Jim Crow in Houston: We Can Sit at the Counters, But Will We Be Served

Jim Crow still lives for today's Black Americans.We Are Not Shackled, But Are We Free?

Over the course of the past couple of years, I have had several conversations with persons in the food service industry that have caused me to become more aware of the service I receive at restaurants. Up until February 11, 2015, I made it my mission to combat the stereotype that I was told many servers hold against Black Americans- we don’t tip. A stereotype that has unfortunately led to service often being sub-par at best. After hearing about this prejudice, I felt I had to carry the race on my back and make sure that I was one of the people who did tip- and tipped- well, because I wanted that to be an example the server would remember. I wanted him or her to take that memory and not treat the next Black American customer as if they are at best an inconvenience.

My recent experience at a Houston Saltgrass made me re-think life. Never have I received such disrespectful service. I have often received no service, the bare basic service, but disrespectful service… never. I did not understand why. It was a Wednesday night. It was not busy, and before we walked in, a gentleman leaving was telling us about how great it was. Famous last words I recalled before my husband and I had to get up and start heading to our car before the waitstaff chased us down because they thought we were dining and dashing.

You can’t dine and dash when you have not eaten your cold mashed potatoes and burnt up steak that was supposed to be medium.  

After going back into the establishment because we saw that the manager had come to the parking lot and was writing down our license number, we spoke with her- at length- about the inappropriate behavior of her crew. She was very nice, apologetic, and comped the non-eaten meal. Well, she said it was comped, but it should come out of the server’s check as a reminder that you cannot treat customers any way that you choose.

It amazes me because I see servers on social media posting receipts and complaining about tips, blasting famous people, etc, as if they feel entitled to be rewarded even if their service was poor. We do not know what type of experience was had by these patrons who felt compelled not to tip. Maybe they had a similar encounter to mine. Yet, people talk badly when someone does not give extra money to a person who has not at minimum done his or her job. I don’t mean being extra nice or butt kissing, but not passing by a table three times to go to your other table and not stop one time to check to see if there was anything needed. Anything needed like a new steak cooked properly and mashed potatoes that were not cold when brought to the table. I, too, am in the service industry and this is unacceptable. As an attorney, I regularly deal with extremely difficult clients. Nevertheless, if I don’t do the work, I don’t get paid. In any other industry, if you don’t do your job, you don’t receive a paycheck. So, why do some servers feel this rule does not apply to them?

This Saltgrass incident was significant for a couple of reasons. First, it was the day I decided to stop over-tipping (I start my tips at 20% and go up from there) bad service because I didn’t want to make Black people “look bad.” Second, I determined that I will not complain but still tip to show you that we are not all the same so you can treat us with dignity. “See, some of us good little negroes know how to behave, Massa Suh. We know how to part with our hard earned wages though we can’t even get treated with basic humanity. Now let me shuck and jive, do a little ditty, and be a good little negra so usses Black folks can come up in this here establishment”

This event showed me that though we are not shackled, some still don’t want us free.

Jim Crow may be abolished on paper, but it is alive and well in the service industry in Houston. They can’t deny us entry, but they can make the experience so unpleasant that we choose not to return. Not only is this an issue with Black Americans, I have heard the same from Latinos and those of Asian and Middle Eastern (African) descent as well. It seems some people will not stop until they get the lily white venues they desire. If they can’t do it through the laws, they will do it by their blatant disregard and disrespect.

What say you? Do you have a restaurant service person you would like to give a nod to for great service? Let’s build a database so that others will have a list of places to visit where they won’t remember the constitution calls them 3/5 of a man.

Speak on it Black Houston.

photo credit: People picket against the Woolworth Company’s practice of segregation, April 20, 1963. via photopin (license)

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