February 7, 2006

If black men like to be seen as big spenders, why are they notoriously bad tippers?

Across Difficult Country cites a PricewaterhouseCoopers study of inner city black spending habits that finds poor blacks like spend a lot on ostentatious purchases:

"African-American inner-city shoppers are 35 percent more likely than the population as a whole to buy women's dress shoes. They're also 54 percent more likely to purchase teen boys' clothing, and 64 percent more likely than average to buy fine jewelry...

"While American households in general spend an average of $1,069 annually on apparel, inner-city African Americans spend $1,502."

A reader writes:

I worked in the restaurant business for several years, and the conventional wisdom was that black people tipped less than other races. People who probably weren't otherwise racist would complain about this. I remember one pointy-bearded, multiply-pierced guy who looked like a WTO protestor and would blare rap music out of his car, who would (against company policy) skip anybody with a black sounding name ("Andre", "LaShuiqa") when his turn to deliver a pizza came up. People were not only conscious of this issue, they exaggerated it. I actually kept track of my tips from black and white customers for a while, and found that whites tip about 1/3 more, which is far less disparity than service industry employees (including myself) would have guessed without doing the math. This was in a white suburb, so I wouldn't necessarily expect these to be typical black folks. But that doesn't affect my main point, that people exaggerate, rather than suppress, these differences, because we were all dealing with these suburban blacks.

We were always looking for trends and trying to make generalizations about who tips and who doesn't, and when you work for tips, that's all you care about. If Hitler tipped well and Mother Teresa stiffed, a typical restaurant worker would praise him and bitch about her. Nobody was suppressing any un-PC thoughts.

Although I've never been a salesman, I would assume that salesmen are at least as conscious of their customers - probably more so. So Gladwell is full of it. I'll bet if he just asked some car salesmen, they would tell him the truth, or at least they would if they didn't think he was going to write about it and get them in trouble.

Also, surprisingly, Mexicans (meaning illegals in this area - I worked and was friendly with many of these people and I know that few of them are legal) were the best tippers of any ethnic group, on average (no, I didn't do the math, but my unconscious bias, if it exists, would have made me expect them to be cheap). Of course, this is all highly variable.

Ian Ayres found that blacks tip taxi cab drivers only about half as much as whites.

This raises the question of why do blacks like to be seen as big spenders but don't tip much? I presume it could be just a cultural difference -- tipping is a pretty screwy phenomenon in general, and you can see why one group might decide they could get more personal benefit out of stiffing the waiter and spending the money saved on bling.

I also expect that car dealers have a lot of tricks for persuading black customers that the salesman isn't some lowly servant like a waiter whose opinion doesn't matter, but is instead a fellow player, just like the customer is, a man worthy of being impressed by how much money you have to spend.

However, one group of blacks were big tippers, at least in the recent past: Another reader wrote awhile ago about her dad, who made his career as a waiter at a famous Manhattan restaurant where celebrities dined. The biggest tippers were the boxing champs, and the all-time greatest customer -- huge tipper, tremendous fun to wait on, and no complaints about the food or service -- was, indeed, The Greatest, Muhammad Ali.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

That's funny because "the champs" daughter left me a really shitty tip.