One quick way to damage your restaurant reputation is by overtly excluding an entire race of guests, but that’s exactly what some restaurateurs are doing. Whether it’s decor, ads, uniforms, refusal of service or receipt nicknames, these restaurateurs haven’t figured out that racism never serves you well.
A 2012 wait staff study showed that 38.5 percent of the 200 North Carolina waiters surveyed discriminated against black customers. That included waiting a long time for a table and trying to pass over being assigned a black diner’s table. The waiter said this was largely based on these an expectation that black diners tipped less.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon House and Lounge in Louisville, Kentucky, got called “The Most Racist Restaurant in America” when a restaurant manager asked what the black to white people ratio at a public event at the restaurant would be. The manager refused to host the party when he was told that attendees would be mostly African American. A lawsuit filed afterwards was dismissed with prejudice and, likely, settled out of court.
Sometimes discrimination based on your skin comes in lesser-known forms. A Detroit-area Golden Corral restaurant manager asked a family to leave the restaurant in 2011 saying that the appearance of one of the children bothered customers. The child has a skin disorder that leads to blisters. A lawsuit was later filed and the family received monetary damages.
Sometimes it’s the advertising for a restaurant that gets them into trouble. The China Times restaurants in Dubai commissioned a controversial “Brings Out the Chinese in Anyone” ad series in 2009 that digitally manipulated the eyes of three racially diverse men. The ads weren’t used, but the China Times got negative social media feedback in 2011 when the ads resurfaced online.
A Beijing restaurant received attention in February for posting a sign in its window saying “This shop does not receive the Japanese, the Philippines, the Vietnamese and dogs.” The two countries mentioned are in disputes with China. The comparison between nationalities and dogs and the service ban caused negative reactions online. While the restaurant manager eventually took the sign down, he said he didn’t see anything wrong with the posting.
Taco Cid in South Carolina continues to sell and have staffers wear “How to Catch an Illegal Immigrant” T-shirts featuring a box trap with two tacos as bait. This is despite much online backlash and a low Yelp rating with many comments about the T-shirts. On its website, the restaurant says, “We are still amazed as to how people are reacting to our t-shirts … We serve every individual with the same quality of service, and respect in a friendly and welcoming manner.”
An Ontario, Canada barbecue restaurant thought it would incorporate a Confederate flag into its exterior décor in March of 2013. Protestors soon defaced the flag and spray painted an anti-fascist message on the side of the restaurant. The owner refused to take the flag down unless the Supreme Court of Canada told him to do so and said sales weren’t being affected.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Sparx, a Wisconsin restaurant in 2012. The suit was based on a black employee saying he was fired when he complained about KKK depictions, a noose and other racist images decorating a restaurant cooler. The restaurant managers said it was a joke. The EEOC said it was a violation of the Civil Rights Act.
Papa John’s CEO apologized in May of 2013 on behalf of a now-fired pizza delivery driver. The driver had redialed a customer after delivering him a pizza. In the accidental phone call, the driver could be heard using the derogatory language about the customer and complaining about his tip. Numerous media outlets picked up on the story.
Old Pro, a Palo Alto restaurant, was in the news in September of 2012 when a waitress referred to two Asian customers as Ching and Chong. The waitress was later fired after negative social media comments and some news coverage.
Padi restaurant in Delaware received negative comments on its Facebook page and some NBC network coverage in April of 2013 after a restaurant worker Instagrammed racist comments alongside copies of receipts that showed little or no tips on them. The employee was fired, and the restaurant apologized.
Lola’s Burrito Joint in Jacksonville, Florida has some questionable menu items like “The Dirty Sanchez” and “No Papers Shrimp.” But one item in particular, “Wetback Willie,” received so many negative comments online that the owner’s changed the giant burrito’s moniker to Wet Willie.
DC’s The Pug thought it was being ironic when it named a drink “Marion Barry’s Dirty Asian Summer Punch” in 2012 as a jab at DC councilmember Barry’s own racist remarks. But the DC Office of Human Rights found the drink promotion sign – with an Asian caricature and faux-Asian slogan — to be in violation of the city’s human rights act. It was removed and the drink renamed the Mayor for Life Punch.
Racist receipt name notes have gotten some restaurants and their employees in trouble. These include racial identifying lines, slurs (like the “lady chinky eyes” reference above), and comments. Social media today makes it easy for discriminated-against customers to post, tweet and blog about these incidents.
One regular customer at Landmark Steakhouse in Orange County, California who was referred to as “McNigshit” and “McStinkyn—-r” on receipts, filed a lawsuit that was later settled in 2012 against the restaurant. An employee was fired and multiple other cases of discrimination had been found at the restaurant during the lawsuit investigation.
American celebrity chef Paula Deen was in boiling hot water in June when information came out from a lawsuit filed from a former employee showing she’d used racial slurs and wanted to throw her brother a plantation wedding with all-black servants. While Deen received an influx of supportive customers at her Lady and Sons restaurant in Savannah, Georgia after those revelations, she lost her Food Network show, multiple endorsement deals and her latest cookbook deal.
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