It’s why we do this job. It’s what really pays our bills. And while not required, it’s part of the social contract in this country. Hey, I don’t make the rules, it is what it is. In most service-sector employment where the job one is being asked to perform is a complete and total luxury, chances are it’s customary to tip. Those who don’t are seen as the worst kind of scum by those of us whose very livelihood depend on that few dollars extra.
And yet, should this be the attitude we tipped employees have? I get that someone stiffing is disheartening and rude, but what can we do to help reduce the occurrence of stiffing?
In this entry I’m going to tell you how you can reduce the frequency of stiffs and improve the quality of tips you get from those who tip already. The suggestions may not work all the time, but they don’t have to. They only need to work some of the time to bump up that tip average. First we’ll work on the hard part, which is attitude and demeanor.
- Would it kill you to smile? I know, sometimes we don’t have much of a reason to. The order comes up and you know right away it’s someone who rarely if ever tips and you’re the next driver out the door. Well, if you know what it’s going to be from the get-go, why waste any emotion at all being irritated? Turn the scenario on its ear and go in smiling and pleasant. THANK the customer even if they stiff you to the penny. I know, it seems contrary to our nature, and it is, but by doing so we remove the power of that stiffer to ruin our day. Over time I’ve worn people down with this, gotten them to the point where their food delivery was something they looked forward to for more than just the food, and what do you know, they started tipping. But it takes time, don’t expect immediate results. It may not happen at all. Do it with no thought of reward. Being nice is its own reward.
- The attitude you leave the store with becomes what customers see and they react accordingly. I have a coworker who is always complaining about his customers. Either they don’t tip well, or they take too long to answer the door or commit some other driver pet peeve, and the end result is a brusque transaction, usually with a lousy tip, and then having to hear him kvetch about the person every time they order. Unfortunately, these less-than-pleasant exchanges are not just limited between that driver and that customer. His constant complaining poisons the well and makes every other driver on guard or borderline hostile. The customer then thinks our drivers are surly and rude, and are less likely to tip well if at all, and they yammer to their friends and family about how much they love the food but how ill-tempered the delivery drivers are. Stop it, we don’t need that.
- “So what are you saying, fake it?” YES!!!! Fake it like you were faking it when you told someone that they were attractive because your best friend was trying to hook up with their best friend. Ever wonder why so many aspiring actors are servers, and are pretty good servers? Because they can ACT like the customer that is annoying or disappointing them is the BEST CUSTOMER EVER. The entire service industry is built on bullshit and blowing smoke up people’s asses. Faking it here is part of the job, and if you can’t fake it you won’t do well in this business. That being said- you don’t have to fake it all the time. Most of your customers will be happy to see you and they will tip you. Faking it only comes into play when you have to face those customers that you know don’t tip or who tip poorly.
- I’ve tried everything and they STILL don’t tip! Well, yes, you’re going to have people like that. You’re a professional, act like one. Suck it up and move on. Don’t dwell on it, don’t let that negativity fester inside of you and wreck your whole shift. I know. I’ve done it. I’ve been there. The worst stiffs are the ones you don’t expect, usually after you’ve gone the extra mile, carried their huge order up three flights of stairs and set up a table, only to get a goose egg on the tip line of the credit card receipt. Yeah, it sucks. It hurts, even. It’s alright to feel that way for about a minute and a half but anything after that is unnecessary self-torture. It may be difficult and trust me, taking this advice myself still isn’t easy, but move on. There will be other deliveries. Each time you leave the store with a run, there is an opportunity not just to earn a tip, but to make a connection with another person and develop a relationship which will bring in more tips over time than “the one that got away” ever will. And for the regulars who never tip, never have, and probably never will, accept that truth and treat them well anyway. Why? Because at least then, YOU are not contributing to a negative situation. Think about it- a negative plus a negative increases the negative, but a negative plus a positive cancels out some of that negative, if not all of it. We want less negativity.
OK, now that I’ve touched upon the issues of attitude and demeanor, let’s get to the practical aspects of helping to increase your tips. These are little things you can do that will save you time and hassle, as well as to further endear you to your customers. Remember, in our business most of the people we deliver to are repeat customers so it helps us if we build those relationships.
- Be prepared. Not only will this save you time, it shows the customer that you have your act together. The first act of preparation is to know where you’re going. As much as I downplay GPS it can be a helpful tool, but most of us over time at the same shop will only need to use it once in a while as we become familiar with the streets and destinations. So, if you see an address you don’t know on the screen and you need to GPS it, why wait until you are in the parking lot about to leave? Look it up before it’s assigned. If it ends up that it’s not assigned to you, tell the router or the next driver where it is and save them time. If a manager asks what you’re doing, explain it to them. Most of them will get it. Saving time = increasing output. So, know where you’re going before you even start your engine. There are other ways to save time on deliveries, which will be a separate post entirely, but this one is where I see a lot of time squandered.
- At the customer’s house- If it’s cash, make sure you have enough change on hand. If it’s a credit/debit card, make sure you have the right slip and a pen, as well as a small clipboard so they don’t have to look for something to lean on. An extra 30 seconds per transaction adds up fast. The more time wasted, the less deliveries you will end up with.
- Keep a few extras handy in your car. Some current menus are always nice. Maybe some plastic-ware, paper plates, or pre-packaged condiments as well. Little things that show forethought and intuition are often rewarded handsomely.
- This is for the repeat customers. Learn their names. Use proper titles, e.g. Mrs. Smith, or Mr. (last initial). I have a regular who I call “Mr. V.”. It’s informal but respectful. Don’t just look at their credit card and call them by their first name, let them offer that permission. Make small talk during the transaction. Over time this will become easier, you will learn the names of their children and their pets. If you can make the kids smile and treat their animals well, they will love you even more. This is that “building relationships” thing I was talking about. Anyone who has done this job for more than a few years has seen people’s children grow up. As a 15-year vet I know teenagers now who were newborns when I first started out. You walk with these customers in a parallel existence, your lives touching theirs occasionally, and you will glean knowledge of their goings-on. It really is an amazing thing. Some of you might be saying, bah, I’m only doing this short-term anyway, why bother? Why? Because at the very least, the better you know someone and vice-versa, the less likely it is that they will stiff you.
One last thing I want to stress, and it covers pretty much any occupation- have a professional appearance, both in how you dress and in maintaining a clean vehicle. I’m not saying you have to wear a suit and a tie, but dress for the job. I go for a slightly-goofy big kid look. It’s disarming and cute. I get at least a half-dozen compliments on my hat every shift. And dressing the way I do keeps me in good spirits. Others may dress differently, but however you dress, take some pride in your appearance. Wear clean clothing and don’t dress provocatively. If you have piercings, choose less prominent jewelry when you’re working. Some stores don’t allow certain piercings to be visible but even if they do, that doesn’t mean you should pick the most obnoxious septum ring in your collection to wear while working. I have a lot of visible tattoos and I don’t cover them. I accept that even to this day, some people might not like seeing them, so I need to overcome that image, hence my sillier outfits. I don’t want to appear menacing when the customer opens the door. I’m the friendly food bringer guy, not an extra from Sons of Anarchy. Your appearance should reflect professionalism and practicality. I usually wear bib overalls because A, I look great in them and B, the bib pockets are functional and they’re good in almost all weather.
It is true that a customer usually has the tip ready at the door, that the amount is predetermined and nothing we drivers do will increase it in the moment, but each delivery we make is a chance to increase that tip over subsequent deliveries. By making sure you have the right mindset going in, that you are prepared and are anticipating things that might delay or distract you, and by building relationships with repeat customers, you can make sure that your tip average increases over time, and if enough drivers at your store follow these suggestions, it will have a compound effect that will also result in better tips, more frequent orders, and new customers as word spreads about what a great place your store is. Stay positive, smile, be prepared. The rest will take care of itself.
May the tips be with you.