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Corby Kummer on BPR I 10/09/2018

What Does A Restauranteur Do When A Mob Is Protesting One Of Their Guests?

Sanders Red Hen
What should restaurant staff do with controversial guests -- or protests against them? Incidents like those at the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., which refused to serve White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, are becoming more common.
Don Petersen/AP
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Corby Kummer on BPR I 10/09/2018

Most people have had their fair share of meals in a restaurant ruined because of a rambunctious group of college seniors trading jokes at the bar or an obnoxious guest two tables over whose voice can’t help but fill the entire restaurant, but for high profile politicians like Ted Cruz they can now add coming face to face with an angry mob to the list of potential things that could ruin date night.

This puts restaurateurs in the uncomfortable intersection of politics and business, and has also left them scrambling to develop protocols to handle situations like this according to food writer and Senior Editor of The Atlantic Corby Kummer. In the case of Ted Cruz, the restaurant, Fiola, called the senator’s office later and told him he was welcome back anytime. Others, like the Red Hen, in Lexington, VA, see it as a chance to make their own political statement -- which is exactly what they did when they refused to serve White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a few months ago. Kummer, while understanding of an owner’s desire to ban someone they disagree with, or conversely avoid drama all together, says it’s something D.C. restaurateurs need to get used to.

“First of all, I just don’t think you should refuse diners if you’re in the restaurant business,” Kummer said on Boston Public Radio this morning. “If you’re in business in Washington, you know you’re going to have a ton of customers whose beliefs you strongly disagree with. It’s just a sign of the tenor of the times that this restaurant has been getting death threats.”

After the incident, the owners of Fiola told members of the press their restaurant served politicians and government officials of both parties, and weren’t interested in passing judgment on their guests. Though the protests have drawn rebukes from across the political spectrum, they’ve also been applauded by activists, and according to the group that organized the protest at Fiola, Smash Racism DC, they have no plans of slowing down.

“This is a message to Ted Cruz, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump and the rest of the racist, sexist, transphobic, and homophobic right-wing scum,” the group said in a statement. “You are not safe. We will find you. We will expose you. We will take from you the peace you have taken from so many others.”

For restaurateurs, bartenders and waiters in Washington, D.C. this might just be a sign of the times, and like the rest of the nation they need to simply embrace a new normal.

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