The restaurant business, like any business, can have issues with discrimination, sometimes in the unlikeliest venues. A friend of mine was standing in line at a tiny midtown Chinese restaurant recently, waiting to pay her bill, when she overheard a conversation between a customer and the restaurant's owner that surprised her.
"The customer was a male student from India, and he was looking at his check and asking the person behind the counter why it was higher than he thought it should be," she told me. "He was told that because he was Indian, his gratuity was automatically added to the check."
My friend was startled by the admission: "I heard this being explained to him and I couldn't believe my ears. I
spoke up and said, 'That's illegal!' But the waitress came over to us and said
that Indian students don't tip, and the owner hardly paid her anything
and she needed the money."
Is this scenario all that different, really, from the recent legal action taken against the P.F. Chang's China Bistro on the Country Club Plaza by a former waitress -- an African-American woman -- who was ordered to wait on black customers whom white servers would not serve? In January, the Arizona-based restaurant chain settled out of court with former server Janeris Rosten of Lenexa before the trial started. Although it wasn't overtly stated in the lawsuit, the reason that the local Caucasian servers refused to have black patrons in their stations was almost assuredly the long-standing perception that African-Americans don't tip -- or don't tip well. (Read one of the comments under the January 13 Fat City post that seems to verify this.)
Back when I was a teenaged busboy, I once overheard a grumpy white waitress grousing about having to wait on black customers: "Big lips, no tips." That wouldn't be the last time I heard that hate-filled comment. And over the years, I heard variations on the same discriminatory complaint about other groups that were all supposedly lousy tippers: lesbians, large groups of suburban housewives, Southern Baptists, Catholic priests, and old people with coupons.
In fact, not all that long ago, I was dining alone at a midtown bistro and heard a couple of young servers bickering about which one of them would have to wait on me. I like to think of myself as a pretty good tipper, so I flushed with anger until one of the servers whispered, "Single diners are always the worst tippers." It's funny, I once remember thinking that, too.
Hey, when I was a waiter, it took me a long time to realize that good tippers cut a wide swath among almost every demographic, and bad tippers, to a lesser extent, do as well. One of the worst tippers I've ever known in my life was a relative! A man married to my great-aunt Jeanette: a rich but stingy small-town conservative who never left more than a quarter for any server -- no matter what race, age or gender. It was so scandalous that my parents finally got into the habit of leaving a wad of cash on the table after tightwad "Uncle Bill" walked out of a dining room.
Another friend of mine had been waiting tables for well over three decades when he finally retired, and he had the best attitude about earning gratuities that I've ever known: "If you just treat everyone right, fuss over them and make them feel comfortable, they'll be good to you at the end. And if you get a stingy tip every once in awhile, it all comes out even at the end of the night."
Good advice for any profession.