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An Analysis of the Determinants of Tipping Behavior: A Laboratory Experiment and Evidence from Restaurant Tipping


  • Matt Parrett

    () (Deloitte Tax LLP)


This paper explores several determinants of tipping behavior. First, I consider two social norms explanations—reciprocity and letdown (guilt) aversion—of why consumers tip in restaurants. Second, I examine three aspects of the tipping situation that influence how much consumers tip in restaurants: table size, sex, and method of bill payment. I address these issues using two data sources: a field survey and laboratory experiments. Customers were surveyed individually as they left a set of restaurants in Richmond, Virginia. The laboratory experiments vary service quality, table size, and information about others' tips in a controlled setting. Results from both data sets show support for reciprocity and letdown aversion, and that tip size decreases with table size. Sex differences, which exist only in the experimental data, show that men tip more than women. Finally, the size of the tip does not depend on the method of bill payment.

Suggested Citation

  • Matt Parrett, 2006. "An Analysis of the Determinants of Tipping Behavior: A Laboratory Experiment and Evidence from Restaurant Tipping," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 73(2), pages 489-514, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:73:2:y:2006:p:489-514

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Azar, Ofer H., 2012. "The effect of the minimum wage for tipped workers on firm strategy, employees and social welfare," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(5), pages 748-755.
    2. Cason, Timothy N. & Gangadharan, Lata & Nikiforakis, Nikos, 2011. "Can real-effort investments inhibit the convergence of experimental markets?," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 97-103, January.
    3. Nisvan Erkal & Lata Gangadharan & Nikos Nikiforakis, 2011. "Relative Earnings and Giving in a Real-Effort Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 3330-3348, December.
    4. Ofer H. Azar & Yossi Tobol, 2008. "Tipping as a Strategic Investment in Service Quality: An Optimal-Control Analysis of Repeated Interactions in the Service Industry," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 246-260, July.
    5. Nejat Anbarci & Nick Feltovich, 2012. "How responsive are people to changes in their bargaining position? Earned bargaining power and the 50–50 norm," Economics Series 2012_2, Deakin University, Faculty of Business and Law, School of Accounting, Economics and Finance.
    6. Anbarci, Nejat & Feltovich, Nick, 2018. "How fully do people exploit their bargaining position? The effects of bargaining institution and the 50–50 norm," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 145(C), pages 320-334.
    7. Parrett, Matt, 2015. "Beauty and the feast: Examining the effect of beauty on earnings using restaurant tipping data," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 34-46.
    8. Caitlin Knowles Myers & Marcus Bellows & Hiba Fakhoury & Douglas Hale & Alexander Hall & Kaitlin Ofman, 2010. "Ladies first? A field study of discrimination in coffee shops," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(14), pages 1761-1769.
    9. Parrett, Matt, 2011. "Do people with food service experience tip better?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 40(5), pages 464-471.
    10. Eckel, Catherine & Gintis, Herbert, 2010. "Blaming the messenger: Notes on the current state of experimental economics," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 73(1), pages 109-119, January.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C90 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - General
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification
    • D00 - Microeconomics - - General - - - General


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