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Guilt tip: Why we reward bad service

Most of us tip even when we've recieved shoddy service. It's a guilt thing. But it's also apparently an evolution thing.

By MSN Money Partner May 28, 2013 3:42PM

This post comes from Marcy Bonebright at partner site Dealnews.

MSN Money partnerIn a recent poll, Dealnews asked its readers whether they felt obligated to tip even if they received terrible service. A surprising majority of readers answered in the affirmative — about 56% of respondents said they definitely would or sometimes would leave a tip in such a situation.

Image: Woman Paying the Bill (© Fuse/Getty Images)Obviously, there are some guilty consciences out there!

But why do we feel guilty when we stiff someone who's provided bad service? We delved deeper into the messy politics of tipping etiquette and discovered that, like everything else, it comes down to a question of nature versus nurture.

Social anxiety makes us feel guilty

"The major reason people tip is to avoid social disapproval," Cornell professor and tipping expert Michael Lynn said in an interview with CNN Money. In fact, according to Lynn's research, a customer who leaves a good tip might be trying to dodge the server's envy. "Our willingness to tip regardless of service reflects a sense that the customer is in a better position financially," the article reads.

Of course, leaving a tip regardless of whether it's earned could also be a way of alleviating the stress of being served by another person. As the article points out, Lynn's research has shown "that tips tend to be higher in countries where there is greater neuroticism about and intolerance of ambiguous situations."

It's how we've evolved

But perhaps there's something more fundamental behind our collective tipping impulse.

According to a theory posed by Pleiotropy, a science blog, we may have evolved to tip our servers no matter what. "Evolutionarily speaking, what's the advantage of leaving a tip, and why do we have a sense of guilt when we don't tip? One explanation is that we evolved under conditions where breaking the moral codes were always punished, even if just in a minor way, when the cheater was found out." So, the theory goes, we evolved to feel guilty when we didn't tip.

Therefore, when you stiff a waitress in Guymon, Okla., the blog explains, "we can think rationally that there is no reason we should feel bad for ourselves when not leaving a tip, but we do so anyway, because guilt is a feeling we don't arrive at rationally, and our emotions don't know that we will never come back to Guymon and propose to that waitress."

Whether it's out of a desire to combat social inequity or an innate drive to maintain status within the herd, one thing is certain: Dealnews readers aren't the only ones leaving a tip when the service is terrible. Odds are, the server providing that shoddy service would leave a tip in the exact same situation.

More from Dealnews:

May 28, 2013 5:27PM
Screw that, you give lousy service you get tipped accordingly. You give great service then you get a good tip, PERIOD!!!
May 28, 2013 9:13PM

Good service deserves a good tip or reasonable, excellent is better...


But bad or rude service, "deserves none or an insult tip.." 

I've also been on both sides of the table or bar.

May 28, 2013 6:29PM
I worked in a restaurant all through college as a hostess.  Sometimes a server just has a bad night or gets seated too many tables at once.  Or maybe they're new and learning.  I always tip big because I know what it's like to be in their shoes (unless they were directly rude or mean to me, which is very rare).  I remember once I received a $10 tip for seating a made my whole week.  I returned the favor to a shopkeep down the street later, tipping $10 for $10 in food.  He literally ran out of the restaurant yelling "Thank you! Thank you!!!" 
May 28, 2013 7:20PM
If the service is bad because your tight*ssed manager decided to make you cover twice the normal number of tables, you still get 20%. Same goes if the "chef" can't cook any better than a contestant on Hell's Kitchen.
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