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Tipping While Black – The Struggles of a Black Barman

jamal

I remember watching my favorite TV show, Louis, and there was a scene where Louis was at The Cellar and he asked a server how her night was going. She says that she has two tables full of Black people, so she’s working for free. Louis says her comment was racist. She argues that her five years of experience prove otherwise. He then tells the Black host what just happened and she honestly responds, “Are you nuts? N****s don’t tip. Everyone knows that.” Louis stood there perplexed. His cultural sensitivity, his rejection of stereotypes, his politically correct childlike naïveté had all been challenged. I will tell you that as a Black hospitality industry worker I carry the weight of this stereotype/reality firmly on my shoulders. I’ve dealt with it personally, heard stories from others from which I’ve felt apologetic and when I’m out on my own I overcompensate. Maybe this is a Black guilt. Let us discuss.

I believe some of this comes from the way my dad raised me, which was to never confirm “their” stereotypes and that when I walk out of the house I represent myself, my family and ‘us’, so I tend to internalize. I can’t act like this tipping issue is a complete fallacy. This wouldn’t be a running theme if it held no truth, but this is a burden I’ll always deal with, whether I’m working or I’m out. Now, regardless of whether or not prejudices/profiling hold true, our job in this industry is to set all of those preconceived notions aside and, regardless of experience, it is our duty to treat every guest with respect. One of the main tenets of our profession is to treat all customers as individuals and do so with dignity and for them to leave happy, feeling that they were taken care of. You never know that person’s story and I wouldn’t want subpar service because of an experience someone had with someone else.

Is non-tipping a Black thing? Does it have a history? Is this something that arose post Jim Crow as a response to previously not having the right to be served? Sometimes I wish I could say this stems from a history of being the first American non-paid service class. This isn’t the case and I don’t know if I want to give modern day non-tipping a crutch of that much integrity. I’ve grown to believe this is more of a matter of culture – culture meaning accepted societal rules, language and rituals. I don’t think anyone from certain socioeconomic levels that don’t allow for excess money, or those not accustomed to the rituals of going out on the town, are traditionally great tippers. For people raised in an environment where pizza and takeout Chinese food are treats, when you get older tipping is just an optional anything ‘extra’ with no associative figure, just maybe a nebulous good or bad. Good to someone could mean $10 on $100. $20-$25 may not even make sense to some, it would almost seem gratuitous. In my adulthood, I wasn’t in that social world where the language of tip percentage was so ubiquitous. It really wasn’t until I started working in this industry that I learned percentages, 15-18-20%. Before then I was oblivious. I could have tipped poorly and been unaware.

Many of the articles I read about how to tip come from an industry worker or someone highly entrenched in the food/social world. I tend to hear more about groups of people who don’t tip well than those who do. Many times foreign tourists aren’t the best tippers, regardless of socioeconomic class. There’s also the case of the wealthy person who doesn’t tip at all, and then of course there is the culture of people who don’t ‘believe’ in tipping altogether (which is another contentious conversation in itself). Aside from these different cultures that we can somewhat explain, let us not forget the culture that transcends race…just being a cheap ass.

I tip because I’m a part of this industry, but more importantly I tip because I’m Black. It’s a lose-lose at times because I’ll have the urgent need to make sure that I leave a good impression, like I’m tipping on behalf of all Black people, but if someone has held on to a stereotype so deeply that they silently don’t afford me much respect, then they aren’t worth all of my consideration and I’d be, in turn, doing my own self a great disservice. Although I know this, it will always be a conflict of mine.

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Jamal Frederick - Second Hand Scribe

Jamal Frederick - Second Hand Scribe

Born in all the jazz that is Fillmore, San Francisco, Jamal has moved all around the beautiful Bay Area. Currently living in the SF diaspora, the married Jamal raises babies, makes cocktails and writes. He is currently working on multiple projects with the most recent being his San Francisco-centric cocktail book: Souvenir. Follow him online, find him, try his drinks, read his writing and have a good conversation with him, he needs adult company...

  • Ana

    Yeah, I overtip because I have worked for tips (for tips and nothing else in the naked lady industry, in addition to more standard restaurant work), and I know how much it sucks. Even if service isn’t great, I pretty much have to see someone actively spit in my food (not just suspect that they might have) before I’ll go lower than 15%, and my default is 20. Probably *because* I’m broke, though I like to think that if I ever strike it right I won’t suddenly become a non-tipping asshole.

  • Kaetan

    The concept of an automatic gratuity is a uniquely American institution and a scam of epic proportions. It is ridiculous that in this country that there are people who work for free and are paid solely at the discretion of customers. How we have all fallen for this ridiculous arrangement, I will never quite know. It is an incredible delusion that owners and management of restaurants have convinced us of. Somehow they are not responsible for paying their own employees and that people who reject this are somehow not a friend of the working person.

  • gorge jung

    The show is called Louie.

  • Enrique Grijalva

    The struggle is real!

  • Chikurt

    My experience working in a bar is that the stereotype is untrue, however the basis for it is. The gangsta minded, bling obsessed, ghetto asshats that dont tip aren’t not tipping because of their race they could be Asian, White, or Black it’s their culture – or lack of it. People of any culture who are aware of how the service industry works tip.

  • mcgrane

    in the US it’s important to tip, and to do it as generously as you can afford according to the level of service given.

    the service workers are not paid the min wage, so they are dependent on the tips to fill out the rest of their pay check.

    beside if you tip well especially at your favorite places; they will give you the insider service (the last portion of the house best bottle of wine, the best bacon of the house ect…)

    the point is YOU MUST TIP and always say thank you with a smile 🙂

  • Kelly

    Do you realize how much more expensive everything on the menu be if servers were tipped minimum wage…? Customers get their precious 2-for-4 and happy hour discounts because the restaurant CAN mark certain items down because they don’t HAVE to worry about making enough to cover paychecks. In return, customers tip for the SERVICE they receive from waiters in exchange for being able to benefit from all the ridiculous discounts customers expect (like free birthday dessert, a free shit for no reason, claiming you didn’t like your entrée but only leaving a bite left, etc.) No one would be able to afford eating out if servers got paid minimum wage, let alone any amount more than that. The food cost would be raised so high it would be nearly impossible to afford even an appetizer as a meal. It’s not a SCAM, it’s set up this way for a reason.

  • Sol

    Yet somehow other countries have restaurants and don’t do it this way. The restaurants still have customers. The public still eats out.

  • Ray

    Actually, if the server makes an average below minimum wage by the end of the pay schedule, then they are required to be paid minimum wage. If all servers, bussers, expos, bartenders, food runners, and sometimes even hosts are made so that they become hourly positions, then it will reflect in the price of the food and product. To run enough people during any given time, any entree currently priced at $10 could become a $20 entree. I would rather tip $2 on a $10 meal (to equal only $12 if you didn’t know) than get (most likely) a worse serviced $20 meal.

    The problem with your questioning is that you’re not thinking about how a business is ran. It’s for profit. There is a percentage of total sales that go towards paying employees, a percentage for building costs, a percentage for food, cleaning supplies, electricity, gas, higher-ups, etc. It’s cheaper for everyone to have a tipped service. Plus, you can also show your level of GRATUITY for the human being serving you, whether or not it’s a good or bad thing.

  • jb

    Ive been to Europe and you pay for what you get. They arent dependent on tips and it shows I never had good service it was always ok at best.

  • blahblahblah

    In my experience, black people tip just as well as any other race. Maybe it is because I live in the north west and we didn’t have such hardships/resentments as other parts of the country…. on the other hand, Russians are thee absolute worst…

  • Johnnie Jeffers

    I thought that was a very good article and a very honest look at tipping culture. Personally as a veteran server, I have come to the conclusion that black people are often prejudged based on the server’s past experiences. If a server gives poor service, because he/she has prejudged the table, then the tip becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The server says, “See, I knew they wouldn’t tip.” Completely ignoring the fact that their service was sub-par based on a preconceived idea. Whether or not their prejudged idea was correct, is of no consequence. They gave terrible service and were tipped accordingly.

    On the flip-side, there are a large number of minorities, who’s tips are less than desirable. The prejudging comes into play based on the special circumstances surrounding server pay. In most lines of work, you either get paid, before the work is done, or you get paid a flat-rate (per hour). It really doesn’t matter the kind of client you have, because your getting paid regardless of the clients social status or color. Everyone pays the same.

    Serving is one of the few jobs, where the rate of pay is decided AFTER the work is completed. Not only that, but the one who performed the work, has no say in what the pay is. Many foreigners and minorities do not understand that while a tip is something extra, you pay on top of your bill, it is not an EXTRA for the server. It is their actual pay (living wage, bread and butter). So when a server keeps getting low wages or getting stiffed by certain groups of people, they tend to want to pay more attention to those tables, that they feel will tip better. Think about it. If you have several clients at your workplace, and certain clients never pay up or pay very little. Are you really concerned about the job you do for them? Many people would simply not do any work at all for clients who never pay. What’s the point in doing work for people, who you feel will probably pay very little or not at all? So you can see the server’s frustration, because they don’t get to decide who they will serve or what the pay will be. Tipping guidelines are only recommendations, not law.

    Stereotypes are just that. While they may be based on a common theme, they are definitely not all-inclusive. I’ve gotten great tips from poor black people, and I’ve gotten terrible tips from rich white people. So the truth is, you just never know. Since some black people or other minorities never get great service, because of their skin color, I tend to give them great service. I try to provide great service to everyone but I pay special attention to them. Because let’s face it. If you continually receive poor service, it’s nice and refreshing to get excellent service, plus you don’t have to do much. Just give them the service they deserve. And I make better tips all around.

  • Johnnie Jeffers

    I’ve heard that many times before. And it stands to reason. If you’re getting paid the same, no matter how fast you move and the pay is based solely on, did you put food on the table, I might be less inclined to work faster than an ER doctor in the kitchen. And that side of ranch…meh, I’ll get to it when I get to it.

  • Trudy

    My perspective is that the service precedes the tip, period. This isn’t a chicken/egg thing. And I usually get TERRIBLE service because I am a Black woman. I am skipped in line, I book reservations and show up and magically they are “cancelled” or “not in the book,” regularly receive burnt food and servers disinterested in being respectful. These people then expect 20% tip or it’s “all” Black people’s fault. I find this exhausting. And I cannot afford to tip in order to “hope” Whites treat other Black people well. (Honestly, this has to be examined in term of the politics of respectability and behaving in a way to “correct” stereotypes which doesn’t work since racism is structural as well.) I only tip because of the nature of exploitative labor and how tipping works anyway. So usually these disgusting servers end up “rewarded” for their racism because they have to make a living. All I can do is never return to that place. And my list of “never return to places” is long.
    Thanks for sharing your view on this; I do know that for me, I didn’t get to go to many restaurants as a kid. Usually had to eat at home. And didn’t really learn about tipping any service (not just restaurants but salons etc.) until my very late teens.

  • Jamal Robinson

    Trudy! Thank you! This is my exact sentiment. Politics of respectability is a real issue and you’ll walk away feeling like you were tap dancing for someone who thinks little of you, which is a violation of self respect. I didn’t want the piece to look like this is something I promote, am happy with or am proud of. It’s quite the opposite – I’ll feel like I just played myself in instances like this (which I’ve had a couple) . To feel like you were sat in the corner, ignored, not taken care of and rushed AND they still get a tip, smh. In no way am I trying to apply for or buy someone’s respect. It was just meant to show more of that internal conflict I’ll have at times when I’m out…thank you again Trudz

  • Beth

    Interesting perspective. And very eloquently written. Thanks for your point of view! I will pass it on!

  • Renee K. VanKuren

    I tend to agree. I think it’s bullshit that the restaurants get such cheap labor and put it on the customer to pay us. Not such a big deal when you are referring to $2 on a $10 check, but when it is a large party, an extra $25 is a lot on top of a $100 check(that is what I tip 25%, unless the server is an asshole or really really bad. I’ve actually had terrible servers that got the whole order wrong but were so friendly & nice I still tipped the 25%) As far as the cost of the food going up for servers to be paid that extra $5 an hour (where I live it would only have to be about 3) to be raised to minimum wage, I call B.S. Many of the restaurant owners I know make a lot of money and are quite wealthy. And very cheap. But I do not disagree with auto-grat, especially when you have a table of 10 foreigners that is going to take up all of your time and attention, and you know if you didn’t auto grat you’d get nothing or next to it. In my experience the MAJORITY(not ALL) of Germans, French, Canadians, people from fucking Minnesota, and Asians do not tip, or tip about 3-4%. I have actually had good luck with Black Americans.

  • bsaunders

    Hmm … I worked as a waitress for 3 years. Yes, there are patterns. They probably vary somewhat by restaurant type, but data speaks for itself.

  • Stella Lee Nebula

    I empathize with the author sharing some similar feelings. Growing up Jewish you’re given the label of “cheap” and I would see my grandparents who grew up in the great depression leave not the most generous tips. As I got older I would sometimes supplement these tips. I tend to over compensate with my tipping too even for subpar service and the feeling that sometimes I am treated differently if I dine alone. I don’t want anybody making assumptions about me.

  • Isaac

    I’m a black male and I tip all the time. But I know a lot of my black friends don’t tip because of the fact that we receive terrible service because of the fact that of the stereotype that we don’t tip well. It’s a vicious cycle of bad service=no tip……and no tip=bad service. This originated after the Civil Rights movement. Once blacks were allowed to eat in non-segregated food establishments, the only way for white restaurant owners to keep blacks away legally is to give them the worse service possible.

  • AmericanTopTeam

    How should I feel then when I am called Boy? Fingers snapped at me..
    Ran mercilessly and then giggled at and then stiffed? Should I feel like I “tap danced” for someone who didn’t appreciate it?
    You can’t use the way you were raised as an excuse to be a scumbag. I was raised in the deep South my parents taught us respect everyone be nice to everyone you represent your family. It’s not a game and if you keep score you will lose but be a decent person.
    My last shift I had two African American ladies come in just before close I laughed with them joked with them at the end of the meal they said we are all set thank you! I opened the check presenter 50 tip on 64 dollar check I went back and said, “ladies there is 50 in here” they said thank you for your great service. Often times eyes are rolled people are short service is poor… I don’t feel like anyone should have to overtip for their race. I’ll treat every guest with dignity kindness and compassion until I leave this industry what they tip me says NOTHING about me but EVERYTHING about them.

  • How do you know it’s because you are a black woman? I ask this completely honestly and without snark. Is assuming you’re getting bad service because you’re a black woman any worse than a server assuming a black table won’t tip? Loads of factors go into service, many of which are not in the servers control. I worked as a hostess and never would even think of “canceling” a black person’s reservation. I have never ever heard of this happening and I hostessed for 7 years in New York City. You regularly receive burnt food. That has zero to do with the server. Do you really think the server went back to the kitchen and said “this table is black, destroy the food”? And do you really think any chef would do it, knowing the meal would probably be comped and effect costs?

    I am white and I serve everyone with the same level or respect (as long as they are respectful to me) and I don’t know any server or bartender who has ever done differently. Service can be fault due to no fault of the server themselves. You are blaming burnt food on the server, not the kitchen. You are blaming a reservation disappearing on the server, not the host. You are blaming a lot of things on servers that have zero to do with servers. When a server seems less than friendly, did you ever stop to think maybe they re swamped, or dealing with a kitchen putting out burnt food, or hostesses screwing up reservations, or people being rude to them?

    Trust me when I say, we hate Europeans way more than any other group of people. People with unruly kids is a close second. I have dealt with black folks who haven’t tipped (one table comes to mind in Christmas time of 2013 when a couple sat on my table for THREE HOURS with 154 dollar check and made me run like crazy for everything and tipped me 9 dollars), but the industry is pretty basic in our bitterness. We hate EVERYONE because as a server, we have had every kind of person be a dick to us. Every race, every religion, every ethnicity, has at some point or another treated their server like shit, stiffed us, been rude to us, berated us, LIED about us. You are very wrapped up in your own victimhood and I don’t think you’ve ever actually worked in a restaurant. Just like servers need to get out of their head the fear of a black table not tipping, you should get out of your head the idea that everyone in a restaurant is treating you shitty on purpose because you’re black. I guarantee most of the time it isn’t true, and like I said, you’re blaming your server for a lot of things that have zero to do with them and blaming their supposed racism for it. Not cool.

  • Desiree Mulford

    I have to agree with Stephanie. How do you know you get bad customer service because you are black? Maybe you get bad customer service because you are a bad customer. I find it hard to believe your reservations are regularly lost and you are served burnt food. I’d also like to know what you consider respectful treatment from servers. How do you treat your servers? Like servers or like servants?
    In my experience, the odds are 50/50 of getting a good tip from a black table, but if they don’t get stellar service or some tiny little thing goes wrong, it MUST be because they are black. You say you are exhausted by servers’ preconceived notions about you as a black customer? Well I am exhausted by black customers assuming they will get bad service from me because I am white. I give the best service I can to everyone, even when I know the tip will be lousy (I know this because they are regulars and no matter who waits on them or what kind of service they get, they are lousy tippers).
    I also take issue with the excuse that some people are lousy tippers because they grew up poor and going out was a once a year treat. BS. You know about tipping now. If you have the money to go out, you have the money to leave a decent tip. I travel/ teach ESL. When I am in a different culture, I respect that culture’s expectations. When Europeans come here, I expect them to know that tipping is a part of American culture, so I don’t want to hear excuses about “black culture.” When you go out to eat, you are in American culture and that means you leave the expected tip.

  • jasmine

    No, the kitchen did not purposely burn her food, but if it were a white family of four the server wouldn’t have dropped off burnt food in the first place. They would have asked the kitchen to remake before it made it out the window. The stigma against black patrons is real. Literally servers will go up to the host and as discreetly as possible ask not to be seated with black guest. Then the guest is treated with half as much curtsy as they would deliver to a “white middle class” family. Suddenly all that cheery enthusiasm is gone, and the server does the bare minimum to have ground to stand on if the guest does notice they’re being treated differently. The same servers who would bend over backwards and take on the kitchen to make sure food is perfect and hot, will bring out burnt onion rings and wings that have obviously been sitting in the window for a bit.

    Even as a guest, Ive literally seen servers do a 180 when you compare how they interacted with me, and how they treated white people. Im talking taking forever to greet us, not refilling our drinks when they’re low, not bussing our table, not checking up on us or our food, one woman was so sure we were cheap asses that she took our menus after we ordered appetizers even though i told her that was all for now and WENT BACK TO BROWSING THE MENU. Yet the white women who got sat after us were greeted in 2 mins vs us waiting over 15. Their appetizers were out in about 10 or so mins, while our one skillet of cheese fries took another 20 mins to get. Then when our electronic menus were not working and we waited to ask for drinks (no flagging her down, she wasnt busy she just took her sweet ass time) she tried to make it seem like we didnt know how to order.

    I think this puts a lot of black people on the defensive when they go out because they know they bare the burden of this stereotype. So what to do? Tip a server who isnt giving you A-1 service because youre afraid of encouraging stereotypes, or leave nothing because your suspicions made you overly critical?

    Then you have to look at socioeconomic status. Unfortunately Black people and Hispanics/Latinos dont tend to make as much on average as white people or Asians. Its easier to get comfortable with tipping when you make more money. The tip is just a tip and not another 15 dollars added to your check. I also think people who dont eat out as much dont know how to calculate a tip. They think 5 on a 100$ check is just as nice as 5 on a 20$ check.

    to end it, black people have every right to be sensitive to the treatment they get at restaurants because servers do prejudge their tables and dont put in the same effort when serving most minorities. I mean, look at the comments on this page. Its obvious lots of servers do infact have prejudice against black people. Black people also don’t tip well, for a variety of reasons. It’s true.

    -Sincerely, a black waitress.

  • sugarntasty

    ….disputing perception of opinion as GAY male color find article contemptuous. Honoring hierarchy whom
    cause social gentrification in Bay area furthermore gent eluding heritage. Racist when “terms” utilized is
    assumption,personal ordeals and self-bigotry plenty of rationalizing…compare diversity no longer color.
    Income and chosen merit reckon source…allegation not getting enough for himself other guys bar non-
    Black selected. Benefit from patrons excuse I’m not denying racism didn’t say this victim mention aloof
    Black affluent whom egotistical. Forgotten suppose perceptions non-Black ready for dispute: Malcom Jamal and Lee Daniel talented men own realty while LGBTQ face disparage It’s color thang yeah I’m generalizing because. Not of heritage I don’t write heritage worthless, yes preference of personnel causing,agitation in Bay area concur! Male heterosexual impartial to political disparity, your able to fit into
    pockets of hierarchy using Ellis Act. Victim let’s say gotten ideal tips or trip could donated housing cause?
    Don’t go there using race card,why majority co-dependent chastising fellow Blacks. Attitude benefiting not
    color gentrification San Francisco racist,sexist,regional and homophobic city due influx gentrifying racist!