Keisha Lance Bottoms Refused Service: Time to Admit Restaurants Have a Racist Dress Code Problem

Over the weekend, Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former mayor of Atlanta, fired a one sentence tweet punctuated with a shrug emoji: “Just got turned away at @CapitalGrille at Perimeter Mall because I have leggings on.”

Commenters, including Atlanta news anchor Kristin Holloway, quickly responded with dress code screenshots posted on the upscale steakhouse chain’s website, which asks customers “not to wear” the following items: sportswear, sweatpants, tank tops, hats, clothing with offensive language or imagery and under -exposed clothes.

“I know it’s frustrating, they have a polite notice on their website at the bottom asking the guest[s] not to wear sportswear or sweatpants,” Holloway said. wrote. “I hope they apply it to all the guests[s] and not choose and choose.”

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A quick search through social media photos taken at various locations in the restaurant appear to show customers dressed in all sorts of clothing, including caps, gym outfit, ripped jeans exposing fishnet stockings – even leggings. However, there is a noticeable difference. The aforementioned customers were white, while Bottoms is black.

Bottoms alluded to this seemingly uneven dress code enforcement in a follow-up tweet.

“It’s strange that a restaurant in a mall parking lot is refusing customers in ‘mall’ attire,” she added. wrote. “I was asked if I could sit in the bar and was told ‘no’. Rules are rules, I’m just wondering if the woman who walked in immediately after me, which I didn’t didn’t see out, was also denied service.”

Keisha Lance Bottoms, former Mayor of the City of AtlantaAtlanta City Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks during the Super Bowl LIII Atlanta Host Committee press conference on January 28, 2019 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. (Picture by (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)Capital Grille has yet to release a statement on the incident, but Salon Food has reached out with a request for comment.

Unfortunately, this is only the latest example of what the reviews describe such as the use of dress codes in bars and restaurants way to perpetuate racism. Across the country, there have been numerous reports of managers and employees banning customers of color for not having dressed “appropriately”, despite the fact that white customers were seen dining in a similar outfit.

It’s a practice that’s classist gate-control at best and racial discrimination at worst — and it all comes down to who dining establishments want to invite and who they want to prevent entry.

In 2019, author R. Eric Thomas tweeted a photo of the dress code displayed at the Choptank in Baltimore. Similar to Capital Grille, it clarified that sportswear, overly loose clothing, upside-down or sideways hats, and work and construction boots were prohibited. “Pants should be worn at the waist,” he said. “No shorts below the knee.”

“There’s a long, toxic, well-documented history of restaurant dress codes like this being little more than thinly veiled (if veiled at all) anti-black racism!”

Immediately, Choptank started receiving feedback online. New York food writer Helen Rosner tweeted“There’s a long, toxic, well-documented history of restaurant dress codes like this being little more than thinly veiled (if veiled at all) anti-black racism!”

Those comments were followed by an opinion piece from the Baltimore Sun editorial board, which urged the restaurant to rethink the dress code and its implications.

“The original dress code did not explicitly say that African Americans or other minorities are not welcome in the restaurant,” the editorial board wrote. “But the way the code was written definitely left it looking like they were the group of customers that the Atlas Restaurant Group, which owns Crab and several other Baltimore restaurants, was trying to target.”

The editorial went on to note that many of the garments on the “banned” list were popularized by black entertainment figures and embraced by their fans.

“The fact that some other establishments in Fells Point use similar dress codes hasn’t made it any better; they need to get rid of those rules too,” he concluded.

In response, Choptank management changed its mind. The tone of her updated dress code is drastically different. “Atlas Restaurant Group promotes a dining atmosphere and the suggested dress code is casual,” it says. “We ask our customers to respect these suggestions in order to create a pleasant environment for all customers.”

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The following items are currently prohibited: men’s tank tops or sleeveless shirts; men’s hats; visible underwear; and clothing with vulgar or sexually explicit language or images. Shoes are also required, however, there are no restrictions on style.

Across the country, there are numerous other reports of allegedly racist dress codes. Some are more veiled; the now-closed Chicago bar Bottled Blonde, for example, had written into its rules that Jordan Brand shoes were banned, while Chuck Taylors and Vans were allowed. Some are more egregious, like the case of a Detroit sports bar that asked patrons not to wear “ghetto attire.”

As Detroit TV station WXYZ reported at the time, the individual who posted a viral image of the bar sign spoke on the condition that his face not be shown.

“I’m scared,” they said. “I don’t like going places and seeing that. It felt like a modern day ‘colorless’ sign to me. I just didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel wanted, and honestly , I was a little offended – very offended – by this sign.”

These regulations are a troubling intersection between the racism that is often inherent in ideals of professionalism and presentability – perhaps most publicly displayed in the insidious and persistent rejection of black women’s natural hair and hairstyles as unsuitable for corporate workplaces. – and gastronomy.

These regulations are a troubling intersection between the racism that is often inherent in ideals of professionalism and presentability – perhaps most publicly displayed in the insidious and persistent rejection of black women’s natural hair and hairstyles as unsuitable for corporate workplaces. – and gastronomy.

Zachary Brewster, an associate professor of sociology at Wayne State University who has studied the restaurant industry in depth, told culinary publication Heated in 2019 that about half of the servers he surveyed nationwide admitted to discriminating against black diners. In these discussions, pervasive myths about black diners were cited, such as saying that they “don’t tip well, for example, or that they are more demanding customers. Such stereotypes allow servers to express their anti-black bias while asserting that their discrimination is about money, not race.”


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“What happens in a restaurant is kind of indicative of what’s happening in the wider culture,” Brewster said. “White people are certainly still privileged in the restaurant.”

Investigative reporter Lisa Rab, who wrote this piece for Heated, cited other examples of subtle ways restaurants can make black customers feel unwelcome, such as when the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Charlotte added a 15% surcharge to food and beverage tabs during the Athletic Association’s Central Intercollegiate Tournament for historically black colleges and universities or when several well-known fine dining restaurants in New Orleans closed for the weekend of July 4, 2016 with nearly 500,000 black tourists in town for the annual Essence festival.

In the long history of unevenly implemented dress codes among black and white customers, Bottoms has become another name on an ever-growing list.

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