An IHOP in Auburn, Maine, will temporarily shut down for an employee training session on Thursday after a staff member asked a group of teenagers who are Black to pay upfront while dining at the restaurant, a representative for the company confirms to PEOPLE.
Avery Gagne, who was dining at the IHOP location with his parents when the incident occurred on Sunday, shared a lengthy post on Facebook detailing what he witnessed. When they questioned what was going on, a female employee told Gagne that they had experienced problems in the past with young customers skipping out on the bill. The staff member added, “It’s not because of their color.”
“The fact that she stated ‘it’s not because of their color’ proves it all,” Gagne wrote, noting that one girl in the group was wearing a hijab. “The worst thing about all of this is that one of the teens looked at my mom and I and stated ‘it’s okay’. No. It’s not okay. This is NOT okay. I will not stand for this.”
Manager Melvin Escobar told The Sun Journal—which was first to report the incident—that he believes the server was trying to prevent a dine and ditch situation. However, Escobar said the waitress was confronted about the situation.
“This is the first time it happened, and that will be the last time,” Escobar said.
“We don’t discriminate (against) people for what they are or who they are,” he added to The Sun Journal.
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Management addressed the incident via the restaurant’s Facebook page, saying they “are handling matters in order to correct the issue.”
“We apologize sincerely on behalf of our waitstaffs actions. A meeting has taken place with all of our staff members. Everyone has been made aware of these inexcusable actions and reminded how we handle matters correctly in the future,” they wrote. “We have rectified the situation and can guarantee this is not what we condone to go on within our restaurant.”
The manager added, “Please spare our credibility, as this situation is not a reflection of the service we strive to deliver. Auburn IHOP pride ourselves on providing a happy, enjoyable, and memorable dining experience.”
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IHOP President Darren Rebelez also issued a statement on the incident.
“IHOP and our franchisees have zero tolerance for actions that are or allude to discrimination of any type. The franchisee of this location is working to contact the affected guests directly to apologize for this incident and are taking appropriate actions in line with their HR policies,” Rebelez said. “For 60 years, IHOP and our franchisees have strived to create a warm and hospitable dining experience for all guests, and this isolated incident is not reflective of that ongoing commitment.”