Cash or card? Impression management and restaurant tipping behavior

Research output: Journal Publications and ReviewsRGC 21 - Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Article number101837
Journal / PublicationJournal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics
Online published17 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


Existing literature in economics and psychology has documented that impression management is an important motivator of human behavior. However, most of the existing evidence is based on laboratory experiments, where the concern for impression management is artificially induced. We hand-collect a unique data set on restaurant tipping and use the mode of payment to discriminate between impression management and other possible motivations for tipping in a naturally occurring environment. The impression management hypothesis predicts that consumers will tip more frequently when paying by cash, relative to paying by a credit card, because their tipping behavior can be publicly observed and enables them to foster a positive social image. Our three main findings are that (a) the probability of tipping is significantly higher when paying by cash; (b) customers dining alone are significantly less likely to tip and tip significantly lower amounts when paying by cash; and (c) men are significantly more likely to tip and tip larger amounts relative to women. These results are broadly consistent with the impression management hypothesis.

Research Area(s)

  • Impression management, Mode of payment, Social image