Tuesday, April 8, 2008

leave bigger tips

[Note: I'm writing about a black-and-white thing here; if anyone has information or observations about the tipping habits of other groups, please write a comment for us.]

Tipping in restaurants is a particularly American practice--few other countries have this custom. In American restaurants where most of the customers and waiting staff are white, white people generally leave better tips than black people do.

According to Cornell University's Center for Hospitality Research:

  1. Tips from Blacks are, on average, lower than those from Whites;
  2. Black-White differences in restaurant tipping are not caused solely by race differences in socio-economic status;
  3. Black-White differences in restaurant tipping are evident among the middle-class as well as the lower-class;
  4. Black-White differences in restaurant tipping do not disappear when both groups get comparable service;
  5. Blacks tip less than Whites even when the server is Black;
  6. Blacks are much less familiar with the 15- to 20-percent restaurant tipping norm than are Whites;
  7. Blacks tip less than do Whites in many (but not all) other service contexts; and
  8. Asian-White and Hispanic-White differences in tipping are smaller, less robust, and have drawn less attention than Black-White differences in tipping.
Some studies say that this difference occurs because blacks customarily eat in restaurants that don't call for tipping. Other studies say it occurs because a negative dynamic is at work: white servers expect bad tips from black customers, and thus tend to pay them less attention than they do non-black customers. In return for such treatment, black customers respond with appropriately low tips, thereby confirming white conceptions of them.

This post could also be titled "complain about black restaurant customers," since that's what white people who wait tables often do. And complaining about white people who wait tables is something that black people often do.

(It could also be titled "receive better tips than black servers from both white and black customers," since that's also something that studies have found.)


  1. Not surprising. If a study were done, and I suspect that somewhere someplace one has been, I'm sure it would show that the dollars in a black person's pocket are harder to earn than the dollars in a white person's pocket. Certainly, if one were to look across the path of time, that would be true. Now that doesn't mean that there aren't millions of white people who work their asses off for meager wages or black people with cush jobs, I'm simply talking averages here and history. Considering that, blacks would be less inclined to tip graciously than whites. I also know that waiters and waitresses are some of the most prejudicial people in the service sector (and that's saying something). I can go into a nice restaurant looking dapper and sharp and get treated like a king. On those evenings, I'm inclined to tip 25%. I can go into the same place looking like I just strolled in from the farm and the service will suck. On those occasions, look for 10% tops. Of course, this goes across the service sector. Many merchants have lost lots of big sales from me because some dumb ignorant salesperson treated me elike some dumb ignorant hillbilly hick when I walked into the place. As a matter of fact, I went back to a car dealer recently and showed the manager the 37k car I bought from a dealer in the next town because of how his salesman acted toward me. I've got hundreds of stories that illustrate the economics of getting good or bad service.
    So ya see, a lot of times it's an economic thing or perceptions based upon economics. When you're working for tips, like many service people do in this corporate controlled society, it pays to read your customers. Unfortunately, many service people edon't have the neccessary skills to do so accurately.
    And of course, very often they are working class proles who are ignorant racist pricks.

  2. That's helpful SH, and yes, economics is a factor too, and it too can cause bad service. But in the case of service (restaurant and otherwise), race trumps class. Now here's something that confuses a lot of white people--in a sense, there are no middle-class black people. The book Living with Racism quotes a black anchorperson for a major TV station on this: "There is no black middle class . . . Every time I use 'middle class,' I know that. Because a black middle-class person is still not a middle-class person." That's because while there is a black middle-class in economic terms, its members still have to function in the world with the awareness that no matter how wealthy they look, the world still sees a black person, and often, very often, treats them differently as a result. Treats them, that is, in a way that it doesn't treat middle-class white people.

    It's sad that you're not treated as well when you stroll into places looking like you just came off the farm, but it's also nice that your skin affords you the option of expecting and consistently receiving better treatment when you like you just left a corporate boardroom. Black people can't count on having both options.

  3. Absolutely true and good point Macon. If someone service worker is going to give poor servicee to me when I'm looking rural, they are ALWAYS going to do the same to about any black person.

    But it's like my wife once said to me when I was readyto walk back into a furniture store and wear a guy out for his treatment. . . "fuck em, they're only merchant class."

  4. It's also worthy to add that it's not just black customer to white waiter tips that suffer. I have been to many black establishments where I felt the service was deplorable and as a result I left no tip at all or a penny to distinctly point out my unpleasant dining experience. On the other hand I have also given very generous tips (above the standard 15-20%) to white waiters who were very attentive. When I tip I do so because my experience was enjoyable. I know that taxi drivers (white, black, latin, asian, middle eastern) don't expect good tips from black people yet when receive good service from them I tip well also. So it truly depends on the level of service I receive. If my hotel room is adequately cleaned during my stay I will tip generously there too. However there was a time when the maid did not make my bed and left a note that she didn't know if I wanted my bed made simply because I pulled the cover up. I left a note telling her that I would have left a tip but I didn't know if she wanted one. By the way, she was black too. Like I said, it all depends.

  5. I am black and I always tip at least 20%. Most servers are shocked by my behavior but I have noticed that I will almost always receive better service the next time she/he waits on me.

  6. You know, sagacious one, it must be very convenient and expedient to assume that when a black person leaves a poor tip that the service must have been poor. It would take a deeper look at the issue and, of course, one would have also had to be a server at some point. Anyone commenting knowledgably on this issue without ever having been a server is a pompous ass and should just defer to someone who knows what they're speaking of. So, while sagacious you may be, you know nothing of the actual experience of serving in a ethnically diverse community.

    I have regular black customers who request me as their server and praise me throughout the meal only to leave 4 percent tip as my salary at the end of the meal. My hourly pay is $2.13/hour. My actual pay is my tips. But first I have to tip out the host, bartender, food runner and bus boy. So, a bit of ignorance of how people earn their money is afoot, sagacious one. I think it's appropriate that our pay comes in the form of a tip or many servers, like many employees, would barely do the minimum service. Working for tips keeps us eager. But if you don't want to pay for service, you'll find the salary for all of the people who help make your meal possible and easy included on the menu. Wouldn't that be frustrating?

    When you don't tip the server or leave a crappy tip, the server still has to tip out all of aformentioned staff based on our sales - NOT OUR TIPS. We don't have the luxury of lousy tipping that customers have.

    So, some food for thought, sagacious one. Your thoughts reveal that you've never been a server. So, you can continue to blame black folks tipping totally on the server or you can read the Cornell University study and others like it and, perhaps, speak less pompously with your server next time you dine out and you might actually learn something.

  7. The more interesting question is "why are white people so quick to excuse bad black behavior?" I believe it is because white people (especially so-called liberals) consider black people more like perpetual children. Behavior that white people normally rail against is excused and even celebrated in black people. For instance, black rap music that glorifies pimps and degrades women is considered fine entertainment.

    There are no indications that this condescension will end any time soon, so don't hold your breath waiting for change.

  8. One thing that no one has pointed out is that working in a restaurant is not a common job for black people. I've had conversations about this with my friends and family...none of us (and no one we know) has ever worked in a restaurant. Most of us have worked in retail positions in our youth, but never in food service.

    So when it comes to black people tipping waiters, the empathy factor is missing. I have recently read many articles and message board posts about how servers only get paid $2/hr while having to tip out the cooks, busboys, hostess, etc. I NEVER knew anything about that situation before reading these articles, and I'm sure most of my friends didn't either. Most black people assume that waiters get paid well just like most other white people do, so why should we give them our hard-earned money as a tip?

    I always tip at least 20%, and I also leave tips for hotel maids...but most of my black friends are very stingy about tipping. I really think it's because most of us don't know anything about that world, so we make assumptions.

    As far as the question above, "why are white people so quick to excuse bad black behavior?" Some white people are thoughtful. They see a glaring, unexplained racial difference that's not connected to class, and they sit down to talk about it because they're actually interested in knowing the answer, rather than chastising an entire race of people for their so-called "bad behavior."

  9. I used to wait tables and tend bar back in the day and I was the highest earning employee.
    The best tippers are strippers, bartenders and then waiters (everyone else varies).
    The above comment noted the knowledge of how to tip from one's experience. Based on my experience, I'd have to say the he/she was correct.

  10. hmm.. i dont know abt the leaving bigger tips part, at least where my white friends are concerned. One doesnt leave any tip (because the wait staff never did anything "exceptional"). I dont know what she expects them to do other than serve her food with a smile.. magic tricks or a little song and dance while bringing her food out?
    Other friends like to bitch and whine abt everything in restaurants. From the spoons not being absolutely spotless to the waiter not wearing appropriate clothes. And they tip shitty. I get embarassed going out with a couple of them. It's that feeling of entitlement and never ending "thats how things shoudl be done" bs. How abt religious (and mostly white) folks leaving religious pamphlets behind instead of a tip on sundays? They come in big groups, order tons and all you get is a little bookmark thingy inviting you to church.

    I understand that not all white ppl are like that, just like how not all POCs behave a certain way. Just giving my perspective..


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