Dining and diversity: catering to a multicultural clientele: as the U.S.
population becomes increasingly diverse, training servers to be sensitive to
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
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
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
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."
[end of quote]
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
many other restaurants. I was working two full time jobs and dined out on a
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
"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
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
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
prevail, lousy service and racial discrimination against customers go hand in
-Doug Mann, King Field
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