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They're Serving Racism in this Restaurant

Is Race the Biggest Influence of Tipping and Server Etiquette?

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Not long ago I sat down to have breakfast at Waffle House with Antonia, a nonblack, male colleague. We both are medical professionals, so our conversations usually included stories of gun shot wounds, vehicle accidents, and anything else that exposed some type of bodily fluids. This breakfast meet started no differently than any other time, but the ending sort of caught me off guard.

After shoving down my usual egg order, we collected our checks. I tossed $7.00 on the table to cover our tips. I looked up to find him staring at me.

“Wow, you broke the stereotype,” he said.

“What, they say nurses don’t tip?”

“Come on, Jennifer. Surely you’ve heard this.”

Totally clueless, I gazed at him across the table. “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, Antonio?”

“My brother, Carlo, manages this large restaurant. He says that even the black workers are reluctant to wait on the black patrons because they think they’re not going to get tipped,” he stated.

“I’ve never heard or experienced any such thing,” I stated. “Everybody in my circle ALWAYS tip.”

“I didn’t say I believed it. I’m just telling you what I heard.” He looks down at the $7.00. “And hey you proved it wrong.”

“I think it’s just the class of people you and your brother hang out with.”

He laughed out loud.

We got up to leave and continued small talk as we walked to our vehicles. Antonio still joked about the stereotype and went on about how he couldn’t believe I had never heard it prior to him saying it. But that was Antonio, always quick to find entertainment pretty much out of anything. At that point, we had worked together some time and often discussed what many might consider as sensitive subjects. So him bringing this up to me wasn’t anything out of the norm.

Over the next week or so I started doing my own observations and assessment on what Antonio mentioned over breakfast that day. I found myself making quick glances around the table when I was out with anyone new to see if they were really tipping, and how much. I also paid close attention to the servers and how often they came to our table in comparison to other tables they were waiting on in close proximity. From what I gathered; there didn’t seem to be any disproportion in tipping between any specific ethnic group, as much as there were in socioeconomic status. Although, I’ve never had anyone in my circle NOT tip, even if service was below standard; my more financially stable friends and family members seemed to somewhat tip higher. Server etiquette played an even bigger part; too much time lapse between table visits, initial wait time too long, and cold food were among the frustrations expressed for leaving subpar tips. I also noticed at times, the server seemed to be going to some tables more than others, while walking by other tables in which the server were assigned. If others took note of this like I did; it may have been reflected in the tip given. It is a pet peeve of mine to be forgotten or feel ignored by my server. Experiencing this made me reflect on something Antonio had mentioned, about servers, even some black ones, not wanting to wait on black patrons for fear of not getting tipped. If some blacks felt this way, surely other ethnic groups had caught wind of this too. Is this why my server has passed by my table three times without refilling my tea, I had thought to myself.

To get a consensus, I decided to engage my Facebook followers. I first told them the details of the conversation Antonio and I had weeks earlier. Then I posed a couple of questions asking them if they had heard this stereotype, and what had the experienced been that helped shape their opinions. In no time I had people from all backgrounds weighing in with their thoughts, and personal observations. The majority agreed that the size of tip depended on the class of people you kept in your circle. There were also quite a few comments that stated it was up to the server to earn how big of a tip he or she would receive. Interestingly enough, there were a couple of former servers who stated it had been their experience that blacks either did not tip, or under tipped. In contrast, there were also comments from a couple of white followers that stated they had witnessed other whites under tip as well. The general agreement ended up being that most had heard this stereotype, but also agreed that it was without merit.

What are your thoughts? Do you have an experience you’d like to share?

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