Experimenting with tip jars

Tip jars are ubiquitous at lunch spots now. Frequently, they don’t start out the lunch hour empty. There is often a single dollar bill resting on the jar’s bottom. If you eat lunch early enough, you might have noticed what an unusually crisp new and lonely dollar bill it is. The reason for the dollar seems obvious enough: To nudge people who might want to leave a tip, but don’t want to be the first, or who are happy to leave a tip when they know others are leaving one as well.

Is anyone aware of business that have experimented with different cash amounts in the tip jar? $1 vs. $5 vs. $0? It’s not immediately clear which amount would generate the most customer generosity.

Correction: Previously, the Nudge blog incorrectly referred to “a number of experiments” on the introduction of “tip jars” in a retail environment. While there have been experiments many experiments on tipping, including how it is affected by changes in server behavior, amount of service, and bill size, none pertain to tip jars. For a review essay on the tipping literature see, “The Social Norm of Tipping: A Review,” by Ofer Azar in the February 2007 issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. The Nudge blog regrets the error.

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2 Responses to “Experimenting with tip jars”

  1. Nick Says:

    I will not leave a tip at a place where the employees make above minimum wage, with only the rarest exception for exceptional service. I think that a tip jar at a place with no waitstaff is absurd, especially since I see these mostly at Subway chains.

  2. Dave Tufte Says:

    I’d be interested in some cites on those experiments.

    This sort fo social situation would make a good basis for classroom problems demonstrating Monte Carlo methods.

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