Denny’s Discrimination Update PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

It's been a few weeks since I wrote about discrimination at a Denny's in Euless, Texas, and I thought an update was in order.

I have not heard from either the corporate office or local franchise holder, either via e-mail or postal mail. I'm not too surprised by this, and I do expect a response at some time. I sent the letters via certified mail, and they were both received.

I do have an interesting follow-up though.

A few days after the original incident, I had occasion to be in Holbrook, Arizona. For breakfast, I decided to eat at - you guessed it - Denny's. The restaurant looked identical, but the experience was quite different. In fact, it was incredible.

I entered the restaurant with my Mac and inquired if there was a table that had an electrical outlet. Sure! was the answer, and I was led to a table dedicated to such purposes. Sadly, the table was occupied and I resigned myself to staying only as long as my batteries lasted. Not wanting to disappoint, the hostess with the suitable name of Angie, offered to rig the overhead light with and adapter so I could sit in any seat I'd like and still use my computer. I was touched at the effort she put into my rather selfish request, and thanked her as I settled in at a nice window seat.

I started typing and noticed that the little orange light on the charger wasn't on. I fiddled with the screw-in adapter a bit, but was unable to get any power from it. Figuring that the staff had already bent over backwards for me, I decided to leave the issue there and resigned myself to the whims of computing off the grid.

Enter Angie again. She came over to inquire what the problem was, and I explained. She looked over at the table with the dedicated outlet, and found it recently vacated. 10 seconds later, I was sitting in that booth, having had all my belongings and victuals moved by helpful staff.

I spent the next two and a half hours there, writing, taking care of e-mail and a few server problems, all the while enjoying a nearly constant supply orange juice, water and coffee supplied by Debra, another employee worthy of commendation. While the service at the Denny's in Euless, TX was perfectly sound, the Holbrook Denny's was stellar. My meal was just as I'd expected, no one bothered me about the length of my stay, and every need was attended to. I couldn't have had a better experience.

And then came the time to check out. I noticed there were not flyers indicating discounts of any sort, but as I paid my bill, I asked if they had a special church bulletin discount. It went like this:

ME: By the way, do you offer a discount if someone brings in a church bulletin?

ANGIE: Umm.. I don't think so. I'm not sure what you mean.

ME: Oh, I know that some Denny's will give a 10% discount if people bring in a church bulletin.

ANGIE: Oh, well, that's not something we offer. I've never heard of such a thing. Sorry!

ME: (explanation of entire story).

ANGIE: Huh, I've never heard of such a thing. Interesting!

I handed her a business card, took a picture of the franchise information for my records. I'll be sending them a note thanking them for the amazing service.

There's another aspect to this story that bears mention. What I considered to be an item of minor interest has proven to be one of the most popular articles to ever appear on Swift. In fact, I didn't even publish it as a regular Swift; it was just a mid-day extra.

The article has been copied to such sites as France24.com, The Daily KOS, the Friendly Atheist, and even pregnancy.org and paganwiccan.about.com. Even the UK's Christian Today ran a piece on it, though they chose not to link to my article. Europeans seem amazed that a restaurant could conceive of such a thing, and several have said in a disgusted voice "only in America."

I've been held up as a hero, scoffed at, and vilified by both the religious and non-religious alike. It's been called a non-issue, a call to arms, and even a hoax by those who think I created the flyer in Photoshop. I suspect this is due to the line "AND ENJOY 10% OFF UR BILL" which looks like it was added to the flyer after its original printing, possibly because the promotion wasn't appealing to people's charitable side so much as they'd hoped.

And I've learned a few things. Just as with many issues, skeptics are not of one mind when it comes to activism. A sizeable number of skeptics, particularly those who embrace Libertarian philosophies, are opposed to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is a sense that "natural law" should prevail and that businesses should be free to serve or not serve whomever they want unencumbered by government interference. The CRA direct interferes with "natural law." Could be, but there's no question that the CRA is federal law, and there's at least an arguable case that this Denny's is in violation of it.

Personally, I can see both sides of this. While I agree that businesses should be allowed as much freedom as possible, I also see the need for government to step in when businesses band together to disaccommodate an entire group of people. I think memories of the South from the 1950's illustrate the need for this quite well.

At any rate, I think the Denny's incident is a clear if very minor example of a CRA violation. I never intended to stage sit-ins or protests, but I did feel that a letter was in order. I also don't think the intent was to discriminate. Given the numbers of church goers dining out on Sundays, I imagine competition is fierce, and this franchise simply decided to appeal to them. They never considered that they were ignoring a large segment of the population.

And that is the problem.  No one considers non-believers.

In an interesting experiment, the North Texas Church of Freethought went to that very same Denny's with a copy of their minutes. And guess what... after a few strange glances, they're received the discount! They promise to inform us if their organization actually receives the promised 10% donation. I'm sure they'll put that $3.00 to good use.

Denny's is also used by many Atheist and Free Thought groups for meetings. One notable example is the Tucson Atheist Meet-up. So I'll say again - I think Denny's is trying to support its own business any way it can, and I think this local franchise didn't apply much thought when they created this offer.

And that's it for now. I'll write again if Denny's ever gets back to me. Thanks for everyone for their interest in this article.

P.S. - I've just learned from a recent visitor that the flyers have been taken down.