Top 10 Reasons You Think Black People Don’t Tip

Top 10 Reasons You Think Black People Don't Tip
Top 10 Reasons You Think Black People Don't Tip

Top 10 Reasons You Think Black People Don’t Tip

Racial stereotypes permeate our world, and sometimes the stereotypes seem so pervasive that they’re simply accepted as fact by most people. Asians can’t drive, white people can’t dance, African-Americans are good at sports, and all Arabs are terrorists. Unfortunately, stereotypes often fuel racism and make it difficult for people to look beyond skin color and realize that everyone has a few quirks that make him or her unique.One of the biggest stereotypes about black people is that they don’t tip in restaurants or in any situation where a tip is a traditional part of the transaction. The interesting thing about stereotypes is that they’re often true for a few people in every culture, race, age, and demographic identity. There are bad tippers everywhere, and they come from every cultural background and in every age group.So, why do people think black people don’t tip? Here are a few fascinating reasons why this stereotype is so popular.

10. The Taboo Topic Fuels Assumptions About African American Diners

The Idea that Black People don't tip is Taboo
The Idea that Black People don’t tip is Taboo

Taboo subjects usually mean that the majority of people aren’t aware of the truth of a situation, and the stereotype of black people who tip poorly isn’t a subject researched too often. According to an article in the Los Angeles times, some research has actually been done on racial tendencies for tipping, but the topic has remained taboo even in modern America. The restaurant industry is well aware of the concept that black people don’t tip, but it’s not exactly something the average restaurateur is willing to talk about with his or her employees. It’s also not a subject routinely covered in the media in any serious way.

In the past half century, many formerly taboo subjects have become commonplace in regular discussions, media stories, and popular television shows. For example, sitcoms and modern dramas frequently showcase gay couples, which would have been almost unheard of at any point before the 1990s. However, the concept of black families who don’t leave a tip is a stereotype that hasn’t made it out of hushed discussions and the opinions of people who don’t really know that much about the topic from personal experience.

People who might be curious about the topic or who could learn something about the truth behind the stereotype are worried about being labeled as a racist instead of someone who’s just interested in the truth behind the matter. Just a few studies on the subject have been carried out, and they’ve been fairly limited in their scope. One study was conducted at the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell, and the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance in Rhode Island has also been vocal on the subject.

9. Black Families Expect a Higher Level of Service

Black or African American People Have higher expectations when dining out.
Black or African American People Have higher expectations when dining out.

One interesting idea on black tipping claims African-American families have higher expectations for restaurant service, which may lead to lower tipping activity when something isn’t just right during a meal. The idea suggests that a black person might reduce the tip more readily than someone of another race for problems like waiting to be served or getting the meal wrong. Could a problem like the server forgetting a glass of water feel like a more acute problem to a black customer than someone of another race?

An interesting article from a blog at The Chicago Tribune shares a story about a server who worked in the restaurant industry and said black customers made higher demands than other customers and also left smaller tips. In fact, the server also claimed that black customers were more likely to leave no tip than anyone else. However, the story also revealed that the server saw small tips from elderly customers and that tips would vary depending on the gender of the customers, as well as the gender of the server.

Despite the experience of seeing elderly people leave bad tips, black people have gained a much more widespread reputation for the practice. Does the history of the civil rights movement and iconic images of black families sitting at “whites only” counters in the 1960s influence the average black customer today? For many African Americans, the concept of racial inequality remains a part of everyday life despite landmark legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The racially charged protests over incidents like the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri and the fatal shooting in South Carolina remind everyone that racial tensions still exist.

8. A Bad Tip Allows Someone to Assert Dominance Over the “Establishment”

Not tipping or tipping less is a way of establishing dominance
Not tipping or tipping less is a way of establishing dominance

In the past century, groups like the Black Panthers made history when they created revolutionary movements to fight against the “establishment” and for the welfare of minority communities around the country. Although the Black Panthers cared for families, it was also a highly charged organization with a radical message. Railing against “the man” became a part of the civil rights movement, as well as a part of the protests against the Vietnam War. In later decades, the idea of getting back at “the man” became fodder for entertainers who turned the idea into one held only by conspiracy theorists, such as Dave Chappelle’s character of “Conspiracy Brother” in “Undercover Brother.”

One theory on black tipping suggests a connection to the concept of “sticking it to the man” by refusing to participate in cultural norms. An opinion piece in Ebony suggests that some black customers could feel that failing to tip would be a subtle way to thumb one’s nose at the establishment since it’s so common for wait staff to be white. The op-ed piece suggests that poor tipping could be a product of racial inequality, as well as class inequality and economic injustice.

However, the concept of “the establishment” is no longer one that’s restricted to black America. In fact, just about everyone from teenagers in suburban America to the strange members of rural survivalist groups have appropriated the concept of “the man” and acting in such a way that feels contrary to how everyone expects people to act. It’s likely that if African Americans are tipping poorly as if to fight the establishment, there are probably other groups doing the exact same thing.

7. Confirmation Bias Means People Already Have an Opinion on Tipping

You think Black people don't tip because of confirmation bias
You think Black people don’t tip because of confirmation bias

The idea of a confirmation bias is a fascinating one when it’s applied to the idea of lousy tipping and African Americans. According to Science Daily, confirmation bias occurs when someone ignores evidence that contradicts what they currently think, but readily accepts ideas that align with their present belief. So, for example, as far as the poor tipping habits of black customers are concerned, a waiter might have a preconceived notion about black customers and might remember each time a black family leaves a stingy tip.

However, each time the server receives a good tip from a black customer, he ignores it as a highly unusual event and doesn’t allow the good experience to influence his overall opinion of all black customers. Further, this confirmation bias then leads to conversations the server has with his friends about those “terrible black tippers” who never seem to leave him a decent tip. A blog published by Boston University reveals that virtually anyone can have a confirmation bias no matter their level of education and intelligence.

Apparently, humans use surface information to form a quick opinion about something, and then it’s difficult to change that opinion even when there is evidence to the contrary. So, whenever someone who already believes the stereotype that black people don’t tip actually gets a great tip from a black customer, it’s not so easy to change that preconceived notion. The idea that black people don’t tip is a pervasive one just about everywhere. So, even if black customers are hitting those traditional 15% to 20% tipping marks, there’s a good chance those efforts are being ignored because of confirmation bias and preconceived notions.

6. African-Americans Base Tipping on Treatment, Not the Food

I'll be your waitress Snobb-a-rina
I’ll be your waitress Snobb-a-rina

One idea surrounding bad tipping habits by black customers doesn’t actually have anything to do with the quality of the restaurant’s food, but of the service provided. Some have suggested that a black customer is much more likely to withhold a good tip if the server is bad and the food is good than a white customer who might give a good tip based upon the quality of the meal. A variety of things can go wrong during a meal, but each customer has a different level of tolerance for problems.

Since there have been studies regarding the poor overall service received by black customers, it’s not surprising that they might not tip as well when faced with a server who forgets something like ketchup for the table or a refill on drinks. An interesting article in the magazine Esquire suggests that many people – black and white – don’t understand the tipping process. Servers can make wages as low as a couple dollars an hour because the federal government assumes the employee will make up the wage with tips. So, if a server doesn’t get a tip at all and just got through covering a large party for an hour, his or her wage could be $2 or $3 for all that work.

According to the article and just about everyone in Europe, the solution for inequitable tipping and dissatisfaction on the part of everyone involved in hospitality would be the complete elimination of the practice. People who work in hospitality in other countries often receive wages that equal other industries where tipping isn’t a tradition, so wages for servers could increase to accommodate the loss of tips and nobody would have a bad reputation for not tipping.

5. African Americans May Not Be Aware of Customary Tipping

Black people are not aware of tipping... I'm not buying this one.
Black people are not aware of tipping… I’m not buying this one.

One of the traditions that surrounds tipping at restaurants is the percentage given for the server’s efforts. A server who offers exceptional service is supposed to get around 20% or more while a server that offers average service is probably going to get around 15% or less. Servers who forget things or who aren’t at the top of their game might see tips around 10% while really bad service may result in the server getting no tip at all. Although these tipping percentages might seem mainstream, some researchers believe that African Americans aren’t aware of some traditions associated with tipping.

One research study out of Cornell suggests that black customers might actually tip better if they were aware the traditions surrounding tipping in the United States. This lack of awareness is another reason why the racial divide regarding tipping could be eliminated with a switch to how people tip in other countries, which is often not at all. Tipping is often seen as an “American thing.” Interestingly, tipping isn’t a worldwide phenomenon, and it’s actually frowned upon in some areas of the world. An article in Travel + Leisure reveals that tipping in many Asian countries is seen as rather vulgar.

In many European countries and in some countries around South America, tipping isn’t even necessary because servers make higher wages and don’t need tips to help them pay bills. However, this isn’t the case in America where the majority of servers work for minimum wage. In fact, many servers still work for less than minimum wage because the government assumes they will make money on tips that will increase their overall income to the minimum wage level.

4. Blacks and Whites Have Extraordinarily Different Household Wealth

Wealth inequality is dramatic in the USA
Wealth inequality is dramatic in the USA

One of the most shocking signs of wealth inequality in the United States is the median household wealth for a white household versus a black household. An article on CNN Money that was published in 2014 revealed that the average white family had a median household wealth of $91,405 while the average black family had a median household wealth of just $6,446. What was even more shocking about these incredible numbers is that the wealth gap had actually tripled in the last few years, according to numbers CNN shared from Brandeis University.

One of the primary reasons for the huge gap was because of how few blacks enjoy home ownership versus whites. Could this extraordinary wealth gap be one of the reasons why black people might not tip as well as whites? Further data supporting this idea can be seen with the median household income reported for blacks versus whites. In 2014, African-Americans saw median household income of $35,416 and whites saw median household income at $59,754. Further complicating the issue was the levels of unemployment between whites and blacks with blacks experiencing unemployment that was more than twice the level of whites.

However, the one area where this idea falters is when other ethnic groups are brought into the equation. According tonumbers published by Pew Research, Hispanic households weren’t faring too well when compared with whites, either. Median net worth of Hispanic households was measured at just $13,700 in 2013, which was substantially lower than the household worth enjoyed by white households. It’s interesting that Hispanic households wouldn’t have the same, widespread reputation for poor tipping in restaurants even though their median wealth was low. Could a variety of factors be at work in causing black households to withhold tips at restaurants?

3. Black People Receive Substandard Service Because of Their Tipping Reputation

Waitstaff believe that black people have a bad reputation for tipping
Waitstaff believe that black people have a bad reputation for tipping

Could the expectation of receiving a bad tip make servers give black customers substandard service? The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education published results of a study conducted by researchers at Wayne State University that seems to give credence to that idea. For the study, researcher Zachary Brewster, an assistant professor of sociology, took a look at the habits of 200 different servers at 18 restaurants around one city in the southeastern United States. The results of the study were surprising, to say the least.

The study revealed that waiters operated on preconceived notions that their black customers would tip badly, and so they would offer average or substandard service since they believed their best efforts wouldn’t result in a big tip anyway. Sometimes servers offered average service, but they wouldn’t go out of their way to give black customers excellent service that might be worthy of a big tip. Researchers learned that these widespread opinions of black customers and tipping were often exaggerated by gossiping about the subject behind the scenes in the average restaurant.

This behavior only serves to create a merry-go-round of problems because poor service means that black customers won’t tip well, which only fuels the opinions of restaurant servers that black people don’t like to tip. It’s unfortunate that servers would base their level of service on the physical appearance of their customers rather than on the concept of treating everyone the same. One solution offered by the Wayne State University study was that restaurants should make everyone aware of tipping and what constitutes appropriate tipping for different levels of service. This solution seemed based upon the assumption that black families weren’t always aware of traditional tipping levels.

2. African Americans Experience Discrimination in Restaurants

Waitstaff have code names for black people, they're referred to as Canadians.
Waitstaff have code names for black people, they’re referred to as Canadians.
The differences in tipping by race are minor.
The differences in tipping by race are minor.

Mainstream media has often tried to suggest that true racism is a problem of the past and that great advances have been made in the past fifty years regarding racial equality. While some improvements have occurred in race relations in the past half century, the struggles of the civil rights era are just as real today for black families as they were in the 1960s. Extreme wealth inequality, a generation of young men in prison, and low levels of home ownership are issues that many black families must confront every day.

Could the racism and inequality that remains in society today also influence the treatment and experiences of the average black customer in a full-service restaurant? Could the poor service given to black customers as seen in the Wayne State University study be just another part of institutionalized racism? An interesting article published by Psychology Today suggests that confronting the existence of racial bias is actually a fairly difficult thing for people to do, even when they’re presented with evidence that racism against African-Americans is a continuing problem in the United States.

An article published by the New York Daily News says “tableside racism” is alive and well in many everyday situations experienced by black people and quoted a Ph.D. candidate from North Carolina State as calling the phenomenon “dining while black.” The article also revealed some of the types of shoddy treatment experienced by African-American customers including being asked to wait for a long time for a table, being refused service, and being mistaken for service employees like coat checkers. Is it any wonder that black families might not tip as well as whites with such unequal treatment at restaurants?

1. Racial Differences Do Exist in Tipping, But They’re Not as Extreme as People Think


With all the opinions, facts, and studies that surround the stereotype of black people who don’t tip, there is some truth to the idea, but it’s not as dramatic as people might think. Many people assume that black people don’t tip at all, but they do tip at restaurants, just like most other Americans. However, it’s likely a variety of issues that have contributed to the overall habit of black customers choosing to tip at lower rates than white customers.

An article in The Washington Post revealed results from a recent survey that said 34 percent of the servers who were interviewed believed that black diners didn’t tip as much as white customers. Further research by the Post suggested that black people did tip less, but that some of the difference could be blamed on different opinions on what constituted an average tip. White people who were surveyed estimated that the average tip a server might receive would be around 14.5% while black people who were surveyed estimated an average of 13.4%.

One of the most interesting pieces of research to come out of the study was the idea that, overall, black customers underestimated how much servers expected to receive, as well as how much other customers were leaving for tips. Further, the study also found that discrepancies in tip amounts continued to exist even if factors like socioeconomic status were equalized. The study wasn’t able to determine a specific reason for the differences in how much white people gave for tips versus how much black people offered for tips, so there’s a good chance the stereotype will continue to exist.

Do African-Americans not like to tip or is it society that’s influenced black families into giving bad tips? While evidence suggests black families do tip less than white families at full-service restaurants, it’s highly unlikely the habit is due to malice or spite. A variety of societal issues and the different circumstances in which black diners find themselves from their white counterparts has resulted in the growth of a stereotype that’s much worse than reality.

Will black customers ever tip the same amount as white customers? Some seem to think education on the subject could reduce the misunderstanding surrounding the topic, but it would probably take a significant shift of opinion to make people believe something different. The idea that black people don’t tip is quite ingrained in modern society, and such significant opinions are almost impossible to change. Perhaps the best that can happen is that people stop believing the severity of the stereotype while understanding that tipping differences are actually quite small.