Shake Shack's Founder Just Spoke out About the Connection Between Tipping and Racism

January 5th 2017

Most people think of tipping as simply something you do when you get great service, but the practice has a far more sinister history. 

Shake Shack's founder recently explained what's wrong with tipping.

Tipping actually has a history of racism, and Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer spoke about this on the most recent episode of the podcast The Sporkful

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

He explained that tipping in America actually emerged as a reaction to the abolishment of slavery, because restaurant owners and railroad companies that largely employed black citizens could say that the employees were not enslaved because they were expected to work for tips. 

"Because of our racist history, early restaurant industry and railroad company interests demanded the right to hire newly freed slaves and not pay them anything, and let them live on customer tips," Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley, told ATTN: in May.

pullman porterJack Delano/Wikimedia -

Tipping still has ties to racism.

Sporkful podcast host Dan Pashman pointed out that people in the front of the house at a restaurant tend to be white or light skinned, and people in the back of the house tend to be darker skinned, so the effects of this history are still apparent today.

While servers in the front receive tips, dishwashers and cooks often do not. Meyer pointed out that during his 31-year career, the income servers receive has risen 300 percent, while the income non-tipped employees like cooks receive has only increased 20 percent.

Furthermore, how white servers are tipped and how servers with darker complexions are tipped also reveals a disparity. Studies, including one published in the journal Sociological Inquiry in 2014, have found white servers get tipped better than minority servers.

tip jarNan Palmero/Flickr -

How does getting rid of tipping work out?

Shake Shack has been known for its anti-tipping crusade since Meyer eliminated it in late 2015. Instead of asking customers to tip, Meyer increased menu prices marginally and started paying employees a higher hourly wage.

Results from restaurants eliminating tipping have been mixed. Joe's Crab Shack was the largest chain to eliminate the practice in late 2015, and the company went back to allowing tipping after merely three months when customers and employees complained in large numbers.

Other restaurants have also tried eliminating tipping and gone back to it after customers and employees complained. It seems Americans are fond of this tradition, regardless of its negative impacts and history.

Share your opinion

Do you support eliminating tipping?

No 32%Yes 68%