By Aaron Reid, Ph.D.
Happy Holidays and here’s a little something for the trouble!
I was standing in the Knave reflecting on how much of a tip I should leave our waitress on our twenty-two dollar check for coffee and tea. While the bill was small and we hadn’t required a lot of service, we had just spent an hour and a half at the table talking and taking holiday pictures. “Six dollars on twenty-two is a generous tip”, I thought.
I turned to see the waitress approaching. “Happy Holidays”, she said with a smile as she handed me the credit card receipt. I paused, felt the effects of her statement, wrote in an eight dollar tip, signed the receipt, smiled and replied “Happy Holidays!” The waitress had just increased her tip from $6 to $8 through her simple expression of goodwill. This reminded me of the behavioral science principle of mental accounting.
Unwittingly, the waitress had created an additional debt in my mental account of goodwill which subconsciously influenced a desire in me to repay that debt. Importantly, it was at a decision point where I was determining the amount of money I would leave as a goodwill gesture after lingering at her table for two hours over a few cups of coffee and tea. I had already begun to feel guilty, and thought a six dollar tip on a twenty dollar bill would serve as ample compensation and bring me back to an equilibrium point in my mental account of goodwill. However, that extra expression of goodwill, through a simple “Happy Holidays”, had driven me deeper in debt, and thereby...