Tipping and Smiley Faces

Whenever we post something about tipping, we conjure up all the old debates: Should the U.S. move to European-style tipping? Should we just get rid of tipping and pay service workers a living wage? Those are all here. There is never a unanimous consensus, and the status quo remains.

This week, The New Republic’s Alice Robb writes that research into tipping culture has shown that customers have a tendency to give bigger tips not because of good service but because of things like: the waitress is a woman who drew a smiley face on your check, or the even more biased: the waitress had blond hair.

In 1995, psychologist Bruce Rind and marketing researcher Prashant Bordia recruited a waiter and a waitress to take part in an experiment at a Philadelphia restaurant. Rind and Bordia randomly assigned the servers to draw a smiley face on the check of about half the 89 groups that dined at the restaurant over the course of a three-day period. It turned out that the waitress raised her average tip size from 28 to 33 percent when she drew a happy face, but the opposite effect held for the waiter: Drawing a smiley face decreased his tip from 21 to 18 percent. Rind and Bordia hypothesized that customers thought the smiley face was cute when women did it but effeminate when men did.

Occasionally, a restaurant will decide on its own not to have a tipping policy. A brewpub in Washington D.C. called The Public Option is one of the latest to announce that in lieu of tips, it is paying its waitstaff a living wage of at least $15 an hour.

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