Researchers Zachary W. Brewster, Sarah Nell Rusche, who just published their results in the Journal of Black Studies, surveyed 200 servers at chain bar and grill-style restaurants in North Carolina. Eighty-six percent of the servers were white. They asked them to rate how well they thought hypothetical groups of black and white patrons would tip, on a scale of 1 (very poorly) to 5 (very well). A sampling of the results:
They also asked the servers how they thought different groups of patrons would behave, also on a scale of 1 (poorly) to 5 (well):
Then they looked at how much these attitudes actually affected servers’ behavior. They asked the servers to rate how often they’d observed several forms of discrimination by their coworkers, from “never” to “always.” Below, the percentages of servers’ who’d seen various forms of discrimination at least “sometimes”:
And they asked servers how often they themselves had engaged in discrimation. Below, the percentage who had done so at least sometimes:
The study authors note that their sample size is relatively small, and that asking servers to report on coworkers’ behavior might not be a perfect measure of what people are actually doing. However, they also argue that people are likely to underestimate, rather than overestimate, the incidence of racism. They write, “the more any given African American visits restaurants, the greater the odds that the individual will experience discrimination.” African Americans who dine out a lot “are almost guaranteed to experience discrimination at some point over the course of a month, not to mention over the course of a year,” the authors add.
They add that even if black patrons do in fact tip less (which the study didn’t measure), that might be explained by the fact that servers, at least in some cases, actually treat them badly. And they argue for further research into what they call “tableside racism.” Until this problem gets more attention, they say, black patrons won’t actually get the equal treatment at restaurants that the legislation of the civil rights movement was supposed to guarantee them.