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Abstract

Despite the notion that racism and discrimination are things of the past, racial minorities continue to experience such treatment in everyday interactions, often occurring in commercial transactions. In this paper, we analyze data from a survey of restaurant servers (N = 200) and a qualitative field study. Both were designed to explore the racial climate in restaurants. Our findings show that servers not only observe their co-workers practicing discriminatory behaviors but also report doing so themselves. Referring to this trend as ‘tableside racism’, we argue that restaurant servers engage in racist discourse, which functions to create and sustain stereotypes about black patrons. These workplace interactions shape the service that is extended to black patrons, thus resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein they receive poor tips and treatment from blacks that reflect inferior service. To illustrate the process of server discrimination, we situate our findings in a social psychological framework.