Like everything in life, shift work is a gentle balancing act. You have to consider what’s already going on in your life, how much you need to work, and how to make that work benefit you the most.

There’s no simple mathematical formula that can figure this out for you. You’ll have to look at your life, understand in which shifts waitstaff can traditionally earn the most, and think about your overall approach to the job in order to develop the best schedule for you.

Consider Your Wants and Needs

In an ideal world, you’d already be working the shifts that led to the best tips, but sometimes life gets in the way of your money-making dreams. To figure out how to find the best, most lucrative shifts, you’ll need to take stock of your life and your current situation. Ask yourself:

  • When can I work? If you’ve got another job or school or home responsibilities like caring for children or parents, those things will need to factor into your serving schedule.
  • Why am I working? Most likely you’re trying to pay bills and make a living. To do this, you’ll want to get the best shifts that earn you the most tips and fit in with your life.
  • What do I want out of my work life? If you prefer certain coworkers or managers, that may play into what shifts you want to take.
  • What challenges are in my future? If your class schedule changes every few months, it can be tough to settle into a work routine. You may end up bouncing between shifts a lot. You can try to schedule your classes around work or take online classes on your own time.
  • How much do I have to make? Keep your bottom line in mind when requesting shifts. You’ve got to get enough hours in and not get sent home during slower times very often to keep to your budget.

Finding the Best Shifts

Once you’ve taken stock of what you want and need out of a work schedule, you’ll begin to see when you’re actually available. Then you’ll want to compare that availability to the shifts with the highest tip-earning potential. CAKE, a restaurant management technology company, compiled data from its users to find out that:

People tip a higher percentage of the bill during 6-10 p.m. service

Tips are highest on Fridays

People spend more and tip more on holidays

Tipping increased by 21% at dinner versus lunch
Tipping increased by 21% at dinner versus lunch

Of course, if you work at a place that specializes in breakfast, that data doesn’t apply. Instead, the best shifts at a breakfast restaurant are in the mornings from about 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and especially Sunday morning brunches.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

The more expensive the items on the menu, the higher your tips will be. So if you work at a deli and sandwiches are $10.00, you can expect a tip between $1-$2. If you work at a fine dining restaurant and lunch special start at $20.00, your tips should double. And the dinner menu should bring in even more tips. The lesson here is that you also need to consider where you work and not just when you work.

Tipping increases as the evening goes on
10 p.m. tips were 14% higher than 4-5 p.m. tips


If your company uses a shift scheduling software, you may be able to switch shifts or pick up new shifts more easily because it can all be done online. So, if you’re in school and you finished up with finals and find yourself with some free time, you can pop on the scheduling app and see if you can make some extra money.

How you act, your attitude, your competency, and your appearance make a big difference in tips. If you are friendly, attentive, and presentable, you’re on your way to earning what you deserve. A few tips to help in this area:

  • Don’t write the order down, remember it and repeat it back.

  • Take food allergy or preference information seriously and explain what you know about how the kitchen handles special requests. People notice your sensitivity and reward you in tips.

  • Keep water glasses, coffee mugs, and ice tea cups filled throughout the meal. Coffee and iced tea drinkers take notice to that kind of special attention!

Friendly and attentive waitressIf you make the most money based on your energy level and performance, consider basing your work schedule on brain research

If you’re in your teens through your mid to late twenties, your brain is still technically in adolescence.In which case, going to bed earlier and waking up later are best for your biological clock. You release melatonin later in the day; the hormone tells you when to feel sleepy. So later shifts might be great for you. You’ll be awake and perky, so your attitude can help you earn better tips.

Likewise, if you’re in your mid-20s and thirties, a typical 9-5 schedule may work best for your brain chemistry. By this point, you’ve figured out if you’re a morning or a night person, and so you can pick up shifts based on those preferences. Researchers suggest people in this age range stay away from consistently irregular shift work, so see if you can work around the same time each day. That’ll ensure that you’re alert and on you’re a game.

Once you’ve figured out what you can handle and compare that with the best shifts at your workplace, start signing up for or requesting the times that make the most sense and make you the most money. It’s not an exact science, but even looking at things in a logical way can help you earn more than before.


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