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Racialized Customer Service in Restaurants: A Quantitative Assessment of the Statistical Discrimination Explanatory Framework


  • The author would like to thank William Smith, Jon Brauer, Sarah Nell Rusche, Maxine Thompson, Rick Della Fave, Don Tomaskovic-Devey, Ron Czaja, and three anonymous reviewers for Sociological Inquiry for their assistance at various stages of this project. Please direct correspondence to: Zachary W. Brewster, Department of Sociology, Wayne State University, 656 W. Kirby Avenue, #2272, Detroit, MI 48202; e-mail:


Despite popular claims that racism and discrimination are no longer salient issues in contemporary society, racial minorities continue to experience disparate treatment in everyday public interactions. The context of full-service restaurants is one such public setting wherein racial minority patrons, African Americans in particular, encounter racial prejudices and discriminate treatment. To further understand the causes of such discriminate treatment within the restaurant context, this article analyzes primary survey data derived from a community sample of servers (N = 200) to assess the explanatory power of one posited explanation—statistical discrimination. Taken as a whole, findings suggest that while a statistical discrimination framework toward understanding variability in servers’ discriminatory behaviors should not be disregarded, the framework’s explanatory utility is limited. Servers’ inferences about the potential profitability of waiting on customers across racial groups explain little of the overall variation in subjects’ self-reported discriminatory behaviors, thus suggesting that other factors not explored in this research are clearly operating and should be the focus of future inquires.