Do waitresses who wear makeup receive larger tips?

Most attractiveness research is conducted in the laboratory on people who tend to be young, White undergraduate students, induced to volunteer for extra credit in their Psychology exams.

But some researchers have recently sought to locate their experiments in the field, to better understand how physical attractiveness can affect people’s real life behaviour, and this month another study can be added to the list.

Celine Jacob and Nicolas Gueguen tested whether waitresses receive bigger tips when they wear makeup. Previous laboratory studies have shown that people of both sexes form better impressions of women who wear makeup, but do these perceptions carry over into behaviour?

Two young restaurant waitresses went about their normal work while the researchers kept a tab on the size of their tips and the gender of the person who gave the tip. Half of the time, the waitresses wore makeup applied by a beautician. The rest of the time, the waitresses wore no makeup.

Jacob and Gueguen found that, perhaps predictably — ok, extremely predictably — men gave larger tips when the waitresses wore makeup. The average tip given by men was €1.11 when the waitresses wore no makeup, and €1.40 when they wore makeup: that’s a rather sizeable 21% difference.

Female customers, on the other hand, were unaffected by the makeup: when the waitresses were made up, they received only a single cent more from their female customers. So although women seem to think more of other women who wear makeup, their opinions don’t encourage them to part with cold hard cash.

Or maybe not. One of the problems with field studies is that, unlike laboratory studies, they often lack adequate control. The researchers aren’t able to keep track of every confounding variable. For example, we can’t be sure whether the waitresses behaviour changed when they wore the makeup. It’s possible that they felt more confident in makeup, and provided better service, in which case one might argue that they deserved their better tips.

Field studies may be useful, but it’s unlikely that they’ll displace laboratory work any time soon. Good job too, because if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do some research in the, er, laboratory.

Jacob, C., Gueguen, N., Boulbry, G., & Ardiccioni, R. (2010). Waitresses’ facial cosmetics and tipping: A field experiment. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 29(1), 188–190. Read summary

The content of this post first appeared in the February 2010 episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast.

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