“I’d never work at a restaurant with a predominately Black clientele,” says 31-year-old Lee, an African American server and bartender.

Lee’s sentiments aren’t surprising considering that on average African American diners leave tips between 10.9 and 14.7 percent of the bill, while White customers leave tips between 16.6 percent and 19.4 percent.* However, Terri Truitt, a 41-year-old African American restaurant manager has had a different experience. “Out here in Suffolk, Virginia I see better African American tippers, to be honest,” she says. “I do not think that this has anything to do with race.”

The “tipping gap,” as some call it, seems to be a result of both cultural and economic factors and a general lack of awareness. In comparison to White households, African Americans tend to have lower wealth, even in high-income communities. Black customers simply may not have the means to tip as generously as their White counterparts. Additionally, studies show that Blacks are much less likely than Whites to know that is customary to tip 15 to 20 percent.

“I don’t go by percentage,” says Cherise McLaren**, a 49-year-old nurse technician. “I go by how many people are being served and how courteous the server is. “ McLaren, who is African American, explains that if she’s dining alone, she doesn’t tip more than $5. “The cost of what I have to eat has nothing to do with the waiters. They’re not preparing it,” she adds.

On the other hand, Robert Peterson**, a Black 22-year-old does tip based on a percentage. “I usually tip 12% because it’s more than the minimum but doesn’t make me feel like I’m giving my money away,” says the program assistant.

It’s not common knowledge for most that wait staff earn the majority of their income from customer tips, and not from salary. On average, they make less than $3 an hour before tips. After receiving tips, they must then pay bussers, bartenders and food runners for their services.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage-and-salary earnings (including tips) of waiters and waitresses in May 2009 was $9.80 and the mean annual income was $20, 380. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.17 (an annual income of $14, 920), and the highest 10 percent earned more than $14.48 an hour (an annual income of $30,110).

Like Peterson, McLaren was unaware that tips make up about 90% of servers’ salary. “That’s wrong but I’m not making money to feed the waiters,” says the mother of two. “What are the employers paying for then? Nothing. They are the robbers.” Even with the new information about servers’ salary and hourly wage, neither Peterson nor McLaren feel it is their responsibility to tip more.

While Peter Post of the Emily Post Institute told MSN Money most people are tipping 20% these days, Lee, who has been in the serving industry for 5 years finds that a lot of African Americans still think 10% is acceptable, to which she responds, “A 10% tip hasn’t been appropriate since the 80’s. It’s a rude and insulting tip.”

Restaurant manager Truitt agrees, “Twenty percent is the minimum. If you are getting horrible service speak up, but I always leave a tip anyway. I try to assume that [the server] just needs to learn more.”

When asked his thoughts on a 20% tip, program assistant Peterson answers, “I’ll be all for that when my paycheck is bigger.”

General Tipping Guidelines

Waiter/waitress: 15% of bill (excl. tax) for adequate service; 20% for very good service; no less than 10% for poor service.

Bartender: 15% to 20% of the tab, with a minimum of 50 cents per soft drink, $1 per alcoholic drink.

Coatroom attendant: $1 per coat.

Parking valet or garage attendant: $2 to bring your car to you.

Washroom attendant: 50 cents to $1.

Taxi driver: Varies depending on locality. Assume 15% will be enough; an extra $1 to $2 if helped with bags.

Food delivery person: 10% of the bill (excl. tax), at least $1 for bills up to $10. Should tip 15%-20% for a difficult delivery.

Barber: 15% to 20%, minimum $1 for a haircut.

Hairdresser: 15% to 20%.

via The Emily Post Institute and CNN Money

* “Gratitude and gratuity: a meta-analysis of research on the service-tipping relationship” by Michael Lynn & Michael McCall

**Names have been changed.

What do you normally tip? Do you tip based on service or percentage?

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