Prof. Michael Lynn, marketing and tourism, surveyed 374 waitresses about their perceived “sexiness,” breast size and other physical characteristics and correlated these results with the amount of tips the waitresses received.
His results indicate that evolutionary instinct trumps the ideals many patrons profess. Though most customers say they reward service, Lynn reports that quality of service has less than a 2-percent effect on the actual tip.
Instead, he found that waitresses with larger bra sizes received higher tips — as did women with blonde hair and slender bodies.
While this may seem self-evident to some, Lynn said that “it’s always important to test what seems like obvious cultural wisdom.”
Lynn believes his research, conducted from a wide range of women, is important because it “fills in some holes” in the area of tipping behavior.
“This study uses a broader array of stimuli as they appear three-dimensionally ... to themselves and their customers,” he said.
Lynn explained that his study could be useful to a potential waitress as it can help gauge her “prospects in the industry.”
“It also informs management decisions about who to hire,” Lynn added, explaining that servers who earn higher tips are more desirable employees because they are likely to stay at their job longer. Higher tips also indicate higher customer approval of the server, and by association, the establishment in general.
“[Restaurants] might very well want to hire waitresses who will earn larger tips,” Lynn said. “[These employees] can largely be identified through their physical characteristics.”
He acknowledged that such an open policy could offend some people. In actuality, Lynn noted that many employers already take into account their applicants’ appearances. He referred to the popularity of Hooters and other similar “breastaurants” that openly capitalize on men’s affinity for “attractive” — and in particular, busty — servers.
“Ugly people are not a protected class, legally,” Lynn said. “It is not in fact illegal to hire only attractive waitresses.”
He also discussed the evolutionary basis for the tipping pattern.
“Evolutionary theories suggest that men [who] find women with large, non-droopy breasts attractive ... would leave more offspring behind,” he said. Such qualities in women suggest greater “reproductive potential,” according to Lynn.
Lynn said that his research implications could plausibly be extended to the world beyond the restaurant as well.
“In general, attractive people earn higher incomes … and are evaluated more favorably,” he said.
Lynn’s results were met with distaste and disappointment from some of his colleagues at the University.
“I am disappointed but not surprised to learn that female servers with larger breasts receive more generous tips,” said Prof. Sherry F. Colb, law, who studies sexual equality.
Colb criticized the tipping system in general as facilitating the kind of discrimination that Lynn uncovered.
“Like the employer who fails to promote an employee because she does not sufficiently conform to the feminine stereotype, restaurant owners share in the blame for utilizing a pay structure that turns unenlightened customers into the ‘boss’ in charge of determining a server’s take-home pay,” she said.
Colb suggested instead that a uniform percentage “gratuity” be charged with each meal.