After a customer’s Facebook post about being racially profiled while out to dinner went viral over the weekend, a Metairie restaurant has admitted its employees improperly added gratuity to a Black couple’s check and falsely claimed it as restaurant policy. Desi Vega’s Seafood and Prime Steaks’s owner has since apologized, saying the employees responsible have been suspended and policy changes, including implicit bias and sensitivity trainings, will be implemented.
On Saturday, February 27, New Orleans resident James Washington posted to Facebook that when he and his wife received their bill from Desi Vega’s earlier that evening, it already included a 20 percent gratuity. Noting his background in the restaurant industry and tendency to tip more than 20 percent, he was surprised by the added gratuity for a party of two and began to investigate. In the post, since shared 3,000 times, Washington describes how the couple’s waiter and the manager on duty went on to “conspire” over a lie that this was restaurant policy, before Washington was able to confirm with another (white) couple in the restaurant that they did not have gratuity added automatically to their bill. Washington says that when confronted, the manager admitted to lying, said that he and the server had “prejudged” the couple, and that he was “embarrassed and humiliated.”
After the post gained steam, Vega reached out to the couple to request a private meeting, Washington said. In a Facebook update, Washington said Vega acknowledged the employees’s racial profiling, apologized, and agreed to implement specific changes requested by the couple: implementation of implicit bias training throughout the organization, clear, publicly-posted communication about the restaurant’s actual gratuity policy, and Vega’s restaurant group working with, supporting, and donating to Café Reconcile — a local organization and restaurant that supports underprivileged interested in industry training and entrepreneurship. Cafe Reconcile released a statement Monday afternoon that they have been in contact with James and Yasmin Washington, and “are working with them to be agents of change.”
“Reconcile knows that negative business practices, stereotyping people of color — both as guests and employees — are deeply embedded within the industry,” the statement said.
In Washington’s original post, he wrote that he was struck by the “expedience of how the employee and the manager got together, conspired, and covered each other.”
“In the grand scheme of things, 20 percent is nothing,” he said. “But it’s a small sample size of how some people look at African Americans and assume whatever they want to assume.”
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