Does Tipping Have Racist Origins? This Seasoned Restaurateur Says Yes

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Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer (left)

Most restaurant goers see tipping as a courteous practice to thank waiters for their service. But what many may not know is that the practice of giving your server a few extra bucks is actually rooted in racism.

During a recent interview on food-lovers podcast “The Sporkful with Dan Pashman,” Shake Shack founder and restaurateur Danny Meyer spoke about the racist history of tipping and why he finally decided to ban the practice in his restaurants back in 2015.

“Tipping is actually one of the biggest hoaxes ever pulled on an entire culture,” Meyer said.

He went on to explain that the age-old custom came about after the abolition of slavery, as restaurant owners and the railroad industry, which mainly employed formerly enslaved Black Americans, used abolition as an excuse to make them work for tips rather than paying them actual wages.

“It wasn’t considered slavery because we [the restaurant industry] would ask our customers to pay tips, and therefore, no one could say they were being enslaved,” Meyer explained.

“That’s the history of how it started in this country,” he added. “You don’t see it in Asia. You don’t see it primarily in most European countries. But that’s what it was — and it created a completely false economy.”

The Shake Shack founder also pointed out that tipping is essentially a “multiplier of menu prices.” As menu prices have increased over the past three decades, so have tip amounts, with tip-eligible employees, who usually work the front of restaurants, enjoying an income increase of 300 percent. However, tip-ineligible employees, such as cooks and dishwashers, have seen their incomes increase only 20 percent in the same time period. Meyer said that was ultimately what moved him to eliminate tipping from a number of his restaurants.

Podcast host Dan Pashman also highlighted the racial dynamic of many restaurants, noting that as you walk from the front of a restaurant to the back, the complexions of the people tend to get darker. He noted the income disparity between restaurant workers of different races, as well.

“In a tip-based system, studies have shown that nonwhite servers make less than their white peers for equal work,” Pashman said. A similar study published in the scientific journal Sociological Inquiry in 2014, also found that white servers are tipped better than nonwhite servers.

“There’s just nothing good about that,” Meyer said.

So how has the anti-tipping restaurateur managed to succeed after eliminating the common practice from his eateries? Attn: reported that Meyer has since increased menu prices marginally and started paying his employees a higher hourly wage.

“As with anything in life, if you want to make change, you have to make change in that,” Meyer said.

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