Restaurant discount for customers who pray before meals sparks controversy
A North Carolina diner instituted a controversial policy to get a discount on your food, but it’s since been reversed due to complaints.
At Mary's Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, patrons can enjoy traditional Southern food items such as grits, sausage biscuits and gravy, and apple butter. Recently, however, some customers have noticed an extra item on their receipts: a 15% discount for those who prayed before their meals.
The restaurant had drawn attention after a customer, pleased with the discount, posted a picture of the receipt on her Facebook page. Unexpectedly (although perhaps not surprisingly), the photo went viral. Shama Blalock, one of the diner's co-owners, confirmed for National Public Radio that the photo was real, and that the restaurant does indeed offer occasional surprise discounts for some patrons who pray before eating.
Blalock claims that the idea was implemented a few years ago, and the discounts are given at the discretion of the staff. She also stated that the restaurant was grateful for the attention and praise they received, telling NPR, “We're very thankful for the attention we've received, but that's not what we were aiming at.”
Some people, however, attacked the restaurant for what they saw as religious discrimination. On the diner's Facebook page, critics questioned whether the discount was offered to those of non-Christian faiths. One such comment read, “Prayer discounts? Do you give prayer discounts to people who aren't of your religion … like Sikhs or Hindus or Muslims or Jews?” NPR cited the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination in any place open to the public.
Mary Haglund, owner of the diner, responded that the criticism and accusations of religious discrimination were unfounded. She asserted that the discount was not restricted to people of any particular faith. In a statement, Haglund claimed, “I will say that it is not a 'policy,' it is a gift we give at random to customers who take a moment before their meal. This could be prayer or just a moment to breathe and push the busyness of the world away. Who you talk to or meditate on is your business.”
She also stated that the discount was about showing gratitude and not about belonging to any particular religion: “I have lived in a third world country, there are people starving. We live in a country with an abundance of beautiful food. I NEVER take that for granted. It warms my heart to see people with an attitude of gratitude.”
Regardless of this explanation, the diner has decided to revoke the discount, after receiving the threat of a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They posted this sign on their door Wednesday:
Today, it’s being reported that the owners are looking into the legality of offering the discount, to determine if they can bring it back again. Customers are rallying their support for the diner.
- National Public Radio
- Deseret News
- Mary’s Gourmet Diner on Facebook
- NY Daily News
- Freedom From Religion Foundation
- Fox News