If you’ve gone out to dinner recently, you’ve probably had an experience similar to anyone else who has also gone out to dinner, even if you’ve gone to totally different restaurants. When you arrive at the establishment, a host takes you to a table (or lets you know there’s a bit of a wait) and gives you some menus. Eventually, a server will come by and take your food and drink orders and shortly thereafter, that same server typically comes back with your meal. After you eat, perhaps you order dessert, but either way, the check is coming next. In many nations — the United States for sure, but the U.S. isn’t alone here — you’re expected to not only pay the amount listed on your bill, but also add 15% or more as a tip for your server and the rest of the waitstaff.
And maybe, when that check arrives, it will come with something else: some candy, like the one seen below.
Why? Because it probably increases the diner’s propensity to tip, and to tip big.
In 2002, the Journal of Applied Social Psychology published a paper studying the impact of the after-dinner treat on the tipping habits of diners. And it turns out that adding a little bit of sweetness when the bitterness of the check arrives can make a noticeable difference — but kindness also helps move the need.
Per the study (pdf here), a woman with five years of experience as a server attended to a total of 80 dining parties over an undisclosed period of time. Each time she went to bring the check to the diners, she was assigned, at random, one of four instructions. In the first case — the control set — she gave over the check without any candy whatsoever. In the second, “the server was provided with a small wicker basket with handle, which was filled with Hersey Assorted Miniature Chocolates” (these) and was told to offer each of the diners one piece of candy from the basket — but only one per diner. In the third situation, she was told to offer them up to two pieces of candy per person. And in the fourth and final situation, “the server initially offered each customer one piece of candy of his or her choice [and] after the customers made their selections and as the server was leaving the table, [she] stopped and offered her customers the choice of an
an additional piece of candy.”
After controlling for other factors — the size of the party, whether the paying customer was using cash or a credit card, etc. — the researchers teased out the impact of the candy, and also, how the candy was offered. The results suggested that a little candy can go a long way. Offering one piece of candy yielded tips that were 3% larger than they would have been otherwise. The second piece of candy had an even bigger impact: diners offered two pieces gave 14% larger tips than those who were given no candy at all.
But the candy wasn’t the only thing that diners rewarded. When the server offered one piece of candy, walked away, and then came back to offer the second? That’s what earned the biggest tips: diners gave amounts that were 21% larger than diners who weren’t given any candy. This group tipped the largest, despite the fact that they received the same amount of Hershey’s as those who got two candies up front.
The researchers concluded that those who received two chocolates by way of a there-and-back-again candy offering felt special; the server, the researchers note, “appeared to be making an extra, personal gesture by offering each customer the opportunity to select another a piece of candy from the basket.” And the diners rewarded the server for this “personal gesture.”
And perhaps none of this should be surprising. In general, people like chocolate, and similarly, we also like it when people are nice to us in unexpected ways — and we tend to be generous when we’re happy. Even something as simple as a piece of candy on your restaurant check can make a difference.
From the Archives: The Restaurant With A Rotating Grandma On The Menu: Another story about the restaurant biz.