Why We Overtip

Posted: May 14, 2012 in Daily Life
Tags: , , , , , ,

The old saying goes that it is better to give than to receive, and no one needs that statement to be true more than waiters. Although the average tip falls somewhere between 15% and 20%, it certainly helps to have customers who want to spend those extra few dollars resting in their pockets. For years, studies have provided a variety of methods that servers can use to increase their tips, such as giving their customers candy, drawing pictures or smiley faces on the check, and even predicting good weather.

Today’s specials include chicken piccata and psychological warfare.

Though these tricks of the trade haven proven effective, many customers know how much they’re going to tip before they even enter a restaurant. So why do some people habitually tip 25% percent or more whenever they go to a restaurant, regardless of whether or not they enjoyed the service?

It could be that they are enjoying the physiological benefits of tipping as an act of altruism. The pleasure center, whose routine customers include orgasm and fatty foods, also has another frequent guest—generosity. When someone engages in an act of altruism, the reward center, located in the nucleus accumbens in the limbic system of the brain, becomes activated. The truly altruistic gesture releases endorphins and dopamine, letting our minds know that we participated in an act worth pursuing again.

The feeling that is derived from generosity reinforces the behavior so that the person will want to continue to experience that pleasure. And, if altruism follows the same guidelines as the other, less positive frequenters of the reward center, such as alcohol and sugar, then customers would need to give more as time goes on to trigger the same level of pleasure that was released during the first act.

That’s good news for anyone who makes their money from tips.

Lauren Volpone

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