Topic: Civil Rights
Dining and diversity: catering to a multicultural clientele: as the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse, training servers to be sensitive to the distinct desires of different groups becomes more important than ever Nation's Restaurant News, Sept 19, 2005 by Paul Frumkin
...Cultural history and perception also form an important element in how different ethnic groups assess the dining experience.
"We put too little attention on the fact that until 1963 blacks couldn't sit down in a restaurant and be accommodated in all 50 states," Fernandez says. "As a result blacks today tend to be less patient with long waits than other groups are. But that's because they often found themselves waiting for the wrong reason--nobody wanted to serve them.
"Many people just don't recognize how those little slights were used against blacks in this country for years."
An informal study carried out in the 1980s appears to bear that out. Devised by Doug Mann--who at the time was a server at an Atlanta outlet of a family restaurant chain and now is a candidate for the Minneapolis City Council--the study reveals that black customers are more sensitive to the speed of service and may interpret delays as discrimination.
Mann conducted a study of 3,000 customers over a six-week period that appeared to demonstrate that blacks were quicker to reduce the size of their tip than white guests if they had to wait past a certain point for their food.
"All customers who waited 10 minutes or less for their food paid at least a 15 percent tip," Mann says. "No one who waited more than 20 minutes left a tip."
However, Mann adds, blacks were less likely to tip than whites if they had to wait more than 10 minutes and less than 20. And, he says, "the longer the wait, the bigger the tipping gap."
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At least one of my co-workers in the above-mentioned Atlanta restaurant refused to serve blacks at all, and most gave blacks low priority (often translating into extra delays in food service). I noticed the same thing going on at many other restaurants. I was working two full time jobs and dined out on a daily basis for about 6 months during that time period. And I have seen blacks getting the same treatment as 2nd class customers in Minneapolis during the past 20 years.
"Serving a diverse clientele" (i.e., being forced to serve blacks) remains a big challenge in the restaurant industry because many servers still don't want to serve black customers, or generally don't want to serve them as well as whites. However, I saw those attitudes change among a group of waiters who I worked with in Atlanta. When table service improved and racial differences in tipping declined, most of the waiters came around to the view that it was not in their interests to discriminate against black customers.
Racial discrimination is, in itself, a factor that lowers the overall quality of service that can be provided to a majority of customers. For example, a waiter might seat and serve fewer than the optimal number of clients in their section in order to avoid serving black customers, which can lead to bottlenecks and delays in the kitchen during rush periods.
In my experience there also seems to be a negative correlation between the intensity of racial discrimination and the quality of service, with racial discrimination being less intense, even nonexistent in well-managed restaurants where service is consistently good. On the other hand, where sweatshop conditions prevail, lousy service and racial discrimination against customers go hand in hand.