The Better You Dress, the Better Your Service and Tip, Says Study

Maggie Parker
Professionally dressed customers are perceived as good tippers and are more likely to get better service, according to a new study. (Photo: Getty Images)
Professionally dressed customers are perceived as good tippers and are more likely to get better service, according to a new study. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you want good service at a restaurant, you better dress your best. Servers tend to provide better service to formally dressed patrons when compared with casually dressed customers, according to an April 2017 study conducted at the University of Missouri.

Researchers surveyed 222 restaurants servers from all over the United States to see how attire affects dining service. The participants reviewed 16 manipulated photographs depicting obvious differences in gender, race, and dress. For business dress, the women wore black business skirt suits and black leather shoes, while the men wore black suits with white shirts, a monochromatic necktie, and black leather shoes. For casual dress, both the women and men wore white, short-sleeve shirts without any logos, blue jeans, and comfortable shoes. The models were in their 20s and photographed in actual restaurants.

The participants were asked to rank how they were inclined to treat each customer and how they thought the customer would tip.

In the end, customers in business dress were perceived to be significantly above-average tippers compared with those in casual clothes. And the servers exhibited “higher rates of intentions to provide better service to customers in business dress than to customers in casual dress.” So much for rolling out of bed and wearing PJs to Sunday brunch.

The positive effect of formal attire was greater for African-American diners than for Caucasians. However, there were no significant differences between Hispanics and Caucasians, or between Asians and Caucasians. African-Americans were perceived to be significantly worse tippers than Caucasians, even when both were wearing casual clothes; however, African-Americans were not perceived as significantly different tippers from Caucasians when both were dressed in business attire. The same was found when participants were asked how they would treat African-American customers.

The research also found that men were seen as worse tippers than women when both were dressed casually. But the servers rated women as worse tippers than men when both were dressed formally. Interestingly enough, the servers said they would still offer better service to women than men when both were dressed up.

The researchers offered some explanations for the gender differences. One is that a white T-shirt might look a little shabbier on a man than it does a woman. Another is that restaurants are trained to treat women better (the whole “ladies first” rule?).

Why do waiters care what we wear? Well, judging us helps them make more money. “Everyone uses first impressions to make snap judgments,” Dae-Young Kim, co-author of the study told the University of Missouri News Bureau. “For servers, especially busy servers, they often have to make decisions about how to best devote their time and energy, so they look for ways to identify which customers will reward them the most for their service.”

Kim added: “The more professionally dressed a customer is, the more likely a server is to stereotype them as a good tipper, regardless of their race or gender.”

It seems it never crossed these waiters’ minds that judging a customer on his or her clothing and potentially treating that person poorly because of that might lead to the poor tip to begin with?

And besides, how do they know where our T-shirt came from? Maybe it’s a fresh-off-the-runway Moschino T-shirt dress?

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