Does Race Play a Role in the Way We Tip?

Anthony Calypso, The Grio, January 26, 2010

When Darcelle ‘Darcey’ McGinnis opened her seafood café last fall she counted on her signature garlic blue crab dish and a little Southern charm as a way to satisfy her customers. Although her Atlanta area restaurant is relatively young and most likely prone to new start-up headaches, one of the things that McGinnis never expected was the way that some of her African-American customers failed to leave behind a tip or gratuity. Almost right away McGinnis, a 38-year-old former social worker turned entrepreneur, noticed the difference between the tips she received from her African-American and white clientele.

According to McGinnis this past week an African-American NFL player patronized the café and left without tipping. “He pulled out not a small amount of money, but a wad . . . I just had to experience [this] firsthand,” says McGinnis who runs Bushels Seafood Café, a mom and pop style establishment with her husband and one additional worker. “I never paid attention before but I’ve noticed [here] that our white customers tip more than our black customers who come through.”

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Dr. William Michael Lynne, a full professor of consumer behavioral marketing at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration has been examining the relationship between gratuities and race since the late-80s but due to what he saw as a politically sensitive topic, Dr. Lynne only recently began to discuss some of the implications attached to the subject. “It’s a dirty secret in the industry that there is a wide spread perception that blacks don’t tip well,” says Lynne. {snip}

{snip} Lynne who has conducted surveys in targeted areas of he U.S. as a well as telephone interviews across the nation, believes that at least some of the evidence from a compiled research paper titled, “Race Difference in Tipping”, first published in 2006, supports the negative perception of blacks and tipping.

According to Lynne, one study from the paper concluded that among whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians, blacks gave or claimed to give the lowest average tip. In another survey from the same report blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to leave a flat dollar amount instead of a gratuity reflecting a percentage of the bill. Part of Lynne’s research also came from opinions and data collected from restaurant servers. {snip}

Lynne’s research also revealed that a third of whites within the study did not know the standard amount accepted for gratuities. Lynne who has continued to update his research findings, believes that there is no single answer as to why blacks might tend to tip less. {snip} “Ultimately, says Lynne, ” the restaurant industry . . . is less likely to open up restaurants in black communities even if they are affluent communities because of this race difference in tipping.”

Dr. Wendi Williams, a Southern California native with a doctorate in counseling psychology, believes that even if blacks and whites have similar socioeconomic backgrounds the difference in tipping etiquette might have to do with the actual amount of disposable income within a black household. {snip}

Along that possible nuance, Williams who dines out approximately at least once a week says that she has noticed a difference in service when dining out with blacks versus eating out with mixed groups at restaurants. “I never receive poor service when [dining] out with whites [or] Asians and it never happens if there is a white male in the group,” adds Williams. “I’ve heard of the stereotypes [yet] I believe that [some] blacks are over tipping in order to not be identified as that sort of black since we tend to internalize oppression and prejudice.”

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