IHOP Auburn denies discrimination, apologizes for making teens prepay

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[UPDATES: IHOP waitress says asking teens to prepay has ‘nothing to do with any race’IHOP president apologizes for racial incident]

AUBURN — The manager of a local IHOP has issued a public apology to his restaurant’s patrons after a server asked a group of black teenagers Sunday to pay upfront for their meals.

Manager Melvin Escobar said he has spoken with the server and that such an incident will never happen again.

“This is the first time it happened, and that will be the last time,” Escobar said.

Escobar believes the server’s actions were not racially motivated, but that she was worried the young customers would duck out on the $100 bill. He said the restaurant has had problems recently with patrons — mostly teenagers — walking out without paying.

“We don’t discriminate (against) people for what they are or who they are,” he said.

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The situation caught the attention of Escobar and others after a young man from Monmouth posted about it on Facebook on Sunday. Avery Gagne wrote that he was having dinner with his parents when he overheard an employee ask the teenagers to pay their bill upfront, telling them it was “a new generation thing.”

Gagne said the teenagers were not upset, but he and his parents were.

“The woman who requested they pay upfront came over and began to tell us how it was what management has asked her to do as they have had walk outs, etc.,” he wrote. “She then looked at my parents and I and said ‘it’s not because of their color.’

“Now what I didn’t tell you at the beginning of this post was that these were four African-American teens who I believe were Somali as the girl was wearing a hijab. The reason why I didn’t mention that is because it does not matter. The woman took it upon herself to make this group of teens pay for their meal upfront because she considered them ‘high risk.’ I don’t care who has walked out on your establishment. That does not give you the right to determine who you believe is going to or not.”

Within 18 hours, Gagne’s post was shared by nearly 1,600 people. It quickly made its way to Escobar, who had not been in the restaurant when the incident took place.

“A lot of people know me and they started sending me the Facebook page,” he said. “I saw it this morning and I called the server to come in here.”

By noon Monday, Escobar issued a public apology on his restaurant’s Facebook page.

“A meeting has taken place with all of our staff members. Everyone has been made aware of these inexcusable actions and reminded how we handle matters correctly in the future,” the post read.

“We have rectified the situation and can guarantee this is not what we condone to go on within our restaurant. Please spare our credibility, as this situation is not a reflection of the service we strive to deliver.”

Escobar said his restaurant does not discriminate based on race.

“I’m personally, for me, kind of offended because I’m a Spanish person,” Escobar said. “I’m the type of person to say: ‘Here we help different kinds. Everybody I believe is American. Everybody is the same.’ We’re not racist.”

He said the restaurant also does not discriminate based on age, and the teens should not have been charged before eating. Such upfront payment goes against restaurant policy, he said, and was not approved by management on Sunday.

“The policy is: You come in, enjoy and we charge you at the end, like a normal restaurant. … She took her own action,” Escobar said.

Through a spokesperson, IHOP’s corporate president emailed the Sun Journal late Monday night to also offer a public apology.

“IHOP and our franchisees have zero tolerance for actions that are or allude to discrimination of any type,” IHOP President Darren Rebelez wrote. “The franchisee of this location is working to contact the affected guests directly to apologize for this incident and are taking appropriate actions in line with their HR policies. For 60 years, IHOP and our franchisees have strived to create a warm and hospitable dining experience for all guests, and this isolated incident is not reflective of that ongoing commitment.”

IHOP in Auburn has seen patrons walk out on their bill four times in the past three months. Although the restaurant does not make servers pay for unpaid meals, Escobar said servers get anxious when walkouts happen.

“They think they should have been paying attention more,” he said.

Gagne could not be reached for comment Monday.

This story was updated at 10 a.m. March 13 to add the IHOP president’s comments.

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