Study Shows Why White Restaurant Servers Say They're More Likely To Give Poor Service To Black Customers

Another instance of everyday racism.

Restaurant Server Fizkes / Shutterstock 

Racial bias and prejudice are causing white restaurant servers to give poorer service to their Black customers, according to a new survey

The research exposes how racial bias prevents Black customers, who are paying for a service, from receiving the same attentiveness and kindness as their white counterparts based on assumptions made with little evidence. 

Why white restaurant servers surveyed say they treat black customers differently.

The survey involved over 700 predominately white restaurant servers and bartenders who were asked to review hypothetical dining scenarios involving either Black or white customers. 


Servers were asked to predict the level of service they would provide to the table, the likelihood that the customers would be difficult to serve, and the tip they would leave. 

White servers rated Black customers lower than white counterparts, exposing perceptions of tipping standards and dining patterns based on race. 

Participants also answered queries about their own personal prejudices toward Black people and about how often they observed anti-Black bias in their workplace, including racist remarks and comments. 

Servers who held their own anti-Black prejudices or worked in places where racist comments were often made were more likely to rate Black customers poorly in each of the previously mentioned areas. 


Servers were more likely to predict that Black customers would tip less, display demanding behaviors, and reported that they would give worse service to the Black table relative to the white one.

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How racial differences in tipping standards occur.

This unfair perception of tipping standards ties into a similar survey of 1,000 servers across the US. It revealed that servers rate racial and ethnic minorities as worse tippers than white people. 

70% of servers perceived Blacks as below-average tippers, while 50% perceived Hispanics as below-average tippers. In contrast, a mere 2% of servers perceived white customers to be below-average tippers.


Research does show that Black customers do tip less than whites and that racial and ethnic minorities are often less familiar with US tipping standards. However, this disparity likely stems partially from the vicious cycle created by white servers who've provided poorer service to Black patrons.

If Black customers are receiving a low standard of service, why would they be motivated to tip more?  

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Why white servers discriminate against Black customers. 

It’s also somewhat reductive to imply servers’ economic motivations are the only reason they provide poorer service to Black customers.


Assuming that white servers only treat Black customers poorly because they think they’re bad tippers becomes a way to let them off the hook for racially biased behavior

Surveys show American adults perceive Black people to be treated unfairly across everyday scenarios from visiting a bar to going to the store. Even worse, the same is true in more serious situations like going to a hospital or dealing with police, where no exchange of money is involved. 

Research also shows that servers are not just motivated by money when providing high-quality service. They also come to their table with moral obligations and perceptions on who deserves positive treatment. 

If servers are perceiving that Black customers are somehow less deserving of high-quality service, it’s clear that racist assumptions about Black people’s morals and social status are probably at play. 


It’s also difficult to ignore the possibility that servers take these racist stereotypes with them once their shift ends and go through life with misguided perceptions about what Black people deserve in day-to-day interactions with others. 

Moral motivations to treat all customers fairly should, ideally, neutralize the economic motivation to discriminate against minorities considered to be bad tippers. 

However, the anti-Black ideology that permeates every aspect of life means that mistreatment of Black people occurs at restaurant tables just as it does in courtrooms, board rooms, and traffic stops. 


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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.