The Journal of Black Studies recently published an article outlining a survey that shows waiters may discriminate based upon race. Of the 200 servers from 18 different restaurants in North Carolina who participated in the study, two-fifths of them admitted to showing prejudice towards customers based on their race.
“Many people believe that race is no longer a significant issue in the United States,” says Sarah Rusche, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the study.
However, the majority of the participants in the study were white, and many of them said they perceived African-American patrons to be less polite than other guests, as well as having an overall notion that they tipped less generously.
“The fact that a third of servers admit to varying their quality of service based on customers’ race, often giving African-Americans inferior service, shows that race continues to be an issue in our society,” Rusche says.
Having this preconceived notion — that of all racial and/or ethnic groups, black people tip the least — may actually be a self-fulfilling paradox.
Dr. William Michael Lynne, professor of consumer behavioral marketing at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, theorizes that because servers inherit the idea that black people tip less, they don’t provide service typical of someone who’s after a good tip.
“It’s a dirty secret in the industry that there is a wide spread perception that blacks don’t tip well,” she says.
Simply put, waiters who believe African-American diners tip less, provide poor service; in turn they receive the poor tip they’d already expected, reinforcing the racial stereotype.
Dr. Lynne, who has studied the relationship between gratuities and race since the late 1980’s, believes that — although the issue is complex, and largely simplified by preconceived notions based on racial stereotypes — at least some of the evidence from similar research supports the negative perceptions of blacks and poor tipping.
“Race Difference in Tipping,” published in 2006, found that of those blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians who were asked, African-Americans claimed to give the lowest average tip. Although there are critical factors unaccounted for in her continuing study (such as European or other non-Northern American whites and blacks, who may not follow our gratuity practices), Lynne has concluded at this time that there is no single answer as to why African-Americans might tip less overall.
Doctor of psychology, Wendi Williams, thinks blacks and whites of similar socioeconomic backgrounds may tip less due to differences in tipping etiquette.
“Class-wise, it may appear as if [certain] blacks should be dining out, but I think that blacks carry more debt and less wealth,” says Williams.
On the other hand, Williams says she’s personally noticed differences in service from waiters, depending on the gender, race, and number of people she’s dinning with.
“I never receive poor service when [dining] out with whites [or] Asians, and it never happens if there is a white male in the group.”
From the other side of the conversation, restaurant owners like Frank Klein, although acknowledging the perceptions of race among wait staff, denies the validity of such stereotypes about race and tipping.
“There is no difference in the way that racial demographics tip,” Klein says, “I’ve never seen numbers [that] prove that women don’t tip as well.”
Follow Briana Lopes on Twitter at @briananikohl