Racial Stereotypes on Black Tipping Behavior May Lead to Poor Restaurant Service

wayne-state-university (1)A study by a sociologist at Wayne State University in Detroit finds that the wait staff at restaurants are more likely to give better service to persons they perceive will be good tippers. Thus, when waiters at restaurants have the preconceived notion that Black patrons are poor tippers, they are unlikely to give a high level of service to these customers.

Zachary Brewster, an assistant professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Wayne State analyzed attitudes and behaviors of 200 servers at 18 different restaurants in a southeastern U.S. city. He reported that “the findings suggest that African Americans, in particular, may be at risk for not only having excellent service withheld from them, but for receiving poor service in some cases.” Dr. Brewster says that racialized chatter among restaurant servers that tends to exaggerate servers’ perceptions of African Americans’ tipping behavior adds to the problem.

Dr. Brewster offers the following solution: “If restaurants promoted tipping norms for specific levels of service quality for their own establishment, over time people would learn those norms and become familiar with different conceptions of service quality across restaurants. Servers could come to expect to be rewarded for the service level provided, irrespective of customer demographics.”

The study, “The Effects of Restaurant Servers’ Perceptions of Customers’ Tipping Behaviors on Service Discrimination,” was published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management. The article can be purchased here.

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  1. Very interesting… I’ve long thought that racial disparities in tipping was connected to racial differences in the meanings attached to tipping, with whites more likely to think of it as simply part of the cost of a meal and blacks more likely to link it to the quality of service in providing the meal. I would think this difference in meaning comes from different historical experiences with tipping. The historical memory of African Americans having to WORK for a tip (and even then it wasn’t always forthcoming), may have trickled over to contemporary behavior.

    • I agree with your view of the tipping issue. I know that when I dine out if the service is quality and the server is friendly, I typically tip 20% but if it is not I tip less – 15%.

  2. I eat out frequently and experience this often. It is always curious to me that servers adjust their service based upon what you look like. Somehow it does not occur to them that they are receiving a lower tip because they provided a lower level of service. I had one person question me about their tip. I had to explain that they were not as good as they thought they were. I always pay by credit or debit card so the date and time of service can be tracked. And, when I lower the tip because of poor service, I make a note on the receipt so the server and management will know.

  3. If Blacks are bad tippers, it is because the service sucks. If you think Blacks suck as tippers then your service is going to suck and you aren’t going to get a tip.

    It’s called a Feedback Loop

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