RALEIGH, N.C. (CBS Charlotte) - A study conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University found that approximately 40 percent of wait staff decide how they are going to treat patrons based on their race.
The official study, “‘Because They Tip for S***!’: The Social Psychology of Everyday Racism in Restaurants,” and its controversial findings garnered national attention when they were published recently in the Journal of Black Studies.
Their collected data showed that 38.5 percent of servers said that race influenced their approach to waiting on patrons, and that 52.8 percent of servers saw co-workers engaging in discriminatory behavior through poor service.
Researchers were motivated by the potential to further discourse about a form of racism not frequently discussed, especially in a society described by some as “post-racial.”
“[We] were interested in studying tableside racism, or ‘dining while black,’ because of the continuing prevalence of subtle discrimination against African-Americans in everyday situations,” PhD candidate Sarah Nell Rusche told CBS Charlotte via e-mail. “Other forms of racial profiling … have been well documented and we wanted to further understandings of these forms of discrimination.”
Surveys were administered by Rusche and the study’s co-author, Zachary W. Brewster, to 200 servers working at 18 full-service chain restaurants throughout the state during the summer and fall of 2004.
The study also chronicled the races waiters’ and waitresses’ sentiments regarding the most and least ideal races to serve, in addition to noting how a patron’s race may influence their behavior.
Those findings were consistent with the overall reported bias against black patrons – a reported 64.7 percent of waiters asked named whites as the most ideal race to serve, while 54.6 percent said African-Americans were the least ideal.
Rusche added that a significant contributing factor to such behavior was the stigma against African-Americans labeling them as bad tippers – a gesture sometimes meant to be indicative of inferior service, and what the study calls a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“[T]here is widespread belief among restaurant waitstaff that African-American customers are poor tippers,” she explained of the findings. “Since the bulk of servers’ income is from tips, many servers feel that prejudicial service based on perceived tip (which is also a race-based perception) is economically justifiable.”
Rusche suggested that restaurants looking to create an environment free of racial prejudices should take care to curb any speech or activity that may foster such sentiments.
“One thing our research shows is that workplace discourse frequently involves racist comments and discussions of customers’ race, including the use of code words meant to avoid overt bigotry,” Rusche observed. “So instead of recommending how establishments can avoid hiring racist individuals, I would recommend that they work to minimize the prevalence of racist workplace discourse that fosters these sentiments.”