Unique—Like Everybody Else

Personality, intelligence, and the differences that matter

Red Gold: Sexy effects of the color red

Waitresses receive more tips from men when wearing something red.

Red hair ornaments can increase waitresses' tips

Waitresses wearing a red flower in their hair receive extra tips

Recent research has found that male patrons tip French waitresses more generously when they are wearing something red. This effect has been found for red lipstick (as opposed to pink or brown lipstick, or none at all) (Guéguen & Jacob, 2012b), a red shirt as opposed to another color (Guéguen & Jacob, 2012a), and a red ornament worn in the hair (as opposed to no ornaments) (Jacob, Guéguen, & Delfosse, 2012). Lipstick and shirt color only affected the tipping of male patrons, but interestingly enough both male and female patrons tipped a waitress more generously when she wore something in her hair. The authors of these papers suggested that waitresses could use this information to increase their income, although whether this could have unintended consequences has not yet been explored.

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These findings build on research that has shown that men rate women as more sexually attractive when they are associated with the color red (Elliot & Niesta, 2008). For example, men who were shown a black-and-white photo of a woman rated her as more attractive when the photo was on a red background as opposed to a white one. Female participants on the other hand did not differ in their ratings of how attractive a target woman was based on background color. Additionally, men indicated more interest in dating a woman, more interest in engaging in sexual behavior with her, and more willingness to spend money on her, if she was wearing a red rather than a blue shirt. Interestingly, men in these studies were largely unaware that the presence of the color red was having an effect on them. Furthermore, presence of the color red had no impact on men’s rating of other highly valued qualities, such as the woman’s kindness, intelligence, or likeability. This means that the color red does not influence attractiveness by giving the impression of being a generally nicer person, but has a specific effect on sexual desirability. 

Another research paper found that women wearing red as opposed to another color were perceived by men as more interested in having sex, and that this perceived sexual receptivity led to increased sexual attraction to the woman (Pazda, Elliot, & Greitemeyer, 2012). Whether women choose to wear red because they actually are interested in having sex is not yet known. The authors cautioned that the perception that women wearing red are more receptive to sexual advances could lead to misunderstandings and unwanted sexual attention from men.

The findings on the effects of the color red on men’s perception of women suggests that male restaurant patrons tip waitresses wearing red more generously not only because they perceive them as more attractive, but as more sexually receptive. Guéguen and Jacob (2012b) proposed that when male patrons tip more generously, they are unconsciously attempting to attract the waitress’ attention. Therefore, generous tips could be interpreted as courtship gifts by male patrons. Men therefore may use tips to demonstrate their status and wealth and so tip more than women do (Lynn & Simons, 2000). Guéguen & Jacob (2012a, 2012b) proposed that allowing waitresses to wear a red shirt or red lipstick may increase their income, as it results in increased tipping by males and has no negative impact on females. Based on the findings so far, wearing an ornament in the hair may be the most effective strategy for waitresses, as even female patrons then give better tips, although why this would be the case is not clear. However, perhaps a note of caution needs to be made. Wearing red might inadvertently result in unwanted sexual attention from male patrons and the perception that the waitresses are "easy." Future research studies could investigate patrons’ attitudes to waitstaff to determine if these effects do in fact occur and whether there is an increased risk of sexual harassment. Additionally, a recent study suggests that red only increases the attractiveness of young women, but has no effect for women in their forties (Schwarz & Singer). Therefore, older waitresses may not receive any benefits from this strategy. 

Having considered tipping of female staff, the question arises as to whether male waiters are likely to benefit from wearing red. Research has not addressed this, but I suspect it is unlikely. Men are perceived by women as more attractive and higher in social status when they wear red (Elliot et al., 2010). However, research on tipping has found that attractiveness is associated with better tips for female but not male waitstaff (Lynn & Simons, 2000). Among males but not females, better tips were associated with better self-reported competence. The effect of attractiveness on waitresses’ tips could be due to the higher societal value placed on attractiveness for females than males. The corollary seems to be that there is a higher societal value on competence in males than in females. However, the same study suggested that both sexes can increase their tipping income by being attentive to the individual needs of customers. Tipping may be a form of courtship gifting by men, but it is unusual for women to attract male interest with gifts. Future research could examine whether male waiters can earn increased tips through alterations to their presentation.

References

Elliot, A. J., & Niesta, D. (2008). Romantic red: Red enhances men's attraction to women Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5, 1150-1164 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.5.1150

Elliot, A. J., Kayer, D. N., Greitemeyer, T., Lichtenfeld, S., Gramzow, R. G., & Maier, M. A. (2010). Red, Rank, and Romance in Women Viewing Men. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139(3), 399-417. doi: 10.1037/a0019689

Guéguen, N., & Jacob, C. (2012a). Clothing Color and Tipping: Gentlemen Patrons Give More Tips to Waitresses With Red Clothes. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research. doi: 10.1177/1096348012442546

Guéguen, N., & Jacob, C. (2012b). Lipstick and tipping behavior: When red lipstick enhance waitresses tips. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 31(4), 1333-1335. doi: 10.1016/j.ijhm.2012.03.012

Jacob, C., Guéguen, N., & Delfosse, C. (2012). She Wore Something in Her Hair: The Effect of Ornamentation on Tipping. Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management, 21(4), 414-420. doi: 10.1080/19368623.2012.624296

Lynn, M., & Simons, T. (2000). Predictors of male and female servers’ average tip earnings. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 241-252.

Pazda, A. D., Elliot, A. J., & Greitemeyer, T. (2012). Sexy red: Perceived sexual receptivity mediates the red-attraction relation in men viewing woman. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(3), 787-790. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.12.009

Schwarz, S., & Singer, M. Romantic red revisited: Red enhances men's attraction to young, but not menopausal women. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology(0). doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.08.004

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Scott McGreal is a psychology researcher with a particular interest in individual differences, especially in personality and intelligence.

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