While one can generally choose from an array of menu items when arriving at a restaurant for an evening of eating out of the home, one typically does not get to choose the race or ethnicity of your server.
While it may contribute to the authenticity of your dining experience to have Chinese food delivered to your table by a waiter or waitress of Asian descent or Indian food served by a turbaned-Sikh, anti-discrimination laws prohibit consideration of racial or ethnic identity when hiring employees in this country.
With white nationalism seemingly now considered acceptable to display publicly in the Trump era, however, at least one Olive Garden customer in Evansville, Indiana felt entitled to chose the race of her server from a decidedly off-menu list of beige skin tones when she dined at the local branch of the Italian restaurant chain.
It started when an unidentified customer requested a cup of hot water, along with a demand that her server should not be black.
The Olive Garden hostess Amira Donahue, who herself is an African-American, described the scene that the racist patron made during the incident.
“She stood in the middle of the restaurant and started screaming at me in front of all of the customers,” said Donahue.
“But she asked for a server that wasn’t black and the manager complied and I do agree that was a bad decision at the moment but there was a better way that could have been handled,” Donahue continued her story.
Both Donahue and another black employee at the Evansville Olive Garden were upset with not just the racial discrimination they faced but also the insults to which they were subjected.
“The lady also made comments about me to another coworker saying that I am not family-friendly and that I should go work at a strip club instead of an Olive Garden,” Donahue said, describing the racist customer’s behavior. “(She asked) am I even black, am I from here, am I from America, just like offhand comments like that and referring me to the ‘other one’.”
A spokesman for Olive Garden, Hunter Robinson, says the company does not tolerate any type of discrimination and that senior management is investigating the incident. Local TV news outlet WEHT has confirmed that the restaurant manager who acquiesced to the customer’s bigoted demands is no longer employed at the Olive Garden in question.
The waitress who was targeted by the patron as unsuitable to be her server was so disturbed by the incident that she has refused to be interviewed about the experience. As for Donahue, she hopes that the publicity surrounding the regressive discrimination exhibited by the customer will bring about some positive change.
“I would never expect it to be so apparent in public…like it’s 2020, not 1920. And I feel like it should take more than social media to get a problem like this out there,” the hostess said.
Hopefully, restaurant managers who face this type of racial animus directed towards their staff by their patrons in the future will realize that the slogan “the customer is always right” doesn’t apply in instances where human rights and equality are concerned. If an establishment can specify “no shoes, no shirt, no service,” then they can certainly add “no discrimination” to their policy with little effort.
You can watch a clip of WEHT‘s local news story on the Olive Garden incident below.
Original reporting by WEHT-TV.
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.