Brian Gilmore Fair Housing, Supervising Attorney
The Gloves Do Fit
Race and Tips PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 April 2009 19:23
I was at a local Washington D.C. restaurant yesterday with 14 inspiring and highly talented soon to be law school graduates of the Howard University School of Law. All of the students are African-American, all were dressed neatly, and acted professionally. It was empty when we got there, but there were a lot of waiters hanging around engaging in small talk. All of the waiters were Latino when we arrived. We were seated fairly quickly once most of us were there but for awhile no one came to work our table. In fact, none of the Latino waiters (I did not observe any white waiters or servers) claimed our table so to speak even though we were slated to have a party of 15-20 people (we wound up with 16).
Eventually, a black waitress claimed our table, put on the apron, and greeted us kindly. She was very polite, witty, and efficient from the beginning. Yet, I did wonder, why did this waitress come from the back, put on an apron and begin working our table while a half a dozen waiters and waitresses stood there and did not once approach our table. Just for the record, our bill would eventually exceed $400.00 with a tip of approximately $100.
I turned to two of the students when the black waitress claimed our table and said: "Why did they send the black waitress to our table?" The students did not respond and thought nothing about it. I didn't either really though I knew and could feel that what had happened was the Latino servers had profiled us. They did not want to be our waiter because they had assumed that one, we were cheap and would not tip well (a common misconception regarding black patrons of restaurants) or two, they simply harbored racist beliefs and did not want to serve us. I concluded that it was likely the former which, in this instance, was stupid because these were law school graduates, most of them are middle class and have money, they are not cheap, or think it is cool to low-ball waiters on tips, and three, this was an end of the year program so they were going to spend money.
Nevertheless, at the end of the meal when the bill was paid, the truth (I will not say how) was revealed: I was correct. The Latino waiters deliberately avoided us because they think that blacks are cheap and don't tip well. I turned to the two students I spoke with at the beginning and let them know I told you so.
None of it surprised me but it was disturbing a bit because the waiters were Latino. I would expect a little more from Latinos in terms of not letting erroneous racial stereotypes guide their conduct. It invoked that same feeling when I hear black people say awful things about Latinos not based in fact but based in stereotypes.
No one has conducted a recent survey on the fact that blacks are cheap on tips in restaurants last I checked. There was a survey released in 2003 regarding tipping and race and blacks tipped, on average about 13 percent of the bill while whites tipped at 16 percent.
Photo courtesy of The Independent Online (UK)
I actually think it is all hearsay (no pun intended) and something not so serious that blacks should get avoided by waiters like we are a virus or something. I heard Michael Jordan, the multimillionaire basketball player, is a notorious poor tipper. I have heard the same of Patrick Ewing, the legendary Georgetown University All American. Are these guys the blame? My late father, a proud man, who fought against all of these stereotypes, was a heavy tipper always and also because he worked as a bartender in college so he knows the importance of tips.
Truth is, I am out and about a lot and I eat with black people all the time, working class, middle class, upper class. I have never known any of them to be cheap and deliberately not tip at least 20 percent. My wife used to carry around a tip card so she would know the minimum she would need to tip to be politically correct. We almost always try to tip over the 20 percent when we are out simply because we too have heard this myth and know it to be a lie.
But here's something more interesting. How many people knew that black cab drivers, according to a recent report, are tipped less than white cab drivers? And how many know that black servers, according to a recent report, get tipped less than white servers by whites? Do these many waiters who refuse to service black patrons because they think they are cheap, adhere to their own high standards when they ride cabs or when they eat out? Do they stand up for their black co-workers when they get low-balled by a cheap white patron?
Nevertheless, here is a tip for restaurants all over the world: black people will tip as good as anyone else, and if they don't it is not because they are black, it is because they are cheap and don't understand that waiters need their tips to make a decent living. But let all patrons know the importance of tips. Post notes on menus regarding the importance of the tips but please don't racially profile customers. It is simply uncool. It is also bad for business. Black people will stop patronizing your establishments if word leaks out.