This public domain photo of an International House of Pancakes restaurant was taken by Flickr user Mike Mozart. Credit: Mike Mozart | Flickr

The manager of an Auburn IHOP wants customers to know that everyone can expect to be treated with respect in his restaurant and no one will ever have to pay upfront for a meal.

“And we’re trying to let everybody know that we’re not racist,” says Melvin Escobar. “We treat everybody the same and basically we’re here to serve you and give you the best experience ever.”

Melvin Escobar, a native of Guatemala, says he has suspended a server for one week without pay after he learned that she had asked a group of black teenagers to pay for their meals upfront.

The incident was highlighted in a Facebook post by Avery Gagne of Monmouth, who was seated nearby with his parents.

Gagne says he finds Escobar’s reassurances unconvincing.

“In my heart of hearts, I just wish and I hope that that is true, and they understand what’s happening here and how horrible it is,” he says. “To me, it really, honestly felt like a lot of damage control.”

Gagne’s post was shared more than 1,800 times in the past 24 hours and brought to the attention of Escobar, who did an investigation. Escobar says the server took the action on her own after having had several customers leave without paying.

“That’s why she did it,” Escobar says. “She did it because of having some action before, with a couple groups in the past three months, teenagers coming and ordering tons of food and they just run out of my store without paying it.”

But Gagne says that’s not what the server told him and his parents. “When the woman explained to us what’s going on, she said this is what management wants me to do.”

Escobar says as far as he knows this is the only time a server has ever asked for pre-payment for a meal and he says it will be the last. “I’m sorry for everybody who take offense but we’re not trying to do that.”

In his Facebook post, Gagne writes that one of the teens tried to assure him and his mom that the server’s actions were not unreasonable. But Gagne says, “It’s not OK. I will not stand for this.”

And that is why he posted what he saw on Facebook.

IHOP President Darren Rebelez responded in an emailed statement after this story was published.

“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. 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,” he said.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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