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I’ll get it out of the way and admit that what I am doing is racist, I myself am (reluctantly!) a racist, and I’m not about to argue that. I’m not proud of this, but I did what I had to to stay afloat for the sake of my family and my employees and I would do it again.
I own a family restaurant that competes with large chains like Applebee’s, Chili’s, and other similarly awful places. I started this restaurant over 20 years ago, my wife is our manager*, both of my kids work here when they’re not in college. Our whole life is tied up in this place, and while it’s a ton of hard work, we love it.
I’ve always prided myself that we serve food that’s much fresher and better prepared than the franchise guys, and for years a steady flow of regular customers seemed to prove me right. We’re the kind of place that has a huge wall of pictures of our happy customers we’ve known forever. However, our business was hit really hard after the market crashed, to the point where the place looked like a ghost town. A lot of the people I’ve known for years lost their jobs and either moved away or simply couldn’t afford to eat out anymore.
To cut to the chase, we were sinking fast, and before long it was clear we would lose the restaurant before the year was out. The whole family got together and we decided we would try our best to ride it out, and my kids insisted they take a semester off and work full time to spare us the two salaries. I’m very proud of my family for the way they came together. We really worked our butts off trying to keep the place going with the reduced staff.
Well the whole racist thing started after my wife was being verbally abused by a black family. I came over to see what the problem was, and a teenage boy in their group actually said “This dumb bitch brought me the wrong drink. We want a different waitress that ain’t a dumb bitch.” His whole family roared with laughter at this, parents included!
We had had a lot more black diners since the downturn, and this kind of thing was actually depressingly common. Normally I would just lie down and take this, give them a different server, and apologize to their current one in back. But this was the last straw for me. No way was I going to send my daughter out to get the same abuse from these awful people. I threw the whole bunch out, even though other than the five of them, the place was completely dead.
I talked with my wife about it afterward, and we both decided that if we were going to lose the restaurant anyway, from now on we would run it OUR WAY. I empowered all of my employees to throw anyone who spoke to them that way out, and told them I would stand behind them 100%.
My wife, who has been a bleeding-heart liberal her whole life, told me in private that the absolute worst part of her job was dealing with black diners. Almost all of them were far noisier than our other customers, complained more, left huge messes and microscopic tips, when they tipped at all. She told me if we could just get rid of them, the place would actually be a joy to work at.
I’ve been in the restaurant business a long time, so this wasn’t news to me, but to hear it from my wife, and later confirmed by my daughter… it had a big impact. I’ve never accepted any racial slurs in our household, and certainly not in my restaurant. I always taught my kids to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and tried to do the right thing in spite of the sometimes overwhelming evidence right in front of me. But right then and there, I and my wife started planning ways to keep black people from eating at our restaurant.
First, I raised my prices. It had been long in coming, prices had skyrocketed, and we’d been trying to keep things reasonable because people were hurting. But this had brought in a ton of blacks who had been priced out of the other restaurants nearby, and so I raised my prices even higher. It worked, they would scream bloody murder when they saw the new prices on the menu, and often storm out of the place, not knowing that this was pretty much our plan.
We took a lot of other steps, changing the music, we took fried chicken off the menu, added a dress code that forbade baggy pants and athletic gear. I put up a tiny sign by the register that said “15% gratuity added to all checks” but we only added this to groups of black diners, since almost universally everyone else understands that tipping is customary.
As business started to pick up, we would tell groups of blacks that there was a long wait for a table. Whenever they complained about other patrons getting seated first, I would calmly explain that the other group had a reservation, and without fail they would storm out screaming.
And it worked! We managed to hang in through the rough times. It’s been almost two years since we started running the business this way, and we’re doing great, even better than we were before! I noticed as soon as the blacks started to leave, our regulars started coming back. Complaints dropped to almost nothing, our staff were happier, and the online reviews have been very positive. My kids are back in school, and my wife seems ten years younger, she’s proud of her work and comes in happy every day.
Of course, I did this by doing something I know to be ethically wrong. I did it by treating a whole group of people like pests and driving them away in a low and cowardly way. (though it’s not as if I could have put a sign out). I can’t help but feel like I’ve become part of the problem. At the same time, the rational part of me realizes that I did the right thing, but I don’t like knowing that I’m a bigot.