How to Ask Strangers for a Free Pizza

A case study based on the 'Random Acts of Pizza' Reddit thread.

ByABC News
May 28, 2014, 11:25 AM
People are taking part in "Random Acts of Pizza."
People are taking part in "Random Acts of Pizza."
Getty Images

May 28, 2014— -- A case study culled from Reddit responses reveals the best ways to get what you want from someone – even if it’s just a free pizza.

Researchers from Stanford University looked at thousands of posts on the Reddit page, “Random Acts of Pizza,” where users altruistically buy pizzas for others in need, to figure out which requests are most likely to get the free ‘za.

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The tips may not be news to panhandlers, but the Stanford research is specific to how get a free Reddit pizza and not to cadge cash on a street corner or the subway.

It’s all about language in the request, study author Christian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil told ABC News.

Here, he breaks down how to make your case:

Say Why You Need It

Requests for free pizza were most likely to be fulfilled if the users explained why they really needed it – if they lost their job and needed to feed a family, for example.

“You want to show urgency, you want to show that you really need this,” Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil said.

People weren’t as keen to help users out who didn’t have a good reason. So if you want pizza because you’re craving it, or because friends are coming over with beer, you’re probably going to be denied.

Promise to Pay it Forward

People who got free pizzas through the Reddit thread were most successful when they promised the giver they would pay the kind act forward when they can.

“It’s what we call generalized reciprocity,” Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil said. “This means I’m going to buy you or someone else a pizza once I get one.”

Just saying they would return the favor was enough to melt some Redditors’ hearts, even if the people getting the free pizza never actually return the favor.

“It’s quite surprising, because less than 10 percent actually follow through on that promise,” he added. “Still, just indicating your willingness to pay it forward, even if you never do, makes a big difference.”

Ask Nicely? It Doesn’t Really Matter

Politeness surprisingly wasn’t a deciding factor when it came to success of requests.

Perhaps that’s because Redditors already knew what they were getting into when they visited the thread, Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil said.

“If you’re there, everyone knows you’re asking for a pizza. No one is surprised. So it’s not imposing,” he explained.

The tips are specific to Reddit’s “Random Acts of Pizza” thread, but might give people some ideas on how to ask strangers for favors in real life. In that case, you might want to be polite.