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Taking Sides

On the Stereotype “Black Folk Don’t: Tip”

The PBS Online Film Festival ends today and I finally sat down long enough to watch the less than six-minute short film, Black Folk Don’t: Tip. On everything holy, I’m so tired of all this race stuff that’s been all over the news and Internet for the past few months, my blog posts included. If our society were the perfect utopia, I’d never write about race relations, politics, oppression, or gender inequality. I’d rather blog about peace, love, and reality television stars but because you people can’t get it together, I sit around dwelling on the fact that we live in an imperfect world and nearly everyone is a closeted racist. Seriously, never in my life have I deeply felt like Black people in America aren’t safe like I do now. Don’t worry though. This post isn’t about how [some] white people are wilin’ out at the prospect of soon becoming the minority and trying to go all white supremacy on us minorities before 2050.

Today, it’s about tipping.


Watch Black Folk Don’t: Tip on PBS. See more from PBS Online Film Festival.

When I saw the video I was more than a little intrigued. I’ve been accused of being a bad tipper by someone Black who holds the opinion that Black people don’t tip. Luckily, I know “bad” is subjective. To someone who customarily tips 20%, because I tip less than that I’ll never get her to see that that’s not me being a bad tipper, just like I’ll never get her to see that she’s over-tipping. Some people look at what you do and attribute it to your race, class, or background. And to a certain extent it does lend itself to the decisions we make but it’s never so simple as Black, White, educated, pretentious, or working class and there’s two types of victims with stereotypes: the people you’re stereotyping and the people who believe them.

That being said, I knew I’d watch the short film but I wasn’t sure how a six-minute video could fully address the subject. I heard this a couple of times from more than one person in the film: Tipping is a matter of class, not race. People who have more money may feel inclined to tip at a higher percentage than those with less. That’s fine. In fact, that’s great. Keep that in mind when it’s time to pay your taxes. On the one hand, there are people with more money who are of the opinion that wait staff don’t do anything but bring out food and refill drinks. They’re not tipping more than 15% (or even 15%) because it’s not “real work.” Anybody remember the banker who left a waitress a 1% tip and some advice, get a real job? On the other hand, people with less money should be watching their money and while that doesn’t preclude them from having a night out on the town, it means they might tip less. But let’s go back to the other hand, because there are plenty of people who watch their money and still properly tip service professionals because they know how hard it is for someone to make a living from tips. By and by, I think it’s more individual than anything. If I hit the $540 mega millions, I’ll still tip 15% and I’ll still tip 15% pre-tax.

Yes, I’m a 15% tipper. It’s the customary amount for food and beverages before tax. Occasionally, I’ll tip 20% for exceptional service. I don’t feel bad about setting 15% as the standard and I certainly don’t feel bad for tipping 10% for horrible service. Because here’s what I learned from my short-lived stint in the food industry. People will tip for good service. People will tip even more for great service. Make a table feel like they have your undivided attention from the moment they enter the restaurant until the moment you open the door for them to leave and they’ll tip you like you earned it — because you did. And they’ll keep coming back.

Notice, I mentioned nothing about race or class. At the end of the day, a waitress at a five-star restaurant should bring home more tip money than someone at O’Charley’s because their menu prices are significantly higher. But I guarantee you, good service yields a good tip, whether it’s 15%-25% or more on menu item from $5-$45. My income dictates where I go for dinner, not how much I tip. The quality of service dictates how much I tip, not my race.

When my server tells me his or her first name, makes recommendations from the list that aren’t just what the company tells them to recommend, advises me against certain entrees because a number of people have complained about it, and never lets my beverage run low, they can be sure to get 20%. But when my dish comes out of the kitchen with bacon when I specifically said hold the bacon (I would never say that by the way) and my server doesn’t catch that error, it’s a 15% tip night. It’s simple enough. Check your work in algebra class and in life.

Black folk don’t tip? How do you even go about finding empirical evidence to support the legitimacy of this claim? I don’t know and it hardly seems worth it to propagate a stereotype because some people in an ethnic group and/or socioeconomic class give less than people in others. Where can I watch a short film on “Black folk don’t learn”? Is one racist stereotype more harmful than another? Obviously, but why even go there? Call me naive, but I thought people gave bad tips for bad service and good tips for good service. And I certainly didn’t think being cheap only relegated itself to people of African descent.


About Bella

I’m an (almost) 30-something free-lance writer, blogger, genealogist, and friend. Yep. If you pay me, I’ll be your friend. Initial fees are subject to negotiation. You can also contact me about product reviews and ad space. Everything is for sale around here. I make my home in Boston with my roommate, Jane Doe; my 12 year old dog, Chewy; and Jane’s feral cat, Felix. I’m addicted to reading Mormon mommy blogs, Huffington Post, Jezebel, and Facebook status updates.


6 thoughts on “On the Stereotype “Black Folk Don’t: Tip”

  1. ummm, this was an actual documentary? and deux of all…
    212 star: “i saw you take the cheese off.”
    llewyn: “oh u did?”

    that’s a 0% night.

    Posted by cts | April 4, 2012, 10:00 pm
    • Jane Doe and I were just talking about that night. How did she entirely miss that he took the slice of American cheese off her grits with his gritty fingers. Yuck. 0% tip night, indeed.

      Posted by Bella | April 25, 2012, 4:05 pm
  2. Nice post. It’s hard to say what, as a whole, black folks do and don’t do. I only know of a few places where this instance does prove to be true-but that’s just a few places. For example, my boyfriend is a server at a restaurant; he and MANY other coworkers constantly say black people (and often times the elderly) do not tip at all or do not tip well. But again, and I can’t stress this enough: this is just a few instances so I can’t speak for my race as a whole. Also, you must live in an area where tip is higher than 15%, because where I am, that is the norm-that is considered the standard tip rate.

    Posted by Ms. Raven Marie | April 4, 2012, 11:04 pm
    • Ha! I live here in America and since I’m one of the 99% I don’t think 15% is too low or too high. My friend thinks it’s too low. Also, the video highlighted the fact that some Black people over-tip to make up for the stereotype. Without placing her in that category of Black people who try to make up for the others, you know — the elite talented tenth, this might explain why she feels compelled to give more than what’s fair.

      If I were a waitress, I’d love the tips from guilt-ridden and pretentious customers. Just sayin!

      Posted by Bella | April 4, 2012, 11:44 pm
  3. “But when my dish comes out of the kitchen with bacon when I specifically said hold the bacon (I would never say that by the way) and my server doesn’t catch that error, it’s a 15% tip night. It’s simple enough.”
    Wow did you ever stop and think that maybe it was the kitchen’s fault, not the servers? The kitchen makes and plates the food, not the server, and I don’t think you want your server going and picking off the bacon for you. Your better off doing that yourself. I feel really bad for the places you dine at, because 15% is nothing. Your tip should always be at least $5.00 no matter what you ordered. You tip 20% for good service, and more if it was exceptional. 15% is like a smack in the face to a server. Take my advice : Listen to your friends who tell you you don’t tip enough, because they are right.
    Oh one last thing, “If I hit the $540 mega millions, I’ll still tip 15% and I’ll still tip 15% pre-tax.”
    That is so greedy and selfish. Get off your high horse and try getting a real job, like a server. PEACE!

    Posted by Whitney | April 24, 2012, 1:44 pm
    • Wow. You sound really crazy right now. $5.00 no matter what you ordered? Foolish. It’s it’s not greedy or selfish to give someone what they earn. In most cases it’s called a SALARY. And you know for exceptional work there are occasional bonuses. Same thing.

      Posted by Bella | April 24, 2012, 2:14 pm

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