$24,000 Per Hour: A Word from the Waitstaff

I have a long-time friend named Isaac. He and I have been like siblings – in a good way – since we were young (which is centuries ago, if you ask my kids). He’s living and working in New York now, trying hard to break into Opera (his voice is like buddah!), and in the meantime, he’s doing what most performers in New York do: waiting tables and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous.

Well, Isaac came home to Flint-town last week, and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve posted this so late. Usually, my “real life marketing” stories are my own, but this one was SO good, I needed to share it with you.

I have a confession to make: I am (or was) an ignorant and lousy tipper.

In my defense, I really didn’t know I was a lousy tipper, and I have been trying to fix that ever since Isaac schooled me on tipping ettiquette.

A little backstory: When I was a kid 10% was the norm. My mom painstakingly calculated 10% to the penny. And if the server provided horrible service, she usually left a penny “so that they know they weren’t forgotten”.

So growing up, that was my example. Even then, I thought that was a little harsh, so I always left at least a dollar (even when my order was less than $5), and rounded up to the nearest fifty cents so I didn’t look like a penny pincher.

I really thought I was doing good. Then I heard about how BADLY wait staff are paid. They can legally make less than minimum wage – many only make $2.50 per hour. The bulk of their pay is their tips. To make things more complex, some restaurants require tip-sharing, so your superstar server is getting “pulled down” by the not-so-stellar performers. Talk about complicated.

So I boycotted dining out. I thought it was unfair and cruel to treat people that worked so hard that way.

Then I realized I hate doing dishes, and figured there had to be a better way, and I made a new plan: Start the tip at 10% and go up or down from there depending on the level of service.

I based this “brainstorm” on the idea that most establishments now have a sign that requires a 15% gratuity on parties of 8 or more. Heck, if they’re only charging 15% for big groups, I shouldn’t have to shell out more than that since it’s only me.

My friend Isaac schooled me good. He said that 20% is customary these days, and TIP doesn’t stand for “to insure promptness” anymore. That 15% obligatory gratuity comes from some of the federal taxing rules that certain restaurants must obey based on the typical amount of a dinner bill. These folks are taxed based on what their tips SHOULD be – whether or not they actually earn them.

Something in that reeks of unfairness, but who am I to argue with the feds?

Anyway, after I got my lesson on tipping, I asked him the most important thing he’s learned as a server. He said “Never EVER pre-judge your guests. Treat them all like they are a celebrity – the celebrities, too.” And Isaac serves some high profile faces on a regular basis on Long Island.

Sometimes the really wealthy are jerks, and sometimes they are the nicest people in the world – just like everybody else. If you treat them all like they are the most important person in your world, you’ll be miles ahead.

He recounted a story of a frequent diner who brought his daughter in for her birthday. Knowing that Isaac has an incredible voice, he beckoned for him to sing a birthday melody just for her. Isaac obliged, and, reaching past his titanium AmEx, the man offered Isaac a cool, crisp Benjamin for the 12-second ditty.

That works out to more than $24000 per hour! Nice work if you can get it. That diner returns frequently and almost always sits in Isaac’s area – and the $100 tips keep coming. They’ve developed a nice “working relationship” and a level of repeat business based on exemplary service.

According to Isaac, sometimes he’s a nice guy and sometimes he’s a real “poophead”.
That’s not the word Isaac used, but this is a family show.

Having rubbed elbows with the likes of L.L. Cool J on more than one occasion, Isaac is quick to point out that some celebrities are really bad tippers, and your local yokels can downright spoil a server with all that big tipping.

The lesson? How are you treating your customers? Who are your VIP’s? How do they know that they are special to you? What are you doing to encourage their repeat business.

You may not be a fantastic singer like Isaac, but what extra services are you providing for your clients? Are they just another dime in your piggy bank, or are you finding creative ways to be more valuable to them?

For those of you that think you shouldn’t have to put on a dog and pony show to gain your client’s favor, think again.

Remember when I said “be friendly”? Think about your friends. Which of your clients would you consider a friend? If you don’t have a list of at least 10, you’ve got a LOT of work to do.

Take out your list of top 20 clients. If they ALL aren’t considered friends, you’ve got a HECK of a LOT of work to do.

Jeffrey Gitomer said, “all thing being equal, people prefer to do business with their friends. All things not being equal, people still prefer to do business with their friends.”

You do things for your friends you might not do for others. Isaac’s birthday song was just another “value added” moment in his client relationship. He values the customer that he’s willing to do a little extra something for him. And in return, he is handsomely rewarded.

Get the picture? Isaac does. And he’s got the Benjamins to prove it.