The issues with Flight and its sister restaurants bubbled to the surface this week when former employees blew up their spot on social media. They pulled the covers back on antebellum attitudes and worst practices, sparking outrage and creating shockwaves that reverberated from downtown to Germantown.
I mean we know this stuff happens. But we didn’t KNOW-KNOW. It was appalling to see it big and bold in print and firsthand.
Flight is not new to these allegations. It first came to my attention in this very newspaper when Roquita Williams wrote about it (July 2011). Haven’t been since.
To my recollection, I have only had two negative experiences here in Memphis that were very clearly and saliently race-related. Honestly, I still frequent those establishments. Only because it wasn’t the company culture, it was the individual. Every visit before that, or after, has been a positive. However, all of this brings up the issues of imbalance, misperceptions and the pressure to represent the whole.
We all know that “Karen” will turn your place out. But she is still handled with kid gloves. She’s very obviously treated gingerly because of the skin she’s in. Servers, both Black and White, ask yourselves why.
Then there’s the vicious cycle. Waiters assume Black patrons don’t tip then proceed to provide bad service then get tipped below standard if at all then continue spreading the “see I told ya” false narrative.
Or conversely, Black patrons receive patently bad service then sometimes feel the pressure to represent the whole and not make a scene or feed the stereotype but don’t feel obligated to reward crappy behavior. It’s a crisis of conscience. Memphis notoriously has an issue with poor service across the board, but I know that I know that I know that Black patrons get the crap end of the stick.
Now, I can already hear some people screaming respectability politics at the screen!
Nope that ain’t it. Speaking for self, I don’t always have the energy to yield to my “turn up” spirit. More importantly, I believe in pushing and applying pressure from both sides. I stand firmly on this but that’s another conversation for another time.
Why is it that only “certain” people are worthy of baseline respect? Why is it problematic only if, for instance, I send food back because it’s not what I asked for but not Becky With the Good Hair? Why is it painstaking for servers to be polite/attentive/respectful?
Some of it is poor training and poor management in general. Some of it is flat out bias and a reflexive disdain for Black folks. But lemme help you out real quick:
Per NewsOne as of February 2020, there are nearly 50 million African Americans in the U.S. who collectively spend over $1 trillion per year. Which, per Nielsen, is “on par with many countries’ gross domestic products.” Factor in that Memphis proper is almost 70 percent Black.
Let those numbers sizzle in your spirit in addition to the fact that most of us are WIDE AWAKE right now. You don’t want that smoke, whether that be protestors shutting you down (see: Porch & Parlour) or flattening your bottom line.
Moreover, Black folks are inarguably the heart and soul of Memphis and have been. From WC Handy, Memphis Minnie and Robert Church to Al Kapone, Lil Buck and Gina Neely, we are the lifeline and seasoned salt of this city. And the ambassadors to the rest of the world! Otherwise Memphis would be the sleepy soggy saltine by the River.
So, what to do as we slog these micro- and at times macro-aggressions? Again, I don’t believe in kicking up drama, but I DO believe in addressing the issue.
Here are some TIPS you can take to the bank:
- Abide by the golden rule: Treat Others The Way You Want To Be Treated.
- Our hair is our hair. It is NOT unprofessional. And our melanin is poppin’. Stop putting folks in the back of house.
- Black people are not all the same. Many of us tip and tip well, especially for good service.
- You come with attitude, you’re getting attitude right back. AND NO TIP.
- There is not a more loathsome creature on earth than “Karen.” Keep that same energy with her.
- If there’s an issue, simply and politely address us just as you would with “Karen.”
- Do tip for good service. These folks survive off their tip money.
- Do NOT tip for poor service. You are not obligated to represent the whole. That’s too much pressure. That type of person will think what they think anyway.
- Speak up. If you have been objectively discriminated against tell a friend or 10 and the manager. Then body them on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Google, etc….
- Remember that there’s power in the black dollar. Don’t hesitate to withhold it from places that don’t respect you. Let them feel it in their pockets because that’s a language they understand.
Time’s up Flight and every other restaurant that expects Black folks to pay for the pleasure of your disrespect. (Cue: “You about to lose yo job” video.)