How Ending Tips Helps Black Servers

U.S. cities are raising the minimum wage, forcing some restaurants to do away with tipping. That’s great for Black servers.

A waiter lays a table ahead of a reception on the 35th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard in London, England. (Dan Kitwood AFP/Getty)

It comes as no surprise that race factors into tipping. You may be nodding in agreement as you read this, eager to share a story that confirms this. But did you know that doing away with tipping and raising the minimum wage might offer a remedy?

Servers with large breasts, blond hair, and a skinny waist inhabit the top of the tipping totem, according to a study by two Cornell University researchers. Everyone else rests somewhere below. Black servers occupy a rung near the bottom.

Michael Sturman, director of the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University, found that often consumers let unrelated social cues—even the weather—affect their tip amounts. “Whether it’s advertent, or inadvertent prejudices, those influences can affect a tip,” Sturman says of racial bias in tipping.

Last year, at least 12 cities raised their minimum wages, according to the National Employment Law Project. Two cities raised them in 2015. And 11 more cities have proposals to do so in the future. New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles raised the minimum wage, leading many restaurants to threaten to or to actually raise prices and abolish tipping. Places like Ivar’s Salmon House in Seattle started to pay employees $15 an hour. To compensate, the restaurant raised menu prices by 21 percent and did away with tips.

Other restaurants have instituted mandatory service charges in place of tips, an idea that could balance tipping inequity. Federal minimum wage is $7.25. But employers can pay tipped employees as little as $2.13, which means servers depend heavily on tips alone. As the minimum wage climbs, and companies debate doing away with tips, those with the most to gain may be Black baristas, bartenders, and waiters.