The adaptive significance of posing behaviour by fish visiting cleaning stations on a Barbadian fringing reef was investigated. The probability of a visitor being cleaned by cleaning gobies (Elacatinus spp.) was significantly higher after posing than after failing to pose upon arrival at a cleaning station. Despite this, not all visitors posed, and there was much variation among species in tendency to pose. This interspecific variation was not related to the probability of being cleaned, either after posing or after failing to pose, nor was it related to trophic level or fish total length. The latter was true both for cross-species analyses and phylogenetically independent contrasts. A cost-benefit model is proposed to understand interspecific variation in posing behaviour, which considers both decisions by clients and by cleaners. As well as explaining the results, this may reconcile differences among anecdotal and experimental observations from previous studies.