Tipping: The dark, racist origins of service charge

The founder of Shake Shack recently explained why he doesn't encourage tipping 

Kashmira Gander
Wednesday 18 January 2017 13:58

Tipping waiting staff at the end of a meal is a convention that many of us blindly follow to show our appreciation for service at a restaurant. But a top US restauranteur recently highlighted that it is actually has a dark, racist history.

Giving the waiter an extra cut of the bill harks back to the American Civil War when the US Government accepted a petition from restaurants not to pay servers, and instead leave that to customers. This small fee meant no one could argued they were enslaved.

Danny Meyer, the founder of burger chain Shake Shack, has worked to phase out the practice at his restaurants because of this problematic history. He brought up the connection between tipping and racism while speaking on The Sporkful podcast, calling it one of "the biggest hoaxes ever pulled on an entire culture."

“And no surprise, most of the people who were working in service professional jobs and restaurants and Pullman train cars were African-American.”

"You don’t see it in Asia, you don’t see it primarily in most European countries. But that’s what it was, it created a completely false economy so that when you see a menu price at a restaurant, you know and I know that it includes the cost of the food, the cost of the linen, the rent, but it doesn’t include the service and here’s what finally moved me to my own tipping point a year ago," he said.

Meyer added that the wage system in the US is now most harmful for dishwashers and other employees who aren't client-facing because they wages aren't topped up with tips. On average, he said, those who work behind the scenes are less likely to be white, and that non-white front of house employees get less money from customers on average.

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

His comments come after it was revealed in 2015 that many chain restaurants in the UK do not pass their tips on to their employees.

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