The Herald Bulletin

February 12, 2013

Jim Bailey: Waiter reserved right to refuse service to bigoted customer

By Jim Bailey
For The Herald Bulletin

— Tradition in the retail service industry is that the customer is always right. Waiter Michael Garcia withheld service from a customer at a Houston, Texas, restaurant recently. Such an act could have cost him his job. In this case it made him a hero.

The Castillo family are regulars at Laurenzo’s Prime Rib in Houston. Their little boy has Down syndrome. As several waiters stopped by their booth, Milo, 5, showed off the new words he was starting to master and talked about his birthday a week earlier.

Promptly a family at a nearby table called over Garcia, asking to move to another location. “I heard the man say, ‘Special needs children need to be special somewhere else,’” Garcia told a TV reporter.

At that point Garcia’s personal feelings took over.

“I told him, ‘I’m not going to be able to serve you, sir. … How could you say that? How could you say that about a beautiful 5-year-old angel?’” Garcia told the TV reporter.

Special needs children (the preferred term these days for what used to be referred to somewhat disparagingly as retarded) look and sound different. Obviously it bothers some people who may be wrapped up in their own little world where everyone is expected to be perfect and just like everyone else.

By and large, my experience has been that those with Down syndrome are both loving and lovable, often better behaved than so-called normal children. A generation or two ago, conventional wisdom used to be that parents were encouraged to put them away somewhere in an institution and go on without them. Thankfully, we have discovered even the developmentally disabled can contribute to society. In fact, many restaurants, including several in Anderson, have found that people with special needs make good workers and are increasingly employing them.

In an online post Kim Castillo said she has been taking Milo out to eat since he was born and that he is better behaved than most children. “Was he loud?” she wrote. “Maybe a little in the moment, but honestly, the adults at our table were three times louder than he was.”

The restaurant stood up for Garcia on its Facebook page and elsewhere, and reports are that business at Laurenzo’s has actually increased. “People are coming in to shake his hand and eat at our restaurant and loving it,” said the Castillos’ regular server, Candace Roberts.

It is obvious not all restaurant patrons don’t want to be disturbed by people who are different. A family I know is a case in point. Their oldest child was completely immobilized by a birth injury, and they have had similar experiences. On one occasion, however, when they were having a difficult time at a restaurant, they went to pay their tab and were informed an anonymous stranger had already paid for the meal.

Bigotry takes many forms. So does love.

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by e-mail at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.