The Impact of Tipping on Job Satisfaction of Restaurant Servers: A Cross-Cultural Study

Article excerpt


Tipping of restaurant servers is expected in the USA and is a major source of their income. However, tipping of servers in Australia is not normally expected. This study of sixty-four USA servers and seventy-five Australian servers showed significant differences in job satisfaction, degree of satisfaction with total earnings and degree of control over earnings. A review of literature also revealed cultural differences between the USA and Australia that may explain differences in tipping customs.

Keywords: Tipping, Satisfaction, Labour Turnover


Factors associated with tourist satisfaction have been a topic of study for many years (see, for example Pizam, Newman and Reikel 1978). In that the consumption of food in restaurants represents a major expense for tourists, the levels of service provided in restaurants is an important variable for study. It is reasonable to assume that job satisfaction of restaurant servers is associated with the level of service they provide. For example, Lynn and Graves (1996) stated that people work primarily to make money and dissatisfaction with income is a significant cause of labour turnover. They further stated that restaurant managers could attract and keep competent workers by promising and delivering a high income to them.

In the United States (USA), tips are considered a primary source of income for many restaurant servers. In fact, tipping is so ingrained in the USA culture that federal wage and hour law allows restaurateurs to pay servers less than the minimum wage by means of a `tip credit'. That said, tips do not amount to a significant portion of restaurant servers' incomes in all countries. In Australia, for example, tipping servers is not expected and in some instances is discouraged. Indeed, the great differences that tipping plays in remuneration of restaurant servers in the USA and Australia prompts a number of questions:

* Are there cultural differences between the two countries that might explain tipping/ non-tipping customs?

* Are the overall levels of job satisfaction of USA (tipped) servers different from Australian (non-tipped) servers?

* What differences, if any, are there between USA and Australian servers as to satisfaction with their total earnings?

* What differences, if any, do servers from the two countries perceive in the relationship between their efforts on the job and their total earnings?

A review of the literature has shed some light on the first question. Lynn (1997) provided evidence that cultural differences may indeed explain differences in tipping customs. He opines that tipping may function as a form of conspicuous consumption; a practice that allows wealthy and status-conscious consumers to demonstrate that they are successful people. Specifically, his data show that North Americans place a higher value on recognition than Australians and that the number of tipped professions in the USA is double that found in Australia. Lynn's (2000) findings suggest that North Americans have a higher level of `extraversion' (i.e. social, expressive and dominant) than do Australians and suggests that high levels of national extraversion may increase the prevalence of tipping. He also presented data that indicates tipping is more prevalent in countries where people regard power and status differences as legitimate and acceptable. There is anecdotal evidence that suggests a difference between North Americans and Australians regarding this last point. For example, in the USA, most college students are expected to address faculty members by degree or title. In Australia, students and faculty members are generally on a first-name basis.

Research Method

The purpose of this study was to ascertain:

a. if there were differences in overall levels of job satisfaction between USA and Australian servers;

b. what differences, if any, there were between USA and Australian servers as to satisfaction with their total earnings; and

c. …


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