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Music Makes the Tips Grow Larger

• July 26, 2010 • 10:00 AM

New research from France finds restaurant patrons exposed to music with pro-social lyrics are more likely to leave tips.

As we noted last year, songs with lyrics promoting peace and love can increase empathy and encourage charitable behavior — at least in a research laboratory. Now, a new study finds exposure to such music can have real-world consequences.

It turns restaurant patrons into better tippers.

That’s the conclusion of a study from France, recently published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management. The researchers, led by Celine Jacob of the Universite de Bretagne-Sud, describe a delicious six-week experiment conducted in a restaurant in a provincial town on the Breton Atlantic coast.

Each lunch and dinner hour during those six weeks, the patrons were exposed to one of three types of background music. One-third of the time, the soundtrack featured — in the researchers’ words — “32 different songs associated with pro-social thoughts and feeling of empathy.” One-third of the time, it consisted of songs “associated with neutral thoughts and feelings.” And one-third of the time, it featured the music normally played in the restaurant (which, unfortunately, wasn’t identified).

Two waitresses, who were unaware of exactly what Jacob and her colleagues were testing, kept track of how many patrons were in the restaurant for each lunch and dinner; how many of them gave tips; and the size of the gratuities they left. (The researchers note that “in France, giving the waiter or waitress a tip is unusual, because legislation mandates a 12 percent service charge be included in the cost of the item on the menu.”)

After crunching the numbers, the researchers found the pro-social lyrics inspired generosity. Patrons who heard either the restaurant’s usual soundtrack or the emotionally neutral songs gave tips 24 percent of the time. Those who heard the songs with pro-social lyrics gave tips 35 percent of the time.

What’s more, at the dinner hour, the size of the tips was also significantly bigger when the pro-social lyrics were on in the background. Not only did more people tip, but those who did gave more on average than patrons exposed to other types of music.

“Such results have managerial implications,” the researchers conclude. “The systematic use of this technique could increase the employees’ income” – perhaps by as much as 8 percent. They add that if bigger tips imply “contentment and satisfaction” on the part of the customer, the technique could also be helpful in attracting return business.

So, if the next time you’re sitting in a five-star bistro and notice the Barney & Friends theme song is playing in the background, blame the wait staff. And tip accordingly.

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Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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