Study: 'Tableside Racism' Persists In Restaurants

This article is more than 9 years old.

So much for our post-racial society.

A new report details the insidious racism that still pervades daily life in America, in this case the focus is "tableside racism" that plagues restaurants. The study by University of North Carolina researchers found that one-third of restaurant servers discriminate against African-American customers, with "substantial server negativity toward African Americans’ tipping and dining behaviors." The report was published online in the Journal of Black Studies.

From the news release:

Researchers wanted to determine the extent to which customers’ race affects the way they are treated at restaurants, so the researchers surveyed 200 servers at 18 full-service chain restaurants in central North Carolina. The majority of the servers surveyed – approximately 86 percent – were white.

Survey results showed that 38.5 percent of servers reported that customers’ race informed their level of service at least some of the time, often resulting in providing inferior service to African-American customers. Findings show that many servers perceive African-American customers to be impolite and/or poor tippers, suggesting that black patrons, in particular, are likely targets of servers’ self-professed discriminatory actions.

The survey also found that 52.8 percent of servers reported seeing other servers discriminate against African-American customers by giving them poor service at least some of the time. Findings also show that restaurant servers share anti-black perceptions through racist workplace discourse, indicating a considerable amount of talk about the race of their patrons. Only 10.5 percent reported never engaging in or observing racialized discourse.

“‘Tableside racism’ is yet another example in which African-Americans are stereotyped and subsequently treated poorly in everyday situations,” says Sarah Rusche, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at North Carolina State and co-author of a paper describing the study. “Race continues to be a significant barrier to equal treatment in restaurants and other areas of social life.”

This program aired on April 24, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 




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