According to a recent study, diners may be treated differently by restaurant wait staff because of race. The survey, “Dining While Black,” of 2000 servers in 18 North Carolina eateries found that 38.5 percent of the servers discriminated against Black customers. The survey was published in the Journal of Black Studies, and it also found that 52.8 percent of servers reported observing other servers discriminate against African-American customers. Approximately 86 percent of the servers polled were white.
Why? Some waiters, according to the study, said that they gave poor service because they expected that Black diners would leave smaller tips than other diners, as well as be ruder and more demanding than other customers.
Black diners, meanwhile, reported having to be asked to wait unreasonable amounts of time for a table and even to be refused service.
But do Black tips less than white diners? Another study, this one conducted by Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, found that Black patrons do tip less than whites. The study, entitled Race Differences in Tipping: Questions and Answers for the Restaurant Industry by Michael Lynn PhD, found that there is a widespread perception in the restaurant industry is that Black patrons tip less than do white customers. Because of this factor, wait staff “dislike waiting on tables of Black parties, resist being assigned to serve Blacks, deliver inferior service to those Black customers whom they must wait on, and refuse to work in restaurants with a large Black clientele.” According to the study, tips from Blacks are, on average, lower than those from whites. It found that: Black-white differences in restaurant tipping are not caused solely by race differences in socio-economic status; Black-white differences in restaurant tipping are evident among the middle-class as well as the lower-class; Black-white differences in restaurant tipping do not disappear when both groups get comparable service; Blacks tip less than whites even when the server is Black; and Blacks are much less familiar with the 15- to 20-percent restaurant tipping norm than are whites.
Despite all the statistics, Chef Carl Redding, owner of Redding’s Restaurant in Atlantic City, NJ, says he doesn’t feel the studies are correct.
“Having been in this industry for a long time, I have found that while racism still does exist in this country, the problem of being treated differently because of race in restaurants is not as widespread as the study suggests,” says Redding, who prior to entering the food service industry served nine years as a Personal Assistant and the Chief of Staff for the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. “It depends on a number of factors. It depends on the location of the restaurant and the type of restaurant. If you are going to a higher caliber restaurant, as opposed to a fast food eatery, the service level is going to be higher, regardless of the race of the diner.”
And, notes Redding “Blacks tip as well as white patrons in my experience. It depends on the service they receive. I have a Black-owned restaurant and my wait staff receives good tips. In fact, I have some who take home $1,000 a week in tips alone. I have found that Blacks tip when they receive good service.”
But what if you are the victim of poor service, regardless of the reason? “Alert the management,” advises Redding. “I want to know when people feel they have not been properly served. I always like to know when they feel they have received great service. I want to get feedback from customers on their entire dining experience. This helps me improve and better serve our customers.”