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‘So, this just happened at Arby’s’: Order up, a slur during Pride Month
Lafayette LGBTQ community recoils after couple find homophobic slur on their fast-food receipt. Arby's apologizes, fires employee. But during Pride Month, question lingers: Just, why?
On a weekend when corporations were touting their commitment to LGBTQ equality and sports franchises were wearing rainbow-influenced logos on uniforms to mark the first weekend of Pride Month – San Francisco Giants, hello – Lafayette couple Craig Gray and John Burns stopped for lunch at an Arby’s on Lafayette’s east side.
They had spent the morning working on a landscaping project – a side hustle of Gray’s – and had a second one, complete with the heavy lifting of irrigation work, ahead of them that afternoon.
Burns said his first choice coming in from Indiana 26 was a McDonald’s close to Interstate 65, but the drive-through line went around the building. So, they wound their way to the Arby’s a few doors away. The line of cars there were just as long, so they went inside to order. Gray gave his first name to go with the ticket.
Things were hectic enough inside, with staff racing to fill drive-through sacks, that the teen cashier who took their order kept apologizing to Burns and Gray for delays.
“No big deal,” Burns said. “He was what you’d expect, just normal for fast-food busy.”
The eat-in order – a smoked brisket meal and a roast beef double meal – came with a number and a receipt, both marked with a name to call when the food was ready. No one else was waiting for what was obviously their food, so no one had to call their name. They grabbed the tray, and they grabbed a table.
There Gray saw the receipt and the ticket.
Order Name on each one: “FAG.”
“We were stunned,” Burns said.
Burns said he went back to the counter and waited for a manager. He said he showed it to the cashier, asking him, “Why would you do something like this? You’re trying to sling fries through a lunch rush. Who has time for hate like that?”
The explanation, not the apology, he got: “‘Sometimes the computer messes up,’ is what he told me.”
Burns said he asked for an example. Things didn’t get better.
“He said one time the computer wrote ‘BLACK’ for one guy’s order,” Burns said. “I should have followed up on that one, too, but I think we can all call bullshit.”
By the time Burns got back to the table, he said the manager had told the employee to leave. The manager refunded their money and apologized.
During that Sunday lunch rush, Gray posted on Facebook: ‘So, this just happened at Arby’s. Happy Pride, huh?”
As the comments went nuts – mainly of the what-the-hell variety – Gray and Burns watched the kid walk toward I-65 and ate their sandwiches, the afternoon landscaping job still waiting.
A spokesman for Arby’s corporate offices on Monday confirmed the account.
"Any discriminatory or painful language – and this was both of those – is a violation of our brand standards," Jack D’Amato, an Arby’s spokesman said. “This was absolutely unacceptable, and we have zero tolerance for that.”
D’Amato said that once a manager was told about what had happened, the employee “was terminated within minutes.”
“It was such a clear-cut violation of standards,” D’Amato said.
D’Amato said someone from the store contacted Arby’s corporate headquarters that day to explain what had happened.
He declined to give details about who the employee was or how long he’d worked there.
The Arby’s on South Street – about a quarter-mile from Interstate 65 – is a franchised location, owned by AES Restaurant Group, based in Dayton, Ohio. The company owns 72 Arby’s locations across five states, including two in Lafayette and one in West Lafayette.
AES Restaurant Group did not immediately respond Monday to a message for comment.
Ashley Smith, president of Pride Lafayette, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said she saw the post Sunday and had been in touch with Gray and Burns, who is on the Pride Lafayette board.
“I’m very glad that John went in and addressed it, because some would not have the confidence to do so,” Smith said.
Smith also complimented restaurant management for making such a quick decision, firing the employee on the spot.
Still, she said the fact that the incident came in the first week of Pride Month, “it cuts a bit deeper.”
“When marriage was legalized, homophobia was not erased,” Smith said. “We as members of the LGBT community are consistently reminded that there is still so much education and work to do. …
“Yes, the individual was fired, but what else can be done for them?” Smith asked. “Did they understand the gravity of what they had done, or did they really not care and think, ‘Oh well, I will find another job?’ But at that other job will the behavior continue? It is a cycle that needs to stop. … At the end of the day say, ‘Hey, is this how I would want to be treated or what if someone treated my friend or family like this?’ If the answer is no, then it is time to make a change.”
Tuesday night, the meal was different, this time at the West Lafayette home of friend Rebecca Wright. Flat iron steak, wine and conversation about landscaping work Gray had done on the property and work still to do.
Wright wanted to know how the Arby’s guy had assumed they were gay. Maybe because they’d ordered on the same ticket. Maybe the cashier made his own assumptions. Or maybe he didn’t care and thought “FAG” slipped onto an order ticket was a sick put down, no matter the circumstances.
Those were the theories.
“It wasn’t like we were in sundresses holding hands or something,” Gray said.
Since Sunday, Gray – who works at Inari, a seed research company in West Lafayette – and Burns – a planner with the Tippecanoe County Area Plan Commission – received calls or messages from regional managers with Arby’s.
“This clearly wasn’t an Arby’s thing,” Burns said. “But it was a thing – something I guess I’m glad happened to us rather than someone else.”
How many people might have been ready for a fight that afternoon? Or worse maybe, Gray figured, how many people would have just taken it? For how many would it have been the last straw in some way?
“That’s something we’re thinking about at Pride (Lafayette) all the time,” Burns said. “You have to look out for the more vulnerable ones. … I know they’re out there, but it’s never really happened to us. When it did, I guess it was due time.”
“Which isn’t the greatest thing to come out of this,” Gray said. “Something more has to come from this.”
Happy Pride month, huh?
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