“They left me 15% and I didn’t even charge them for their drinks”
One of the fundamental truths you learn as a server is that hooking someone up with free drinks, food, etc. does not increase your tip. No matter how fundamental of a truth this is, it seems that every server has to learn this on their own. Time and time again new servers will attempt to leave a few sodas off a check or hook their table up with dessert, only to find that the tip percentage remains the same. Soon they realize the percentage is on a total that is artificially lower than what it should be due to the free items and they have actually made less money. I’ve seen newer servers reach this realization time and time again.
Let’s set aside for the moment the obvious problem with doing this. Of course it is tantamount to stealing. No tip is every worth losing your job for. If you are caught intentionally doing this, you will be fired. You will probably deserve to be fired. The items you are giving away are not yours to give. This is theft and it is wrong. It is never worth the risk of getting fired.
Even if none of those reasons are enough to prevent you from giving free items to your guest, you should avoid it because it is not beneficial to your tip. No matter how much logic tells you that guests will reward you for saving them money, they won’t. No matter how grateful you are convinced they will be, they won’t. No matter how great of a compliment you think they will give you to your boss, they won’t. Stack up all the reasons you think this will benefit you and discard them.
The reason is simple, guests tip on the total of the bill. When it comes time to leave a tip, the guest performs a simple mathematic calculation. It looks something like this:
Level of service (defined as a percentage) X Total of bill = Tip
That is it. No matter how much free stuff you give the guest, they will never change their formula into this:
(Level of service X 1.5 for hooking us up) X (Total of bill + Items not on bill) = Tip
Seriously, it doesn’t happen. Not ever. People who will hook you up with a great tip will do so even if you don’t give them free stuff. People who tip poorly will tip poorly in spite of free stuff. Think about all of the ways that people are now being told that it is expected that you tip before the discount when you use a coupon. Most coupons include this message. This is still only effective some of the time. How can you expect them to stop and consider tipping you for free stuff without explicitly saying so (which will get you fired and stiffed).
My advice is simple: stop trying to steal your way into a bigger tip and focus on developing a rapport with your tables. It is all about hospitality. When you take advantage of the opportunity to establish a connection with your guest and offer exceptional service, you will receive an exceptional tip. This is the only way that you can truly improve the percentage that a guest leaves for you. It will also earn you praise from your boss instead of the opportunity to look for a new boss to explain to in the interview why you thought stealing was a good way to make a better tip.