Golden locks: Waitresses' tips rose when hair changed from brunet to blond

Melissa Galm (left) and Jessica Beavers at Chickie's & Pete's on Roosevelt Boulevard. Ten servers took part in the experiment.
Melissa Galm (left) and Jessica Beavers at Chickie's & Pete's on Roosevelt Boulevard. Ten servers took part in the experiment. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 17, 2011

Melissa Galm, a 27-year-old finance student at Holy Family University, has broken new ground in the small but fascinating field of blond studies with research showing that fair-haired waitresses earn more in tips - even when their dark roots are showing.

During the last few decades, researchers have explored such vital anthropological questions as whether blondes earn higher salaries or are perceived as dumber than brunettes. Galm's experiment has brought the discipline to a new level by controlling for factors such as age, attractiveness, education, and personality, and changing only one variable - hair color, said Cao Jiang, chairman of the university's department of business.

"She's a star," Jiang said.

Galm was a second-semester senior in Jiang's course in investment analysis and portfolio management last fall, when the class was asked to design a research project. The challenge was to find a correlation between two unrelated modalities.

For the last two years, Galm had been waitressing at Chickie's & Pete's sports bar in Northeast Philadelphia. "I noticed that girls like to go lighter for the summer and darker in the fall," she said. "And I wondered if the stereotype about blondes being more attractive would make a difference in their tips."

She made up a flier asking for volunteers and persuaded nine of her coworkers to participate in the 60-day experiment. Two of the women were blond, the rest - including Galm - were not.

Throughout March, they reported their tips from each shift. The two blondes consistently earned more than their darker-haired coworkers. Then on April 1, they all were asked to switch their hair color - blondes going dark, brunettes and redheads going blond - and continue to report their daily take.

One of the blondes was removed from the study because she did not report all her tips and was always dying her hair a different color, Galm said.

Eight of the other compliant nine, however, began experiencing hair bias within a week. All the newly blond waitresses received higher tips, averaging a 5 percent increase. The one blonde who turned brunette, however, saw no noticeable drop in earnings.

"We need a few more people in the study," Galm said.

Galm and Jiang cowrote a report showing the initial findings:

"The tip earning is increased from 17.26 percent to 18.63 percent - a 1.37 percentage-point increase (or 7.94 percent increase)."

Although the study involves only 10 women, Jiang said it was statistically significant. "We looked at 300 different shifts over 2,000 shift hours and numerous tables that in total represent 1,600 data points."

The results were controlled for the time and day of shifts, the servers' age, education level, GPAs, personality, body mass index, height, marital status, eye color, and length of experience as a server.

"Normally," explained Jiang, a former investment banker who has a doctorate in finance from Temple University, "I don't work with undergraduates on research." But even before Galm had time to put her experiment to work, Jiang was so impressed with her proposal that he encouraged her to submit it to the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research, sponsored annually by Ithaca College.

It was accepted, and Galm received a warm reception when she presented her project at the conference in April.

Customers at Chickie's & Pete's last week, however, were divided in their opinions about the study's findings.

"I don't believe it," said Shanan Mohatt, a 33-year-old merchant services salesman from Phoenix. "Some people like brunettes, and I'm one of them. My wife is Mexican. She has long black curly hair. She's exotic. You know, that's what I like, because blondes are boring."

The reason blondes get better tips may have less to do with perceptions of beauty than with stereotypes casting them as less competent.

A 1996 study published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, "The Effects of Hair Color and Cosmetic Use on Perceptions of a Female's Ability," found that people consider blondes less intellectually capable than brunettes.

Pity, then, might also be at play.

Either way, Jiang (whose hair is black) noted, waitresses seeking to maximize earnings might want to consider lightening up. "Even if it costs $100 once a month to dye your hair blond," he said, "you come out about $2,300 ahead for the year."

For Galm, who bleached her long light-brown hair for the experiment, the difference in tips is not worth the dissonant self-image.

"I can't wait for it to grow out," she said. Besides, she has a second job now as a sales assistant for financial advisers, and as far as she knows, any raises she earns will be based on her competence, not highlights.


Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.

 

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