Do Coffee Shops Discriminate Against Women?

We’ll make this brief so we can jump right into the heated comments: an economist and her research assistants studied eight different Boston coffee shops and found that, on average, women had to wait about 20 seconds longer to be served. She controlled for drink types and the discrepancy remained. What’s more, “The delays facing women were larger when the coffee shop staff was all-male and almost vanished when the servers were all-female.”

There’s some speculation that the delays are caused by flirting, but the wait time increased the busier the shops became, which runs counter to any flirtation theory (assuming it’s more difficult to flirt acceptably when there’s a long line of people waiting to order).

Some unanswered questions: is Boston more chauvinistic or sexist than, say, Berkeley? What about a large city in the South? Do women take longer to order, even when they’re ordering the same drinks? We’ve noticed that at Starbucks, we tend to order coffee in, like, 3 seconds, while our communal Consumerist girlfriend takes upwards of half a minute while she weighs her options, gives precise instructions, or makes small talk. But of course that doesn’t explain why an all-female staff nearly removes the wait time.

In general, the study seems to imply, you’re likely to get the best service if you’re an older, handsome, white (or at least non-black) male:

There is also evidence that blacks wait longer than whites, the young wait longer than the old, and the ugly wait longer than the beautiful. But these effects are statistically not as persuasive.

The question now is, if current coffee shops discriminate, does that open an opportunity for competitors to come in and steal business by offering better service? One problem is that the discrimination is trivial enough that consumers might be willing to overlook it—if they notice it in the first place.

…a rival coffee shop would have to be very close indeed to justify a trip aimed at avoiding a 20-second wait. Even coffee retailing isn’t that competitive.

“Waiting for Good Joe” [Slate]
(Photo: Getty)