Dr. Zachary Brewster and Dr. Gerald Roman Nowak III of Wayne State University recently published an article in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, which is entitled “Racial Prejudices, Racialized Workplaces, and Restaurant Servers’ Hyperbolic Perceptions of Black-White Tipping Differences.” We are pleased to welcome him as a contributor and excited to announce that the findings will be free to access on our site for a limited time. Below Dr. Brewster reveals the inspiration behind the research, as well as additional information not included in the final publication.
While a fair and growing number of studies have observed statistically significant Black-White differences in tipping, the size of the estimated difference has varied greatly across studies. As such, it is not readily clear how much less Black customers on average actually tip their servers when compared to Whites. Further, there have been no studies published that have seriously interrogated the accuracy of servers’ perceptions of the Black-White tipping differential. In fact, the existence of a Black-White difference in tipping is often taken as prima facie evidence that servers’ perceptions are generally accurate. Moreover, studies that aim to identify and test for individual and/or environmental factors that encourage the development and sustainment of exaggerated perceptions of Black-White tipping differences are lacking. These shortcoming in the literature on interracial differences in tipping motivated us to pursue this particular piece of research.
More generally, we were motivated to advance this line of inquiry because of the many implications surrounding servers’ perceptions of interracial differences in tipping practices—not the least of which is the threat that such differences pose to customer service. The majority of times that Black consumers visit a full-service restaurant they are likely to receive good service. However, when this is not the case, when Black customers are given a level of service that is less than should reasonably be expected, or even outright poor, it will inevitably sometimes stem from servers’ negativity towards these customers’ tipping practices. To curtail this threat to Blacks’ dining experiences scholars have advocated for initiatives that aim to increase Black Americans’ awareness and adherence to the U.S. norm prescribing that customers leave a tip that is equivalent to 15% – 20% of their bill if the service was acceptable. If Black Americans were as familiar with the 15% – 20% tipping norm as Whites, racial tipping differences would logically be attenuated.
However, our findings indicate that any initiative that is intended to curtail race-based customer service will necessarily have to be targeted towards changing servers’ perceptions as much as, if not more than, changing consumers’ tipping behaviors. For instance, while a Black-White tipping difference does appear to exist (as a percentage of the bill we estimate the difference to be about 3.3 percentage points) our results underscore a segment of the population of restaurant servers who cognitively exaggerate the magnitude of this difference. Racially prejudiced servers as well as those who work in racialized workplaces are, in particular, likely to overstate the difference between Black and White customers’ actual tipping practices. Thus, to curtail the industry challenges that stem from Black-White tipping differences (e.g., service discrimination, lawsuits, etc.) we encourage restaurant operators to devise strategies to attenuate the individual and environmental manifestations of the racial prejudice that underpins servers’ stereotypic perceptions of Black customers’ tipping behaviors.
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