The results of a new study show that almost 40% of servers admit to adjusting the quality of their service based on the race of their customers, and just over 50% claim that they have seen their colleagues do so.

The study, published in the Journal of Black Studies, surveyed 200 servers at 18 different full-service chain restaurants in North Carolina. About 86% of these servers were white.

The survey also showed that 90% of those surveyed have participated in racially charged conversations among their co-workers. The beliefs that these conversations have brought out, which, the study says, fuel the prejudice displayed by the servers, are the ideas that black customers are neither as polite nor as generous tippers as are customers of other races.

Sarah Rusche, co-author of the paper, sees restaurant treatment as just another way that discrimination bleeds into our daily lives.

“Tableside racism’ is yet another example in which African-Americans are stereotyped and subsequently treated poorly in everyday situations…Race continues to be a significant barrier to equal treatment in restaurants and other areas of social life.”

The sample size of these studies are never large enough to make hard and fast rules about how people behave, but it’s very telling that out of 200 servers, 80 of them admit to have treated a customer poorly because of race — that is far from insignificant. The problem is likely made worse by the pay structure for waiters and waitresses — since their pay is so dependent on tips, it’s rude, but perhaps more efficient, for servers to discriminate than to hope for the best.

Aside from boycotting establishments that have directly treated us poorly, however, what can we do about it? When I receive bad service, I tend to withhold or reduce the tip, which probably then allows servers to think that black people are bad tippers … where does the cycle end?

What do you think? Have you been discriminated against while dining out?

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24 Comments

  1. No not directly but there is something I feel as a dark-skinned woman whenever I walk into any establishment. If I’m not dressed in my work attire, it really feels like no one in the said place makes me feel welcome. It’s an intimate feeling so it’s hard to articulate, but it’s as real as any other feeling I have felt.

  2. I’ve felt like the lady in the picture. I or if I am in a group of people of color, we receive our bill before the desert even gets to the table. I hate it. It always rubs me the wrong way like they are ready for me to leave.

    • @Tannis: Do you understand that we do not have a choice about when we drop the check!???! Do you understand that in most establishments, we are REQUIRED to drop the check with the dessert?!? We are REQUIRED to ask right away if you want an appetizer. We KNOW that it is pushy but we cannot do a thing about it. Why don’t you have some sympathy and understanding towards a person who is bringing you your food and drink so that you don’t have to cook or clean?!? That woman or man is making 2.40/hour.

      • @Emily H: Calm down, she expressed an opinion in an appropriate way and place. I’ve been on both sides of this, and a hostess. Good waiters get good tips period. Making the choice to prejudge customers is ridiculous, you are going to get huge tips and bad for many reasons outside of your control. Being employed at a restaurant says that you are agreeing to be a part of good service experience not a potential tip meter reader. By the way you darn well know there is a way to express that you want the patron to be comfortable even though you are required to leave the check at a certain points. I hope you find the work you need cause your anxiety is off the chain.

  3. yeah i do but the funny thing is that i shake it off every time it happens. ive never made a fuss about it. i just feel white people or my own peeps would tell me im being too sensitive

  4. I recently went to a very nice restaurant for dinner. The server barely made eye contact with us and yes, the check came before dessert. As a matter of fact we had to ASK for dessert.

    I always look for the reason other than my color – it was close to shift end, perhaps she was just in a hurry to get off. That is no excuse for poor service though.

    But I look for that reason because the behavior is so subtle and it’s like hey wait – did they just diss me….yes, they just dissed me.

    And I still over tip because you know, they think we don’t tip…

    • @Margaret: I have to ask for dessert all the time at restaurants of a certain caliber. I just don’t get it but like you I’ll give every excuse other than race because it seems silly to discriminate when you in a position to either not to tip them or not. I hope this study is just a conjecture and not a widespread issue

  5. Dessert has never been an issue for mr and actually BC I’ve worked as a server before I’ve sometimes brought dessert that was ordered to the table not bc im rushing tgen out the door but because I have other tables to tend to and want to wrap up with you so that I dont forget to bring u ur dessert or I dont forget to tend to the next table. However I know this is something that happens alot I have a restaurant in my area and know a bi racial girl who works there and she shared that servers that work there call blacks pink lemonades and whenever one walks in they ask not to have a pink lemonade or get mad when they do have one. I was disgusted that I wasn’t hearing thus on the news and that she was telling me this first hand instead of being the one to bring this to the light of everyone who eats there. But then I thought oh wait she’s bi racial and may not feel its a big deal since she works there and is not full black. But then i also think about the many times I’ve gone out to eat with some of my black girl friends and someone leaves a dollar tip or finds a reason to not tip the server. Hmmm

    • @asia: yeah I have heard of ish like that and it’s not uncommon. People just hate black people. I have always felt that way when I’ve walked I to Denny’s let alone Spago’s or STK. disheartening for sure

  6. I have to admit when i was a server,i’d sigh whenever black people sat in my section because no matter how good i was the tip was always low and i’m a black woman. they ran me to death always, never satisfied either. and i knew i was the best at what I did. it could be a 100.00 check and they’d leave 5.00. its like they didnt realize that what we made was mostly tips. and 4.00 an hour.

    • @Dani: Thank you for your honesty, Dani. I am a white server, most of my co-workers are black. Do you think they like running their arse off for 6.00 on a 80.00 bill? Just for an illustration, I recieved my paycheck yesterday. I worked 76 hours for my two week billing period. I made 61.32. For two weeks.

  7. I have a rather unique experience I think. Years ago I went out with an all white group of friends. Since we had alot of people, they charged the 18 gratuity and taxes. My bill had $3.00 more on it. I almost didn’t see it but I looked again. One of the guys in our group collected all of the bills and mine was the only one overcharged. He called the manager, who ‘acted’ horrified at the mistake but it sure was funny that the only AA was overcharged accidently. Instead of comping the meal the just took the $3.00 off! My friends wouldn’t let me pay it, I wished they hadn’t either.

  8. I have a hard time seeing how being rude is more efficient… Seems like they are pretty much guaranteeing that they get sh*tty tips rather than doing a good job and at least having a 50/50 chance of getting a good tip.

  9. I’m in the same boat as Dani…I’ve been a server for over 5 years and I’m a Black woman…I think I give the best customer service to everyone no matter the race and it never fails I get shafted by people of color. Sometimes I think we as a ppl just have no clue about tipping….I’ve been out with groups of friends who will only drop $5 on $100 bill and b/c I’m in the service industry I know better….idk how this will end b/c I get frustrated when I see Black folk walk into my restaurant (sigh)

  10. I’m black, and I haven’t felt like I’ve been treated differently by white servers, by an Asian yes, but not by white servers. Perhaps, I have been but never realized it? When I am served, I am always polite. I greet with a big, genuine smile, and once they introduce themselves and mention any “specials” I listened intently and thank them for the info. It’s all about politeness and respect. Whatever the race of the server, if their service was great I tip accordingly 20%…if it sucked, again I tip accordingly. I have read and heard that blacks tend to not be great tippers but as I said I do know about the 20 to 15% being the appropriate amount for a tip. However, I tip 20%.

  11. Still however there is a level of service that is expected regardless, it should always be professional whether he/she feels they won’t be tipped accordingly.

  12. As someone who has worked as a server, I seriously think that some Black people just don’t know that you’re supposed to tip. I think they see leaving a tip as a “favor” of some sort. I feel that if they knew better, then they would do better. My mother taught me that you ALWAYS tip if you recieve ANY kind of service: food, hair, oil changes, etc. I think it’s a matter of socialization.

    I have a friend who once threw a dollar on the table after a meal and had the nerve to say “I’m going to give her(the waitress) a little something ’cause I really liked her.” SMH

  13. Black people get bad service because black people tend to be shi**y tippers. I’d say at this point, it’s a lot better. I feel that a lot of black folks (young) are better about it, but on the whole, yes there are folks leaving a dollar after spending $60 on a meal.

    This fellah at the root did a great job breaking it down:

    And this on the street video:

  14. Working in food service, i can say that, in my own experience, tipping is less a race issue and more a socioeconomic issue. lower/working class tends to tip less, and this just happens to tie in with race (they can’t really be separated). Also, for many (race notwithstanding), going out to eat is an economic luxury, so tips are small because the price of the meal may already be breaking the bank.

    However, when I am the one eating the meal, I always overtip (25 plus percent), even if the service is bad. And I have always been guaranteed awesome service the next time i eat there.

  15. At this place in time this kind of crap needs to be a “their problem” issue. Racism is heart cancer, and I feel bad for those who suffer it, but I refuse to share in the disease. I’m a dark skinned woman in Oklahoma City, who has worked and dined in so called fine restaurants and retail. when I realized I couldn’t carry all the pain trying to be forced on me I refused it. This is rarely easy but its worth it not to be systematically shredded over time. If wait staff is edgy call them on it “Are you having a bad day?” or “do you need a moment?” smile and look around for the manager, this puts them on notice that you have no intention of being stuck in table jail because you came to an establishment to pay for food.

  16. I’ve waited tables and YES the sight of a table black folks is quite discouraging… as a black woman I learned to take responsibility for that particular “crazy customer/bad tipper” stereotype and be a kind customer and a good tipper. I educate those I dine with when it is apparent that they don’t know proper tip etiquette. I’m not going to get mad at a white waiter because he assumes I’m going to do something that is quite common in my race. The waiter/waitress/server/hostess whatever you want to call it is not your downstairs maid or personal valet. This is a human being deserving of respect and dignity who carries YOUR FOOD. I don’t have race issues in restaurants and I’ve dined all over the country from upscale spots to airports. I attribute that to my kindness to my server when they approach me. I don’t talk down to him or her and I let him or her know upfront that I am 2 things: 1) very picky about my food 2) an over tipper. We don’t have any problems after that. We give respect to get respect.

  17. So to get good service we have to put our server at ease by smilling and letting them know that we are friendly overtipping customers? That sounds off to me. Some people go out to eat because they saved enough money to just pay for the meal. Or i know i have been guilty of this my self, i forget how much cash i have with me. But it is the servers job to give excellent service regardless of their personal prejudice. Also keep in mind that 15% isn’t that much

  18. I always tip well though I am not at all well-off. I tip well because my father – a black man – always tipped well. I later learned that he did this because of this very stereotype.

    I think one person made a really good point about socio-economics and how it’s intertwined with race.

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