Eating out? How you’re dressed may determine quality of restaurant service

COLUMBIA, Mo. — How you’re dressed when you decide to eat out for dinner may influence the level of service you get at a restaurant. Research shows that servers actually predict whether or not their guests will leave big tips simply based on their attire.

Scientists at the University of Missouri conclude that restaurant wait staff often believe that the most well-dressed diners will leave the best tips. Under that notion, servers ramp up their hospitality for those customers.

Dae-Young Kim, an associate professor of hospitality management, along with a doctoral student recruited 222 people who were currently servers or previously held a job waiting tables for the 2017 study. Participants were shown images of diners, both men and women and from various ethnicities, some dressed in casual clothes and others dressed to the nines. They were asked to identify which patrons they believed would leave good tips and which wouldn’t.

Researchers found that the servers showed a much more positive reaction to individuals dressed nicely. Race didn’t play much of a role in their reactions, but they did find that well-dressed minorities were viewed as more likely to leave heftier tips, while casually dressed minorities were thought of as poor tippers.

Server taking order at restaurant
(Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels)

They also discovered that servers viewed well-dressed men as more likely to leave good tips than their female counterparts. Casually-dressed men faced more scrutiny — they were viewed as the least likely of any group to leave good tips for the server.

“Everyone uses first impressions to make snap judgements,” says Kim in a statement.“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. 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.”

Who leaves the best tips for restaurant servers?

The study also found that well-dressed men were more likely to be better tippers than women. Men who were dressed as if they were running out to hang out with buddies were viewed as the the least likely of any group to leave larger tips.

Also, regardless of race, well-dressed men were identified as more likely to leave good tips compared to women, while casually dressed men were seen as the least likely of any group to leave good tips.

Kathleen Kim, the student who co-authored the study, notes that the research may come especially in handy for restaurant managers and owners when it’s time to train new servers. “It is clear that restaurant servers use stereotypes and first impressions to determine which customers will receive good service,” she says. “These findings show restaurant managers the importance of proper training for servers so all customers receive good service. This study also shows potential issues with the tipping culture that exists in American restaurants. While the tipping culture can motivate servers to provide quality service to some customers, it may result in unequal service for others.”

The study is published in the journal Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.

This article was first published on May 7, 2017.