Upon arriving at a restaurant stereotypes about your skin tone will undoubtedly receive priority seating and most likely at a booth. It’s no secret there is a stigma attached to Black diners shaped by poverty and systemic racism. Many generations of POC don’t know how to tip or behave in a restaurant setting because they did not have the luxury of going out to eat with their family and watching their parents leave a 20% tip. This lack of exposure also carries itself over to restaurant etiquette, manners, and what to expect in general from a dining experience. Notably, there seems to be a lack of understanding for what “service” actually is, meaning black folks view tipping as throwing or giving money away.
Moreover, it is not often that black people actually receive proper service in a restaurant and when they do it can be few and far in-between. People of color can’t relax and enjoy the experience because their guard is always up. Either in an attempt to defend against being poorly treated or in response to being mistreated so consistently over the years. Living in the melanin-rich metropolis of Atlanta you will find a cornucopia of restaurants. Creating a city with many people of color that are not only foodies but are also food and beverage professionals. With this in mind, a more significant conundrum starts to present itself. What happens when you are a black cultured epicure who actually enjoys tipping, and you find yourself being shortchanged by racial profiling and bias?
If you have been dining while black consistently you will inevitably notice specific patterns. The first red-flag is typically when the server assumes you want lemon with your water. Then you notice your questions are met with little regard and easily dismissed as an annoyance. Lastly, the befuddling look on their face when your temp order is med-rare as opposed to medium-well. Typically, a perceptive server will quickly adapt, once they recognize your patience, level of knowledge, and how you have gracefully overlooked the assumptive insults (read: Moscato). However, some simply still miss the mark, refusing to provide a level of service that is efficient. Thus making the dining experience uncomfortable and putting you in a pickle. The thought process of the server is that as a negro, you will most likely not be tipping, and if you do tip, it won’t be satisfactory. A servers time is a servers money, so you are reduced to a waste of time for lack of pay, considering what pay you might provide won’t be worth the effort.
Being made to feel like a second-class citizen while out to dinner is not the appetizer we wanted. More importantly, how do you address these concerns while avoiding the cliche’ pitfalls being projected on you? If you ask for a manager, you become the “bitching n*gger” who is complaining to get something for free. Let’s say you decide not to tip the server because you didn’t receive any service. You will then substantiate the projections and give validation for his or her contempt behavior. If you do leave the proper tip or even over-tip to prove a point, this is still a misstep as the server will assume you are aware of how demanding you are, and your tip is an apology and yet another confirmation.
Frankly, there is no “Get out of Jail Free Card” for the prejudice that is plaguing the dining experience for POC. However, I have found the most useful tool in avoiding racial landmines while out to eat is to ask to speak to a manager after paying. Upon doing this, explain your experience and the degree to which you are offended. Make sure you clarify that a tip in this situation is criminal and leave the 20% tip in the hands of the manager, advising him or her to negotiate if and how the tip should be disbursed. The unfortunate irony of having to become servile in order to receive service is yet and still a disservice. Dining while black and more explicitly tipping while black can be a lose-lose situation; especially when nobody ordered the micro-aggressions.