G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Gawker has a follow-up to the story of a pastor who refused to tip the automatic gratuity on a tab.
The pastor, a black woman, called and complained that a waitress posted a copy of her receipt. She reportedly wanted the entire staff fired but ended up getting only the waitress fired.
This is my wheelhouse. The Gawker comments are great because this type of story is the only one where you’ll get real talk about racial differences. It is acceptable because it doesn’t involve a politically powerful class complaining about the averaged behavior of black people.
This particular behavioral difference is a big part of the reason that I ever began looking at racial differences in the first place. If I’d never waited tables I probably wouldn’t have ventured down a path of even entertaining such illiberal notions.
Anyway, the Gawker comments are filled with ex-servers almost all of whom say that black people generally demand more service than other patrons and then, on top of that, tip worse. You also have a lot of commenters who take the opportunity to denigrate religion.
I’ve noted the research from Cornell professor Michael Lynn who is almost the only person who has conducted research on the topic of demographic patterns of tipping behavior. He has found that blacks tip the worst, as a group, even when controlling for guest perception of service quality. This is germane to the current story because the now-fired waitress claimed that the party in question said that nothing was wrong with the service. Lynn has also found that blacks tip worse even after controlling for other factors like income, education, sex, and household size.
Lynn has been conducting research on tipping awareness as an explanation for the tip gap. He has found that awareness does partially mediate the gap. Up to 30% of the tip gap can be explained by ignorance over tipping norms. But blacks still tip worse than whites even after all of these other variables have been accounted for. The woman in question was told and shown that there was a tip and should have assumed this was based on some sort of norm or some regular business practice. But she just didn’t want to pay it.
Lynn has also looked into the tipping patterns of religious people. It is true that there is a perception among servers that “the church crowd” or religious people are poor tippers. We get a lot of “Jesus will save you” pamphlets and the audacity of those crowds out the size of the tip that is left behind. Lynn’s abstract:
A web based survey was used to assess the relationships of religious faith and frequency of church attendance with tipping under conditions of good and bad service. Results indicated that Jews and those with no religion tipped more than Christians and members of other religions, but that the vast majority of Christians tipped at or above the normative 15 percent of bill size. Worship frequency also significantly interacted with service quality such that the tips of those who frequently worship vary with service quality less than the tips of those who worship less frequently. The practical implications of these results for service workers and restaurants or other service businesses with a large religious clientele are discussed.
Lynn found that 13 percent of church-goers left a “poor” tip (<15%) for good service.
In another study conducted by Lynn, 46% of black patrons left tips of 0-10%. Six percent left nothing whereas zero to one percent of people of other races reported that they routinely stiff their server. It is impossible to determine whether to pin this particular woman’s stinginess on either her race or her religion (though one Gawker commenter did single out Black Christians as particularly difficult), but if we can extrapolate her behavior it would seem that her race would more likely be the causal factor.
One aspect that I would love Dr. Lynn or any other researcher to tackle would be to find out how much work actually goes into accommodating these different groups. Compare that to the overall tip size. One big issue on the racial tip gap, as mentioned above, is that not only do black people tip poorly but their demands are greater than other patrons, in general. In my experience, white church-goers aren’t necessarily generous with their money, but they are also not overly demanding. It adds insult to injury when you’re being bossed around and also not getting rewarded for it. And that is the perception that very many servers have about black diners.