Black Couple Gets Apology from Restaurant Owner After Tip Automatically Added to Bill

The owner of a New Orleans restaurant apologized to a Black couple.
The owner of a New Orleans restaurant issued a public apology to a Black couple who said they were racially profiled in his establishment.Facebook

The alleged racial profiling incident happened at a New Orleans restaurant where a Black couple had a 20% tip automatically added to their bill and were falsely told it was company policy.

The owner of a pricey New Orleans steak house issued a public apology and suspended two employees over an alleged racial profiling incident in which a Black couple had a tip automatically added to their bill and were falsely told it was restaurant policy.

Owner Desi Vega issued a statement Sunday, saying the gratuity was improper and the manager and waiter involved had been suspended without pay, pending an investigation.

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

In a Facebook post that quickly went viral, James Washington wrote that he and his wife went to Desi Vega's Seafood and Prime Steaks for a date night, and were surprised to see a 20% tip already added to their bill. 

Washington, saying he had a long history of working in the food industry, was suspicious of an automatic gratuity added to a party of only two people. He summoned the waiter, who told him it was restaurant policy, he wrote.

"A 20% tip for me is for par (or sub par) service. I respect waiters and bartenders so I like to do much more," Washington said. "So I asked our server if this was standard. He said 'yes, we add 20% to all of our bills.' Something didn’t seem right about his response," he wrote.

So the couple called the restaurant and asked to speak with the manager, who reiterated the automatic tip was standard practice at the steak house. 

"Still not wanting to believe that we got singled out, and trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, I spotted a white couple that had just paid for their bill," Washington wrote. "I pulled them to the side and asked them if that happened to them. Their response — 'absolutely not.'"

Washington summoned the manager to the table and asked if he had lied about the policy. "He confirmed that he and the server prejudged us. Said he felt bad so he kept the lie going. Said he was in a “precarious” position. Said he didn’t mean to racially profile us but his server asked him to do this to us so he went along with it," Washington wrote.

His post was shared more than 3,000 times, with Black community members chiming in they would never frequent the restaurant again. 

"In the grand scheme of things, a 20% gratuity is nothing," Washington wrote at the end of the post. "But it’s a small sample size of how some people look at African Americans and assume whatever they want to assume."

In his apology, Vega said he had met with Washington and his wife, "a truly impressive couple," and that his staff would undergo racial bias and sensitivity training.

Washington later posted that he and his wife deemed the apology was genuine, but added "This is way bigger than us. The community has rallied behind this and has been vocal in seeking change. Our post began as a simple effort to bring public awareness to a horrible, racist experience, and ended up being shared and commented on more times than we could ever imagine."