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Bad service? What that white lie really costs

Some white lies are totally innocent -- for example, when my dinner guests recently told me my baked ziti with eggplant was "delicious." (In truth, it was undercooked.) I get it: We fib to be nice and avoid hurting feelings. But in some instances, white lies can be costly.

Scientists at the University of Alberta recently found that consumers who tell little white lies to avoid confrontations in places like restaurants and nail salons may end up actually paying more for their service. In one case, 100% of servers said they received bigger tips when their customers lied about the quality of their experience and meal. In another scenario set in a nail salon, the manicurist got up and left for 10 minutes in the midst of the service without an explanation or apology. Those who reported that the manicure went well tipped more than those who expressed dissatisfaction.

Blame psychology

The reason white lies lead to overspending is that we feel a need to right a wrong. Sometimes we feel guilty or awkward (or both) and want to correct the situation, at least in our minds. As a result, we overcompensate -- literally -- by paying more for the service.

I've even fallen afoul of this myself. Even though I almost always speak up when not getting my end of the bargain, I stayed mum last summer during a disastrous visit to the hair salon -- and it proved expensive. At a fancy salon before my friend's wedding, accompanied by the bride and the other bridesmaids, I told my stylist ahead of time that I didn't want anything dramatic -- but still ended up looking like a B-52. I did not speak up; instead I said, "it's great," and tried to hold back my tears.

What did I do next? I paid in full and tipped generously ($95). And then, desperate to tame my do before the 5:00 p.m. ceremony, I went to another salon down the street and had it fixed for an extra $40.

I suppose I didn't speak up because I didn't want to cause a scene. After all, it was my friend's wedding. But, looking back, I could have been quietly assertive. Here's my advice on how to respond to sub-par service:

Be proactive and prompt

Say something as soon as you realize something's wrong. Don't wait to be asked how things are and give yourself the opportunity to lie. If your coffee arrives cold or if your Caesar salad has anchovies and you asked for none, get the server's attention before too much time goes by.

I think the longer we avoid bringing up the issue, the less inclined we are to actually say something or tell the truth.

Present a solution

Don't think of speaking up as complaining per se. Instead, offer a solution. Instead of just saying, "my soup's cold," ask: "Can you please warm this up for me?" It's less awkward and you haven't had to spell out that the soup's too cold.

If you ever feel hesitant speaking your mind, remember that honesty really does pay. Speaking up may not only help correct your situation, but you could actually save money -- by having the item taken off your bill entirely or being comped at your next visit. After all, the service industry is dependent on having satisfied customers.

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