Eat, Drink and Tip

Do you think the effects of alcohol have any impact on whether a restaurant diner leaves a tip for a server?  Is there any connection between how much wine or beer a person drinks and how much of a tip is left at the end of dinner?

What may seem like a comical question is really something to consider for millions of restaurant owners and servers who rely on diners’ tips left at the end of their meals.  It’s a topic that four Hospitality and Tourism Management students are researching this semester.

MC Gravis, Carrie McGeehan, Mary McGovern and Sarah Roshfeld, along with their faculty advisor, Dr. Frash, have reviewed a number of studies on the social norms of tipping and the effects of alcohol on behavior.  They discovered that little research studied the link between alcohol consumption and tips when dining in full-service restaurants.

“We see this as an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge we’ve gained in our classes,” says Sarah Roshfeld, one of the team’s researchers.  “We’re using what we’ve learned from research methods to customer service to conduct the research that will ideally be used by others in the hospitality industry.”

To frame this research, the student researchers are testing two hypotheses on the subject.  The first hypothesis is:

There is a positive relationship between the percentage of alcohol consumed during the dinner meal and the tip percentage left for the server.

Their second hypothesis offers another variable to consider; the meal hour.

There is a positive relationship between the time of dinner and the tip percentage left for the server.

Although the percent of alcohol consumed and the dinner hour are both behavioral variables, the students submit that the variables are discrete and are acting on tip-percentage outcomes independently of each other.


Data Collection
The data for this study was collected from four full-service restaurants in the area.  Two of the restaurants are classified as casual-dining establishments ($15-$25 avg. ck.) and two are classified as fine-dining establishments ($30-$50 avg. ck.).  To address some the methodological inconsistencies of past studies, the student researchers took sample data directly from the respective restaurants’ point of sale (POS) computer system reports.  To control for bias associated with self-reporting, tip amounts were only taken from diners’ credit-card receipts and not from cash tips left on the dining table.  In addition, only dinner meals taken in the restaurants’ dining rooms were considered.

The study will conclude at the end of the semester and the students will report their findings.  The results could provide insight for restaurateurs to better understand and serve their customers and to subsequently maximize their profit potential.  While it is well known that alcoholic beverage sales significantly increases the profitability of a restaurant, the students’ results would offer restaurant managers tangible incentives to motivate their service staff to better up-sell and become more knowledgeable about the restaurant’s alcoholic beverage offerings.

“Working hands-on with such a practical topic has been more beneficial to our education than any of us could have imagined,” says Mary McGovern.  “Applied learning brings to light what we learn in a classroom.  We appreciate Dr. Frash for supporting our efforts to research and publish a study that’s meaningful to us and restaurateurs.”