The Rules of Serving: Rule Eight

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(Note: One thing that became apparent to me when I wrote “The Best of Tips for Improving your Tips” last week was that I really need to wrap up my “Rules of Serving” series.  This week I am going to post the final three rules.)

Rule Eight: Never count your money until you run your checkout.

Serving is far different than most jobs.  There is no salary or hourly wage.  There is very little guaranteed income.  Most of your income as a server comes from tips.  Even the tips vary widely from table to table.  No matter how much a certain table of guests spends, you do not know what the tip will be until they depart.  This uncertainty leads many servers to want to find a way to keep track of their income during the course of the shift.

I would highly recommend servers not try to tally their tips during the course of their shift.  The nature of serving prevents you from accurately being able to determine how much you will earn on a shift by counting your money during a shift.  This is because large portion of your tips will be received at the end of your shift.  You put in a great deal of work to serve a table before you receive the tip.  You are also unable to determine how many guests will arrive at the end of a given shift.  By counting your money during the shift, you place yourself at a disadvantage when attempting to earn everything you can for your efforts.

It is completely natural for servers to want to know what they have made during the course of the night.  It is similar to shaking a present as a child to try to determine what is inside.  Curiosity is a very normal human instinct.  It is also what killed the cat.  As a server, it can do the same for the money you can make during the course of the night.

The problem with counting your money during the course of the shift is that there is no outcome that works in your favor.  If you are have made less than you would like to, you can become desperate or unmotivated.  If you have made more than you expected, you can become content or unfocused.  Either outcome leads to you approaching your last round of tables with less enthusiasm than you approached your first.  This assumes you have not lost focus to the degree that you attempt to give away your last round of tables.

The exceptional server gives each table the same level of service.  This means that any factors that can affect the service you give must be neutralized.  Knowing where your income stands during the course of the shift cannot improve the outcome of the shift.  This means that there is no benefit to having this information.  For the sake of your income and the service you provide the guests, it is best to refrain from counting until the end of your shift.

Serving is unlike other jobs.  The nature of serving makes each shift a gamble.  Kenny Rogers may not have had much advice about serving, but he did have a piece of advice about gambling.  It is advice that can benefit servers as well.  He said, “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.  There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”

Return to: The Rules of Serving

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One Response to The Rules of Serving: Rule Eight

  1. 4starServer November 1, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    Love the website, David. As I just discovered it, I am going back and reading from the beginning. I think of myself as an exceptional server, and I am always trying to find ways to improve.

    Your “Rules of Serving” are spot-on, with this one being the exception, and here’s why:

    I am generally (allowing for natural variance) a 20-22% server. During the course of a shift I will check my tips and do the quick math. If I am under my normal %, I have to determine if it is due to a rash of poor tables or more likely, something about me. Am I bringing non-work stress to my tables? Do I look tired? Etc. This self-examination allows me to take some deep breaths and recover during the rest of my shift.

    If my % is higher than normal, then I examine what I am doing on that shift. Is a new technique working? Am I genuinely excited about something else in my life and that is shining through? Am I just having one of those anticipate-everything-before-they-need-it dream shifts? The self-examination in this instance allows me to pinpoint what it is that I’m doing in order to ensure that I continue to do it and then build upon it going forward.

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