Small Nonverbals For Big Results – A Heart Shaped Dish Leads To Higher Tipping
Christopher Philip

French researcher Nicolas Guéguen, University de Bretagne Sud has found that adding a small and inexpressive nonverbal twist to serving leads to greater tipping behaviour amongst patrons in a restaurant.

The study was simple enough, by keeping all the variables that same, while presenting the bill and thus request for tip, with various shaped tip containers, he was able to determine that a heart shaped container faired best.

The dishes were all made of plasterweare and from the same manufacturer. Additionally, they were all the same burgundy colour and the same height. The key difference was that one was square, one round, and the last one was cardioid, or heart shaped.

Result showed that when the heart shaped dish was used it produced 50.7% tipping response amongst the men and 39.1% amongst women. The round dish produced 35.9% amongst men and 22.7% amongst women. Finally, the square dish produced 28.9% tipping from men and 17.4% tipping amongst women. The heart shaped dish also produced 1.38 Euros whereas the round dish produced just 1.19 Euros and the square dish just 1.17 Euros.

It should be noted that tipping is voluntary in France with a surcharge automatically added to the bill, thus explaining the low dollar tips left.

Interestingly, the results showed a significant difference between the shape of the dish. The heart shaped dish produced 15% more tips and at a far greater tip frequency than the other dishes.

The results are explained by Guéguen with respect to the priming of helping behaviour through its conditioning with the heart shape. Upon seeing the heart shape, customer are primed to offer more help to the server.

The results show how simple and subtle changes in nonverbal messages can produce desired and significant effects. While they may seem miniscule on the surface, their effects are additive over time.

Also, it’s important to note that these desired effects on others are done without their conscious awareness. Such is the power of nonverbal communication!

One might also wonder about the effectiveness of our own nonverbal communication and its effects on the outcomes of our interactions over time. It is likely that while subtle nonverbal changes, as shown here, amount to greater changes, over time. In other words, a small nonverbal change such as increased smile frequency, like the use of a heart-shaped tip jar, can produce a few dollars here and there, but over time, produce drastic cumulative effect – especially when calculated over a lifetime.

Here are a few other ways that servers can earn more tips (from other studies):

– Introducing yourself by name
– Repeat the order verbally
– Give customers big open-mouthed smiles
– Crouch next to the table
– Writing “thank you” on the bill
– Drawing a smiley face or a picture of the sun on the bill


Guéguen, Nicolas. Helping With All Your Heart: The Effect of Cardioid Dishes on Tipping Behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 2013: 1745–1749. doi: 10.1111/jasp.12109