashamed if you’ve fallen for any or all of these tricks):
- Rapidly removing empty plates.
Have you ever marveled at the speed at which some wait staff remove empty plates from your table? Well, it might not just be an attempt to be ultra-impressive and move like they’re gliding on a set of VR 601 wheels. Rather, it’s probably because an empty table makes customers feel uncomfortable and awkward — and to alleviate this, they order more stuff.
- Asking closed-ended questions.
If your waiter or waitress asks “Will you be having soup or salad to start?” and you end up ordering one of those items — even though you had no intention of ordering either — then, alas, you’ve fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the restaurant game. These closed-ended questions are designed to make you feel embarrassed about ordering nothing, and so you end up picking one of the options that have been presented to you. Note: wait staff are particularly fond of targeting this tactic on males who are out on dates, so beware!
- Getting to your table before you do.
It’s widely understood in the restaurant industry that appetizers are among the most profitable dishes on the menu. So, how do wait staff get you to order at least one (or preferably multiple) appetizers? It’s simple: they get to your table before you do, and recommend appetizers. Because you’re hungry (and might be famished), and also because you haven’t had a chance to look at the menu and choose your entree, you’re much more likely to fall into this trap.
- Choosing the size for you.
Many restaurants offer multiple sizes (portions) for certain drinks and dishes, like coffee, salad, ice cream, and so on. When you order any of these items, be sure that you specify the size you want. Otherwise, it’s virtually certain that you’ll always get the largest possible option — which, of course, costs you the most and generates the most profit for the restaurant.
- Giving free samples of wine.
Economists have warned that they’re “no such thing as a free lunch” — and there’s no such thing as a free sample of wine, either. The vast majority of people who agree to a free sample (often because the wait staff has brought it to their table without asking in advance) end up buying alcoholic beverages, which can dramatically boost the bill in a hurry.
The Bottom Line
There’s nothing wrong with wait staff from using the art of persuasion to get customers to buy more. After all, it’s part of their job. But there’s a line between influence and deception. The good news is that now that you know some of the games that waiters and waitresses play, you’re much better prepared to win vs. lose.