‘We’re not racist’: IHOP manager denies discrimination after black teens asked to pay before eating

The manager of an IHOP in Maine where a server asked a group of black teens to pay for their meals upfront is reassuring all potential customers that they’ll be treated the same, saying “we’re not racist.”

Manager Melvin Escobar told the Bangor Daily News that no one will be asked to pay for their food in advance if they visit the breakfast chain’s location in Auburn.

“And we’re trying to let everybody know that we’re not racist,” Escobar told the newspaper. “We treat everybody the same and basically we’re here to serve you and give you the best experience ever.”

Escobar said he suspended a female server for one week without pay after learning that she asked a group of black teenagers to pay their $100 check before eating their food on Sunday. The server made the unorthodox request without management approval after several customers had recently left the restaurant without paying.

“That’s why she did it,” Escobar said, citing a couple of groups of non-paying customers in the past three months.

The incident was spotted by a young man who was sitting nearby with his parents at the time. Avery Gagne, of Monmouth, said he felt “literally ill” after hearing the server’s request.

“I heard them order their food and they were respectful and were not loud or rude etc,” Gagne posted on Facebook. “We paid and sat there for a few minutes and I heard an employee tell the table that they were going to need to pay upfront and that it was ‘a new generation thing.’”

Gagne said he and his parents stood up and began to question the server’s actions, at which point she told the group that management had requested she make the unusual demand.

“She then looked at my parents and I and said, ‘It’s not because of their color,’” Gagne’s post continued. “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 most disturbing part of the incident, Gagne said, was when one of the girls looked at him and his mother and said that the treatment was acceptable.

“No,” Gagne wrote. “It’s not okay. This is NOT okay. I will not stand for this.”

Darren Rebelez, IHOP’s president, told the Bangor Daily News in a statement that the restaurant chain and its franchisees have “zero tolerance” for discrimination.

“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,” Rebelez said. “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.”

Reached by the newspaper, Gagne said he found Escobar’s comments to be merely an attempt at damage control.

“In my heart of hearts, I just wish and I hope that that is true, and they understand what’s happening here and how horrible it is,” Gagne said.

Gagne, whose post has been shared more than 2,400 times since Sunday, has promised to make sure that the incident doesn’t go unnoticed.

“This is not the end of this,” he said. “I will see that something is done about this no matter what I need to do.”

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