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Study Shows That, In Restaurants, Race Matters

April 23, 2012

A new study from North Carolina State University shows that more than one-third of restaurant servers discriminate against African-American customers.

“Many people believe that race is no longer a significant issue in the United States,” says Sarah Rusche, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the study. “But the fact that a third of servers admit to varying their quality of service based on customers´ race, often giving African-Americans inferior service, shows that race continues to be an issue in our society.”

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 Rusche. “Race continues to be a significant barrier to equal treatment in restaurants and other areas of social life.”

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