The beauty of research

Melissa Galm chats with diners at Chick­ie’s & Pete’s on Roosevelt Boulevard. Galm, a re­cent Holy Fam­ily grad, did an aca­dem­ic study for a fin­ance class with nine of her co-work­ers. They found that, on av­er­age, the wo­men made more money in tips as blon

Melissa Galm and Holy Fam­ily pro­fess­or Dr. Cao Ji­ang reached a col­or­ful con­clu­sion from their re­search study that asks, “Do blonde wait­resses get bet­ter tips than bru­nettes?”

Melissa Galm gradu­ated from Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity in Decem­ber with a bach­el­or’s de­gree in fin­ance and the wis­dom gleaned from thou­sands of hours in the classroom.

Yet per­haps the most prac­tic­al les­son she learned was ac­tu­ally one of the simplest.

Some might even think of it as simple-minded.

Galm dis­covered that blondes do, in fact, have more fun — that is, if you con­sider it fun to make more money in your job by chan­ging something as simple as your hair col­or.

In their re­cently com­pleted re­search study, Galm and her fin­ance pro­fess­or, Dr. Cao Ji­ang, found that the wait­resses at North­east Phil­adelphia’s pop­u­lar sports bar and res­taur­ant, Chick­ie’s & Pete’s, make more money in tips when they forgo their nat­ur­al, dark­er hair col­or in fa­vor of blonde.

Galm pro­posed the study late last year for her port­fo­lio ana­lys­is and in­vest­ment man­age­ment class with Ji­ang.

Be­cause Galm was be­ing eval­u­ated on her concept, and not ne­ces­sar­ily her ex­e­cu­tion of it, the study — un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances — would nev­er ac­tu­ally have seen the light of day.

But in Janu­ary, the Na­tion­al Con­fer­ence on Un­der­gradu­ate Re­search — to whom Ji­ang had sub­mit­ted Galm’s idea — ac­cep­ted it as a val­id area of re­search and en­cour­aged her to pur­sue it.

So with the con­fer­ence’s ad­vocacy and the sup­port of Holy Fam­ily’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, Galm spent the next two months sur­vey­ing about a dozen serv­ers at Chick­ie’s & Pete’s Roosevelt Boulevard loc­a­tion, where Galm works part time.

For 30 days, the wo­men wore their nat­ur­al hair col­ors (or the col­ors they were wear­ing im­me­di­ately be­fore the study began). Then they changed col­ors for the next 30 days. The dark-haired wait­resses, in­clud­ing Galm, went blonde, and a couple of blondes went bru­nette.

“Ba­sic­ally, there was an in­crease in the per­cent­age of earn­ings (for those who changed to blonde hair),” Galm said. “It was 1.37 per­cent­age points, which doesn’t seem like that much. But if someone was a serv­er full time for a year, it could mean two to three thou­sand dol­lars a year.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ji­ang, a Ph.D. who is chair­man of the fin­ance de­part­ment at Holy Fam­ily, he and Galm ana­lyzed tip amounts as a per­cent­age of the cor­res­pond­ing cus­tom­er bills. That is, the dark­er-haired Chick­ie’s & Pete’s serv­ers col­lec­ted tips at a 17.26-per­cent rate be­fore go­ing blonde, then at an 18.63-per­cent rate after light­en­ing up.

There were only two wait­resses who star­ted blonde and went dark, not enough of a sample to draw con­clu­sions for that group.

“From the data, it does seem to sup­port that maybe people sub­con­sciously do tend to tip (wait­resses) who are fair-haired bet­ter,” Galm said.

The real beauty of Galm’s concept, ac­cord­ing to Ji­ang, is that it took in­to ac­count count­less vari­ables that oth­er­wise might have skewed the data. For ex­ample, tips might also be in­flu­enced by the body type and phys­ic­al at­tract­ive­ness of in­di­vidu­al serv­ers, by their per­son­al­it­ies, by the spe­cif­ic shifts worked and by the demo­graph­ics of the cus­tom­ers.

Yet by us­ing the same wo­men for both study groups — the dark-haired and the blonde — the au­thors were able to con­trol most of the vari­able factors, leav­ing hair col­or as the lone glar­ing vari­able.

“The idea, in that as­pect, is pretty ma­ture,” Ji­ang said. “(Un­der­gradu­ates) don’t know how to do all of the aca­dem­ic work — the hy­po­thes­is and stat­ist­ic­al ana­lys­is — but the concept is (Galm’s) and that’s the im­port­ant part.”

Bey­ond that, Galm also was able to tap in­to a fa­cet of re­search that even seasoned aca­dem­ics of­ten struggle to grasp. She man­aged to at­tract wide­spread in­terest for her work. Loc­al print, tele­vi­sion and ra­dio journ­al­ists have in­ter­viewed Galm on the sub­ject. A ra­dio sta­tion in Cin­cin­nati also heard about the study and con­tac­ted her via Face­book.

“We nev­er ex­pec­ted this mass me­dia,” Ji­ang said. “Ul­ti­mately, the goal of this par­tic­u­lar study was to get pub­lished (in a pro­fes­sion­al journ­al).”

Call it a les­son in the prac­tic­al ap­plic­a­tion of classroom the­ory. People, by and large, seem to be very curi­ous about blondes and their tip money.

“As a busi­ness re­search­er, your study would have no value if it didn’t have a prac­tic­al sense,” Ji­ang said. “For prac­tic­al re­search, it has to res­on­ate. It has to be in­ter­est­ing to oth­er people.”

A bit of con­tro­versy usu­ally helps, too. “With the ste­reo­types of blondes be­ing dumber or more beau­ti­ful, it’s a con­stant battle,” Galm said. “People seem to be very opin­ion­ated about it.” ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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