I stumbled across this research about tipping behaviour in restaurants and it got me thinking about a recent experience in a restaurant. I went out after a long day at university to a restaurant with a friend to chill out and munch some delicious grub, and a chatty waitress bounded over with a prize-winning smile and offered us our menus. I remember being quite taken aback by the positive aura surrounding her while waiting for my eagerly anticipated main course. We had chosen to have a special offer meal deal with a large main, side salad and desert, however after we devoured our main courses we found that our eyes were much bigger than our stomachs. Looking at the menu and realising the price of our meal without the special offer, we grudgingly ordered for the bill. The waitress came back with the bill and instead charged us the special offer price rather than the full menu price, smiled and said ‘It’s much more expensive if you don’t use the special offer, so I just took the money off for you!’. Anyone studying the science of social influence would point out the obvious use of the reciprocity principle; the cynic viewing this situation as a waitress looking for a tidy tip, the optimists thinking she may just be genuinely that nice. However the research I’m going to mention also looks at the impact of a smile on restaurant tipping. It interested me that something as simple as a warm smile from someone could be an effective tool of compliance.
Tidd and Lockard (1978) conducted a study in a cocktail bar with 96 subjects (48 male and 48 female). The confederate was a waitress and approached each individual with either a minimal smile (defined as mouth corners turned up but no teeth on show) or a maximal smile (where teeth were exposed as with a natural smile). The study recorded the size of the tip subjects gave among other elements, such as the number of drinks ordered and whether the smile was reciprocated upon leaving the restaurant. Results established a significant difference for both male and female participants in the amount of tipping (Figure 1) and also a significant difference between men and women in the amount of tipping in the maximal smiling condition. Interestingly, a significant difference was found with departure smiles depending on condition, with men and women smiling significantly more on departure after receiving a maximal smile compared to a minimal smile.
These results are fascinating, yet alarming – if something as simple as a smile can influence tipping behaviour so dramatically, what else can a smile do in the hands of profiteers?
Tidd, K. L., & Lockard, J. S. (1978). Monetary significance of the affliative smile: A case for reciprocal altruism. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 11, 344-346.