If I told you a joke would you pay me for it?
According to recent research you might, if I was selling you a coffee at the same time.
The research was carried out by Nicolas Gueguen. He supposed that the mood of customers would have a significant influence on their tips. Based on this, he set out to prove that if customers were given a card with a humorous joke on it, people would tip more, on average, than compared to when they are given a card on which there was no humorous content.
The idea being that the joke would put people in a better mood, thus making them more likely to tip.
So this is what he did. He convinced a bar at a seaside resort in France to get the service-staff to provide the customers with one of two cards, along with the bill, when they ordered an espresso coffee.
(The fact that this study occurred in France makes it somewhat relevant to Australia. People do tip in France, but since there is a legally mandated service fee – 12% at the time of the research – the pressure for people to tip is not as strong as it is in the US.)
One card was simply a promotion for an upcoming event at the venue. On the other card the following was written:
“An Eskimo had been waiting for his girlfriend in front of a movie theater for a long time, and it was getting colder and colder. After a while, shivering with cold and rather infuriated, he opened his coat and drew out a thermometer. He then said loudly, “If she is not here at 15, I’m going!”
I think it is extraordinary just how unfunny that joke is.
Nevertheless, the joke card worked. People who received the card, with what I suppose you could call wit, not only were more likely to tip but also tipped significantly higher amounts than those who had been given the card without the joke.
Gueguen interpreted these findings as the joke “activating a specific process that induces customers to tip more easily”.
I would disagree with Gueguen’s interpretation that a joke could “activate” the act of tipping, or the process that lies behind it. I suggest instead that a mood enhancer, such as a joke, could leverage off and exaggerate the process that is already taking place. Those less likely to tip in a given situation become more so when in a good mood and those already prone to tip will tip more.
But regardless of the interpretation of the findings, we can take two things from this research with relative confidence. Firstly, we are more likely to tip, and tip more, when given a joke by a waiter or waitress; and secondly, the French have a very different sense of humour to Australians.