Random Thought on A Monday: Is Commenting Like Tipping?

| 5 Comments

Have you ever been a bartender? I have. (Along with a movie mogul and a Comic Book Guy.) One of the common practices of some bartenders, and one that is catching on in coffee-houses and other places where food service comes from behind a counter more often than not, is the placement of a "tip jar" near the cash register. Of course, you've all seen them. You don't ever really see them empty, though, do you? That's because, more likely than not, the bartenders put in the first dollar. The thought is that this will inspire people who look upon the jar to place one of the dollars they receive in change into the tip jar (this is also why you tend to get back five ones in change, rather than a five dollar bill).

Does this really make a difference? Well, while it turns out that there is someone out there who is very into studying the practice of tipping, the question on whether or not this "first dollar concept" actually helps to increase total tips isn't addressed in any of the papers I read through.

(NB: This is not to say the papers aren't worth the time to read. They are fascinating in their own right. As a note to restauranteurs: offering candy with the bill does, in fact, seem to increase the amount of tip left. But speaking from the other side of the table, I'm not so hot on the suggestion of a lot of touchy-feely from the servers. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that the positive effect from interpersonal touching is a result of the gender of the respondent and the perceived attractiveness of the server in relation to the diner. Guys tip attractive women more. Homely guys tip very attentive, very attractive servers a lot more. I can't speak for the women. It's harsh, but it's true.)

As I posted a comment to Kevin's post directly below, I couldn't help but wonder if there is something similar, though opposite about comment counts. Does a 0 comment count induce people to refrain from commenting? Could it be that few comments on a blog overall might reduce the incentive to comment, despite the traffic levels of the blog? That is to say, with better information, people might tip more or less (as is borne out in a couple of Lynn's studies that show longer duration with a server, such as more courses or expectations to return, the higher the tip), thus increasing the sensitivity of the tip to the performance of the server. Assuming, that is, people expand their expectations to consider that a server giving other people good service will do the same for them. So, If people are coming back to T&B, but routinely see few comments, do they feel that commenting really isn't necessary? As opposed to, say, Kevin Drum or Little Green Footballs, where the first comment is often simply "FIRST!" as though there were some pride-of-place benefit. Of course, the ongoing chat about the Iraqi Dinar is a notable outlier here.

Taking into account what people might otherwise be doing with their time, commenting on sites isn't "free". (And we greatly appreciate everyone who takes their time to do so here at T&B.) So in some ways the amount of commenting could be considered as that extra amount of time (a tip) someone is willing to give over and above simply reading the posts (dinner). But as can be seen from the papers linked to above, the overall tipping levels don't necessarily serve as a good measure of the quality of the service at an establishment. (Something up for some debate, mind you.) Unlike tipping, people will know how motivated others have felt to give a little bit more of their time by seeing the numbers of comments.

Should we expect tipping to be a better driver of good service if people knew more about what others were tipping at a restaurant? And, does commenting on a blog post have "tipping point" where x comments start to generate a larger incidence of commenting?

5 Comments

I think there are parallels between commenting and tipping. In fact had I seen this before I posted my new idea, I may have written it differently. The tip jar is a useful image that would help explain this concept.

I have launched a new idea on how to measure a blogger's audience with
this posting on my
blog:http://steves2cents.blogspot.com/2005/03/public-listening-public-reading.html

Briefly it proposes to categorize the readers in the blogosphere
according to their level of engagement with a particular blog:

Those who have not visited our site (either not aware of it or
deliberately avoid it for now) (These are the "unengaged")

Those who read the post (These are the "partially engaged")

Those who comment on the post (These are the "fully engaged")

I would appreciate your feedback on it.

I would say that blog quality is measured much better by hits/visits than comments, just as restaurants that offer a good overall mix of value, food quality, good service, cleanliness, etc. (i.e. a good experience) tend to become more popular, profitable, and open to the potential of expansion than lesser restaurants. Of course, the makeup of the blog's "market" indicates how much value is given to the reader, and thus the blog's "profit potential" (if it chose to attempt to charge for its services). I say the "market" because the average reader's salary forgone will vary from blog to blog - the higher a salary made by the blog's readers, and the more time that is being spent reading the blog, the more utility is being derived from the blog (simple opportunity cost). This opens the door to a definite profit potential, though I assume this has not been realized - and may never be realized - to anything near a full extent. Sure, donations are nice, but there will always be a significant number of "free riders" such as myself. So, the quality of blogs would be measured best by what people pay for the content itself - "dinner" - so, I guess, this would be donations. Calculating the opportunity costs for each visitor would be a better measure, (as well as # of return visitors, daily visitors, etc.) though far more difficult and a waste of time. Finally, I propose that additional comments are often beneficial to readers, also - a sort of positive externality not seen in, say, a restaurant tip jar. Simply having the opportunity to comment makes it more likely that I will patronize any certain blog, and knowing that others (or MANY others) will, also, adds a high amount of value. Of course, this has many variables, such as the intelligence - and long-windedness or lucidity - of the other readers/commenters. Addendum (to answer one of the questions): From my experience as a blog reader, no comments at all tends to help maintain the status quo (no comments at all), while a huge number of comments, such as on Little Green Footballs, are often inane or hard to follow, as it seems many of these are written simply to be written, and not well thought-out. So, I would say that, to a certain extent, there IS a tipping point, where the "meaningless comments" begin to roll in (this would depend on the readership level, also - a huge number of readers would bring a huge number of possibly overwhelming comments). And yes, a "tipping guide" does have a large effect on actual tipping in restaurants - witness the "15% guideline" at non-fast-food establishments. But does this drive good service? I would actually argue that an "expected benchmark" may actually hinder exceptional service, as any tip below the established norm would be considered rude, and only consistent BAD service would erode this baseline. Knowing that A tip is expected (without an expected amount) will promote exceptionally attentive service better than a set guideline or norm.

just a comment on being a bartender; in Maldives
by law no Maldivian can be a bartender; they
can't serve alcohol by law; so all bartenders
in all the resorts have to be foreigners
-paul

All bartenders have to be foreigners? That's just plain stupid.

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This page contains a single entry by published on March 7, 2005 1:30 PM.

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