How IHOP handled a complaint about a racial slur on a receipt
A Kansas City-area IHOP restaurant has fired a server after she printed a racial slur onto a black customer's receipt.
An IHOP representative said Tuesday that the server is black as well.
“The action taken by the server at this restaurant is inexcusable," IHOP president Darren Rebelez told The Star in an email. "IHOP and its franchisees do not and will not tolerate racism, bigotry or harassment of any kind."
Nineteen-year-old Maya Thomas of Kansas City received the receipt along with her to-go order on April 13 at the IHOP on U.S. 71 in Grandview.
Printed squarely near the top of the receipt was the N-word in capital letters.
She did not notice the slur until later that day, after she had left the restaurant, according to her mother, who said Thomas was too upset to talk about the incident. Her mother spoke to The Star on the condition that her own name not be used.
Once Thomas saw the word, she called IHOP to complain.
"The franchisee was made aware on the 13th, an investigation was launched that same day and the server was terminated," IHOP spokesperson Stephanie Peterson told The Star. She said a senior-level manager apologized to Thomas, saying the server's "actions were not acceptable and in direct violation of their policy."
But the restaurant did not inform Thomas that the employee was fired.
A few days later, Thomas received a $10 IHOP gift certificate in the mail, her mother said.
"I think that's really what made her mad," Thomas' mother said. "Of all the things you could call someone, you call them that. And then the way you deal with it is by giving them 10 dollars?"
Thomas' mother describes her as "very timid and very shy." She says her daughter knew about the receipt for days but didn't tell her, fearing she might make a fuss over it. The gift certificate changed those feelings.
"She seemed distraught and upset when she showed it to me," Thomas' mother says. "And of course it got me pissed."
Her mother posted a photo of the receipt to social media, and friends shared it more than 400 more times.
She did not find out that the employee had been terminated until she spoke with The Star. "That's great," she said. "I think they're handling this well."
In his statement to The Star, IHOP's Rebelez said: "The franchisee, who owns and operates this restaurant, once made aware of the incident, terminated the employee in question and immediately contacted the guest to apologize. For 60 years, IHOP and our franchisees have strived to create a warm and hospitable dining experience for all guests, and we are currently working with the franchisee to ensure all possible steps are taken to deliver on that promise.”
The slur is the latest in a string of national and local incidents of animus against African-American customers at restaurants that have stirred the national debate on the pitfalls of "dining while black" – though this incident stands out because both parties are the same race.
▪ In February, a manager and police officer at an Independence Applebee's wrongly accused two black women of not paying a bill from the night before. The incident caused a national uproar and helped lead to the location's closing. (IHOP and Applebee's are both owned and managed by Dine Brands Global.)
▪ In March, Kansas City firefighter Terrance Skeen spat on, threatened to shoot and called a back toddler the N-word at a Hooters restaurant in Overland Park.
▪ Later this month, Starbucks will temporarily close thousands of its coffee houses for an afternoon of racial sensitivity training. A white manager in Philadelphia had called police because two black men were waiting on a business associate and had not made a purchase. The manager has since left the company.
Companies in each of these incidents accepted full responsibility and denounced prejudice as unacceptable within their companies.
The IHOP ordeal has been a nightmare for Thomas, drawing stress and unwanted attention: "You can't bring it up to her, or she gets upset," her mother said.
"I just wish they had never given her the receipt."