It’s the sort of viral story any public relations team dreads. A number of customers in large group at a Morton’s Steakhouse in Tennessee took to the company’s Yelp page and posted scathing reviews after one member of the group was treated rudely by staff.
Last week, a Christmas party of more than a dozen colleagues of a television shopping channel was nearly finished with their event when one member, Robert Chambers, who is battling cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy, put on a woolen hat. The manager at the Morton’s Steakhouse in Nashville asked him to remove the hat while he was in the dining area, to which he agreed, but Chambers’ wife and son were less accepting.
“My son says, ‘He has cancer. His head gets cold, he needs to wear the toboggan.’” Chambers told The Nashville Scene. “The manager says, ‘If you had made prior arrangements, we could have put you in a private room and he could have worn it. Or you could bring a doctor’s note and you could wear it,’ which I think is kind of a smartass answer because nowhere on Morton’s policy does it say if you’ve got a doctor’s note you can wear a hat in the restaurant.”
According to Chambers, the issue escalated, with his family arguing with Morton’s staff on the way out of the restaurant, and a manager attempting to get the police involved as they were waiting on the street for their car. “[The manager] was out on the sidewalk trying to get the police. I don’t know what she thought would happen.”
The news went viral, in one case with a report on Facebook being shared thousands of times, and the Nashville steakhouse’s own Facebook page is receiving new one star reviews every minute.
The chain is responding, however, with senior executive Tim Whitlock calling Chambers to apologize, as well as pledging to write a donation for the same amount as his party spent at the restaurant to St. Judes Children’s Hospital.
The apology and donation may have wrapped things up for Chambers, but it brings to light the continuing issues of discrimination that have come to play in the restaurant industry when it comes to customers with disabilities. As Kristina Chew reported in May, the Golden Corral restaurant was sued for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for asking a customer to leave the establishment with her three daughters, who had a genetic skin disorder. According to staff, customers complained about the children’s appearance. The fast food chain McDonald’s has also been sued over its staff’s refusal to allow customers to bring service animals into restaurants, despite that being allowed under the ADA.
Discrimination persists at an alarming rate, despite the variety of protections that have been put in place to combat it. For Morton’s, a $2,000 donation and a public apology may be all that is necessary to make the scandal die down. Sadly, what Morton’s — and the industry as a whole — really needs to invest in is better staff training on how to deal with special situations and medical conditions, how to address customers whose disabilities may not be visible, and the sensitivity to know when and how to de-escalate a situation if the staff has discriminated against a customer.
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