BUSINESS
01/05/2017 02:49 pm ET

Shake Shack Founder Explains Tipping's Racist Origins

Tipping has some racist roots that still affect restaurant servers today, restaurateur Danny Meyer says.
Union Square Hospitality Group CEO and Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer is an anti-tipping pioneer.
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Union Square Hospitality Group CEO and Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer is an anti-tipping pioneer.

The standard of tipping restaurant servers is rooted in America’s history of slavery, and that ugly past is still hurting employees today, Shake Shack’s founder explained on a podcast this week.

Danny Meyer, who founded both the popular burger chain and several other successful restaurants in New York City, has been an anti-tipping pioneer since October 2015 when he announced he’d slowly eliminate the practice at all his restaurants in favor of instead paying all his employees better wages. In an interview that aired on “The Sporkful” podcast on Monday, the restaurateur pointed to tipping’s racist origins.

Tipping, he explained, started after the Civil War when restaurants and the Pullman railroad company successfully petitioned the U.S. government to allow them not to pay their servers and instead ask customers to pay them tips. 

“Therefore, no one could say they were being enslaved,” he told podcast host Dan Pashman. “And no surprise, most of the people who were working in service professional jobs and restaurants and Pullman train cars were African-American.”

Today, that system benefits most servers but hurts dishwashers and other back-of-the-house employees who don’t earn tips, Meyer said. Pashman pointed out that as you move from servers to kitchen employees, “the complexion tends to get darker,” and that even if a non-white employee is a tip-eligible server, studies show they will be tipped less than their white counterparts. 

“There’s just nothing good about that,” Meyer responded. 

Listen to the full interview on “The Sporkful.”

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