Center for Hospitality Research

Hospitality Leadership Through Learning
Center for Hospitality Research

Race Differences in Tipping: Questions and Answers for the Restaurant Industry


Vol 6 No 1
By: Michael Lynn Ph.D.


Executive Summary:

A widespread perception in the restaurant industry is that Black patrons tip less than do White customers. As a result, many waiters and waitresses dislike waiting on tables of Black parties, resist being assigned to serve Blacks, deliver inferior service to those black customers whom they must wait on, and refuse to work in restaurants with a large Black clientele. In turn, these attitudes and behavior reduce Blacks' patronage of table-service restaurants, contribute to discrimination lawsuits against restaurants, increase costs and reduce profits of restaurants with large Black clienteles, and deter restaurant chains from opening units in predominately Black communities. 

This report draws on the available research to pose and answer questions about race differences in tipping and about what servers, restaurant managers, industry organizations, and restaurant chains could do about those differences. The available research indicates the following:

  1. Tips from Blacks are, on average, lower than those from Whites;
  2. Black-White differences in restaurant tipping are not caused solely by race differences in socio-economic status;
  3. Black-White differences in restaurant tipping are evident among the middle-class as well as the lower-class;
  4. Black-White differences in restaurant tipping do not disappear when both groups get comparable service;
  5. Blacks tip less than Whites even when the server is Black;
  6. Blacks are much less familiar with the 15- to 20-percent restaurant tipping norm than are Whites;
  7. Blacks tip less than do Whites in many (but not all) other service contexts; and
  8. Asian-White and Hispanic-White differences in tipping are smaller, less robust, and have drawn less attention than Black-White differences in tipping.

The research findings suggest that restaurant managers, executives, and the industry as a whole should try to educate all of their customers about restaurant tipping norms. Such an educational campaign could involve informational brochures in restaurants, as well as an industry-wide effort promoted by trade associations.

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