Scientific Trick to Increase Server Tips

I was watching this YouTube video, a summary of Robert Cialdini’s book Influence.   They talked about experiments that were run in restaurants and how the server’s used the rule of reciprocation to increase tips. The reciprocation principle recognizes that people feel indebted to those who give them a gift.  The social obligation to return a gift is overwhelming in some cases, even if the original gift wasn’t wanted.  This may have been the origin of giving mints or fortune cookies when presenting the bill.

Screenshot 2015-08-09 08.41.41

Here are the results of the experiments:

  • When people were surveyed and asked if they received a mint would they tip more – most people said no, but the experiment showed that tips did increase.
  • Giving diners a single mint increased tips by 3%
  • Giving diners two mints quadrupled tips by 14%
  • This is the most interesting stat:
    • If the server gives the table one mint and walks away
    • Stops and returns to the table and says “For you nice people here is another mint.”
    • Tips went up 23%.
    • It wasn’t what was given but how the mints were given that increased the tips.
  • The key to reciprocation:
    • Give First
    • Ensure what you give is personalized and unexpected.

I encourage our restaurant manager’s to run this experiment in their own restaurants and we would love to hear how it works.

Tommy Yionoulis

I've been in the restaurant industry for most of my adult life. I have a BSBA from University of Denver Hotel Restaurant school and an MBA from the same. When I wasn't working in restaurants I was either doing stand-up comedy, for 10 years, or large enterprise software consulting. I'm currently the Managing Director of OpsAnalitica and our Inspector platform was originally conceived when I worked for one of the largest sandwich franchisors in the country. You can reach out to me through LinkedIn.

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