Race and Tips (Participation)

Published November 18, 2014 by djlwsu

Black Restaurant Servers Get Smaller Tips

 • September 04, 2014 • 8:00 AM

Among acrimonious acronyms, it isn’t as fraught with potential peril as DWB (Driving While Black). But newly published research suggests there are definite disadvantages to WTWB (Waiting Tables While Black).

In a study, both black and white patrons at a moderately priced Midwestern restaurant tipped black servers less than their white counterparts. This disparity was found in spite of the fact that patrons reported being more pleased with the black servers’ work.

Considering the fact that tips make up more than half of waiters’ income (at least according to a 2012 survey), this is more than a symbolic slight. It suggests black servers, on average, take home significantly less money than their white colleagues.

The study, by sociologists Zachary Brewster of Wayne State University and Michael Lynn of Cornell University, confirms the results of similar research published in 2008. The earlier study, however, was conducted at a restaurant in the U.S. South.

“Our results indicate that both white and black restaurant customers discriminate against black servers by tipping them less than their white co-workers.”

The establishment at the center of this new study is in the Midwest. The similar results, the researchers write in the journal Sociological Inquiry, suggest “this phenomenon is not unique to specific locales.”

Brewster and Lynn surveyed 394 people who had just eaten dinner. Patrons were asked the amount of their bill, the size of the tip they left, and the race of their server.

In addition, the diners rated their server’s “appearance, friendliness, attentiveness, and promptness,” and noted such specifics as whether he or she “made them feel comfortable and welcome” and “seemed to sincerely care about their dining experience.”

The disheartening findings: “Our results indicate that both white and black restaurant customers discriminate against black servers by tipping them less than their white co-workers.”

Furthermore, “to the degree that there are interracial differences in serving skills, black servers in this study are perceived to provide better service relative to that provided by their white co-workers,” the researchers report. “Black servers were rated more favorably than white servers across each of three unique indices measuring service skills.”

Thus, after their quality of work was taken into account, “the disparity between tips given to black and white servers was enhanced rather than attenuated.”

Demographics suggest there weren’t a lot of overt racists among the restaurant’s patrons. (The average patron surveyed was a 43-year-old, college-educated female; 63 percent were white.)

Rather, the researchers point to unconscious bias as a “sound, theoretically informed explanation” of their findings.

“Tipping decisions are not only made quickly, at the end of the dining encounter, but are also to some degree made without much thought,” they write. “Consumers tend to round up or down from the calculated tip percentage they leave their servers, and such adjustments seem to be made without much conscious deliberation. Thus, it makes theoretical sense that tipping decisions might be unconsciously influenced by implicit racial biases.”

Why this behavior extends to black customers is less clear. But the researchers point to anecdotal reports that blacks sometimes over-tip white servers for fear of perpetuating the stereotype of “blacks don’t tip well.” If so, that would contribute to the imbalance the researchers found.

“Like all social inequalities,” the researchers conclude, “the underlying causes of such disparities are likely to be multifaceted and complex.” But as this research confirms, they are also real, and they do real, if unintended, economic harm.

So here’s a tip: The next time you’re throwing down 15 or 20 percent before heading out of a restaurant, take a moment and think about how much you are leaving, and why.


10 comments on “Race and Tips (Participation)

  • Since I was 15 I have worked in the restaurant business and have been exposed to the many forms of corruption that go on in this field of work. At my first job, The Slip, where I was a line cook I saw first hand how bias the hiring process was. It seemed as if the common requirements for any waitress at the restaurant were a thin waist, long hair and good looks. These girls were expected to wear what our manager described as “summer attire” which was code for skimpy skirts and halter tops. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job but it was obvious that it was not the food or poor service that was bringing in so many tips. Now I am a server at Pogacha in Bellevue, a high quality Croatian restaurant whose walls are covered with local art and sculptures. Quite a drastic change from the bar environment of The Slip. At Pogacha our servers were made up of a very diverse crowd. Rich, the 38 year old single father, Brianne the attractive young female waitress and me, the 19 year old Cougar looking to earn some money to pay for my tuition. At Pogacha it seemed as if there was constantly some tension amongst our servers because of customer preferences and the fact that some of us obviously brought in more tip money than others. For example in my first few weeks I made more tips on a lunch shift than most servers prior. It seems that rich old bellevue woman like being waited on by college men. I wasn’t complaining. What I never took into consideration though in my entire time working there was the fact that I consistently made more tip money than my friend and coworker Daniel. Daniel was from Seattle, a witty and humorous young man, also 19. Daniel’s parents were Ethiopian and he had moved to the United States at a young age. It was obvious that he assimilated quickly and worked well with the customers but for some reason his tips continuously seemed less generous than the tips I made. Neither of us talked about it often but both of us were very aware. My point is, Daniel and I had similar work ethics and tendencies while working. Both of us were personable with customers and known for genuinely good service but the fact remains that customers did not fairly treat Daniel. Knowingly or not, the discrimination towards black servers is very much a real issue that restaurant goers need to be educated about.


  • After working in the restaurant industry I have noticed how almost all the servers where white. We had one black man working in the restaurant and I thought he was hilarious and a great worker. He always showed up 20 mins early to his shift and kept a smile on his face even when customers were rude. I do remember him complaining about tips one night however. He was talking to this new girl who was working as a server and she was in a crappy mood because of how her day had been. I remember him giving me a remark about how he deserved better tips than the white girl because he was actually nice to the customers that night. I never noticed how people can secretly discriminate against whites and blacks in the restaurant business. I do admit, I always feel super comfortable around a white female server, I don’t know why but I do. Maybe that has something to do with it, people feel comfortable around what is known to be less intimidating. I am not a racist, I do not mind being served by any specific race, as long as they are nice and friendly I will give them a good tip. But I do believe that people who have not worked in the restaurant business don’t always understand that these people are just normal people and this is what they have chosen to do as a career. Some people may look at colored servers and think that they cant get a high paying job and it makes sense because they are colored. But the truth is is that people become servers for multiple reasons, at my work most people did it because they liked how it wasn’t a routine job and that they got to talk to new people all day.


  • When I worked in the restaurant industry over the summer, I was one of the few servers that were of minority compared to the majority of white servers. From what I observed, customers were not very picky towards what color their server was because they main intention for walking in was to feed their hunger. However, this does not mean that each server was treated equally and with respect. Since the majority of customers who walk in want their food made and served as quick as possible, and assembled exactly how they would like it. If even the smallest thing is off, that little detail can result in a bad review of tip when it might not even be the servers fault. We had two servers that were black and even though they were still treated well, it seemed as if the customers with starting casual conversation with those servers who were white. Now this could have a occurred for a variety of reasons such as maybe the customers being served by the black servers were not very talkative or having a bad day, or it could also be that since most of the customers walking in were white, they are more likely to have a conversation with those who they can relate and comfortable around. Many people are quick to judge a person based on their skin color, and completely neglect what kind of a person they truly are. Going to a restaurant results in interaction, both with the company around you, as well as your server. Leaving a tip should be a result in how well your server did in terms of letting you enjoy your meal and fitting your need, not someones judgement because of their skin color.


  • I found it surprising that although customers found the black servers’ work was better, the study showed the were tipped less than the white servers. This is another reason why tips should not account for the bulk of a waiter’s pay. I also found it surprising that a previous study found that black customers also discriminate against black servers, and that it’s not just the whites who discriminate. The article suggests that the discrimination is probably a result of an unconscious, implicit racial bias, which I agree is probably the case in most situations. Unfortunately, this problem is not easily fixed since it is the customer’s choice how much they want to tip the server. The most effective way to fix this problem in my opinion would be to raise the minimum wage for waiters so that it is over half of their income, instead of the other way around. This way, a server’s income would not rely so much on tips, which can be unfair because of the discrimination towards minorities. Another way for this problem to be solved is educating more people on the biases that often occur in tipping. Instead of people not thinking about how much they tip, they should put into consideration how good of a job the server did, and base the tip off of that.


  • Me being a patron of a wide variety of restaurants, i didn’t realize until our discussion in class that there are a massive amount of racial disparities in the restaurant industry. Before reading this article, i never noticed that racial disparities in tipping was such a huge problem. knowing that the majority of income for tipped workers comes from their tips, you can see how big of an impact these disparities can have on the African American workers in their lives and wellbeing. This article brings up a lot of interesting points about the implicit biases that many people have in their day to day lives. the article says that after conducting post meal questionnaires covering their happiness with the waiters service and their tip, even though the African American workers scored better than their white counterparts, they received an averagely lower tip. after seeing this, they brought up the point that there could be a lot of factors contributing to this. they said that this could be due to tipping decisions being made quickly and without much thought. thats where they came to the conclusion that this tipping disparity could be due to the implicit biases that people have towards certain races. when going over this, you start to think about how much that can effect the lives of these workers, not only financially but emotionally. the tip that a person gives is based on the quality of service that the employee gives, so it would make sense that the African American workers that gave better service would receive the best tips, but because of racial biases, they often times don’t.


  • I find this article very interesting and surprising at the same time. Regardless of the restaurant location, there is still discrimination against blacks in the restaurant industry. Having never worked in the industry I’ve never seen it from a personal perspective, but having friends that have told me about it. I think whites don’t tip blacks as much because there is still a small level of discrimination against them, especially in the south. I feel whites don’t get on a personal level and don’t have a personal conversation with blacks while they are being served. I think blacks don’t tip blacks the same amount of whites because they don’t want the black server to feel like they are treating them “better” just because they are black. Wherever you may eat, there will always be discrimination against colored people because of the history we have with them throughout the United States. They say we learn from history, but obviously we haven’t learned from discrimination of colored people in America.


  • I have never worked in the restaurant industry and before now have not been aware of all the things that go on behind what is clearly seen from the customers perspective. It is very interesting that both blacks and whites gave blacks a smaller tip. I think this shows it is not just straight racism in the way that whites do not feel blacks deserve as much but it is more. It could be that sub consciously both blacks and whites are aware of the fact that throughout history blacks have been seen to deserve less. The customers are not making a point to give them less because they are racist and do not want to give blacks as much. I think this is very much without even thinking about it much and because of the way the history of race has been and engrained into our brains and now we do not even have to think about it. Like it was said in class blacks have been seen as servants in our society so when they are there serving us at a restaurant it is not abnormal or unfortunate that they are there it is what they are born to do, to serve. Because this is so sub conscious it is hard to change. I think it just needs to be made aware to more and more people so that when they are at a restaurant and tipping they can consciously think about it and be sure they are tipping equally in regards to how good the service was. I think this needs to happen until it is made the norm and the sub conscious decision that is made is to give them equal tip and not view them as different from each other.


  • History repeats itself in term of disparity of racial income in every possible way.
    I think it is obvious that construction of racial disparity has been pass down from generation to generation. The study shows that black server is getting less tips than white server in term of money. Our justice system play role in every disparity we have in United State (US). Restaurant and fast food is one of the richest industries in US but their employ rely on tip as a income. Our Society is prejudice against certain community in different circumstance. We as a community see black people as hostile and aggressive. Black servers on average make less money on tips and take home significantly less money than white server. These reflect construction of implicit bias toward black community. Most interesting that I learn from this article, which surprise me was black customers discriminate black server. One thing is clear; bias does not look for their own race because black discriminating black is strange. Customers often look for friendliness, attentiveness and promptness from server. When it come to racial perception black are always behind. We consider black as criminal and some people.

    In other hand tips does not reflect racial bias because tips depend on economic sources and also depend on personal feeling of customer. I know personal feeling can be bias but also can be how well server treat customer service. Server job is to connect with people and being friendly, which you earn more tips. My brother work as server in airport restaurant and sometime he makes more and less depending on customer mood. He said exactly the same thing as article state, “ you have to be make customers feel comfortable and welcome and sincerely care about their dining” to get more tips from customer.


  • Prior to the discussion in class, I am not aware at all that tipping between black and white is such a problematic issue. This may be due to the fact that I am an international student where neither white or black issue applicable to me, but the exposure in the class definitely something that captured my interest. I am still do not get why black customer tips black server less than white server, because from my understanding people tend to help their own race while the “race card” in play, but it does not seem that way in this case. I would definitely interested to know more if there is other research that can explain this situation. On the other note, I do agree that tipping decision tends to not only quickly made but also without much thought, but in my case, I round up or down the calculated tip percentage not due to server’s skin color but more towards depending on my financial standing at the moment or due to my overall dining experience.


  • Embarrassingly, I’ll admit that my tips are probably some of the smallest. I’ve left anywhere from $1-$5 on orders over $25. It is nothing to do with the server regardless of race however, I’m simply being really cheap and round up to the nearest $5. After this restaurant unit, I’m definitely more aware of the struggles faced by restaurant workers in general. It has definitely encouraged me to practice proper tipping because I definitely would be upset if I was in their shoes receiving dimes for fair service. We’ve all seen the struggles that restaurant workers face working in that industry so I think people shouldn’t dine in if they’re not willing to be courteous.


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