2 Restaurant Signs Spark Controversies

March 20, 2011

Sometimes restaurants have particular policies about serving people who don't speak English. These two restaurants have taken a lot of heat over their policies.

1. Reedy Creek Family Diner (North Carolina): Restaurant owner Greg Simons endured several "uncomfortable" moments when a Spanish-speaking person came into his restaurant, but could not communicate with his staff. He is not bilingual and doesn't have anyone on his staff that speaks Spanish. Because of that fact, he put up a sign that reads "We only speak and understand American." A copy of the sign can be seen below. Somewhat surprisingly, the sign includes phrases in Spanish, "American" English, French, Russian, German and Irish (are there many Irishmen that don't speak English as well?). Simons said the sign wasn't meant to alienate anyone ("Everyone's money is green. This is not a racial barrier"), but took the sign down after he received some threatening phone calls and heard some "colorful language." Members of the community appear split on the issue, with some members telling a local news channel that people who come to the country should learn the language.

2) Keoni by Keo's (Hawaii): This restaurant adds an automatic gratuity of 15 percent to your bill if you do not speak English. The owners say 99% of their customers are foreigners who don't have similar tipping traditions in their countries. As a result, servers miss out on tips, which constitute a significant portion of their salary. The restaurant also assumes that 8% of revenue will come from tips and employees must pay taxes accordingly. The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission may launch an investigation into the practice.

Keoni by Keo's

Photos by:Eater/ KITV/ James Cridland



Kathy's picture

So, does this mean if I go into a a Spanish speaking (or any other launguage restaurant) that they need to be able to speak English to communicate with me? The owner was up front and honest and put his policy in plain sight. I'm for the owner of the restaurant.

Greg's picture

Ok the first one is a bit harsh. It might have been diff if the guy put American English. But as for the second one hmmm couldn't the owner just tack on an automatic 15% tip to the bill? I found out after a day of eating in SOBE a few yrs back that it was pretty common for places to add on a 15% tip to the bill, after I was already tipping 15-20% tip. So the server was getting no less then a 30% from me lol. Oops.

Michelle \Clark's picture

I'd have to take the business owners sides on this subject. Just because you want your staff to be able to understand the customer clearly does not mean you are a racist. Especially in businesses where you are dealing with food, medicine, etc....it is extremely important to be able to understand your customer's needs. And in this day and age where people are so quick to sue over everything they can.....why not try to make things easier on yourself?
I see NOTHING wrong with telling potential customers upfront that you only communicate in English.

BLB's picture

I used to work in a restaurant at a hotel where NATO held several conferences each year. We basically worked for free during these conferences because the foreign NATO members did not tip. (The management of the hotel refused to find a "politically correct" way of reminding these NATO members that tipping is customary in the US.) As far as speaking English goes, I agree that if you come to the US, you need to be able to speak English. I wouldn't travel to China and expect everyone to be able to speak English simply because it's my native language!

Jenny's picture

I favor the business owners. When I traveled in Europe 12 years ago, I tried to learn a few phrases or to use a dictionary so I could tell what the menu listed. In western Europe, finding English speakers wasn't as difficult as it was in eastern Europe, and I didn't speak German, which was the most common alternative. I will say that while I didn't expect anyone at the restaurant to know English, everyone I met was accommodating and interested in trying to help. It was awkward, but not uncomfortable. In fact, it was kind of fun. While I have much stronger opinions about English (versus other languages) spoken in our schools, how can there be such a fuss over restaurants? The money spends no matter what language you speak.

kara's picture

Sorry ... I'm gonna be the person who says I think Rest #1 was wrong. It's not what they tried to do; it's how they executed it. They speak ENGLISH, not "American." Add to that, the whole bit at the bottom about God Bless America and "our great nation" ... the whole sign came across as nationalistic and a slap in the face to anyone who doesn't speak English (er, excuse me ... AMERICAN).

There's nothing wrong with a simple sign that says "No Habla Espanol". Period. But taking the time to put it in all those different languages, referring to English as "American" (cause God knows, no other country in the world speaks English), and the final jingoistic bit at the bottom ... IMO it was unnecessary and offensive.

Amy's picture

We live in a country where the customer is always right. Aside from that fact, and coming from a multi-lingual person, the particular business owner in the first situation is incorrect in many of the language translations. Of course, the statement at the bottom that is in (American) English is not properly worded, anyway, so why expect the foreign language translations to be any different?
As for the Hawaiian restaurant, I can opine that most islanders are not that harsh and are much more welcoming to tourists. Visit the local restaurants that are off of the beaten path-- they have much more culture to offer, anyway. And that is coming from someone of Hawaiian lineage. Aloha and mahalo! :-)