Emojis, the small images or icons used to express an idea, emotion or reaction, have become ubiquitous with digital modes of communication -- whether through text messaging, emails, or social media posts.

But a new study has found that the next frontier for smiley faces could be service-based business transactions, with researchers suggesting that emojis wield the potential to increase tipping averages. 

The research, published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management, has determined that a payment terminal’s inclusion of a happy face emoji can boost service tips by over 30 per cent.

Researchers evaluated three tipping contexts: full-service restaurants with credit or debit payment options, food delivery apps and take-out services. In each of the assessed situations, preselected tipping percentages were presented with different emojis.

The 10 per cent option, for instance, was accompanied by a neutral emoji expression, while the 15 to 25 per cent range was presented with increasingly happier smiley faces. 

Full-service restaurants experienced an 11-per cent relative increase, with the presence of emojis on the payment terminal increasing the tipping average from 22.86 per cent to 25.38 per cent, a notable jump of two per cent. 

The food delivery app, which didn’t present the 25-per cent tipping option, saw the inclusion of emojis increase the average tipping payments from 14.66 per cent to 16.11 per cent, demonstrating a relative increase of 9.9 per cent.

Most significantly impacted by the inclusion of emojis in transaction processes, however, was take-out services, which saw the average tipping payment jump from 12.61 per cent to 16.75 per cent.

According to the study, prior research has closely examined a number of variables beyond customer satisfaction that influence tipping decisions. Many of these variables, the study explains, are a result of human-to-human interaction, such as a server’s appearance, body language and verbal compliments. 

However, the study said that “technological advances also give restaurants greater ability to alter the information produced to customers during the payment transaction that do not rely on server initiatives.” 

The study explains that faces are the primary channel for non-verbal emotion communication and that smiles are the “most direct signal to positive emotions.” 

Digitally communicated, the study explains virtual smiles are similar to facial smiles in that they activate a region of the brain closely associated with facial perception.  

This biological reaction could be a reason why the inclusion of emojis has led to an increase in tipping averages, the researchers suggest. 

With the landscape of service and tipping payments constantly changing, the study says that “understanding non-conscious methods for increasing tips is important for academics and practitioners alike to consider.”