An upscale French bistro in New York City’s Meatpacking district known for its alluring cuisine and dazzling atmosphere has quite the dirty secret: It uses racist code words to discriminate against Black customers and dishes out horrible service so they never return, according to a lawsuit filed by two employees earlier this month.
The suit, filed by servers Renato Barreto and David Kant on Dec. 16, accuses French restaurant Bagatelle of engaging in customer service practices that are “reminiscent of restaurants in the 1950s that openly and egregiously promoted segregation and created rules to exclude minorities from their establishments.”
Their complaint alleges that Bagatelle staff would mark “DNA” or “Do Not Accommodate” on reservation lists when Black patrons walked through the door. Customers who were deemed ugly or unfit to be seen in the restaurant’s upscale environment were branded with the code “BO” and seated at the rear of the establishment where they could not be seen. This was the area of the restaurant employees dubbed “the ghetto station,” where customers were often forced to sit two to a chair.
“When you see African-Americans walking through the front door, we knew where they would sit,” Barreto, who still works at the restaurant, told the New York Post. “They would make them wait and wait and wait.”
The goal? To make Black patrons feel so “uncomfortable” that they wouldn’t want to return to the restaurant. An African-American customer visiting from Detroit wrote of the horrid customer service he and his party received at the bistro on review website Yelp.
“The table for 12 … was set for 11 and was so cramped we said, ‘We’d pretty much eat in shifts,'” he wrote. “Not one time did the front come by and ask about anything. Not once.”
Additionally, Barreto and Kant’s suit claimed that African-American customers could have their reservations canceled altogether simply because of the color of their skin — unless they were affluent celebrities like Serena Williams, Beyoncé and Jay Z, of course.
But the mistreatment wasn’t just reserved for Blacks, however. Unattractive white people also were seated in the “ghetto station,” while Barreto and Kant said they were subjected to harassment from fellow employees because of their sexual orientation, the suit claims.
It also accuses the bistro’s management of favoring French servers over non-French servers by giving them preferential treatment. For instance, the lawsuit states that non-French workers like Barreto, who is Brazilian, were often assigned to the sidewalk cafe in the sweltering summer heat and called “outside bitches.”
“Bagatelle gave true meaning to the French word ‘bourgeoisie,’ where French servers were superior to the non-French peasants,” said lawyer Paul Liggieri, who’s representing Barreto and Kant. “Laurent Nicoud [the restaurant’s former manager], much like the historical figure of Maximilien Robespierre, used his influence as manager to go on a reign of discrimination against patrons.”
According to the New York Post, the suit names Nicoud and several corporate entities as defendants. Barreto and Kant are seeking unspecified damages.
The suit comes just a month after an employee at a Versace store in California filed a lawsuit against the high-fashion company claiming staff there also used discriminatory code words to alert others when Black customers entered the store.