Economic Motivations and Moral Controls Regulating Discrimination against Black and Hispanic Diners

Zachary W. Brewster, Jonathan R. Brauer, Michael Lynn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Racial discrimination in restaurant service is often depicted as an economically rational response to servers' concerns about perceived inadequate tipping by black and/or Hispanic customers. However, drawing from sociological and criminological theories that critique the limits of economic models of human behavior, we argue that discrimination against black and Hispanic diners may be inhibited by servers' moral concerns about discrimination. Further, such moral restraints might also buffer the influence of economic motives regulating discrimination. Ordinal logistic regression models of survey data collected from a sample of U.S. restaurant servers (N=872) are employed to assess whether race-based perceptions of customers' tipping behaviors and moral restraints interact to predict the prevalence and frequency of servers' self-reported discrimination against black and Hispanic diners. Results suggest that servers' economically motivated, race-based beliefs about the tipping practices of black, Hispanic, and white customers are associated with self-reported discrimination. Specifically, we find that servers who harbor negative attitudes toward the tipping practices of customers of color (i.e., blacks or Hispanics) or positive attitudes toward whites' tipping behaviors are also more likely to report withholding effort from their black and Hispanic patrons. However, servers with strong moral restraints are more likely to refrain from discriminating against black and Hispanic diners, or do so less frequently, despite expressing concerns about inadequate tipping practices among black and Hispanic vis-à-vis white clientele.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)506-538
Number of pages33
JournalSociological Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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