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Research Shows There's a Gold Standard for Tipping

Consumers equate gold with status and luxury — and it turns out seeing the color makes them more generous tippers, according to new research from University of Dayton Assistant Professor of Marketing Na Young Lee.

The color gold positively influenced tipping across five studies, among the first to investigate how and why color influences customer tipping behavior. The findings were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.

“People who feel their status is high because they’re in a place that’s high-end tend to spend more on tipping,” Lee said. “And gold is frequently associated with prestige, exclusivity and status perception. Examples include gold labels in rewards programs and limited-edition products.”

In the studies, diners who received their bills 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, which includes physical design or interior decor of a retail store or restaurant, influences customer behavior," Lee said. "We found subtle cues such as color make a difference. 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. The full paper is available online.


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