Different Service, Same Experience: Documenting the Subtlety of Modern Racial Discrimination in U.S. Restaurants


Restaurant servers’ negative sentiments toward Black customers have been well documented. Further, existing research has shown that a large proportion of waiters/waitresses confess that they sometimes discriminate against Black Americans by giving them less than their optimal service effort. However, research assessing the generalized consequences of servers’ discriminatory practices on consumers’ experiences is lacking. In response, this study analyzes survey data from a demographically diverse sample of Black and White consumers (N = 415) to test for interracial differences in nine distinct self-reported outcomes assessing typical and recent dining experiences in full-service restaurants. Given widespread anti-Black sentiments and discriminatory actions among servers, we posit that Black Americans will on average report diminished dining experiences relative to their White counterparts. In contrast to our predictions, results indicate that Black and White respondents report similar dining experiences when visiting full-service restaurants and, where differences exist, Black respondents appear to report slightly more positive and less negative experiences compared with their White counterparts. We identify a number of interconnected factors that may account for this observed pattern and conclude by encouraging additional scholarship on the nature and downstream effects of race-based restaurant service.

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