At a Waffle House in St. Charles City, Missouri, a Black couple asked if they could dine in after a day at the Hollywood Casino.
They were told they could only order take out.
Moments later, a White man came in and was allowed to eat in the diner.
Wives Jimmiecia and Camry Benit caught video footage of the Waffle House employee who they felt discriminated against them. The two had a chance to sit down with KMOV St. Louis News and share their story.
Jimmiecia Benit said:
"I was humiliated."
"I just want to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else. Nobody else goes through this."
Jimmiecia Benit explained what happened when they walked into the Waffle House:
"Before we can even get in the door, an employee goes 'you can only do to-go orders. We're not taking dine-ins.'"
"We were dressed nice, came in properly, not loud, but as soon as we got to the door, no, only to-go orders."
Initially, the couple didn't suspect anything was wrong, since some restaurants were not seating patrons due to COVID-19 guidelines. However, when another customer was allowed to dine in they weren no longer sure that was the reason they were denied.
Jimmiecia Benit continued:
"An older, white, Caucasian guy walks through the door and he asked the same employee that we asked, 'Are y'all doing dine in?'"
"She kind of looks at us and kind of pauses, I guess to see if we are paying attention or whatever."
"She looks at him and goes, 'yeah, you can dine in.'"
Camry Benit said:
"We are sitting there looking at each other like, 'you are going to let him sit down and a cup of coffee."
Jimmiecia Benit was in shock this was even happening.
Another White group was also seated after the first man walked in, so they began recording.
They confronted the server and she gave an exasperated answer:
"I am the only server here, and I am trying to catch up from the last shift."
"So, I have my own reasons for telling you this."
Jimmiecia and Camry Benit believe the only reason they were turned away was because of their race.
Lynette Petruska, the attorney representing the Benits, said:
"When the only customers who can't dine in are the Black customers, it just doesn't look like they are doing things for a legitimate reason."
"Is this an isolated incident with an isolated server who did something wrong or does Waffle House have a systematic policy of trying to send a subtle message that African American customers aren't welcomed?
According to KMOV St. Louis, before the news station stepped in the couple had not gotten any apologies from Waffle House.
KMOV spoke with the Vice President of Waffle House, Njeri Boss about the incident and they finally gave a statement.
"We really are deeply sorry that we have two customers who had a bad experience with us and left feeling very unappreciated."
"Out of that investigation what we found was very poor customer service that was rendered by a very young, inexperienced and flustered server."
Boss minimized the accusations this was a racially motivated incident:
"Earlier in the shifts, we have video of her serving no problem customers of diverse backgrounds, Black and White customers with no issue."
The company says they did an investigation into that employee:
"Out of that investigation we believe what we found was very poor customer service that was rendered by a very young, inexperienced, and flustered server."
The investigation looked at video of the Waffle House from earlier in the day and the waitress had no issue serving a diverse group of patrons.
Boss blamed the poor service on COVID related staffing shortages. Overall, she said the company takes discrimination claims very seriously.
"I know it can't take away the hurt that these customers feel and still feel, but we hope it goes a long way to understand that's not who we are not and not what our brand stands for."
Jimmiecia Benit said they just don't want this to happen to anyone else.
Since this story, the CEO offered to meet with the Benits to work through the issue.
Boss told reporters the waitress has voluntarily left her position at the Waffle House and noted the manager at the Waffle House is Black.
This is not the first time Waffle House had been accused of racial discrimination against their customers. Back in 2018, Raw Story reported a Black woman was locked out of the restaurant and told they were closed even though several White customers were still being served.
Also in 2018, employees at a Waffle House called the police on a Black couple when they disputed being over charged for an item they ordered. They were arrested but later released without charges.
Vox also noted two other incidents at Waffle House where customers were confronted by police.