When is tipping necessary?

That’s probably what compels so many to hand over a handful of spare coins – or a more precise amount like 10 per cent. When we know the person serving us is getting paid incommensurately with the work they’re doing, we feel a need to fill the pay gap.

That is what has emerged in research by Professor Michael Lynn from Cornell University, in a study published recently in the International Journal of Hospitality Management. Professor Lynn analysed tipping across 108 different professions, such as barbers and baristas, and make-up artists and tattoo artists, to name but a few.

The more times a customer deals with the same individual, the less inclined the customer is to continue tipping them.

Using a combination of surveys, which comprised more than 600 respondents, and remuneration data from one of the world’s largest payroll companies, the scholar was not so concerned with identifying the most popular occupations for tipping but more so the factors that make them attractive in the first place.

His research revealed a major factor is “worker subordination”, which is when there’s a level of inferiority associated with the employee, usually due to lower job status. Should the customer feel superior in some way, the employee is more likely to get a tip. A similar scenario plays out when the service is tailored to the customer’s needs or when the exchange of money is with the employee and not, say, via their manager or some form of online payment mechanism.

So what makes people less likely to tip? Two things. One of those is frequency of contact. The more times a customer deals with the same individual, the less inclined the customer is to continue tipping them. Likewise, if there’s any indication at all the employee has sufficient wealth or, worse, greater wealth than the customer, they can forget about a tip altogether.


As can many folk working in bars and nightclubs who did OK when cash was the predominant form of monetary exchange. In those days they were often told to “keep the change” by partygoers, whereas now a tap of a card is generally the preferred method of payment, and so the volume of tipping has no doubt fallen.

In their case, it doesn’t matter that the research proves “server subordination and relative server poverty [could] increase customers’ feelings of altruism” toward them. The damage has already been done. Altruism is no longer enough.

Follow James Adonis on Twitter.


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