Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Million Dollar Smiles

Waitressing jobs are notoriously poorly paid, and as such employees often rely on the generosity of customer tips, to supplement their pay. We’ve all heard of waiters placing a few mints on the plate alongside the bill, which can reliably increase the tip received, utilizing the principle of reciprocity, (Strohmetz and Rind, 2002) . But can the humble smiley face, drawn on the bill, produce a similar effect in restaurant diners? Put simply, can the perceived friendliness and likeability of a server, increase the amount of tips they receive?

According to Cialdini (2001) getting people to like us is a powerful weapon used to bring about compliance. Rind and Bordia (1996) explored this using the waitressing scenario described above. In their study, a male and a female server acted as accomplices, serving a total of 89 dining parties over three days. Each server was given a set of 50 cards, half had a smiley face on and half were blank. These cards were shuffled and at the end of the diners’ meal, the server randomly picked a card. If smiley face was shown on the card, the server drew a smiley face on the party’s bill. If the card was blank they didn’t. All other behaviour was instructed to be the same. The purpose of the smiley face was to induce a positive feeling toward the server through making them come across as friendly. After the customers had left, the tip percentage was calculated. The results showed that for the female server, drawing a smiley face led to an increase in tips of 19%. In contrast, for the male, the addition of a smiley face did not increase the amount of tip received and this amount was actually slightly lower than the ‘blank card’ condition (See Table 1).

This suggests that likeability alone is not enough to secure an increased tip. Drawing a smiley face is seen as a typical female behaviour and something which is socially accepted. However the diners may have questioned the motive of the male server, as this kind of expression of emotion is not as commonly seen or as appropriate from males. In fact the researchers suggested that the smiley face may have led to a ‘boomerang effect’ in the opposite direction, as the consumers may be left with a negative impression of the male servers ‘strange’ gesture. This suggests that the restaurant customers were also relying on social proof when determining their tip amount, which led them to become distrusting and suspicious of the male server.

The fascinating results depicted in this study may seem unfair on males, but highlight the great extent to which we use shortcuts in making everyday decisions.

Jessica Brett – Blog 3.


Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence. HarperCollins.

Rind, B., & Bordia, P. (1996). Effect on restaurant tipping of male and female
servers drawing a happy, smiling face on the backs of customers’ checks.  Journal of Applied Social Psychologv, 26, 218-225.

Strohmetz, D. B., & Rind, B. (2002). Sweetening the till: The use of candy to increase restaurant tipping. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32, 300-309.

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