Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Social Science to What End? Study Demonstrates that Servers Discriminate Against Black People Because "They Do Not Tip"

"Many people believe that race is no longer a significant issue in the ," says Sarah Rusche, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the study. "But the fact that a third of servers admit to varying their quality of  based on customers' race, often giving African-Americans inferior service, shows that race continues to be an issue in our society."
Long held stereotypes tend to persist because they are based on some truth. Sometimes, these truths are the stuff of mere conjecture and are amplified by social elites because they do political work in the service of Power. At other times, stereotypes are based on a set of historical circumstances and allusions that come to stand in, however inaccurately, across time, for all members of said group. Stereotypes are uncomfortable because they violate rules of contemporary multicultural anti-racist discourse, and are the low hanging fruit that most folks are taught to avoid.

But, this is not always an intellectually rigorous basis for a heuristic: a fear of stereotypes often disguises more than it reveals. 

The popular usage of the word "stereotype" can be traced back to Walter Lippman and his suggestion that people come up with decision rules and stand-ins which form a type of cognitive map (however skewed, inaccurate, or caricaturized) for navigating a world of mediated realities. Of course, stereotypes are capable of doing pernicious social work as they are linked to inequalities and hierarchies of status, in-group over identification, and legitimate oppressive and violent behavior towards the Other. With those dynamics having been acknowledged, I offer a provocative suggestion: stereotypes can also be handy shortcuts that are neutral to the extent that they describe some social reality. 

For example, there are reasons related to class and urbanization which explain the stereotype that black folks gravitate to basketball (just as Jews and other European immigrants did during the late 19th and early 20th centuries). Some groups had good reason to have liquid money and assets given how they were forced, one country after another, into diasporac living. There are many examples of ethnic and racial groups which are associated with particular trades and industries precisely because of closed social networks, discrimination in the labor market, and the peculiarities of immigration law and global flows.

[I have long been very fascinated by shared stereotypes across divides of power and race in America. For example, historically white people have suggested that blacks are smelly, dirty, libidinous, violent, and lack impulse control. Funny thing--at least to many white folks who I have shared this with--I know many people of color who feel exactly the same about white people. Riddle you that one.]

But we can never forget that stereotypes and "efficient" decisions, which in sum constitute "rational racism" and negrophobia, can lead to innocent people of color being shot dead by police and others as it was the "reasonable" thing to do.

In post-racial America, one of the most enduring stereotypes about black humanity (along with the more malicious and hateful panoply of the black rapist, black criminal, welfare queen, thug, and hyper-libidinous freakishly endowed baby daddy hyper masculine thug) is that we do not tip well. 

The suggestion that black people are uniquely preordained to be poor tippers is a great site for some applied social science, a puzzle that Sarah Rusche recently took up in the article  "Quantitative Evidence of the Continuing Significance of Race: Tableside Racism in Full-Service Restaurants" which appeared in the May 2012 issue of The Journal of Black Studies. Here, Rusche found that servers systematically and preemptively discriminated against black patrons because it was expected that the latter were inadequate and poor tippers:
Researchers wanted to determine the extent to which customers' race affects the way they are treated at , so the researchers surveyed 200 servers at 18 full-service chain restaurants in central North Carolina. The majority of the servers surveyed – approximately 86 percent – were white. 
Survey results showed that 38.5 percent of servers reported that customers' race informed their level of service at least some of the time, often resulting in providing inferior service to African-American customers. Findings show that many servers perceive African-American customers to be impolite and/or poor tippers, suggesting that black patrons, in particular, are likely targets of servers' self-professed discriminatory actions.
The survey also found that 52.8 percent of servers reported seeing other servers discriminate against African-American customers by giving them poor service at least some of the time. Findings also show that restaurant servers share anti-black perceptions through racist workplace discourse, indicating a considerable amount of talk about the race of their patrons. Only 10.5 percent reported never engaging in or observing racialized discourse. 
Anecdotes are often just small data sets which hint at a bigger reality--I have heard that blacks are less desirable patrons from whites, Asian, Hispanics, and yes, African-Americans, who work in the hospitality and food industries. As I puzzle this out, I have come to the conclusion that different communities possess diverse standards for what constitutes "good service," and the idea that a tip is obligatory (I count myself as a member of the "a tip is earned" camp). 

In addition, given the depths of income and wealth inequality in the United States, I am open to the possibility that many diners do not have the extra money necessary to give an appropriate tip; alternatively, they may not have received proper and correct home training on such matters.

Ultimately, tipping for service is an example of a coordination game, a cousin to the famed Prisoner's Dilemma. Many servers are offering poor service precisely because they anticipate that black folks (and others) will not tip them. This sets up a dynamic where the substandard service is therefore rewarded by a poor tip. Tit for tat, the cycle continues for iteration after iteration of the game. 

Servers who make this calculus have also fallen into a trap, one of the pathologies of rational choice theory, where they are reasoning with incomplete information. In the aggregate, this type of logic can lead to sub-optimal outcomes where black folks like me who pride themselves on rewarding good service, are now more likely to not give any tip at all (and to complain to management) if I feel that I have been poorly treated.

Rusche's findings are interesting. She is to be commended on her publication. Her work corroborates the lived reality of racial micro aggressions in American society against people of color. Poor service, provided preemptively (however "rationally" in the Downsian, Mancur Olson, Bayesian sense of the word) is part of a larger matrix of behavior that includes discriminatory practices in health care, lending, hiring, policing, incarceration, punishment in schools, as well as other matters both large and small. Given the macro-level context of white supremacy and the long struggle against Jim and Jane Crow in the Consumers' Republic, crappy service by minimum wage workers towards black people is not at all a surprise. 

Yet, I still find myself asking "so what?" 

Moreover, as a practical matter, what are the broader implications and takeaways of said research? And what does it mean that The Journal of Black Studies (as opposed to a journal of applied economics or behavioral sciences for example) would feature such an article? Is this all that Black Studies has left in the tank in the not so post racial Age of Obama?


nicoleandmaggie said...

That sounds really similar to the findings on why blacks and women pay too much for cars compared to white men. (As found in a famous experiment by Ayers.) It's exactly that prisoner's dilemma-- dealers think they can get away with more so they give a higher starting price and refuse to accept a lower offer, women and minorities know dealers aren't going to accept a lower offer so they don't try to bargain as low.

The problem is still the system, is still stereotypes. There are still policy solutions. Only poor interpretations (like by Fox News) would say we have to stop there because that's what people do.

fred c said...

Central North Carolina! I have a hunch that the Black patrons were getting sub-standard service to begin with and tipped accordingly.

I have personal experience with Blacks and tipping. I drove cabs for two or three years in Manhattan, nights, in another life. My Black customers, and they were legion, were fine tippers, I have no complaints at all. They were mostly working class women and men, and they appreciated the service and tipped very well (especially if I had picked them up in a Black part of the city, then they were surprised and delighted at the service, and said so).

I will say that I had my share of rough, young Blacks in the car, and they could be a mixed bag. But even from them I always collected the fare, or most of it anyway, which was more than some of my fellow drivers could say.

Regarding stereotypes, I can state without hesitation or fear of contradiction that rich White people were my worst tippers. My service to them was top notch too, I hustled mercilessly for tips, I hustled for tips like Pete Rose hustled for base hits. Rich White people, though, were mostly demanding, bossy, and cheap, cheap, cheap.

I am still quite the student of tipping. I recommend everyone to stainedapron.com, a server site. It's fun reading.

sledge said...

@fred c

One of my son's confirmed what you are saying when he worked as a pizza delivery driver in high school.

He said rich whites and people of Arab descent were the worst tippers he had to deal with. Some didn't tip at all. While lower income customers were the most generous.

It seems like it would have been the other way around.

nomad said...

Now you're talking. "The Age of Obama" should always be preceded by the phrase "not so post racial".

CNu said...

But we can never forget that stereotypes and "efficient" decisions, which in sum constitute "rational racism" and negrophobia, can lead to innocent people of color being shot dead by police and others as it was the "reasonable" thing to do.

what does it mean that The Journal of Black Studies (as opposed to a journal of applied economics or behavioral sciences for example) would feature such an article? Is this all that Black Studies has left in the tank in the not so post racial Age of Obama?

Yes, trifling trivia is absolutely all that Black Studies has left in its tank, but that fact has nothing whatsoever to do with the post racial age of Obama, rather, it has everything to do with the central weakness in the afrodemic complex and why that complex utterly fails black folk in America. It also has to do with one of the cornerstones of my disgust with the 2nd/3rd line inheritor complex at large.

Degreed folk in the Ivy Tower lack the depth and breadth of real-world institutional and operational experience required to even know where to look for the root causes of substantive institutional problems. I'ma toss afrodemia a bone here. Whosoever takes me up on this little piece of information - will of course NOT acknowledge its source - but can freely profit from its application as they see fit.

Efficient decision-making is the cornerstone of law enforcement training. If you want to know EXACTLY from whence pernicious biases emanate in the law enforcement discipline, look no further than the text books and automated close quarters firearms training systems and you will discover a goldmine of explicitly racist training and conditioning content which would predispose its student viewer/consumers to all manner of "reflexively efficient" wrong judgements.

A generation ago, when I worked for the Treasury Dept, and was good buddies with the CID chief at my post of duty, he got in a state of the art combat training system for evaluation. Of course, he knew about my background with firearms and wanted to see how I would stack up against his special agents (I beat their pants off) - YOU WOULD NOT HAVE BELIEVED HOW RACIST THE SHOOTING GALLERIES WERE IN THIS SYSTEM. Another one of my buddies who heard about my disgust with the combat shooting trainer was a reserve officer in the local police department, interested in adding fuel to the fire, he brought to my attention the explicitly racist content of one or two of his academy textbooks.

How could the author of an essentially useless hiphop politics text, who's spent his or her whole and entire life in a specialized niche of the liberal arts academy, possibly even know the tangible point sources of a great deal that they rail against? OTOH, errbody goes to full service restaurants, (Dennys) so errbody has a somewhat of a clue about that kinda sorta everyday server disdain for the non-tipper stereotype.

Oh, and of course there's then the everyday stereotype reinforcement service provided by youtube....,

Ken S said...

"Moreover, as a practical matter, what are the broader implications and takeaways of said research?"

I would say it's that coordination can get pretty complicated for even simple matters like tipping. One issue I have with framing this as a Prisoner's Dilemma is that your example of why people might not leave tips, which is lack of money, is a complication for doing so.

If the goals of the game were to always simply 'get good service' and 'get tips', then of course there could be some sort of coordination problem going on here. But real life is rarely that simple, and patrons are also likely to be playing the 'get good service, but don't spend too much money' game. On the other hand, servers may be playing the 'get a good tip, but don't spend too much effort' game.

I would like to know if the article addressed this (its behind a paywall it seems, down with paywalls). The optimal aggregate outcome really could be 'few tips, bad service' if we are talking about our extended game. I sort of doubt that it is, I personally don't think it would kill service workers to give black folks better service, and there probably are better tips waiting for them out there if they did. I do leave open the possibility that may be too judgmental about how they should allocate their effort, though. :)

The same issue applies to nicoleandmaggie's example of car salesmen. It seems obvious that it is rational for the car dealer to get as high as price as possible on each sale since cars are purchased infrequently, and car salesmen like money. On the other hand, you could argue that it is somehow not in the salesman's 'wider' interest to do this, and by lowering the price now he would be 'cooperating' in some other, longer-term, aggregate game, but such an argument would be more difficult than just looking at the dynamics of a single purchase or even asking a car salesman why they do what they do.

sledge said...


Treasury? Were you with the Secret Service before they were transferred to Homeland Security in 2003?

Phuck, how do I delete some of these posts? LOL!

Having several LE in my family I agree with you that most of LE do not practice with their weapons past their 6 month, 100 round qualifying requirements. Most really aren't that good. They make up for it by shooting at armed criminals in preferably groups of 30-50.

I know what you are saying about the targets. Some are kind of racial. Although, from what I've seen Arab extremists have been gaining ground in that area over blacks and white trash. Zombies aren't doing that bad either.

Anonymous said...

Yawn..Must be a slow news day yet another essay on Black tipping..WTF

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. Yawn to your complaining. There is a method to the madness. You should start your own project. A chronicle of your heroic journeys perhaps? Impressive feats? Saving the lost tribe of black people exploits?

Improbable Joe said...

Central North Carolina? In my experience, black people there are bad customers, tip or not. I worked at a Subway for a few months in Charlotte, and no white, Hispanic, or Asian customers ever asked for free food, but a pretty large percentage of black customers would. They would also be among the most difficult, while also complaining about paying full price.

To be fair, I don't assume any sort of genetic basis for this. It could just be cultural, maybe you can get free and/or discounted stuff in the family-owned restaurants outside of the city when you're a regular, and you get used to it when you eat everywhere. North Carolina is a state with a pretty wide variety of socioeconomic settings sort of mashed together. Driving 30 minutes out of a big city can feel like driving 30 years back in time.

Anonymous said...


My iconic trailblazer feats still does not change the truth about this lousy topic yet again ...

Slow news day 4 sure....Yawn

Anonymous said...

My policy is to tip women 25% more to make up for the 75 cents on the dollar women earn, and I tip men 25% less. I bargain relentlessly with white men, and am VERY TOUGH on auto mechanics or any repair person who is a man that I have to hire. I don't donate to male run organizations, I don't give male candidates money, and I don't volunteer my time in service of male supremacy. So I make decisions based on economic discrimination against all women.
That's my policy.

sledge said...

Let me guess. When you're involved in reproduction you let her be on top too, right?

You say another member on here hates blackness and himself. Who do you hate?

Sorry, your last post was more than I could take and still stay quiet.

Anonymous said...

As a former waitress, I was never allowed to make excuses for poor service. It was understood that if you wanted to make money you had better give good service. Also that there was absolutely no way to determine just by looks who would and would not be a tipper.

As a patron and former server, I always leave a tip. If the service is bad, the tip is less than what etiquette suggests. I've only had one instance where I felt it necessary to speak to the manager. Even then, I left a dollar because the poor service was more a lack of experience and the server was likely not ready to be on the floor unassisted.

I agree with you last observations though. I wish that the use of studies consisted of more than the racism of bad service.

VoxGuy said...

I'm black and waited tables for years during, and briefly after, college. I won't say that ALL black customers were bad tippers. But the worst tips I got were always from black customers. I think there's some truth to the "bad service driven by a stereotype leads to a bad tip"/chicken and the egg dilemma. And certainly, I got bad tips from whites. Most servers have a demographic that they don't like to serve; large groups of women, the Sunday church crowd, families (my personal thorn in the side), old people. But in my experience, universally no server likes to wait on black parties. Sometimes it has less to do with the horrible tip you KNOW you're gonna get, and more to do with the fact that sometimes black folk will come in 5 minutes before closing on a Saturday night, and usually it's because you know that you will be forced to return a drink or a meal AT LEAST once during the interaction, something that rarely happens with other customers but is almost guaranteed to happen with black folk. Now, all that could be that black folk by and large hold servers, service, and food quality to a higher standard. It's also possible that some black folk come into a restaurant on a budget and know they can't spend more than X amount. So, they start deducting from the tip percentage almost immediately. Didn't get greeted by a server in less than 60 seconds on Mother's Day? Oops, just went' from 15% to 14%! Too much ice in my drink? Oops, just went from 14% to 13%. Trifilin'.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, I just choose to remember the three lawyers (one of whom is a judge now) who sat at my table and gave a 75% tip on their bill, or the church-going manager of a bank who at lunch there practically every business day, that wound up giving me my first job in banking and mentored me throughout my banking career, or the computer programmer who came in every night to read and drink his tea, he left a tip no matter who served him. Did I encounter blacks that didn't tip? Yes. But I usually found that they were young or young-minded. Maybe it was just me, the fact that I tried to have a kind word or even a bit of conversation, but I made a decent living. I suppose it would help not to look at them as non-tippers or as a tip being obligated to you but instead as doing your job providing good service. People will forgive long lines if you make them feel like family.

Anonymous said...

I waitressed at Friendly's during college, I don't remember blacks being particularly worse tippers than any other group (Friendly's doesn't seem to inspire high tips to begin with, families with a bunch of young kids may have been the worst tippers which are Friendly's primary demographic). I do however remember that most of the other waitresses would seat black patrons in sections other than their own. Usually they were fighting for customers grabbing 2, 3 tables at a time if they could pull it off. I imagine that was not uncommon.

Anonymous said...

Just thought you leftist socialists would like a wake up call about what happened in North Carolina with the vote to support gay marriage. The reality is that black married women in the south voted to uphold traditional marriage. Liberals and democrats don't fool yourself dont think southern girls are "confused". Southern black women have always been highly political. They all know about a horror story out of atlanta about a fellow sister who has aids because her fellow strayed in an overally gay tolerant city. The reality is that most blacks in north carolia live traditional lives and guess what they like it that way. its not L.A. its not New York and it never will be. THe south is one of the few places where black women have high percentages of good long term marriages. This reality does not exist outside the south. Most black women in the north are likely to die single and alone up north not so down south. Yes black women tipped the vote and will continue to in states rights and individual voting freedoms are not regarded and left alone. The democratic party must stop taking the black female vote for granted. Continue to overlook the power of the black married middle class female vote and loose votes in november.