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Guide to Gratuities: Reasons Why People Tip

The practice of tipping carries with it all kinds of ethical quandaries. A tip is supposed to be a reward for good service, yet in many situations tipping is simply expected—no matter what. The odds that an adult usually tips a waiter or waitress are 1 in 1.02 (98 percent).

It gets even murkier when it comes to tip jars. Do you tip the person who pours your joe at Dunkin’ Donuts or the person who serves up your soft serve at Dairy Queen? How about a full-fledged barista? And if you do tip, how much? 

It turns out the answers to those questions can depend on some factors that might surprise (or disturb) you, including:

The Weather
We have psychologists to thank for this insight. Research has found that when diners are inside an establishment with no way to see what the weather outside is doing, servers receive significantly higher tips when they report good weather than when they mention rain. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us: Sunny weather = better mood = more generosity. And after all, the weather affects our behavior in many ways—even what college we’ll decide to attend or whether we’ll get into the school of our choice (See “Weather Can Affect College Admissions.”)

Smiley Faces
One study found that drawing a smiley face on a check tends to elicit a higher tip—but only for female servers.

Big-Breasted Blondes
Prof. Michael Lynn of Cornell (nickname: Mr. Tipping) recently found that waitresses with larger bra sizes, slimmer figures, and blonde hair attracted higher tips.

Opposite Sex
Generally, people tend to tip a server of the opposite sex better.

An Associated Press poll a few years ago found that younger Americans were more in favor of tipping than older generations, and people in the Northeast are more supportive of gratuities than those in other regions.

It’s anecdotal, but at least one waiter has noted that drunker people tip more because they “can’t add.”

A study from New Haven, Connecticut, found that taxi passengers tipped black drivers on average one-third less than they tipped white drivers. (The odds that an adult usually tips a cab driver are 1 in 1.21—83 percent.) Another showed a similar, though less extreme, disparity in tips for servers at a chain restaurant in the South. In both cases, customers of all races tipped black providers less.

Originally published on Book of Odds