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Restaurant Accused of Discrimination

November 6, 1999

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ When Charles Thompson received his bill at an upscale restaurant recently, he was surprised to see a 15 percent tip added.

Thompson, who is black, had dined at Thai Toni frequently and had never seen such a charge before. He looked at the bill of two white customers sitting nearby, and their total did not include the gratuity.

Thompson then confronted owner Hiromi ``Toni″ Takarada about the $7.65 service charge added to his $51 bill.

``He blatantly said ‘Because you people don’t tip well,‴ said Thompson, a 40-year-old American Express employee. ``I said ‘Excuse me?’ And he said ’You black people don’t tip well.‴

Thompson, who was dining with a black co-worker, Theresa White, called Miami Beach police during the Oct. 23 incident. Officers say Takarada gave them the same explanation.

``The more it settles in, the more angry I get,″ White said. ``I am totally appalled about it. It hurts ... It’s unbelievable.″

Thompson filed a complaint with the state’s human rights commission, and on Friday sued Thai Toni and Takarada in federal court for intentional ``racially discriminatory practices.″

``The law says that public accommodations, such as restaurants, have to treat everybody equally and you can’t discriminate against anybody because of their race,″ said Steven Kozlowski, Thompson’s attorney. ``The couple sitting next to Charles, who were white, never had a tip added to their bill.″

Takarada has not returned numerous calls to his home and restaurant seeking comment.

Virginia Newman, spokeswoman for the Florida Commission on Human Relations, could not discuss Thompson’s case specifically, but said the agency has never received a similar complaint.

Most restaurant complaints involve a minority being refused service, she said.

Because of Thompson’s allegations, Takarada’s restaurant has been expelled from the Greater Miami Convention & Visitor Bureau and will no longer be listed in the group’s visitors guides or on its Internet site.

``It is pretty clear that (Takarada) is out of touch with the proper way to treat customers,″ said bureau President Bill Talbert. ``I was outraged ... so we dropped him.″

In South Beach, a ritzy Miami Beach neighborhood with a tourist-driven economy, tips are a major concern for waiters and waitresses.

Waitress Leslie Dollet said she writes a reminder on checks. ``I write ‘Tip not included’ on Europeans’ checks because they don’t understand that in America it’s not included in the bill,″ she said.

Jeff Bechdel, vice president of Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, said that because of the high number of foreign visitors to his city’s restaurants, many are following the European lead and adding a tip for all diners.

He condemned Takarada’s alleged treatment of Thompson.

``I personally am offended by it,″ he said. ``I was literally shocked when I heard. We are such a diverse community and open and accepting, especially in South Beach. It really is disturbing to hear something like that.″

T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, said he has never had a problem at a Miami Beach restaurant.

Takarada’s alleged conduct ``is the exception, not the rule,″ Fair said, adding that his group plans no action against Thai Toni.

``It doesn’t deserve that,″ he said. ``All I know is that I won’t eat at that restaurant.″

Thompson said he, too, will never again eat at Thai Toni.

Thompson, who says he usually leaves generous tips, left the restaurant without leaving a gratuity after apologizing to the waiter.

``I told him ’I want you to be angry with your boss,‴ Thompson said.

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