Body Language: Teach Your Servers These 6 Strategies to Increase Their Tips
Body language expert Jodi RR Smith explains how our bodies naturally communicate with guests and vice versa.
Your waitstaff can offer a better customer experience by decoding the hidden language that speaks volumes.
What if you had a simple and easy way to understand what your guests needed without uttering a word? Jodi RR Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Mass., says it’s possible when you understand the signals that we all reveal through body language. Here she explains how paying attention to natural body cues can help improve your guest interactions and check averages and offers strategies for boosting tips.
Identifying the Person in Charge
“There’s always someone in charge of a table, whether it’s the host or hostess of the table or the senior-most ranking person,” says Smith. “They generally tend to be the person who is paying the bill, so it behooves the wait staff to be able to identify them, since they’ll set the tone for what’s happening at the table.”
“The person in charge will usually give themselves away by being the first one to speak,” says Smith. “They’ll ask about specials or are generally more proactive in the initial interaction with the wait staff.”
Decoding the Dynamics of the Table
The better a server understands the dynamics of a table, the better they can serve their guests. “Is this meal something social with the group doing a lot of drinking, or is it a quick lunch or nonalcoholic dinner?” Smith asks. “These are things I need to know as a server because they affect the time guests will spend at the table, the bill, etc.”
Recognizing the Symmetry of Dining
“The symmetry of dining states that whatever the host does, the guests follow in suit,” Smith says. Not only does the host of the table decide if everyone is having alcohol, but they also decide how many courses the table has, according to Smith. “If I’m hosting a business lunch and I order soup before my meal, my guests should also order an appetizer,” says Smith.
Monitoring Guests’ Body Language
When you aren’t at the table, there are signals you can watch for that will let you know if guests are having a good time or not. “You should be looking for signs such as smiling, relaxed bodies, relaxed shoulders, leaning back, etc.,” says Smith. “Red flags should go up when shoulders are raised, guests are leaning forward, or voices are rising because they’ve had too much to drink and they haven’t had anything in their stomachs yet. These things will affect the tables around them and the ambiance in the restaurant.”
“Do guests look bored? Are their eyes darting around the restaurant? Are they constantly looking toward the kitchen? Are they shifting around a lot? This isn’t a game of poker—people tend to be fairly obvious in their body language,” Smith adds. “Signals like these should prompt wait staff to ask what they can do to help. More drinks, rolls, checking with the kitchen, etc. If there’s a table with children, I ask if they’d like rolls or the children’s meals first to help keep them from getting bored or disruptive.”
In addition to reading a guest’s body language, Smith says there are a number of steps servers can take with their own body language to improve their chances of a larger tip.
1. A Show of Hands: “If I’m going to a mechanic, I want his hands to be encrusted with grease,” Smith says. “When I’m in a restaurant, I want my server’s hands to be neat and clean.”
2. Appearances Matter: “Dress for your body type, pull your hair back, and whatever you use for a work uniform, make sure it looks like it’s been laundered and pressed recently,” says Smith. “People generalize what they see to what they don’t see; if I see people in the front of the house looking neat and clean, I’ll presume that the back of the house is also neat and clean.”
3. Don’t Be Overly Friendly: “You do not need to be a guest’s new best friend; in fact, studies have shown that when servers are a little bit more reserved, they actually get a better tip,” Smith says. “That doesn’t mean being rude, but have a boundary. Have a smile in your eyes and a little on your lips. Make eye contact with everyone at the table as you approach.”
4. How to Make First Contact: “Stand up straight with an open body posture and briefly introduce yourself by saying something such as, ‘Hi, my name is Jodi, and I’ll be your server this evening.’” Smith encourages servers to inquire about any allergies, and each restaurant should come up with a table greeting that can be used consistently by all servers.
5. Don’t Get in a Hurry: Smith recommends waiting three to four minutes after the food is delivered to the table before checking back in with guests. “If I ask guests if everything is OK immediately after the food is set down, they haven’t had a chance to taste it yet,” says Smith. “After three to four minutes, they’ll usually know if they need something else.” After that, Smith says to occasionally walk by the table, making eye contact with the host of the table to make sure everything is alright and no one is trying to get your attention.
6. Bringing the Bill: The delivery of the bill is often met with arguments over who will pay it, so Smith suggests being discreet in your delivery. “Carefully and discreetly slide the bill next to the person who you have identified as the host of the table,” she says. “If it’s the end of the night and you’re not trying to turn the table, you can say, ‘Please feel free to linger.’ If, however, it’s a busy night, you can say, ‘Thank you so much for coming, we hope to see you again soon.’”