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‘This Is Way Bigger Than Us’: Louisiana Couple Respond to Apology of Restaurant Owner After Server Automatically Added Tip, Then Manager Lied About Policy

A Black New Orleans couple have responded to an apology from a restaurant owner and suspension of two employees who racially profiled them, automatically added 20 percent gratuity to their bill, then lied and said it was the company’s policy.

On Saturday, Feb. 27, James Washington published a lengthy Facebook post detailing he and his wife, Yasmin Raquel’s experience at Desi Vega’s Seafood and Prime Steaks in Metairie. He said the evening had a “great beginning, bad ending.”

James Washington and his wife Yasmin spoke out their experience at a Louisiana restaurant. (James Washington’s Facebook page)

Washington went on to state the couple had a great camaraderie with the server and he “thought they were all having a good time.” When it was time to pay the bill, however, Washington said there was an automatic gratuity of 20 percent added. Thinking it odd as someone with a background in the restaurant business, Washington said he asked if that was standard policy.

“He said, ‘yes, we add 20% to all of our bills.’ Something didn’t seem right about his response. So, we called the restaurant (while we were still there) and the hostess answered,” Washington continued. “We asked for the gratuity policy, she didn’t know of one so she placed the manager on the phone. The manager asks if we’re at the restaurant. We confirmed that we were. He said, ‘absolutely.’ ‘We add 20% to every single bill.’”

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Still suspicious, Washington said they conferred with a white couple that had just paid their bill who told them they did not have any automatic tip added. Washington said when he and his wife confronted the manager about it, he admitted the couple had been racially profiled and he and the server had lied about the policy.

After Washington’s post went viral and was shared thousands of times, the owner of the restaurant, Desi Vega, met with the couple and personally apologized. He followed it with a public statement of apology.

“The fact that my staff tried to cover the situation up by lying about it makes it much worse. Desi Vega’s stands firmly against discrimination or profiling of any kind,” Vega’s statement said.

He added the two employees had “been immediately suspended without pay, pending further review” and “Desi Vega’s stands firmly against discrimination or profiling of any kind.”

In an update to his Facebook page on Monday, March 1, Washington said he and his wife had accepted Vega’s apology, but they did have some stipulations.

“My wife and I believe his apology was genuine. We did, however, emphasize that at this point, this is way bigger than us. The community has rallied behind this and has been vocal in seeking change,” Washington wrote.

In addition to the public apology and acknowledgement of wrongdoing, Washington said he and his wife asked Vega to implement implicit bias training; post the gratuity policy visibly in the restaurant so such an incident couldn’t happen to anyone else; and make a donation as well as support Café Reconcile, a nonprofit that trains underprivileged youth to succeed in the restaurant industry. The couple stopped short of asking the employees be fired, however.

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“We did not request for the termination of the employees as we do not feel like this is our call to make. This is a call for him to make as their actions impact his organization. We did not post our experience to seek revenge, a lawsuit, or monetary gain. Our post was made in an effort to bring awareness and positive change,” Washington wrote.

Some on social media weren’t so forgiving and called Vega’s apology insincere. “‘Impressive?’” for a black couple, that is? It’s implicit bias and that loud subtext is disturbing. The manager and waiter are just an extension of the owner,” August Marsalis wrote.

“They need to be terminated. You can’t train away racism,” April Rice-Smith added.

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