Consumers equate gold with status and luxury — and it turns out seeing the color makes them more generous tippers, according to new research from Na Young Lee, assistant professor of marketing.

In her research, the color gold positively influenced tipping by enhancing customers’ self-status perception. The findings were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, and the topic also appeared as an article in The Conversation.

“Gold is frequently associated with prestige, exclusivity and status perception. Examples include gold labels in rewards programs such as Starbucks Gold Card,” Lee said. “In our study, we found that mere exposure to the color gold makes consumers spend more on tips. When customers see the color gold, they feel that their status is high because they are in a place that serves high-status people. And when customers perceive that their status is high, they tend to spend more on tipping to show off their status.”

In the studies, diners who received their checks in gold-colored folders tipped more than those who got their checks in black folders. Additionally, in a mock restaurant lab setting, people seated with gold-colored tablecloths left higher tips than those seated at tables with white cloths.

Additionally, the research team evaluated whether gold increased tipping because it was a novel color. But they found that other novel colors, presented as an orange-colored bill folder, did not increase tipping because orange is not associated with status perception.

The findings, Lee said, have managerial implications that can be applied outside the restaurant industry.

“We wanted to find out how the service environment influences customer behavior,” Lee said. “We found subtle cues such as color make a difference by influencing customers’ self-status perception. That means businesses can create meaningful change by paying attention to the details of service design.”


The research team included Stephanie Noble at the University of Tennessee and Dipayan Biswas at the University of South Florida.