Dining While Black: The Accepted Racist Treatment Of Black Patrons

August 27, 2013  |  

The story about the group of 25 African Americans, who were denied service, after waiting two hours, at a wing shop in South Carolina because a white customer felt threatened by them, brings back some not so fond memories of my own about what it is like dining while black.

It’s hard to imagine that over 50 years after hundreds of young activists, mostly black, courageously protested segregation by sitting and demanding service at white-only Woolworth lunch counters, black folks are still being denied service at eateries across the country. But it happens. And it happens frequently enough that many of us just accept it as a natural part our blackness. I have been in restaurants with friends, where we were treated rudely and had wait staff be almost paternalistic over our dining experience. Things like having different bartenders, working behind the same bar charge us different prices for the same mixed drinks (a tactic, which I always suspected, was a way for shifty bartenders to get tips from those they suspect wouldn’t pay). Or having our waiter be indifferent to servicing our table, if not being denied service completely. Or, in some more brazen scenarios, leaving hand written racial descriptives “accidentally” on your receipt. We know it’s discriminatory. We know we are being treated differently than the other non-black patrons. Yet we accept it as just the way things are.

As a former waitress, who worked through high school and college waiting tables and serving foods and drinks in some capacity, I am very aware about the perceptions about black customers. Basically black folks are ill-mannered, hard-to-please and poor tippers. It was not uncommon to hear coworkers, of all colors, bemoan the travesty of having to “wait on them’ every time they saw the hostess seat a table of black patrons in their section. And it is isn’t just the people in my small microcosm who feel this way. According to one study, 38.5 percent of restaurant servers openly admit to discriminating against black customers.

As someone, whose livelihood, at the time, depended upon brown-nosing for dollars, in some respects, I could understand the frustrations of my coworkers. It’s not about the color, it’s about the money. But I also knew that many of my coworkers perceptions were often times self-fulfilling. Not to mention that being a waiter, I pride myself on being a fair tipper. And many of my girlfriends – as well as other black folks I have met over the years–who are cognizant of the perception about us, would go out of their financial ways to show their servers that they knew better. So why did I – and we – deserved to be lumped together as one mass indistinguishable ball of bad customers?

I really came to understand that point the night a group of my friends decided to grab an after-the-club meal at one of the chain breakfast spots. There were about 12 of us; males and females; all friends and students from Virginia Union University. We had traveled outside of Richmond to party on another campus and found the restaurant on our way back to campus. We had been seated for over an hour and a half at table in an establishment where the only other brown faces were the actual employees. Despite having our order taken we had not seen any food. Not even the cup of coffee a couple of my friends had ordered in place of food. The complimentary glasses of water had run dry. Our servers (plural because no one really took ownership of our table the entire evening) refused to come to our table to refill our glasses or even update us about the whereabouts of our meals. In some instances flat-out ignoring our attempts to get their attention. Tables, who arrived after us, had eaten and were readying to pay and leave.

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