Article: “Study shows blacks tip less — but they may have good reason” (Mar.2006)

"Poor tips, Lynn says, may contribute to black diners getting poorer service and to companies' reluctance to open restaurants in predominantly black communities, not to mention angering servers and customers alike. And it fuels yet another debate about tipping, always a hot-button topic for travelers.

Lynn doesn't discount the role of anti-black bias in any of these problems. But he mainly sees this cycle at work:

Expecting skimpy gratuities, waiters resist serving African Americans, or they provide poorer service, which discourages blacks from patronizing table-service restaurants. Low tips also make it hard for restaurants in black neighborhoods to attract and retain staff, causing turnover and decreasing profits.

Gerry Fernandez, president of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, a nonprofit group in Providence, R.I., that promotes diversity, finds merit in Lynn's findings.

Some African Americans may be "extremely sensitive" about service glitches, he said, such as getting their food late, after other tables are served, or being seated in the back. Such actions, whatever their intent, may be perceived as racial slights.

"Remember the back of the bus?" he said.

In addition, poor service motivated by bigotry may occur "way more than anybody wants to admit," Fernandez said."

link: "Study shows blacks tip less — but they may have good reason" by Jane Engle (Los Angeles Times, Mar.26, 2006) 
link: "Race Differences in Tipping: Questions and Answers for the Restaurant Industry" by Michael Lynn, Ph.D. (study cited in the article ) / news release about the study

excerpt from news release:
"Fernandez notes particularly that restaurants need to examine service issues from a minority perspective. He stated: “whether you agree with the research or not, black customers are not always receiving the service they deserve, therefore any effort focused on improving customer service should be supported by the hospitality industry.”

WaiterBell Angle: The WaiterBell system empowers customers to discreetly, but clearly, signal for assistance. The WaiterBell system prevents any kind of misunderstanding about a customer's need for table service and ensures quality responsive service for all diners. This can help a restaurant franchise prevent any questionable incidents of poor service.


5 Responses to “Article: “Study shows blacks tip less — but they may have good reason” (Mar.2006)”

  1. adidja Says:

    As recent as Dec 1st 2006 I was told to wait for a table far behid of the restaurant while
    groups of White Customers were seated as soon as they walked in. Prior to this, I always
    tipped more to help crush the idea that blacks tip less or not at all..Going forward
    I will always tip for the experience and not to make up for what they think of me
    as a Black Woman.

  2. Jack Says:

    Given equal service, blacks will still tip dramatically less than whites. Servers, both black and white, do assume ahead of time that blacks will not tip properly, but most dilligent servers will do their best to accommodate everyone, hoping for the extra dollar or two. Often, blacks will leave only a three to five dollar tip for outstanding service, no matter what the total bill amounts to. Other times, they leave whatever the first number of the bill is. So, for a 38.50 bill, many blacks would leave three dollars. Additionally, blacks are often (not always) more demanding, picky, and unpersonable than whites. The difference is that demanding white customers will still tip above the minimum much of the time while blacks still lag behind. Blacks do themselves a great disservice in this area, as they perpetuate the racial stereotypes, proving them over and over to be true. My estimation from years of experience in food service is that only ten to fifteen percent of blacks tip properly (15 – 20 percent for acceptable-good service), so receiving a just tip from a black table is somewhat like winning a lottery. My experience dictates that many blacks simply refuse to tip as they know they should, as they will occasionally formulate excuses based on service or quality, sometimes verbalized to the server, leading to the common perception of them as being frugal at best or cheap at worst. Other times, they do not realize that they are expected to tip for service, not quality, atmosphere, or overall experience. Therefore, if they do not enjoy the taste of their entree, they misguidedly take it out on the server in the form of a bad tip (sometimes decreased from an already substandard percentage). Most of them, however, simply do not know or understand the industry standard for tipping, do not realize that servers are paid a mere fraction of the normal minimum wage, or refuse to believe that the tipping custom is culturally binding in that it is, more or less, expected, provided the service was acceptable. Restaurant chains will not do anything to correct this problem in its microcosm because black money is as valuable to them as white money. They do, however, address its macrocosm by avoiding altogether predominantly black neighborhoods, whether low, middle, or high class, because tips will usually be substandard, resulting in greater employee turnover and corresponding profit loss, as it is expensive to constantly train new employees. Here again, we see that blacks do their own community a disservice by not tipping properly, as their communities are avoided by large chains.

    For instance, last evening at my place of employment, a mid-grade, national steakhouse chain, I served six black tables and six white tables. The white tables left me tips (tip amount/total bill) of 7/28, 6/42, 36/159 (a gracious amount considering they sat down during my busiest time of the evening and receive, in my estimation, friendly and adequate but not always timely serice), 32/120, 8/39, and 10/60. All of these were well above the average with the exception of the second, in which case their entrees were not finished by the kitchen in a timely manner, which, of course, was no fault of my own and, therefore, and inappropriate instance to deduct from the tip. Even then, it was nearly fifteen percent of the total bill. In all cases, the people were friendly and patient, as it was obvious myself and the entire restaurant was very busy.

    The black tables left me tips of 7/35, 4/91, 0/52 (their appetizers and entrees took longer due to kitchen times, of course no fault of my own, but these people grew increasingly impatient and made snide remarks, even after I apologized, and did not acknowledge in the tip the fact that I kept their drinks full in a timely manner and provided them with more bread without being asked during the delay, which they ate quickly), 5/69, 3/57, and 7/55. All of these tables, both black and white, received the best service I could provide, which, except in the one particular case, was timely and competant.

    The dispairity is there, in black and white. One of my coworkers, a hard worker and a black gentleman, has often stated that he doesn’t care to “serve my own kind,” a tell-tale sign that something needs to be done. Black Americans, I implore you to change the way you view tipping in restaurants and to realize that changing the stereotype in this arena is your own responsibility and may go a long way toward resolving more broad issues of prejudice. In conclusion, a tip is a choice in the way that doing the right thing is a choice. If you cannot afford to tip a proper percentage in a particular restaurant, I completely understand, as I am a server paying my way through graduate school and cannot afford to dine at restaurants at my leisure. Still, the 15 to 20 percent standard is expected in our culture and if you cannot do so for financial reasons, you simply do not have the resources to dine at that particular restaurant, as 15 to 20 percent should always be figured into the total cost, not a pliable total on which to skimp.

  3. Jack Says:

    Additionally, to the first poster, sometimes there are other circumstances to which you are not aware. Some restaurants may offer call-ahead seating or reservations, which you might not have taken advantage of. Perceived racism at restaurants can almost always be proven false. For instance, a black table at my restaurant recently complained of racism when a white table nearby received their food first, even though the blacks ordered first. What made the difference was that the blacks ordered their steaks well done while the whites ordered their steaks medium-rare. The cook time, not prejudice, was to blame for the arrival time.

    Even if you were the subject of discrimination at the host stand, that should not affect the server’s tip, as you are expected to tip according to the service at the table. Servers, not the host staff, benefit from your tips. The host staff benefits from the amount of money you spend on your meal, as nearly all restaurants require servers to share 2 or 3 percent of their total sales (not tips) with hosts, bussers, and bartenders. For instance, if the restaurant requires a 3 percent tip-out and you tip the server a proper 18/100 for good service, the hosts, who mistreated you to begin with will receive 3 dollars and the server will keep 15. If you only tip the server 10/100, the offending party will still receive their 3 dollars, but the server, who did his or her job properly, only keeps 7. The rule should always be that tips are for food service only and nothing else, because it is the food-service employee, the server, who will be disadvantaged as a result of improper tips.

  4. Jack Says:

    If call-ahead seating wasn’t the cause, perhaps you were in a party of two, the whites comprised a party of six, and there was a table for six available. Even more likely is the reverse, that you were in the larger party and the whites being sat ahead of you were in a smaller party that would fit at the available table.

  5. Jack Says:

    Just yesterday, I had a table of two black couples laughing and enjoying thier dining experience. I was feeling good about the experience, as well, because their bill had eclipsed 150 dollars. They all stated their appreciation for the service and the birthday song and free dessert for a member of their group celebrating a birthday. When they paid their bill, they handed me some folded bills and told me to keep the change. The cash amounted to 160 dollars, leaving me about 8, of which 4.50 went to tip share. This group was, judging from their manners, clothing, and the expense of the bill, were accustomed to dining in full-service restaurants and were not “low income.” I hope any, regardless of race, reading this post will share among their communities that this behavior is unacceptable and very infrequent among white customers.

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