forbes.com
Few customs offer as much insight into someone's personality than the age-old practice of tipping.
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updated 2/13/2006 1:34:51 PM ET 2006-02-13T18:34:51

So ladies, Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and the guy you've recently started seeing is set to take you on that first big dinner date to a nice restaurant. As the dating world goes, this is a major showcase. You'll need to pay attention to his choice of restaurant, his manners and how much eye contact he makes — especially if there's a television set on the wall with a game on.

But to really get the full picture, pay close attention to how he handles the server's tip. It's not just the amount he drops after the bill comes. Comments on the subject during the meal also provide insight — will he try to impress you as the “take control type” by asserting that the waitress's small faux pas of mixing up the two predinner cocktails will "definitely affect her tip?"

Few customs offer as much insight into someone's personality than the age-old practice of tipping. Those who make it a practice to leave extra large tips to a restaurant server may be naturally generous, or perhaps just thought the service was excellent. But, psychologists say, grossly overtipping can also be a sign of a large ego ("look at this money I'm throwing around") or a thinly veiled attempt by an insecure person to buy approval.

A thrifty tipper may well be cheap … or may just be an introvert who never quite grasped the protocol. Or, perhaps he simply doesn't add very well.

While old London coffee houses are generally credited as the birthplaces (a customer left a gratuity over and above the menu price "To Insure Promptness"), tipping has morphed into a mostly American custom. From a psychological standpoint, the practice fits in comfortably in a freewheeling, entrepreneurial society where money talks. A culture that rewards outgoing people generally produces bigger tippers, those sociable types who expect a lot of fuss to be made over them and who don't mind paying for it.

"Extraverts tip more than introverts," said Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University who has done exhaustive research on the custom.

"People are concerned about their outward appearance and want to think of themselves, 'I'm a generous person'," said Monmouth University psychology professor David Strohmetz. And gullible types are often taken in by a smart waitress who knows that small gestures like friendliness or a mint at the end of the meal usually do the trick.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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