Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Willie Forbes, Fish Fingers, and a Discrimination Debate

I recently read about an alleged incident of discrimination against Willie Forbes, a man with Down Syndrome, that I found interesting. Willie Forbes' story comes to us from a restaurant in Inverness, Scotland, called Ash. Ash adjoins the Royal Highland Hotel.

The discrimination allegation comes from the fact that the restaurant refused to serve Willie Forbes, who is 47 years old, fish fingers off of the kids' menu. Willie Forbes' niece, who was with him at the time explained to the waiter that Willie Forbes had Down Syndrome and could only eat small portions. The regional manager for the hotel chain, Indranil Banerjee, said that the restaurant offered Willie Forbes a smaller portion of the fish goujons from the menu's adult meals section, but Willie Forbes and his niece left before the issue could be settled.

A member of the public created a "Ban the Royal Highland Hotel" after Willie Forbes' niece talked about the experience on her own Facebook page. Banerjee explained in an apology on the hotel's Facebook page, after the restaurant started to take some serious flack on social media and in Trip Advisor for its actions, that on Sundays children eat off the kids' menu for free and that they're not able to charge the adult price for an adult who wants a children's meal.

“We see every human being as a human being, but they’re either an adult or a kid, and that is that,” Banerjee told Caterer & Hotelkeeper website.  “The kids’ menu is only for people under 12, as the prices are lower and the portions are very small.”

Well, it's good to know where you stand.

Ash and Willie Forbes: Discrimination or Not?

I didn't think that this was discrimination at first.  Assuming that this policy is being applied uniformly and consistently to all adult diners regardless of their health needs, how could it be? If it's the restaurant's policy that adults can't order off the kids' menu, then no adult should be able to order off of the kids' menu. This includes adults with Down Syndrome or any other type of disability. The management treated Willie Forbes presumably like it treats any other adult that eats in the restaurant on a Sunday. No discrimination here.

Just bad business sense, as people order off the kids' menu in restaurants for many reasons. Even healthy people often find adult-size restaurant meals too large. Seniors often have reduced appetites and can't finish an adult-sized meal. People that are trying to cut portion sizes to lose weight may appreciate the option to order off the kids' menu. Sometimes people just aren't hungry and want a smaller meal.

And why should a person have to have fish goujons in a restaurant when fish fingers is what they actually wanted and is available?

Does it not make sense, in this economic climate where "the customer is always right", that a restaurant should make a small change and find some way to allow adults to order off the kids' menu, granted that it potentially allows the establishment to meet the dining preferences of a wide cross-section of customers? I'd think so.

Just as even a small move toward increasing accessibility makes a business more welcoming for everyone, this seemingly small gesture could actually substantially increase the restaurant's potential clientele.

But didn't I say that this wasn't about disability discrimination? I actually started to rethink that once I read more of Banerjee's comments on this issue.

Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much

Banjeree's also told Caterer & Hotelkeeper, "...waiting staff were therefore unable to pass the request through the till as a meal for an adult, because it would automatically register it as a child’s order and not charge. The kitchen would “not normally” prepare a dish from the child’s menu without an appropriate till ticket,"

So, apparently because it's too much effort to make a notation on a till ticket for a child dish to note that the customer is to be charged the adult price, it's impossible to accommodate an adult that's willing to order off the children's menu, even if they're willing to pay the price for an adult meal.  But apparently it's not too much effort to somehow make sure the kitchen knows to prepare a smaller order of an adult dish for a patron that desires it.

It doesn't make sense.

And the absolute, ultimate refusal of the restaurant to compromise at all on this issue, even though it meant customers walking away unhappy and the alienation of other customers (both current and potential) makes me think that there's something deeper going on here.

It's just speculation on my part. I can't prove anything. Banerjee explicitly said that they weren't discriminating against Willie Forbes.

But I just don't buy it.

I'll let you make up your own mind:

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