Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Racism and Ethnic Intimidation: Still Alive and Well at Denny's Restaurant?

(Above image at

This morning I went for routine fasting blood work at my doctor's office. It was 7:30 a.m. I also had an appointment scheduled for 9:00 a.m. at my doctor's travel clinic.

After I got the blood work done, I drove over to the local Denny's restaurant for breakfast and to wait for my 9:00 a.m. appointment.

When I arrived at Denny's, no one greeted me despite the fact that at least two female staff persons saw me. They walked right past me and gave me a look that suggested that they hate their jobs, or hate to get up early in the morning. Maybe both :)

So, I made my way to a table, took off my coat, and plopped down my purse, Blackberry, and notebook. I figured I'd get some work done while I was eating and waiting for the second doctor's appointment.

There was one other white lady sitting in the tables section. At the counter, there were about four or five elderly white men.

I saw at least 4 or 5 female staff. The restaurant was not full or busy at all.

After sitting a few moments, I decided to move to a more comfortable table. So, I moved to the section near the counters, still at a table.

I must have sat for at least 10 minutes and no one came to give me anything or even say hello. Ten minutes is not a long time, but it is when the restaurant is not full or busy. Trust me, there was no excuse.

The waitresses did see me because one or two walked past me and looked at me.

Then a white man came in and sat two tables in front of me. After a few moments, I looked up and saw that the waitress had brought him a glass of water with a lemon in it.

Waitresses were walking around doing things like wiping tables, re-filling coffee cups at the counter, and otherwise busying themselves in the back.

Still, no one came over to me. A waitress or two made eye contact with me, but still nothing. Not even a glass of water, or "I'll be back in a moment."

It was clear to me that these people intended not to serve me.

If I would have had more time, I would have said something because I am the type of person who highly values service. If someone gives me bad service, I will leave. And I will not give that business my money again.

And - more importantly, I know me: if I would have gotten pissed off enough, I would have made a scene. I do not believe in making scenes in public for a variety of reasons, but mainly, I try to never do anything in public that reflects poorly on Islam or Muslims. My blood pressure was sky high when I returned to the doctor's office.

I simply picked up my things (while they watched out of the sides of their eyes) and left the restaurant. I was too offended and upset to say anything to the manager. They didn't even care enough to say anything to me on my way out, "have a nice day," "oh, do you have to leave?" or anything like that.

What could possibly be the reason for them treating me like this?

Well, I am a Muslim women who wears hijab. Even though I am a white person like the other customers, some white people think that we lose our "white privilege" when we become Muslims and outwardly look Muslim (i.e., hijab, niqab, beards, sunnah clothing, etc.). I am ethnically Jewish and have a semitic look to me. Even Arabs on occasion have spoken to me in Arabic upon meeting me for the first time!

Did the staff at Denny's think I was "other" than the traditional white American?

I am not usually the type to complain about ethnic intimidation or religious discrimination based on purely being a Muslim. I have been a Muslim since 1998, Alhamdulillah, and can barely count on one hand the times I have been harassed for being Muslim, Masha Allah. I acknowledge that others have not had it so good though.

I came home ready to write about this. When I "googled" Denny's and racism, I was floored by what the search engine provided to me.

The University of Wisconsin School of Business
did a study about Denny's and their history with racism and ethnic intimidation that sums it up nicely.

I'm not sure how far I'm going to take this, but I'm going to definitely "take it" a few places.

Firstly, I made sure I grabbed a customer satisfaction survey on my way out. I will mail it to the restaurant AND to the corporate Denny's. I will also send them a link to this post. And I will link this post to my Face Book.

I will not be treated like this by a local business.

Anyone have any other ideas?


Huda K said...

Assalaamu aleikum sis
Sorry to hear you had to go through this. It's a horrible way to be treated, and is just wrong. Glad to hear you are going to make sure it is heard about. Maybe you could contact your local media too? (Or at least threaten to! - that worked wonders for my brother one time when he bought a new house and the builders were refusing to fix some shoddy plumbing...) Wishing you every success in your efforts to have this matter addressed, iA.

Unknown said...

assalam. dear sister.
That Jews and KKK newcons are same in thinking. They dont respect others' beleive and culture.
THEY are vendor of HUMA RIGHTS. but
they dont respect to other's right.

This is very common and typed behavior for KKK-white and jews.

U chose the right way to protest.
wish you EVERY success to this concern. JajakaAllah.

AlabasterMuslim said...

Wow, I cannot believe this happened to you! You should really go back in and talk to the manager, say something!
At least threaten that a bunch of muslim might start boycotting!

Stacy K. said...

This just made me cringe. I'm so sorry that you had to put up with this. I hope that filling out the surveys makes some difference in the long-term.

Banana Anne said...

Dang, what a rotten place! I know my blood pressure would have gone through the roof, and I don't even have high blood pressure. I say screw Denny's and don't even consider stepping foot in there again. I've heard their food is terrible anyways, not to mention their abysmal customer service (like you unfortunately had to go through).

Yusuf Smith said...

As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

Can't understand how "waheed" can say things like that about Jews when you clearly state what your background was. Admittedly there are Jews with hard-set bigoted views towards others (particularly Muslims), but I'm presuming that the people you encountered at Denny's didn't look Jewish?

As for the "white privilege" thing ... some of the people who talk about Muslimahs losing their privilege when they put on hijab say "well you'd get it back again if you just took it off" (I saw this twice in debates about the subject last year). So much for solidarity.

Farnnay said...

YOU GO GIRL! and salam :)

I am so sorry that you were treated this way, and i truly TRULY hope that something is done about that.

but im confused, it cant be the company denny per se, because im sure not all dennys hires racist bigots. so im kind of perplexed on how a lot of dennys has this issue.

but again, i hope something is done about it.

Farnnay said...

I too hate bad customer service. i loathe wal-mart solely based on that.

Debora said...

Asalaam alaikum Safiyyah,

The same thing has happened to me on occasion-- not at Denny's because I haven't been in one of those in about 20 years! I used to wait tables for Denny's back in another life :-) Some years after I quit came, I believe, the first big racial stink. Something about Denny's-- it's a crap magnet. Plain and simple.

Anyway, when I was in Egypt, of all places, my SIL and I were ignored in a chic little lunch spot in the banking district of Cairo. When I made a stink about it, the waiter apologized and said that he mistook me for a person from Tanta, where, apparently, the people are all low class, of Turkish origin, with light skin. Like that's supposed to make everything all better???? Oh, and my SIL and I were wearing hijab and not another woman in the place was.

Let's not even talk about that a@@hole in the mall Verizon store last month. I'm doing a lot of tongue biting these days. A'uthu billah min shaytan arrajeem.

Nikki said...

I'm so sorry you had to experience something like that. My husband, too, has had an unpleasant experience at a Denny's, yet we keep going back (to a different location) because they serve veggie burgers.

You are a stronger woman than me. I would not have the willpower to stay quiet, I would have either been in tears or a fight right there in front of everyone!

Hopefully something will be done about this inappropriate behavior.

Anonymous said...

As Salaam Alaikum,
I am sorry you went through this.
Well its becoming obvious that the divide between the "us and them" is deepening.

While in the West things like this happen to muslims like you, over here in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi's and other tend to treat the "White People" and "Americans" as prince and princes and still the Americans over here just go about in the blogs slandering.

BTW you must have called the manager then and their and asked whats happening. You shouldn't have walked out. By talking to the manager you would have got those racist waitresses in trouble and they would not have done the same again. Now probably those racist waitresses would go about being racist to other muslims too.

Though a American citizenship for me is just within my reach as opposed to my current Asian nationality, i love living in Middle East at least i am not discriminated based on my religion here.

mezba said...

Wow, sorry to hear about your experience. It's definitely bad and deliberately bad behaviour on their part.

Personally never have had that experience in Denny's in Canada - I just don't return for the horrible food!

Anonymous said...

Assalam Alaykum,

I don't think the average person can differentiate between a white wearing hijaab, an arab wearing hijaab, or even some pakistanis wearing hijaab.

I get this kind of feeling at places too: getting sub-standard service because of what I am. I have never officially complained, but I think that next time I definitely should.

But there is also something else I have noticed. I recently became a hijaabi and noticed the attitude of people I used to talk to before. It seems as if they are scared to come and speak with me because they do not know what to expect. When I initiated a conversation with them, they got a bit more relaxed with me and started acting "normal". So, I was thinking that maybe the waitresses were just scared because they were not sure how to treat a "muslim". If you had invited them to your table, maybe( a big MAYBE) they might have become friendly. Some people are just intimidated by us.

That's all I am going to say.

sabiwabi said...

Well, I stopped going to Denny's when they downsized their shakes.

I am so glad I never returned (for a variety of reasons).

I would have been very rude and obnoxious before I left that joint...yes, rude and obnoxious...just like waheed over there. LOL.

I had a similar instance happen to me when I went into a kids hair salon one was like I was a ghost. You damn well better believe that I waited, smiling and staring at them for a HALF an HOUR. (I am evilly patient) When they finally looked up (after staring at me from the corners of their eyes for minutes at a time) I went OFF! I told that lady exactly what was on my mind, and loudly. Then I asked that b**** for a piece of paper and sat there at her desk and took down the owners name and number off of the wall as she stood there shaking. HA. I left the place while saying "can't wait to have a chat with your handler", kid you not. I went home and did JUST THAT. Trust me, I got ample apology and a 50 dollar gift certificate as well. Then I turned around, made my appointment with that very same b****! When I went back, ha, stood their SMIRKING as she cut my daughters hair to perfection.

Payback is a beautiful thing.

If you need me to write your letter to Denny's corporate...I'll be your girl! wink wink!

Naeem: said...


I think I missed something. How come you didn't simply call one of the waitresses over? Maybe a polite 'Excuse me' would have done the trick, no?

Not justifying their behavior...just remembering that's what I've done in similar situations in the past.

Shawna said...

Salaam sister,

I'm deeply sorry you had this experience. I live in a college town and had never heard of issues with Denny's. We actually host suhoor their several times every Ramadan and they are extremely courteous at ours, getting the food out quickly and cooking it on clean surfaces.

I just wanted to share that because they have worked to accommodate us at ours, but I am very happy that you are taking this to the top. Discrimination is not to be tolerated. I pray that Allah guides you in this as in all things.

Safiyyah said...

As Salaamu Alaikum Dear Friends and Greetings of Peace:

On this day, the 50th anniversary of the Woolworth lunch counter protest, I think about how far we have come in America, and also of the work some of us need to do here.

Jazaka Allahu Khayrn EVERYONE for your comments, support, encouragement, observations, and suggestions.

There's a yin and a yang to everything. While some people experience racism and intimidation at places like Denny's, there are others like Shawna who have experienced blessing at Denney's during Ramadan, Alhamdulillah.

It real sucked that morning for me. And Naeem, you make a good point - why didn't I just say excuse me or something. Looking back, I could have done that. But maybe they would have spit in my food or something lol. As you can tell, I've worked in prison too long. Too overly suspicious, lol.

Yusuf, about Waheed, lol. My brother from Bangladesh. He loves me so much that he forgets I am of Jewish ethnicity. I reminded him over at Facebook, lol.

@Rukhpar: Mabrook upon becoming a hijabi!

Sabi, my girl ... I KNOW you got my back! I love you for it! About revenge: I remember hearing on Star Trek one time when Worf (I think it was him) said something to the effect of "revenge is a dish best served cold." Reminds me of prison sometimes where someone assaults someone else for something they did a year prior!

I'll let you all know, Insha Allah, if they respond to the survey I sent in.


Usman said...


May I ask, just out of curiosity, which state or City do you live? Also, is this Denny's Racism problem common in all over US?

Usman from Canada

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Usman:

This particular Denny's is near the Selinsgrove Mall in Pennsylvania.

My understanding is that Denny's at one time had a huge problem all over the US. However, their company claims that they have taken steps to resolve this awful problem. I imagine there are still incidents here and there, like what happened to me.

As one of the commenters said, the Denny's in her area allowed the Muslim community to have an iftar there during Ramadan. That's a huge Alhamdulillah.

JAK Usman!

Unknown said...

I'm sorry to hear what you went thru. Dennys has not rectified the problem with there employees it doesn't make any sense here we are 2012.
I'm a black man and and a truck divert for a large carrier that frequents this dennys. I stopped in the Denny's in Rock Springs WY to get a steak salad and keep moving toward York PA... I waited for a minute or two with no acknowledgment what so ever with two waitresses standing 3' away from... I went to the bar and sat down still nothing.... A waitress from another area brought me a lemonade.....minutes go by still nothing
A caucasian lady enters and Mindy the mgr from behind the spots her and immediately tells her"I'll be right with you"

Safiyyah said...

Hi Scott:

Wow! I'm so sorry that you had to experience this, too :(