Tipping, humour and the French

Loves jokes

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.

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5 Responses to Tipping, humour and the French

  1. Rihana says:

    I might hazard a guess that the joke would be (relatively) funnier in French, since they tell their time by the 24 hour clock, so 3PM is 15 heures, and thus would make a tiny bit more sense. (Although why the temperature is measured in [presumably] Fahrenheit when France is the home of the metric system is another question entirely.)

    It’s also interesting to note that in France the dreaded change-plate is a lot more common. Even in little bars and cafes, when ordering only a coffee or a glass of wine, you will be presented with a bill on a saucer or metal tray, upon which you place your money and where change is left for you to take. You feel awfully stingy grabbing at your silver Euro pieces off that plate.

    As for tipping more often when a joke is involved, maybe it’s that little injection of ‘buskerism’ or the feeling you’ve been entertained that motivates you to leave a little extra. On more than one occasion where I’ve been having a crappy day and a busker has lifted my mood – almost by virtue of simply providing a little entertainment, a ray of light, in an otherwise underwhelming day – I have thrown a few gold coins into a guitar case. A joke when you least expect it might have the same mood-elevating effect as live music where you least expect it.

    • tippingoz says:

      That makes sense, as long as you’re not talking about the busker who is often on Swanston Street and basically just sings along to his portable CD player. He is truly terrible. But him aside, I take your point.

      Actually, to the extent that you are right, then Gueguen’s argument about the joke ‘activating’ the process of tipping makes more sense. Maybe I didn’t give him enough credit. The joke, or the busker, could activate a return gift in its own right.

  2. Gus says:

    I would like to see the research done again to further explore the idea that mood influences tips. As a start, I would guess people would tip more on sunny days. Even more so if you are served outside.

    Some other ideas could be type of music (or any), temperature, or possibly using a funny joke. I would also guess that if the card was handed over with a smile or wink and simply contained a phone number the result would be even more favourable.

    • tippingoz says:

      Gus, you should start getting into research as a social psychologist. They love that type of stuff. In particular social psychologists have undertaken studies with respect to the influence of sunny days, the waiters predictions of the (good) weather, the waiter drawing a sun on the back of the check, and a waitress smiling at a customer on tip levels. The concerning/interesting result of all these studies was that they revealed significant influence on tip levels.

      That said, I have not seen a study with respect to tipping and music (although I am aware of studies with respect to the affect of music on consumption more generally), winking or when the waiter/waitress handed out their phone numbers.

      • Gus says:

        I’ll add it to the rest of the research I could do but never will.

        I am also wondering whether this is consistent across other cultures – australia, china, scotland, the US, or whether you require the french sense of humour for it to make a difference.

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