This is a question that Strohmetz, Rind, Fisher and Lynn (2002) looked at in an experiment that aimed to examine the relationship between the use of candy proferred at the end of a meal and tip size in a real-life restaurant setting. They hypothesised that customers who received a small piece of Hershey's chocolate along with their bill would tip more than those who didn't. They extended this to hypothesize that the magnitude of the tip would be related to the size of the offering (read: number of chocolates offered) as well as the manner in which it was offered.
To investigate these hypotheses, two experiments were conducted. The first experiment compared two conditions whereby in the experimental condition a server in a restaurant would offer each member of a dining party a piece of chocolate when delivering the bill, in the control condition the diners received no candy. Results from this study showed that diners tipped more when they were given the gift of candy with their bill: the mean tip percentage for the candy condition was 17.84% while the mean tip percentage for the no-candy condition was 15.06%. To further evaluate this effect, a second experiment was devised.
In the second experiment the researchers manipulated the amount of candy given, as well as the apparent manner in which it was delivered. The distinguishing feature between the 2 piece and 1+1 piece condition (where the absolute amount of candy given was the same) was that in the 1+1 condition the server offered each guest a piece of chocolate, then stopped as she was leaving the table to offer each guest another piece.
The results shown in the table above show that the magnitude of tip given (as a percentage of the total bill) increased as the amount of candy offered increased. Furthermore, the apparently personal act of extra generosity in the 1+1 piece condition resulted in higher tips than when the same amount of candy (2 pieces) were presented simultaneously.
The research shows that a simple gift of candy can have an effect on the size of tips a server could expect to receive. Strohmetz et al. put this effect down to the norm of reciprocity (Cialdini, 2001). Due to the sense of obligation felt by the diners as a result of the gift of candy they reciropcated the act of generosity by paying greater tips. This sense of obligation to reciprocate a favour has been shown to occur regardless of whether or not the favour was anticipated (Regan, 1971). This research has implications for people working in restaurants and is an example of the practical use of reciprocity as a compliance technique.
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Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science and practice (Vol. 4). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Regan, D. T. (1971). Effects of a favor and liking on compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7(6), 627-639.
Strohmetz, D. B., Rind, B., Fisher, R., & Lynn, M. (2002). Sweetening the Till: The Use of Candy to Increase Restaurant Tipping1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32(2), 300-309.